What is Yoga?
I cannot tell you how many times I hear people say “I can’t do yoga I am not flexible”. The truth is yoga is not just about the poses! The word “yoga” actually comes from the phrase “to yoke” or to bring together. Yoga is a way to connect mind, body, and breath. Because this mindful practice includes breath control, centering, and physical movement, it is often referred to as a “moving meditation”. Yoga does not have to be bending into a pretzel or that classic image of svelte models effortlessly floating into dancer pose.
The physical health benefits are numerous and well documented in medical journals. A regular yoga practice is associated with improved cardiovascular health, relief from chronic pain, arthritis and better sleep, in addition to improving muscle strength and posture. Awareness of breath helps you to slow down your thoughts and incorporate more body awareness.
Okay, so what about the mental health benefits?
Most people are aware that practicing yoga will calm your body down. Having a mindfulness practice can also encourage you to stay present with whatever is happening. Oftentimes we are wrapped up in what has happened in the past or what we believe will happen in the future. I can speak for myself when I say that I often get carried away with my thoughts, worries, and “What Ifs”.
Coming back into your breath can take the focus out of your head and into your body. Something magical happens when you connect with your body. Staying in the moment allows you be open to all of the wonderful possibilities your life has to offer.
How can yoga help my depression?
Most of us know that physical exercise is beneficial to one suffering from depression. Yoga is awesome because it incorporates mindfulness with the movement that does not have to be strenuous. Often in depression, the sufferer will experience lethargy, rumination, feelings of sadness and lack of motivation. Practicing yoga and meditation can combat these symptoms and even increase production of feel-good chemicals in the brain like GABA, dopamine, and serotonin. The practices of yoga and meditation have been noted to activate these neurotransmitters that help regulate mood.
What about my anxiety?
Yoga is a great exercise for someone dealing with anxiety. Often people who suffer from anxiety disorders are preoccupied with what is going on in their heads. Predicting unpleasant events and re-living uncomfortable situations are common for those who struggle with anxiety. Yoga allows space to notice that right now, in this moment, everything is okay. Patients who have been diagnosed with panic disorders and other anxiety disorders, typically have decreased GABA activity in the brain. The chemicals that are released in the brain during a yoga class have been compared to the effects of the Benzodiazepine class of anti-anxiety medication.
I am struggling with addiction. Can yoga help me?
Having a yoga practice can definitely be a helpful supplement to addiction treatment and recovery programs. As stated earlier, Yoga and other mindfulness practices can increase blissful chemicals in the brain like GABA, dopamine, and serotonin, which can be responsible for that post-yoga class euphoric feeling. Additionally, having a routine can be beneficial for anyone dealing with a mental health concern. Adding yoga to your schedule can give you something to look forward to and keep you busy in a positive way.
Do kids and teens benefit from yoga?
Absolutely. In fact, yoga can help children to be more aware of the way their bodies move, while also building comfort with those growing bodies. Teaching mindful movement and meditation to younger children will allow them to learn to focus and be present. Integrating breath and movement can also help with emotional regulation. For teens, yoga can help improve self-esteem by increasing body gratitude and building a sense of community.
How often should I practice?
If I could practice every day I totally would! I think incorporating some kind of mindful exercise whether it is meditation, yoga or prayer, can be a helpful way to start the day. If it starts to feel like a chore, it may be time to prioritize and look at what else is taking up your time. A lot of people find that the calm they feel after going to a yoga class or practicing yoga on their own is well worth it.
Remember that you get what you put in. If you make taking care of yourself a priority, you will reap the benefits.
Please let me know your thoughts and message me with any questions 🙂
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel VanderKolk