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Yoga is one of those exercises that we’ve all heard a lot about but not many of us have actually done. Although we may have heard rumours about flexibility and balance, yoga can do so much more than that and, because of how gentle it is, is the ideal exercise for all age groups.
According to NHS Live Well, many people take up yoga in their 70s to help improve balance as they approach older age. Yoga can enhance balance by strengthening the lower body, and building strong core muscles. It is thought this form of exercise has been around in one incarnation or another for around 5,000 years, and it focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing.
The idea behind it, is that by working on these three basics, you can boost both physical and mental wellbeing by becoming more in sync with your body. The practice of yoga involves holding a series of postures and focusing on breathing in and out. However, there are many different varieties of yoga, including the quite intense Bikram yoga, so it's important not to write off the whole group if you have one bad experience.
Given the need to hold postures, one of the greatest benefits of yoga is balance. The muscles it strengthens are based in the core - which is your stomach and mid to lower back - and in the lower body. To get an idea of the benefits to a stronger core, imagine a wide belt around your waist - these muscles are used in every movement, from walking to sitting up straight, from throwing a ball to climbing the stairs. If these muscles are stronger, you have not only better posture, but also more control of movement. This, in turn improves balance.
Similarly, many of the positions work the leg joints - the ankles and knees - which also improves posture. By strengthening the lower legs, you are less likely to fall, and will find yourself walking taller. Improved posture, in turn, alleviates a number of aches and pains including osteoarthritis. However, there are some moves that are unsuitable for those with back injuries, replacement joints or arthritis, so it is important to highlight these conditions to a teacher so they can give you the right advice.
Yoga can also improve flexibility and help you move beyond your normal range of movement. It is important to remember that you will see a change compared to where you started from, so don’t expect to be doing the standing splits anytime soon if you’re currently unable to touch your toes.
As yoga is a slow, methodical and quiet pastime it has also been lauded as an important stress reliever. Focusing on your breathing and holding a position pushes all other thoughts out of your mind. Letting the hustle and bustle of daily life go, even for the few minutes you are practicing yoga, can really improve mental wellbeing.
In addition, exercise of any kind has been found to boost serotonin - the happy hormone - and reduce the stress hormone cortisol, giving a tangible lift to your mood.