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Health Benefits of Hatha Yoga Exercises

Part I - Introduction

Exercise is generally beneficial for both body and mind. From organizations such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation, we learn that lack of physical activity (usually combined with poor nutrition) increases our risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer and many other serious diseases.
Over 10 years ago the CDC estimated that at least 400 000 lives are prematurely lost each year due to Physical Inactivity and Poor Nutrition in the USA. One fears to imagine what the actual number may be today!

When deciding to become more active, it is important to consider that some exercises are more healthy than others. For example, downhill skiing, or other high-impact sports such as hockey or football, may increase your risk of a concussion, bone fracture, back injury, strain or other injury. Other activities may overstress a particular part of the body leading to conditions like tennis elbow.

Considering these factors, Hatha Yoga exercises, when done properly (without strain), are easily the best system of physical activity beneficial to every cell, organ and system in the human body. The degree of flexibility one can gain for the tendons, muscles and spine is quite obvious when we watch someone perform hatha yoga asanas, but the heath benefits go far beyond flexibility. All asanas improve blood flow and oxygen supply to specific body organs, indeed to the entire body to some degree. Hatha yoga also benefits the cardiovascular and lympathic systems. Since the lympathic system does not have a heart to help pump its loads of toxins, hatha yoga exercises help to keep the lymphatic system running smoothly by preventing the lymph nodes from becoming stagnant or obstructed.

All asanas and yoga poses should be mastered gradually without undue strain to tendons, ligaments and the spine. Never over-stretch, ignore warning signs like pain, squeeze air in your lungs or go against the advice of your experienced yoga teacher. Forcing an asana against the advice of your yoga teacher may lead to injury - and will likely prolong mastery over the pose. Instead, set up a regular hatha yoga practice. Regularity makes practice easier and requires less effort in the long run.

For optimum health improvement, hatha yoga asanas should be combined with nutritional support and/or herbal remedies as it is done in Ayurveda, the traditional healing system of India.

Part II - Listing of asanas and mudras for their possible health benefits*

Advanced hatha yoga practitioners may be interested in some specific health benefits of a particular asana. All asanas and their benefits are originally from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. About 84 of the asansas were taught by Shiva who had special regards to Siddhasana, Padmasana, Simhasana and Bhadrasana.
Siddhasana and Padmasana are especially essential for mastery of more advanced techniques as they help to keep body and mind steady, stir the lower chakras and keep the spine straight assisting ascending currents of inner energies (kundalini, prana).

Asana Used for... Reference
Siddhasana
(Adept's Pose)
relaxation, restless mind, concentration, strengthens lower areas of the spine, tones abdominal organs IY (p. 119)
Padmasana
(Lotus Pose)
relaxation, restless mind, concentration, strenghtens lower areas of the spine, tones abdominal organs, beneficial for many illnesses IY (p. 131),
TB (p. 29)
Baddha-Padmasana increases appetite, beneficial for many illnesses TB (p. 26)
Savasana / Mrtasana
(Corpse Pose)
relaxation, fatigue, restless mind TB (p. 20)
Simhasana I
(Lion Pose I)
halitosis (bad breath), stuttering and speach problems IY (p. 136)
Simhasana II
(Lion Pose II)
strengthens liver, regulates flow of bile, halitosis (bad breath), stuttering and speach problems, helps correct coccyx area IY (p.137)
Bhadrasana
(also Gorakshasana)
beneficial for many illnesses, fatigue TB (p. 21)
Svastikasana in combination with pranayama beneficial for many illnesses TB (p. 22)
Paschimottanasana / Brahmacharyasana
(Back-stretching Posture)
Strengthens spine, heart, kidneys, abdomnial organs, improves metabolism and digestion, increases vitality, beneficial for many illnesses, helps control sex drive IY (p. 170)
Mayurasana
(Peacock Pose)
Counters food poisoning, other toxins, entropy of spleen, fever, problems with the lower abdomen, beneficial for diabetes and many illnesses. In case of toxins, dhauti-techniques are added to cleanse areas like the intestinal tract. TB (p. 25)
IY (p. 284)
Sirsasana /
Viparita-Karani

(Headstand)
increases blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain, insomnia, lack of energy, promotes clear thinking and good memory, rejuvenates pituitary gland, pineal gland and thyroid, constipation, benefial for many illnesses;
reduces symptoms of old age, wrinkles, grey hair
IY (p. 190),
TB (p. 31)
Uddiyana Bandha
(Abdominal Lift)
fat reduction around waistline, strengthens abdominal organs, glands and muscles, improves digestion and metabolism, relieves constipation KZ (p. 20)
Nauli
(Abdominal Exercise)
constipation, sexual problems, painful menstruation, improves digestion and metabolism, strengthens abdominal organs, liver, glands and muscles KZ (p. 22)
Bhujangasana
(Cobra Poses)
vitality, neck tension, urinary problems, keeps spine flexible, reduces fat around waistline, strengthens the wrists, strengthens various glands KZ (p. 36)
Janu Sirsasana
(Knee-to-Head Pose)
energy, relaxation, kidney problems, digestion, good for spine, reduces fat around waistline KZ (p. 52)
Matsyasana
(Fish Poses)
energy, neck tension, stimulates the brain and thyroid, asthma, lung problems, hemorrhoids, promotes good digestion KZ (p. 54)
For references the following books were used:
IY  -  B.K.S. Iyengar. "Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika. Revised ed.", 1979. New York, USA; Schocken Books.
KZ  -  Karen Zebroff. "Yoga and Nutrition", 1979. BC, Canada: Fforbez Enterprises Ltd.
TB  -  Theos Bernard. "Hatha Yoga: Ein Erfahrungsbericht aus Indien und Tibet", 1957, Hans E. Günther Verlag.
   Translated from the original: "Hatha-Yoga: The report of a personal experience" by Kurt Lamerdin.

The next page lists various health problems which may respond to certain asanas, mudras or pranayamas:
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*Disclaimer: We publish information for educational purposes only. None of the information on these pages should prevent you from seeking necessary medical treatment. Any suggestion or exercise for health improvement requires the input and approval of your medical professional.