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The most recent Australian Health Survey results show an alarming trend. Close to 63% of Australian adults and at least one in four Australian children are either overweight or obese.
Excessive body weight or obesity is known to be a major risk factor for heart disease; no wonder then that researchers have found that ischaemic heart diseases is the leading cause of death for all Australians.
While genetics and heredity may be precipitating factors, the fact remains that modern-day lifestyles of physical inactivity, stress, unhealthy diets and the harmful use of alcohol don't really contribute to good health. What, then, is the solution?
The answer lies in Yoga, an ancient technique, which is a type of non-aerobic exercise that includes different postures in combination with healthy breathing exercises and meditation.
Although it originated in India, it is today practiced by people all over the world who swear by its ability to improve physical health, reduce stress and increase feelings of happiness and tranquillity.
Yoga is the Sanskrit word for "union" and with its techniques that combine an exercise of the body with a calming of the mind; it is indeed the perfect prescription for a healthy life.
This ancient system is more than 5000 years old and is based on the belief that an integration of the body, mind and spirit is important for a human being to live a happy and peaceful life.
Yoga is not a form of exercise nor is it a religious practice; rather it is a set of techniques that help you lead a spiritual, balanced and harmonious life. It focuses on development of not just the body but also the mind and one's spiritual nature.
There are different forms of yoga depending on the underlying philosophy and approach. The six main branches of yoga are:
This is the most well-known approach with postures and exercises called Yogasanas. Along with specific positions and postures, Hatha Yoga also recommends the use of breathing techniques called Pranayama and meditation.
This is the path of devotion and requires the individual practising it to see the Divine in everything.
This is the path that involves the development of self-control and self-discipline in keeping with the 8-fold path prescribed in the scriptures called the Yoga Sutras.
This is the path of knowledge and requires the individual to gain knowledge of the real Self by an intensive study and deep understanding of the truths of life.
This is the path of service that is rendered without any selfish motive or a sense of ownership of the actions and its results.
Life today has become intensely fast-paced and full of stress, pollution and fatigue. No wonder then that physical, mental and emotional disorders are now the norm, even among relatively younger persons.
The regular practice of yoga helps to bring a sense of calmness and balance to our chaotic lives and gives several benefits such as:
How Yoga is Different from Other Exercise
Although yoga involves the practice of specific postures that exercise different parts of the body as well as the organs within, it is significantly different from other forms of exercise. Some of the major differences include:
Yoga consists of two aspects âï¿½ï¿½ the physical postures called asanas and the breathing routine called pranayama. When both these are practiced on a regular basis, it helps to improve the efficiency of physiological processes in the body and also calms the mind.
The deep breathing in yoga causes the lungs to take in more oxygen âï¿½ï¿½ this helps persons who suffer from conditions such as anorexia, asthma, headache, migraine, hay fever, Constipation and even heart disease. Some of the postures in yoga improve the movements of the bowel and this helps to reduce complaints of stomach problems and indigestion.
The stretching exercises of yoga are designed to strengthen the muscles of the body and get them to align correctly; a regular practice of yoga helps reduce pain in the muscles and joints.
How Pranayama Acts
The energy within the body is called prana; the control of this prana energy is called pranayama. This consists of a set of breathing exercises that helps to channelize the energy within the body and release it to all parts in a manner that is conducive to good health.
The deep breathing technique of pranayama helps to lower the release of stress hormones that incite the "fight or flight" response; this helps your mind to relax and keep away from anxiety and depression.
Regular practice of the deep breathing exercises of pranayama help to achieve not just physical well-being but also help with weight loss and develop calmness and clarity of mind.
What Research into Yoga Shows
Ever since the system of yoga was introduced, there have been researchers striving to find out how it works. Thanks to these efforts, we now know that yoga plays a role in regulating certain physical aspects such as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, metabolic activity, breathing patterns and brain waves. A regular practice of yoga can indeed improve not just your physical fitness but also your ability to cope with stress.
Reports from the National Institutes of Health of the USA suggest that yoga plays an important role in helping people with illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma, arthritis, heart disease, migraine headaches, depression, anxiety, drug addiction and cancer. Combined with a healthy diet and regular exercise, yoga has been found to help reduce levels of "bad" cholesterol that are triggers for hypertension and heart disease.
In 2011, the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine carried out a study on 313 adults who suffered from chronic or recurring pain in the lower back. The results showed that 12 weekly yoga classes were more effective than conventional medical care in improving back function.
Research at Harvard's McLean Hospital and the Boston University School of Medicine shows that people who practice yoga for an hour every day tend to show a 27 % rise in levels of GABA â neurotransmitter with protective effects against depression and anxiety.
Scientists at Duke University found that women with metastatic breast cancer who participated in eight weekly sessions of yoga reported higher energy levels, lesser pain and greater feelings of relaxation.
At Hampton University, researchers put 60 overweight teenagers through a program of yoga combined with breathing exercises for 12 weeks. The results showed that the average Body Mass Index (BMI) showed a 5.7 % decrease, which means yoga is definitely useful for those seeking to lose weight!
Heal Your Body and Mind: Learn Yoga
Whether it is helping to battle disease or prevent disease from attacking your body, yoga will easily prove to be your strongest ally. For all its effectiveness, it is surprisingly simple and easy to practice. Once you learn the basics from a qualified yoga instructor, you can begin to practice the technique at home to reap the benefits of this wonderful system.
Thanks to our present-day unhealthy lifestyles, we live in constant danger of developing some life-altering disease. Indeed, recent research shows that a rising number of adults even below the age of 45 years are at risk of developing dangerous cardiovascular diseases; being overweight or obese increases the risk to an even higher level.
It is time we began to pay serious attention to safeguarding our health and the easiest and most effective way to begin is through a regular practice of yoga and pranayama.
While yoga cannot do any harm to your body, there is always the risk of damage if you don't follow the technique in the right manner. Unfortunately, there are sometimes unqualified persons who seek to cash in on the popularity of yoga without really bothering to teach it in the prescribed manner.
Make sure you steer clear of such operators - ensure you get the most out of your yoga practice by learning the techniques from a qualified and competent instructor.
Get in touch with us today to know more about how yoga can help you heal your body and mind and lead a healthy and peaceful, stress-free life.
Dr. Gurnam Saini
Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery
MD Alternative Medicine
Panchkarma Detox Expert
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Ayurveda stads for extensive and elaborate clinical examination to understand thenature of the disease