Health News – How this ancient form of exercise slays stress and revs you up, physically and mentally.
What seems like a slow start—breathing deeply, in and out—fires up your prefrontal cortex, the brain’s center for higher thought. You just got smarter: In one study, people scored higher on cognitive tests after 20 minutes of yoga.
Your intense focus helps quiet your noggin’s amygdala—a.k.a. your emotional network. That means more control over feelings such as anger and fear.
At the same time, happy brain chemicals like GABA may rise, making yoga a natural treatment for your gloomy moods.
The triple threat of breathing, focus, and movement ignites the parasympathetic, or “rest and digest,” nervous system, the antidote to the fight-or-flight stress response.
The vagus nerve, one of your body’s neural highways, carries that chill-out message to all your internal organs. Ahhh.
Lungs and Heart
Memo received: Your lungs expand to keep the belly breaths (and oxygen) coming.
Your heart also benefits. The effect is so strong that a regular yoga practice can lower your resting heart rate—in and after class.
The adrenal glands ease back on production of the stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked to cravings for fatty foods. Post-yoga, it may be easier to resist snacking.
That vagus nerve may also alert your immune system, which releases a stash of immunity-enhancing cells. You could now be better primed to fight off infections.
Balance and Strength
If you feel like a human teeter-totter at first, keep at it. Yoga—even just twice a week for a month—can improve your balance (key for cruising through your days uninjured).
Folding yourself into positions also stretches your muscles, tendons, and connective tissues close to their maximum capacity. Repeating these movements—under the watchful eye of a certified pro—can strengthen your core and limbs. And it will ramp up your flexibility, protecting your joints and muscles from damage.
Sources: Neha Gothe, Ph.D., Wayne State University; Sat Bir Khalsa, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School; Jennifer Rioux, Ph.D., University of New Mexico
By Kathryn Budig, Women’s Health