Recognised by the United Nations, June 21 is now a day that is dedicated to this physical, mental and spiritual practice that has only positive effects and benefits for every single person. Why June 21? Quite simply, because it is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and already is relevant in many parts of the world.
The benefits of this 5,000-year art/science/practice are innumerable. We’ve been told since childhood that yoga is good for us. Whether Ashtanga, Iyengar, Patanjali, Kriya or any other branch, yoga helps with flexibility, strength, muscle-building, toning, better respiration, increased metabolisms, better cardio health and slow, safe healing from injuries. Yoga even helps cancer patients by reducing pain and fatigue, and improving sleep and energy.
And it changes you – even science agrees
Recent research, hailed as breakthrough, has shown that yoga and meditation can positively change your DNA. A combination of these practices lengthens telomeres – structures at the tips of DNA chromosomes.
Just like wear and tear on bones, telomeres also shorten with age and age-related diseases. Cancer, heart diseases and diabetes lead to shortened telomeres, leading to cells aging and dying quicker. Lengthened telomeres mean longer-living cells, and thus healthier you.
Yoga might be better than therapy
In a study in Canada, research has indicated that people who practice yoga and meditation actually had longer telomeres than those who went for group therapy. The authors of the study said, that the changes in length, “suggest an effect of the interventions on potentially important biomarkers of psychosocial stress. Given the increasingly well-documented association between telomere length and cancer initiation and survival, s finding adds to the literature supporting the potential for stress-reducing interventions to impact important disease-regulating processes and ultimately disease outcome.”
Researchers at Harvard Medical School found similar positive, longer-telomere results in subjects who practised meditation. Basically, yoga changes the metabolic functions of your cell enough to better help your body absorb and use nutrients.
Celebrate International Yoga Day – in 5 minutes a day
These five easy asanas are a great start to your day – and help you change yourself for the better.
This is a great way to wake up and stretches out your body, especially your back. Get down on your hands and knees and maintain a neutral pose in your pack. Breathe out while arching your spine up and looking at your thighs. Breathe in and bring your spine back to neutral, then exhale completely and gently while looking up and letting your stomach out.
Tree Pose or Vrksasana
This standing yoga pose promotes balance and strengthens your legs. Stand straight, shift your weight to the right foot and bring the sole of your left foot up flat against your right inner thigh. You can put your foot against the calf if you are not able to balance at first. The hands are held in a Namaste pose. Hold for up to a minute and switch to the other leg.
Camel Pose or Ustrasana
This pose helps energise your throat, chest and heart. Kneel, centre yourself and gradually bend backwards with arms extended, till your hands are touching the soles of your feet and your head is completely extended. Hold your soles for as long as possible, up to a minute, till you feel a stretch in your legs.
Remember: This pose might be difficult at first so be gentle with yourself and stretch back only as far as you can, hands on your hips.
Bridge Pose or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Open up your body with the bridge pose. Lie down, and if needed, place a folded towel under your shoulders. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground, your hands outstretched and palms down. Try to ensure your heels are as close to your sitting bones or glutes as possible. Exhale, tuck your glutes inward so your tailbone is tucked into your back, press your palms and feet into the floor and lift your glutes off the floor. Hold the position, keeping your thighs and feet firm and parallel. Hold for as long as you can, up to a minute, and then slowly and gently, roll back down, taking care to keep your glutes tucked.
Alternate Nostril Breathing or Nadi Shodhan Pranayama
Start and end your day by stabilising the two branches of your autonomic nervous system. De-stress, release tension and also help your lymphatic system clean itself while you’re at it. Sit cross-legged, with your spine erect and left hand on your left knee, palms open, thumb and index finger touching. Arrange your right hand such that the tips of the index and middle fingers are between the eyebrows, the ring finger and little finger are on the left nostril and the thumb is on the right nostril. Use the fingers on the nostrils to direct your breathing by opening or closing the nostrils, exhaling and inhaling through each, alternately.
Bonus: To calm down, breathe only through your left nostril. For a quick burst of energy, breathe only through your right nostril.