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  • This year is the year that you start doing yoga, and I mean for real this time.

  • You're going to join the 36 million-plus Americans who have taken up this beautiful practice, connecting yourself with a millennia-old tradition and helping you flush out those nasty toxins, or, you know, probably not.

  • Before you grab a mat, here's what yoga really does to your body and brain.

  • First of all, yoga comes in many, many different styles, but generally speaking, it involves some amount of stretching and meditation.

  • Now, despite what you may have read, there's no scientific evidence to support the idea that yoga will flush out toxins from your colon or anywhere else.

  • But that doesn't mean these techniques can't help your body in many other ways.

  • Take back pain for instance.

  • An estimated 80% of Americans will suffer from back pain at one point in their lives.

  • But one study found that after just 6 to 12 yoga sessions, participants reported significantly less pain in their lower back.

  • That's because certain yoga poses stretch out your hamstrings, which, when they're too tight, can yank on your hip flexors and strain your lower back.

  • But the more you practice yoga, the more flexible your hamstrings get.

  • For example, in a 2015 study, women practiced a type of hatha yoga, which involves positions like downward dog and triangle pose.

  • They practiced 90 minutes each week for around 16 weeks straight.

  • And by the last week, they could reach four centimeters closer to their toes than before thanks to those loose hamstrings.

  • Now, if you're also meditating during those yoga sessions, the flexibility might not be the only benefit.

  • After 7 to 16 weeks of meditative activities, participants in one study saw a huge drop in C-reactive proteins in their blood.

  • Those proteins are linked to inflammation, which, when you're overly stressed, can kick into overdrive.

  • And over time, that inflammation may contribute to serious illnesses like cardiovascular disease and cancer.

  • That's where yoga's meditative qualities can help.

  • Researchers suspect that yoga may reduce stress by interfering with the central nervous system's ability to release stress hormones.

  • Plus, studies show that meditation-focused types of yoga, like yoga asana, boost levels of feel-good hormones like oxytocin in the brain.

  • Plus, yoga is an exercise, and exercise in and of itself is a stress reliever.

  • In fact, the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends two and a half to five hours a week of light to moderate exercise.

  • That can include workouts like yoga, brisk walking, or swimming.

  • And to be fair, any amount of regular exercise is most likely going to reduce anxiety, elevate mood, and improve sleep and self-esteem.

  • So while yoga might have an edge in the flexibility department and mindfulness department.

  • There are plenty of other activities you can try to get fit.

  • But as long as it gets you moving and maybe gives you some new friends, why not give it a try?

This year is the year that you start doing yoga, and I mean for real this time.

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