I was first introduced to yoga 15 years ago in high school by a gym teacher who was a true believer in yoga’s healing ability. She offered yoga class as an alternative to more mainstream physical activities and I’ll try anything once so I decided to see what it was all about. At the time I was more into competitive sports and this was...different. I’m saying different in a sarcastic tone because it felt odd, uncomfortable and a bit “woo-woo”. Every class the teacher would praise yoga for all of its physical, mental and spiritual benefits. I didn’t necessarily doubt her but I wasn’t connecting to anything but the clock to signal class was over.
After that semester was done, I didn’t think I would ever try yoga again. But a few years later curiosity led me to another yoga class. If at first you don’t succeed try again, right? Well, nothing had changed and I was sure this was my final attempt. Fast forward to a few more years later and I found myself at a yoga studio yet again. Third time is a charm? Yes...third time is a charm! It was like a light from above shined down on me and something finally clicked and I felt the healing power of yoga. I began to practice yoga regularly and I got it. I got the appeal, I got why people swear by it and really, I just got how yoga is holistically healing on so many levels.
Yoga is one of those things that may take awhile to “get” but once you do, you really do. Although it’s not always easy to articulate what yoga does for me personally, I know it’s an integral piece of the puzzle needed to stay healthy, strong and happy. Over the years science has started to show that yoga has a list of healing benefits for the mind and body.
Here are 3 powerful ways that yoga is healing for you:
Better stress management and less anxiety
Did you know that mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and stress are among the most common reasons people try yoga? The overall objective of yoga is to increase self-awareness and bring the mind to a peaceful state. It is possible to walk into yoga class with anxiety and walk out feeling blissful and without a care in the world. Scientifically, one of the reasons yoga helps with stress is because yoga optimizes the body's sympathetic responses to stressful stimuli. Practicing yoga can help inhibit the areas responsible for fear, aggressiveness, and rage. In turn, this will stimulate the rewarding centers and other areas, leading to a state of bliss and pleasure. People who practice yoga experience lower anxiety, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. So if you’ve been practicing yoga and feel like it’s a major part of stress reduction, you’re right.
Helps with sleeping problems
Sleep dictates everything. Moods, weight, decision making, metabolism, ability to concentrate, and the list goes on. Yoga's ability to increase relaxation and induce a balanced mental state was studied to evaluate its effect on sleep quality and improving insomnia. Regular practice of yoga resulted in a significant decrease in the time taken to fall asleep, an increase in the total number of hours slept, and in the feeling of being rested in the morning. There’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep and nothing worse than a bad night’s sleep.
Improves flexibility = reduces physical pain
My flexibility is not something to write home about and it’s one of the main reasons I am staying consistent with my yoga practice. I know intuitively that if I don’t commit to increasing my flexibility, I may experience physical problems down the line. Better flexibility reduces pain, decreases muscle soreness, decreases risk of injury, improves performance and improves range of motion. With continued yoga practice comes a gradual loosening of the muscles and connective tissues surrounding the bones and joints, which is why yoga is associated with reduced aches and pains. If you are hesitant to try yoga because of your lack of flexibility, see it as a reason to start instead.
If you’re wondering how often you need to practice yoga to experience benefits, there’s no concrete answer. The obvious one is that the more you do it, the more likely it is you’ll see results. And if you really want to like yoga because you know it’s good for you but you don’t enjoy it yet, be patient. You never know when you’ll be on your mat and think to yourself, oh...I get it now.
By Suzanne Kvilhaug
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