We as human beings, hold a lot of emotions in our bodies. We may not always notice it but it is there. Residing in our tissues and often causing mental and physical challenges to our wellbeing.
Yoga, a Sanskrit word meaning to yoke, is an ancient practice that focuses on bringing together the mind and body. The time spent on a yoga mat fosters quiet reflection. This ability to be silent encourages listening to the sounds of our body and our intuition. When we begin to allow time for mindful movement we start to tune into our own unique biology and begin to learn so much about who we are. The learning goes deeper into acceptance and finally celebration about our unique body and sense of self.
"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured."
- B.K.S. Iyengar
When a new yoga student is asked what lead them to roll out their mat and start a practice, their response often credits a medical professional for the recommendation. Many already understand and accept the mental health benefits of building yoga into a daily routine, but what about the rest of the body? How does yoga impact your overall health and wellness?
In order to fully understand all the benefits that come from that integral partnership, let’s look at what can be referred to as, the four Bs:’ brain, body, breath and balance.
One of the first things people associate with yoga is an innate ability to help calm the mind. The effects a yoga practice can have on the brain and mental health are backed by science. Many people begin yoga as a way to cope with feelings of anxiety. Yoga focuses on being present in the moment, which helps combat feelings of fear and anxiety over what happened before or what might happen later. Many studies have shown a decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol as well, for those who have a regular and consistent yoga practice.
Continuing in the sphere of mental health, yoga has also been shown to have an anti-depressant effect and could help ease symptoms of depression.
Those who suffer from migraine headaches can turn to yoga, alone or paired with conventional care, to experience a greater decrease in headache intensity and frequency than those using just conventional care. Why is that? Research shows that doing yoga can help stimulate the vagus nerve which has been shown to be success in relieving migrane headaches.
With yoga’s contributions to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and migraine severity and frequency, a secondary benefit of improved focus and concentration may arise. Without the ongoing mental health challenges an individual's head may feel clearer and they may experience an overall improvement in the quality of life.
In addition to having a positive impact on mental health, yoga also has many benefits on physical health and the body itself. Some studies show that yoga may aid in reducing inflammation markers in the body and therefore help prevent pro-inflammatory diseases. Inflammation is normal immune response but studies show that chronic inflammation can lead to bigger health problems like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Practicing yoga regularly on its own or with a healthy lifestyle can also help heart health by lowering your blood pressure and reducing the risk for heart disease. In addition to lowering blood pressure, there has been a growing well of research accrediting yoga as a successful method of coping with chronic pain. A regular yoga practice can help keep the joints lubricated and the muscles strengthened and lengthened resulting in a reduction of chronic pain.
The mindful component that is interwoven in a yoga practice can be beneficial to a practitioner in the realm of positive eating habits and behaviors as well, which greatly impact a person’s health. Mindful eating is about paying attention to the taste, smell and texture of your food and noticing any thoughts, feelings or sensations you experience while eating. It is an intuitive concept that encouraged being present in the moment. Regularly practicing this can help control blood sugar, increase weight loss and treated disordered eating behaviors.
In addition to helping us be more mindful about what we put into our bodies, yoga can have an effect on how successfully we utilize the body’s natural detoxification process. The body resets, detoxifies and recharged during sleep. Yoga is suggested to aid in improved sleep, which is beneficial for all body systems. While the way this works is not totally clear, yoga has been shown to increase the chemical melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness. Proper rest can be a big factor in mood and the level of fatigue a person experiences, good or bad. Pair that with the fact that yoga has a significant effect on anxiety, depression, chronic pain and stress, all common contributors to sleep problems, it is no surprise that rolling out your mat can help you get a good night’s sleep.
Yoga is the joining of the body and mind, while focusing on different breathing techniques depending on the desired result of the practice. The breath is always with us and can be used to our advantage when tackling day to day stressors. Studies also show that practicing yogic breathing and breath control can result in a significant increase in vital capacity. Vital capacity is a measure of the maximum amount of air that can be expelled from the lungs. It is particularly important for anyone with asthma, heart problems or lung disease.
The breathwork used varies depending on the type of yoga being practices as well as the desired effect. It can be used to help calm the nervous system or to help energize by reoxygenating the blood supply. Varying the types of breathwork is beneficial to improve breathing and over all lung function.
Many people come to yoga as means to add flexibility and balance to their lives, particularly later in life. The research on this is considerable and suggests that adding yoga to a fitness routine can optimize performance through specific poses that target flexibility and balance. Practicing yoga just 15-30 daily can make a big difference for anyone with these goals.
However, balance, particularly as it coincided with yoga means so much more than just standing on one leg. It is important to balance the body by repeating the same postures on both sides to build strength and stamina. Balance can also be used to take a deeper look at the way our time and energy is distributed. It is said that your balance on the mat often reflect your balance off of the mat. Meaning that if you are having a hard time in a particular balance posture, it may be necessary to take a look at your life priorities and notice where things may not align.
The bottom line is that yoga is good for you! Incorporating yoga into your routine can increase your strength and flexibility, reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, improve sleep and enhance the overall quality of life. Finding time to practice, just a few minutes a day, can have so many lasting health benefits, both mentally and physically. Are you ready to roll out your mat and give it a try?