The practice of yoga is more than 5,000 years old, and it's more popular now than ever. People from all walks of life are discovering the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of stretching their muscles and breathing deeply. Dr. Oz talks with Dr. Sandra McClanahan, family physician and yoga practitioner, about some of the medical benefits of yoga.
Even five minutes of simple stretching can make a difference in your health, Dr. McClanahan says. Moving muscles slowly will relax and loosen them, allowing better blood and lymph flow to restore the body and renew energy. Lymph fluid is filled with white blood cells that go to areas of the body that need repair. Because the lymph doesn't have a dynamic pump behind it, like the heart for blood, we can assist the flow through deep breathing and stretching.
Sandra shares some simple exercises to help relax, refresh and restore your body, even when you only have a few minutes:
Alternate nostril breathing stimulates the olfactory nerves and helps balance the right and left brain.
With one finger, close off one nostril and breathe in.
Switch to close off the other nostril and breathe out, then in.
Switch again and repeat.
Eye exercises calm and soothe the mind and help you get in touch with your center.
Look side to side horizontally, moving very slowly to release tension in the eye muscles. Rest your eyes for a moment, then switch to looking up and down.
Look side to side diagonally. Rest the eyes for a moment, then move the eyes in full circles.
When finished, rub the hands together to create heat, then place your palms over your closed eyes to soothe and relax them. If you work at a computer all day, these exercises can help you feel fresh and focused.
Deep breathing helps reduce stress and shifts the body back to a physiological balance.
Fill your lungs like a pitcher, from bottom to top. Start by inhaling to fill the belly with air, then bringing it up to the lower chest and finishing with the upper chest.
Exhale to pour out the pitcher—start by pushing the air out of the upper chest, then the lower chest, and ending by squeezing the belly to completely empty the pitcher so you're ready for the next breath.
Cobra position is important for helping the flow of lymph around the heart.
Lie flat on your abdomen, placing your hands alongside your chest.
Pushing into the floor, lift your upper chest and head like a cobra.
Breathe deeply and easily and don't strain—just open your chest to life.
Learning the basic tools of yoga and doing a little every day will change your life for the better, Dr. McClanahan says. Even if all you're doing is some deep breathing, you're connecting to your center and finding a moment of peace, she says. You can assist in the healing of your own body, because once you learn the techniques, you can use them for the rest of your life.