Movement & Holistic Wellbeing Series- Yoga

Last month we kicked off our Movement and Holistic Wellbeing blog series, looking at Pilates and its benefits on our mind, body and soul. This month, we’re focusing on yoga.

Yoga is what you could consider to be the superstar practice to connect your mind, body and soul. It involves integrating your physical body with your breath (similar to Pilates), and supports a deep connection to your mind and spirit through incorporating meditation as a key element.

Yoga uses a variety of different poses that require varying levels of flexibility, strength, coordination and focus to achieve. The wonderful thing about yoga is that it can be adjusted to suit your ability, strength and purpose for doing it, ranging from a gentle, soothing session to a more powerful, strengthening work out (of both the body and mind).

We’ve all heard of Tree Pose and Downward-Facing Dog, but there are many different varieties of yoga practice. Some include Bikram yoga, restorative yoga, power yoga, prenatal yoga, Hatha yoga and Vinyasa yoga. These are just a few varieties, with main differences being the pace and level of breath control required to complete the different poses and stretches used.

The amazing thing about yoga is that regardless of how long you’ve been doing it, positive results can be felt immediately. Let’s have a look below at how this amazing practice can benefit you holistically.

How Yoga Benefits Your Mind

The mind-body connection that results from yoga is a main motivation for many who start the practice to keep it up. Being in-tune with how your body feels and what thoughts come up for you during each pose are key components of the practice- specifically, to bring you into the moment you are experiencing and what that means for you. Bringing your attention to your current state allows you to let go of any stress or anxiety you may be experiencing outside of that yoga session, and practicing mindfulness during yoga means you are more likely to be able to practice it in everyday life as well, increasing your emotional stability and coping behaviours, and decreasing susceptibility to depression. 

Yoga also requires you to slow your breath and breathe deeply, and this relaxes your nervous system so much that the result is increased mental clarity and concentration. This allows you more headspace to remember information easily, and absorb new information more effectively[1].

How Yoga Benefits Your Body

The poses used in yoga are renowned for correcting posture, increasing flexibility, improving muscle tone and strength, and enhancing your sense of balance[2]. An increase in your energy levels is also a welcome result of regular yoga practice, due to the increase in blood flow throughout your body and to your brain from all of the gentle movement and stretching, and the natural release of endorphins you experience. The combination of holding different poses and deep breathing has also been found to burn excess fat[3].

The benefits of relaxing the nervous system during a yoga session also go a long way to reducing your overall stress and anxiety levels you may be holding onto within your body. Just one yoga session has been found to have a positive effect on reduction of stress[4]. When you carry out a yoga pose, the body can sense this as a physical demand (or stressor) on the body. By physically reacting with slow and steady breaths, you teach your nervous system to induce a calm state.

Practicing yoga also reduces your heart rate and the release of cortisol (the stress hormone)[5]. The more we practice yoga, the better we become at reacting to daily stress in the same calm way. And if all of those physical benefits aren’t enough, research has also found that regular yoga practice increases your overall immune system[6], decreases heart disease[7], and improves your quality of sleep[8]. It really is a superpower practice for overall wellness!

How Yoga Benefits Your Soul

Self-awareness and understanding are huge soulful benefits of practising yoga. Yoga is so much more than just the physical stretching of the body. It is also the complete stretching of your mind, to break through any psychological barriers or emotional stress that you may be holding on to.

When embraced, the meditative aspects of yoga allow you to gain a sense of quite and calm in your mind, by focusing on your own internal experience in the moment, without external distraction. This is said to allow you the head and heart space to connect to your intuitive self- the self that ‘knows’ deep down without distractions and worries what you truly want and need to feel content. You are able to tap into your own drivers and motivations, allowing a greater understanding of your genuine sense of self.

Cultivating this sense of internal focus and emotional awareness during a yoga session translates to a greater sense of clarity, self-awareness and confidence off the yoga mat in everyday life, making it easier to live authentically and gain a sense of our true selves and what will help us to thrive.

The beauty of yoga is that it can be done any time and anywhere. All you really need is a yoga mat and comfortable clothing. There are so many wonderful yoga studios who run classes and 1:1 sessions, and also many online programs where yoga classes are offered virtually. There are many yoga demonstrations available free online as well if you do a search. If you are just starting out, it is a good idea to attend some classes in-person or a few 1:1 sessions with a trained and experienced instructor so that they can guide you and suggest the type of yoga that may be most beneficial for your individual needs.

[1] Gothe N, Pontifex MB, Hillman C, McAuley E. The acute effects of yoga on executive function. J Phys Act Health. 2013 May;10(4):488-95. doi: 10.1123/jpah.10.4.488. Epub 2012 Jul 9. PMID: 22820158.

[2] Lau, C., Yu, R., & Woo, J. (2015). Effects of a 12-Week Hatha Yoga Intervention on Cardiorespiratory Endurance, Muscular Strength and Endurance, and Flexibility in Hong Kong Chinese Adults: A Controlled Clinical Trial. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM2015, 958727.

[3] Ross, A., Brooks, A., Touchton-Leonard, K., & Wallen, G. (2016). A Different Weight Loss Experience: A Qualitative Study Exploring the Behavioral, Physical, and Psychosocial Changes Associated with Yoga That Promote Weight Loss. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM2016, 2914745.

[4]  Yadav RK, Magan D, Mehta N, Sharma R, Mahapatra SC. Efficacy of a Short-Term Yoga-Based Lifestyle Intervention in Reducing Stress and Inflammation: Preliminary ResultsJ Altern Complement Med. 2012;18(7):662-667. doi:10.1089/acm.2011.0265.

[5] Katuri, K. K., Dasari, A. B., Kurapati, S., Vinnakota, N. R., Bollepalli, A. C., & Dhulipalla, R. (2016). Association of yoga practice and serum cortisol levels in chronic periodontitis patients with stress-related anxiety and depression. Journal of International Society of Preventive & Community Dentistry6(1), 7–14.

[6] Falkenberg RI, Eising C, Peters ML. Yoga and immune system functioning: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2018 Aug;41(4):467-482. DOI: 10.1007/s10865-018-9914-y.

[7] Subramaniam V, Lip GY. Hypertension to heart failure: a pathophysiological spectrum relating blood pressure, drug treatments and stroke. Expert Rev Cardiovasc Ther. 2009 Jun;7(6):703-13. doi: 10.1586/erc.09.43. PMID: 19505285.

[8] Chen KM, Chen MH, Chao HC, Hung HM, Lin HS, Li CH. Sleep quality, depression state, and health status of older adults after silver yoga exercises: cluster randomized trial. Int J Nurs Stud. 2009 Feb;46(2):154-63. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2008.09.005. Epub 2008 Oct 22. PMID: 18947826.

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