Yoga is an ancient practice with origins in India stretching back thousands of years. Many practitioners find that it helps them achieve a sense of calmness and tranquility, along with numerous physical benefits. While yoga studios are still common everywhere, given our current situation it is much easier to start getting into a routine using apps or videos online.
If you’re on the fence about starting a new regime, read on for some of the benefits of a regular yoga practice!
1. Yoga can improve your overall health.
If you are new to yoga (5 classes or less) it is best to try out different styles of and flows to see which one works best for you. The speed and intensity of yoga classes will vary; with apps such as Down Dog you can choose the type of class as well as the focus, whether it is on strength or flexibility.
Improved flexibility is one of the immediate benefits of yoga. In the beginning it can feel like your body is tight and clunky, but after a consistent regime you should notice your muscles start to loosen and it becomes easier to move through the practice. Aches and pains may start to disappear as tightness in parts of the body can manifest elsewhere.
During your practice you will contract and stretch muscles, move organs around, and come in and out of yoga postures; as you do this you increase the drainage of lymph (a viscous fluid rich in immune cells). By encouraging lymph drainage you help your lymphatic system fight infection, destroy cancerous cells, and dispose of toxic waste. Consider yoga your detox exercise!
Along with detoxing your system, yoga has been shown to lower cortisol levels in practitioners. Many people deal with low-level stress in their day to day lives which is healthy, but consistent stress can cause the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol in response to perceived crisis, which serves to temporarily boosts immune function. A problem will occur if your levels stay elevated even after a crisis and your immune system will end up being compromised. Excessive cortisol has also been linked to depression, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. Through yoga you can help your body and mind relax and create a state of calm, hopefully lowering your stress hormones to more sustainable levels.
The health benefits of yoga are vast; some advanced yogis have been recorded controlling their bodies via their nervous system. Some have been able to create unusual heart rhythms, generate specific brain-wave patterns, and using meditation techniques, they have been able to raise the temperature of their hands. Consider the multiple health benefits available if you learn to calm your body and mind at will.
2. Yoga increases self-awareness and mind-body connection.
During your yoga classes your body is put through a series of postures and stretches designed to increase strength and flexibility. In the beginning it can be discouraging to not feel your body “responding” as easily as you may have expected, but with more practice you will find you are able to flow through the postures smoother than before.
Lunges and stretches will increase your leg and core strength, as well as engaging every muscle in your body; meanwhile the exercises force you to focus on the moment, and during meditation you will be encouraged to clear your mind, which helps alleviate stress and will improve your mental stability. Even if you are physically capable of completing a yoga practice, the goal is to be able to silence your mind as you focus on moving your body.
Meditation doesn’t need to be cloaked in the New Age sage-chanting vibe. It doesn’t have to be sitting in a cave working through Tibetan chants (though it can be, if that’s what you’re after). Meditation has built up a following in recent years and now through YouTube videos and apps such as Headspace it’s easier than ever to incorporate it into your lifestyle.
Meditation can improve the quality of your life by giving you time to slow down and process what is happening. While it can be arduous in the beginning, the more you practice the easier you’ll find you slip into a zen-like state. It’s incredibly important to incorporate this into your yoga practice as it helps you achieve calmness and tranquility.
3. Inhala, Exhala!
Yoga focuses heavily on breathing paired with movement (or lack thereof) which can improve your lung capacity (volume of breath and efficiency of exhalation). Many poses and breaths work in tandem to open your lungs and “create space” in the body, allowing you to decompress and destress.
Devoted yogis tend to take fewer breaths of greater volume, which is both calming and more efficient. In 1998, The Lancet published a study where a yoga breathing technique known as “complete breathing” was taught to a group of people who suffered from lung problems. After one month of practice their average respiratory rate fell from 13.4 breaths per minute to 7.6; they also found that their exercise capacity increased.
4. Yoga can improve the quality of your sleep.
Yoga can be done at any time during the day, but if you incorporate a practice before bed you will find your mind and body relax more efficiently, allowing you to achieve a more restful night’s sleep. Doing any light physical activity or stretching before bed is beneficial, and yoga will help you relax; I’ve been guilty of occasionally dozing off during Savasana (aptly referred to as “Corpse Pose”) at the end of my practice.
While excitement and stimulation are great in life, too much will cause excess stress on your nervous system. Yoga will help your body find some relief through poses aimed at giving much needed downtime to your body. Many studies suggest that yoga will help you achieve better sleep, thereby affecting your stress levels and making you more productive in your daily life.
5. Yoga can improve your posture.
As you move into different poses you will notice you’re encouraged to be aware of the flatness and curvature of your spine. After a few weeks of consistent practice you should notice that your posture improves without much conscious effort on your part.
Your head is like a bowling ball: big, round and heavy. When it’s balanced over a straight spine it takes much less work for your back and neck muscles to support it. However, once it’s moved slightly forward, you will start to strain muscles and create fatigue. Poor posture can cause back, neck and muscle problems and the worse your posture is, the more your body tries to compensate, creating a ripple effect of stress and possible fractures on other parts of your body. (1)
Getting into yoga doesn’t have to be an expensive or daunting endeavour. I’m currently using the Down Dog app, which is available for free or via a paid yearly subscription if you’d like more control and variety in your classes. The app is incredibly user friendly and can be used by people of all levels of skill.
I like to practice a couple times a week to check-in with my body and see which areas feel like they need more stretching and attention. It can be frustrating to start a new exercise but yoga has multiple health benefits that will help you now and make your body more supple and toned as you age. Good luck and namaste!
1. Haigh, Chris. “7 Reasons You Should Start Doing Yoga Immediately.” Lifehack, 10 Sept. 2013, http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/7-reasons-you-should-start-doing-yoga-immediately.html.