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How yoga changed my body

Updated: Jan 19


Women strolling happily down a prettily cobbled high street holding yoga mats and chatting gaily
How has yoga changed my body?

Westernized Yoga

Yoga has been so Westernized, its on Instagram in extreme poses in extreme places. It has been compartmentalized beside fitness to fit into gym timetables, a 60 minute session once a week to make us strong. It has been pigeonholed as being only for the bendy, flexible people who can touch their toes. How sad all this is because yoga is so much more and you sure as heck don’t need to touch your toes to do it. I have been practicing yoga for over 40 years, I have never been able to sit in the lotus position and nowadays I can’t sit cross legged. My skeleton says ‘no!’. But I can walk and cycle and swim, spend time in my garden, have fun with my children and grandchildren. I feel I can do all of this in my 60’s because I have practiced yoga throughout my adult life. How has yoga changed my body?


Musculature

Yoga is well known for strengthening muscles. It is a good method to use as it uses the weight of the body to move through different planes. When done slowly this gently builds muscles across the whole body. The movements of yoga extend and contract the muscles; however, the stationery poses in yoga build muscle too. Together they provide the functional movement that we seek in everyday life, allowing us to feel more alive, vital and vibrant.


There is more evidence to illustrate that strength is important for our health, and yoga achieves this in bucket loads. As we age, we lose muscle mass, over the age of 50 we lose one per cent of muscle mass every year. This is called sarcopenia and we don’t have to exercise hard to keep it at bay. Walking, gardening, carrying heavy shopping and vacuuming do the job well, yoga is also very helpful.


Bones

Yoga also has an impact on our bones. As we move, the action of the muscles on our bones is to extend and twist our bones and they are built to respond to this. As we move through various planes with yoga poses our muscles are exerting force on our bones, which naturally nurtures them. The twisting and lengthening stimulate growth of new bone cells and removal of old bone cells.


I am a follower of ‘Bones for Life®’, a programme developed by Ruthy Alon from the original Feldenkrais practices. In recent years Cynthia Allen has taken this forward through online teachings from America. Subtle® Yoga incorporates Feldenkrais moves within the classes and trainings from Kristine Weber.


Lymph

The flow of lymph fluid around our bodies is stimulated by breathing and movement. As we move and breath the muscles encourage lymph to flow and to be excreted from our lymph glands. This system plays a significant role in everything from disease prevention to improved digestion and energy levels. (From an article by Peta Bee in the Times on Saturday 5 March 2022). In her article Peta Bee states “In yoga, muscles are loosened and the hormones released when muscles relax help with the flow, while the variety of different positions help to send lymph fluid in different directions to where it is needed”.


Breathing

The whole respiratory system includes the nose, the throat, the thorax and the lungs. There is musculature and bone structure (the ribs) that supports the process of respiration. Yoga helps us to breath more efficiently as we are taught various breathing options. For example, if we hold our breath for one or two counts after inhaling, creating a state of intermittent hypoxia, this may help us feel less anxious. Obviously, we need to be aware of any deep seated trauma should we choose to do this. Working with our breath is not for everyone and it takes time and supportive teachers to help us.


Also mentioned in her article, Peta Bee states that “the largest lymph vessels and main lymph channels are located in the chest. Whenever you take a deep breath, the movement and muscle contractions involved help to ferry the lymph fluid along”. For more information see the book Lymph & Longevity: The untapped Secret to Health by Dr Gerald Lemole (Headline, £11.99).

Brain


When we practice slow, breath infused, mindful yoga we are softly and gently moved into the parasympathetic nervous system. This means we move into a state of relaxation allowing the body to get on with all its intrinsic healing processes such as digesting our food, balancing our hormones, allowing us to sleep better. Combined, these help us become less anxious and more inclined to look after ourselves and be of service to others. This is often called ‘tend & befriend’, it makes us more productive and nicer people to be around.


John Naish, in his report in the Times Saturday 19 September 2020, states that muscle wastage raises our risk of age-related chronic body-wide inflammation. This leads to reduced dampening down of chronic inflammation and studies have now shown that this links to dementia. A study in Schizoprenia found that overall muscular strength translates into better brain function due to lower levels of chronic inflammation. Karen Lengevin also found that gentle stretching reduced inflammation.


How else can yoga impact the brain? Yoga practices can help to optimize the function of the midbrain – improve coordination, reduce stress, promote addiction recovery.


In this whistle stop tour of the impact of yoga on the body I hope that you can see that yoga gets everywhere! It is powerful. I hope that this has encouraged you to visit a yoga studio or contact a yoga teacher near you.

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