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I began my yoga journey in March twenty-nineteen. I’d heard so much about the benefits that it sounded like it might be the only thing to finally change my mindset. Currently, I practice at least two times a week, sometimes more depending on the time and my condition. I’ve found it to be so empowering, moving and, at times, emotional! I never thought I would cry in a child’s pose, but here we are!
Maybe you’re new to yoga, or perhaps you’re a seasoned veteran. Or maybe you’re just curious? What’s it all about? Will, I suit it? No matter your experience or thoughts, this blog post will open your eyes to the many benefits of yoga. Even if you’ve been taking it to the mat since the nineties, you never know, you might learn something new!
Are you new to yoga? Or need to get back to the mat? Check out some of these much-needed yoga stables to help your practice. They also make great gifts for the yogis in your life.
What is yoga & why do some many enjoy it?
Yoga is the Sanskrit word yuj meaning ‘to bind‘. It can also be interpreted as ‘union‘. Either way, it’s clear that it promotes a sort of togetherness. Personally, I take it that this means it meshes our minds, bodies, and souls into one, allowing us to be entirely one with ourselves.
But yoga is more than just postures and stretches. It has eight vital ‘limbs’ that work together to make up one of the most spiritually enriching exercises available in western culture. We’re encouraged to connect our breathing with the movement of our bodies, as we gently progress from one pose to the next. How simply delightful does that sound?
Each of these relates to a limb or a ‘lesson‘ yoga aims to teach. For example, Yama teaches us about moral and ethical principles that guide how we interact with the world and those in it. It encourages non-violence (Ahimsa, which I discuss in more detail below), compassion, moderation and truthfulness.
But why do so many enjoy it?
There are numerous reason’s people enjoy yoga and not all of them are due to the benefits that regular practice can promote.
- Physical benefits such as flexibility, improved strength and better balance. Not only that but regular practice gives us greater muscle tone and improves stamina in a gentle way.
- It’s a great way to relax and de-stress.
- It promotes a connection between the body, mind and soul. While this may sound ‘airy-fairy’, bare with me. Yoga teaches us to align our physical breath with our thoughts. In turn, it teaches us to listen to our bodies, feel what they are telling us and gives us time to focus on our breathing.
- Yoga encourages a connection to the spirit that not many other exercises do. This opens up pathways for self-growth and improvement, both physical and mental.
Eight (and more) Benefits of Yoga.
Yoga teaches us about compassion.
The practice of yoga encourages us to be compassionate to others and most importantly to ourselves. Whether we’re in the midst of mental illness or knee-deep in recovery, self-hate, and ridicule are common themes. It’s a welcome change to be fed positive messages about ourselves when all we want to do is internally put ourselves down.
The first time I sat through an instructional yoga video with Adriene Mishler, I was so comforted. Don’t get me wrong, I was slightly taken aback and felt a little silly at being told I’m wonderful by a stranger, much less a stranger on the television. But the more I practised and the more I allowed myself to repeat those words with the abandon of what anyone else might think, the more I began to believe them.
During Adriene’s practice, she fills you with praise, telling you how wonderful it is that you took this time to be with yourself. The best part is that this isn’t just an Adriene thing. Many other yoga instructors do this and the reason behind it? To verbally tell us that we are doing amazing things, we are good enough.
Self-compassion is so important in recovery because so often we can get caught up in the negative aspects of ourselves, or what the voice will have you believe is negative, that it can become difficult to see the positive.
It reduces stress.
How many times have you heard “You’re stressed? Try some yoga!”
In the past, I would have rolled my eyes. I could never shut my mind off long enough to do yoga, I’d be no good, I would just spend the whole time thinking about what I needed to do next. If I’m honest at the start I did rush through practice in order to get to my next task. Yoga was just first on the long list of tick-boxes I needed to fill. But once you allow yoga into your life, and give yourself the time to sit with it, the changes can be amazing.
Studies have been conducted on the benefits of yoga for combating stress and the results leave little to the imagination. A medical study conducted on twenty-four emotionally distressed women found that in just three months of solid practice, their cortisol levels had been lowered significantly.
