What are the health benefits of yoga?

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

Yoga is an ancient practice that’s still wildly popular today.

“I felt parts of me stretching that I didn’t think could stretch,” said Jackson Township resident Jerry Pacis.

It’s a new experience for Pacis who signed up for a Hackensack Meridian Health free yoga class. The class is offered just about every month at the Freehold Raceway Mall.

“As an asthmatic, it got me to be aware of inhaling deep and letting it out,” Pacis said.

“They’re just touching the tip of the iceberg of the health benefits of yoga,” said Jersey Shore University Medical Center OB/GYN Dr. Rebecca Cipriano.

The Centers for Disease Control’s 2012 National Health Interview Survey indicates yoga is the third most complementary health approach in the country.

“There’s so much stress and anxiety and we don’t have a lot of remedies, and I think that’s why yoga has become almost like a religion, and I think it’s great.” Cipriano said. “I actually talk to all my patients about yoga and I practice yoga most days.”

Cipriano said aside from some of the more well-known benefits, like increased flexibility and core strength, yoga can be good for your heart.

“One thing that yoga does, is because you slow down your breathing, is it lowers your blood pressure. And when it lowers your blood pressure, it has a positive effect on your heart. And they’re combining yoga with a lot of cardio rehab programs now and as a lifestyle change,” Cipriano said.

The practice focuses on being mindful about the poses and breathing. The doctor says this can lead to being mindful about things outside of yoga, like how and what you eat.

“It’s proven that people doing yoga have a better body mass index, healthier weight. Is it because they’re more weight conscious? I don’t know, I think it’s part of a healthy lifestyle,” Cipriano said.

The low-impact activity attracts everyone from kids, to pregnant women, to senior citizens. There are many different types of yoga. The doctor says the practice has also helped people with inflammatory issues, like arthritis and those who suffer from migraines and things like hip, back and joint pain. Studies also indicate those who do yoga report improved sleep and less stress.

“Yoga is something that can decrease your cortisol levels, which is your stress hormone. I think it’s because you’re focusing on one activity at a time, one pose, one stretch, one breathing exercise. And when you do that you naturally slow yourself down,” Cipriano said.

There are no mirrors in this room. The teacher says she doesn’t want participants to get wrapped up staring at themselves in the poses, but rather enjoy being in the moment and focus on their own bodies’ abilities.

“Some days you can stretch a lot further, and that’s great, and then other day you can’t. But it’s OK, you just want to respect where you are that day, that moment,” said yoga teacher Hope Turner.

After the class, Pacis was won over.

“I would definitely do this again, in a heartbeat,” he said.

That’s exactly what the yoga teacher wants to hear.