Yoga – More Than Just Stretching and Flexibility

Wednesday, October 17, 2012 4:57 PM comments (0)

Do Downward-Facing Dog, Plank, Warrior I and Child’s Pose sound familiar? While you’ve probably heard of at least one of these popular yoga poses, maybe you’ve even done a few of them yourself.

Yoga—originating in India—is a practice that has been around for centuries. Yoga is a vast body of knowledge which includes physical exercise done through the practice of yoga poses, breathing exercises to calm the nervous system, meditation practices to focus the mind, dietary practices to detoxify the body, herbal oil massages to nourish the skin, philosophy for living a peaceful life and the Science of Ayurveda (The Indian Medical System which includes Ayurvedic Acupuncture, Ayurvedic Herbs and Ayurvedic Massage Therapies). Yoga is an entire system of self-care and self-realization which was one of the first paradigms of Energy Medicine known to man.

Hatha Yoga is a type of exercise, that when done correctly, can be good for people of all ages and physical abilities. Polly Liontis, Yoga Instructor (Certified by the Himalayan Institute and a Licensed Massage Therapist/LMT), identifies some of the health benefits of practicing yoga:

  • Helps balance the nervous system. Something which distinguishes yoga from any other form of physical exercise is that the movement is always coordinated with the breath. Moving the body through yoga poses while practicing deep diaphragmatic breathing allows the body to oxygenate the blood and muscles and keeps the mind focused on the coordination of the movement with the breath. This calms the mind and moves the body out of the stress response.
  • Builds strength and increases flexibility. Many yoga poses require you to bear your own body weight in different positions for various periods of time which builds bone and muscle strength. Also, many poses focus on developing and using core muscle groups and enhancing your range of motion. These poses increase both strength and flexibility within and around the spine and improve your posture.
  • Alleviates stress and relaxes the body.  An entire branch of yoga is dedicated to breathing exercises, many of which engage the parasympathetic nervous system and naturally slow the heart rate, lower the blood pressure and bring the entire nervous system to a deep state of relaxation by inducing a profound relaxation response in the body. This enables us to take the body out of the “fight or flight” response.
  • Calms the mind. Meditation is another branch of yoga that teaches many different ways to focus the mind, calm the breath and systematically relax the body. This induces a deep state of relaxation and takes the body out of the “stress response.”
  • Improves the quality of your sleep. The regular practice of yoga has also been shown to help you sleep better and reduce insomnia by calming the nervous system.


Have you ever practiced yoga? What are some of your favorite poses?

Stretching – A Few Short Minutes Could Improve Performance

Wednesday, August 01, 2012 4:36 PM comments (0)

It’s hard enough sometimes to get into a regular workout schedule, but then to add an extra 5-10 minutes to each session for stretching can make it even more difficult. Fortunately, the benefits of stretching both before and after a workout can make this extra time worth it.Stretching

April Williams, MS, RCEP Exercise Physiologist at NorthShore, discusses the benefits of stretching pre and post workout:

  • Reduces injury. There is nothing worse than pulling or tearing a muscle from working out. Warming up your muscles before a workout can help reduce muscle strain and pain during exercise. The same holds true for when your workout is complete. To help energize your muscles before an activity you could do a dynamic warm-up. This type of warm-up involves moving, much more than just holding a stretch, and can help prepare your body for your activity. This could consist of doing 10-15 repetitions of lightly skipping, walking lunges, side stepping exercises, etc.
  • Improves muscle soreness and stiffness. Just as you may need a cup of coffee to get you going in the morning, your body also needs some time to prepare for strenuous activity. Stretching will give you a greater range of motion during your workout, in your activities of daily living and can also help relieve stress.
  • Improves circulation. Stretching can improve blood flow, making for an easier warm-up, workout and cool down.
  • Enhances flexibility. Have you ever noticed that after time goes by without working out you may not be able to reach your toes when stretching your legs? Continued stretching exercises will make you more limber and flexible. This is especially important since not all of our muscles get used on a day-to-day basis. Stretching is something that should be done on a daily basis because as we get older, our muscles tend to get shorter/tighten, and if they are not stretched they may not work properly. Stretching is a wonderful way to help protect against this loss as we age.

Be sure that you are gently stretching all major muscle groups, especially after working out.  It will be easier for you to get a better stretch once your muscles are already warm from your activity. The following stretches are good starting points for any workout, and can be customized depending on your needs and activity:

  • Arm stretches. This can include doing arm circles (in both directions), stretching your arm across your chest or behind your head. Another option is to give yourself a big bear hug, switching out which arm is on top. Plan to hold each stretch for 10-20 seconds. Make sure you never bounce or have short, quick movements.
  • Leg stretches. This should include hamstring and quadriceps. You can do many of these stretches either standing up or sitting down. You can stretch your calves by leaning against a stationary object. Bend your front leg slightly and leave your back leg straight with the heel on the ground. Don’t forget to change legs to get the other side, too!

Do you stretch before and after you exercise? How long to you usually stretch for?

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