This is just one of many studies conducted on the subject of yoga and mental health. Find out more by reading the benefits of yoga for stress management.
It reduces anxiety.
Anxiety during recovery is at an all-time high. You’re faced with so many terrifying things in the eyes of anorexia, your heart starts to pound at the mention of ‘Christmas dinner‘ or ‘office party‘ and panic often follows. Yoga has been proven to relieve anxiety symptoms through a variety of studies on various groups of people.
Asanas help to ease our discomfort both physically and mentally.
“Through the practice of yoga, our muscles are stretched and our minds are open, often relieving the pressure for that we hold within ourselves.”
Harmful thinking patterns and perpetual overthinking are all too common or those suffering from mental illness. Through meditation and focusing on our breathing, we are encouraged to let go of those thoughts, and to allow our bodies and minds to become one. In general, the practice of yoga can trigger the relaxation response, which is the opposite to fight or flight. This allows our bodies to relax, and fall into a state of calm.
It allows us to practice at home.
Yoga isn’t the only thing that allows us to practice in the comfort of our own homes, but it’s certainly the easiest. The reason I mention this is that sometimes the thought of going to a class can be anxiety-inducing. Why? Because we’re afraid of the judgement of others. It’s simple.
Practising at home using a guide on your smart television or through the use of a book allows us to practice in a safe, familiar space. Personally, I use Yoga With Adriene and Dionne Elizabeth on YouTube when I feel that I need guided practice.
You can also get your family involved, or even your pets. My cats love nothing more than a good stretch on my mat, even if I’m already using it. During the pandemic my husband and I practiced together in our yard in a bid to release a trapped nerve in his back. While he hasn’t maintained his practice alongside me, he can often be caught doing stretches on the bedroom floor.
It helps us to sleep.
Insomnia and sleep disturbances often accompany those suffering from mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Through the use of several studies, it’s been determined that yoga could be the key to getting a full, and restful night’s sleep.
After just eight weeks of consistent study the following improvements were found in the twenty insomniac participants.
- Improved wake up time.
- Reduction in the time it took to fall asleep.
- Better sleep efficiency.
- An increase in total sleep time.
The relaxation aspect of yoga gives our minds and bodies time to wind down, so if you have issues sleeping it’s best to practice yoga before hitting the hay.
It can aid digestion.
Your gut is known, notoriously, as the second brain. A large part of your digestive system is aligned with your mental state, making it sensitive to intense emotions, stress and anxiety. It’s no wonder that I suffered from severe tummy troubles over the course of the last year!
Yoga helps us to relieve symptoms of indigestion, constipation, bloating and general discomfort, in the same way, it alleviates mental distress; by instilling a sense of calm and relaxation.
Not only this but certain poses help create reactions within our bodies. Twisting your body poses helps to relieve or ‘wring out‘ the digestive tract. This is similar to wringing out a wet dishcloth if you know what I mean!
It improves strength & flexibility.
Many people take up yoga to improve their overall strength and flexibility, without being too strenuous on our bodies. During recovery from an eating disorder, specifically anorexia nervosa, it’s not advised to take part in any exercise that runs the risk of burning excessive calories. During recovery in my teens, I wasn’t even allowed to walk.
Yoga allows us to exercise in a way that doesn’t focus on the calories we burn or the hours spent on the treadmill. It focuses on posture, the flexibility of our bodies and building up strength we have long since lost to muscle wastage.
Ahimsa (A-HIM-SA) means non-harming or non-violence in Sanskirt and is one of the five Yoga Sutras. It reminds us that yoga is accessible, or should be accessible, to all people no matter their skill level, gender, age or gender. Remembering Ahimsa throughout our practice enables us to begin to accept our mind, body, and soul completely.
Practising non-violence means being compassionate to ourselves. It means to speak gently and to work at a pace that we are comfortable with.
“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”Lao Tzu
What other benefits have you found from yoga?
Yoga has become a bit of a novelty in the 21st century. Every millennial you speak to has practised or at least heard yoga. Even doctors are suggesting it alleviates chronic pain. What are your thoughts on yoga? What are the other benefits of yoga that you’ve discovered?