By Dr. Mercola
Yoga is a practice that has been around for 5,000 years. Although many regard Yoga as just another form of exercise, it's really a much more comprehensive practice that integrates mental, physical and spiritual elements.
In fact, it is said the physical positions of yoga represent only about 10 percent of its value, and the other 90 percent lies in the mental and spiritual growth that happens on the mat.
Yoga can be regarded as a form of meditation that demands your full attention and participation. The Yoga positions (asanas) are tools for helping you learn new ways of moving and new ways of responding to your body and mind, which can be extended into other areas of your life.
The health benefits of Yoga are many. It strengthens and tones your body, increases circulation and oxygenation, energizes you in the morning and helps you unwind in the evening.
People report the disappearance of aches and pains, better immunity, improved sleep, lowered blood pressure, improved digestion, and faster healing when they do Yoga.
Most people also feel more grounded, and many report increased compassion for others as a direct result of the compassion learned on the mat.
That said, from a purely physical standpoint, Yoga is excellent for your core and compliments other parts of your overall exercise program, such as interval and strength training. It strengthens your back, pelvis, shoulders, and spine—and of course helps cut and reveal those six-pack abs!
Yoga Positions to Flatten Your Abs
Are you tired of the same old crunches and curls? Try some Yoga poses for a change. You can train your abs while training your mind. Simple, controlled Yoga exercises such as leg lifts, boat pose, plank pose, and "cobra" build abdominal strength while at the same time strengthening the opposing muscle groups in your back. You will also experience benefits with your balance and breathing.
Slideshows in Women's Health1 and Huffington Post2 offer some additional Yoga postures for abdominal muscles.
One of the more important principles of Yoga is ahimsa, which is Sanskrit for "nonviolence."3 This refers not only to physical violence, but also to the violence of words or thoughts. Set aside the "no pain no gain" principle—Yoga should never be painful.
Ahimsa means treating your body (and your mind) with compassion and respect, as opposed to forcing it to do what you want it to do. If you can't do a full Yoga pose, then just take a comfortable position that "moves in the direction" of the pose. Have patience. Forcing your body into submission will only increase your chances of injury and make it a very unpleasant experience.
Bathroom Break Yoga
If you're too busy to sneak off to a Yoga class, then take your Yoga on the road. Yoga postures can be adapted to restrooms in planes, trains and buses (but don't forget to wash your hands!). Poses such as half dog, chair, tree, triangle and warrior can be adapted for "bathroom break Yoga."
If you incorporate some Yoga while traveling, not only will you reduce your sitting time but your flight may seem much shorter. Bathroom Yoga also provides a polite way to take a break from the crying child beside you... "Please excuse me, but I must go do my Yoga now." Of course, practice these poses at home first so you don't end up head first in the airplane latrine.
You can take some of these positions in your office as well, during your break or lunch hour. Take a break from the computer chair, even if it's for just a few minutes. Studies show that sitting for extended periods of time can shorten your lifespan, even if you exercise.
Foundation Training Can Help Reverse the Effects of Excess Sitting
Scientific research suggests that decreasing sitting time to less than three hours per day could add two years to your lifespan. An analysis of 18 studies found people who sat for the longest periods of time had twice the risk for diabetes and heart disease as those who sat the least.
Excessive sitting, often related to using computers and other electronic devices, can damage your posture and contribute to back pain, neck pain, carpal tunnel, and many other physical problems. Most structural problems, such as back pain, related to excess sitting and sitting improperly can be prevented by standing up frequently and correcting your body position.
Besides Yoga, Foundation Training (developed by chiropractor Eric Goodman, featured in the Ted Talk above) is an excellent way to counter the effects of sitting. Foundation Training is based on integrating the muscular chains of your body with simple, powerful exercises that help strengthen and realign your spine and core. No equipment is needed, so you can do them just about anywhere.
As a starting point, Dr. Goodman suggests making the following adjustments to your body while sitting. These recommendations are not meant to replace the way you sit constantly, but to give you useful alternative positions to use. It is recommended that you try them often, as your body is likely in need:
- Backrests tend to promote excessive rounding of the spine and push us into what's called an anterior head carriage. Sit upright on the front edge of a chair and practice the next two tips. At least two-thirds of your thigh should be off of the chair, and your knees should be no more than six inches apart.
- When sitting, try to keep your chin behind your chest bone. When your chin is too far forward, you will inadvertently teach your hip flexors to remain abnormally short and set yourself up for increased compression and degeneration.
- An easy way to learn to lengthen your hip flexors without hyperextending your spine is to slowly increase the distance between your rib cage and pelvis while keeping your chin pulled in and down towards your throat. This is demonstrated in the last five minutes of the TED Talk linked above.
I have been doing the founder about eight times a day recently and have noticed remarkable improvement in some nagging low back I have had. If this is a challenge for you I would strongly recommend that you consider adding the "Founder" exercise to your daily routine. Dr. Goodman demonstrates the Founder on the video below.
Do Yoga Outdoors for Additional Benefits
One of the reasons traveling is so exhausting is that you have little contact with the earth. Have you noticed how much better you feel when you walk barefoot on the ground, whether it's dirt or sand or grass? Science has finally solved this mystery!
For most of our evolutionary history, humans have had continuous contact with the earth, but this is certainly not the case today. We are separated from it by a barrier of asphalt, wood, rugs, plastics, and especially shoes. Living in direct contact with the earth grounds your body, producing beneficial electrophysiological changes that help protect you from potentially disruptive electromagnetic fields. Some of the EMFs closest to our bodies are those generated by the electronic devices that have practically become a modern appendage – like smart phones and iPads.
Your immune system functions optimally when your body has an adequate supply of electrons, which are easily and naturally obtained by barefoot/bare skin contact with the Earth. Research indicates Earth's electrons are the ultimate antioxidants, acting as powerful anti-inflammatories.
Chronic inflammation leads to a multitude of health problems. Therefore, reducing inflammation will help mitigate the negative effects of excessive sitting. Earthing (grounding) decreases the effect of the potentially disruptive electromagnetic fields that are emitted by those electronic devices we've come to depend on.
So, to significantly bump up your Yoga benefits, take your poses outside so that you are grounding yourself at the same time! Make sure your feet or hands are in direct contact with the Earth, rather than separated from it by a rubber mat. Grass or even sand make suitable Yoga substrates on which to take your poses.