Long touted as the antidote for stress and stiffness, many doctors now prescribe yoga as a complementary therapy to Western medicine for conditions like high blood pressure, arthritis pain and diabetes. In fact, yoga can even help cancer patients combat the side effects of radiation.
The scientific jury is still examining the reasons behind yoga’s health benefits. Some say the combination of physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation helps reduce stress like other mind-body therapies, while others believe yoga causes the release of endorphins (natural painkillers and “feel good” chemicals) from the brain. Despite the reasons, when it comes to choosing a yoga class, one size doesn’t fit all.
When starting out, most newbies gravitate toward gentle Hatha yoga, the most widely practiced form of yoga in America. Through nearly 200 postures, Hatha works to increase flexibility, promote circulation, and increase balance and flexibility.
For a more intense workout, power yoga (also referred to as flow yoga and vinyasa yoga) is a popular choice. Based on a series of non-stop poses used in Ashtanga yoga, power yoga builds upper-body strength, overall flexibility and balance. But a word of caution—it’s always best to learn the poses in slower style classes that typically provide more individualized attention.
Particularly effective for those recovering from or living with illnesses or injuries, therapeutic yoga blends techniques to focus specific conditions. For example, gentle yoga postures and deep-breathing exercises can help lower blood pressure and calm the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for generating stress hormones. Controlled poses, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques also can help control joint tenderness and swelling, often relieving arthritis pain. Yoga also has been shown to reduce production of the hormone glucagon, known to increase blood sugar levels.
Most types of yoga don’t pack the same calorie-burning punch of aerobic exercise, but it can be an important part of an overall weight loss strategy. For example, a 150-pound person can burn approximately 150 calories during an hour of regular yoga, compared to 311 calories burned while walking 3 mph. However, a study with healthy, middle-aged men and women participating in at least one 30-minute yoga session per week for four or more years did show that yoga can help people shed pounds, or at the very least prevent weight gain.
NEW CLASSES FORMING:
To extend the benefits of yoga to patients and the community, UCF Health will begin offering weekly therapeutic yoga classes starting September 5 at its 3400 Quadrangle Blvd. location, just blocks from the main UCF campus. Classes will include Yoga for Heart Disease & Hypertension, Yoga for Arthritis & Pain Management and Yoga for Diabetes.
Two free informational sessions about the classes will be held from 11 a.m. to noon on Friday July 25 and Friday, August 29 at UCF Health. Classes are $60 per month, with registration beginning July 25. Before beginning any new exercise program, please consult with your physician.