By Bay Mehl
When you hear the word yoga, what are the first things that come to mind? Handstands? Meditating? Fancy Instagram pictures? Human pretzels? Many practice yoga as part of their fitness regiment, some use it as an emotional support, to others it is a religious practice-a way to communicate with deity.
While many yogis and fitness trainers can give a vague explanation of why they enjoy yoga, what do doctors actually say are the benefits of yoga?
After doing some research, I came upon this article by Psychology Today where they talked about yoga’s benefits. From the article, I was able to find what scientific studies say about a regular yoga practice. If you’d like to read the article itself, it can be found here. However, I would like to give a more human explanation to what these doctors have to say.
1) Reduces fatigue
A study done in Texas found that women who were going through chemotherapy, if they practiced yoga, they had much more energy compared to those who did not practice yoga. In addition, their stress levels were much lower as well. The stress hormone cortisol was much more regulated within their bodies and they felt much calmer.
This is not only a great breakthrough for cancer treatment, but also for the every day person. A lot of people, myself included, feel like we’re just too busy. Ask pretty much any of your coworkers or peers how they are feeling, they will probably say that they are tired.
During my senior year of college, I practiced yoga five days a week. On those rare days when I missed, I felt a dramatic increase in the pressure I felt on my body and mind. I went from sleepy or tired to completely exhausted and falling asleep in class. I learned that I absolutely HAD to take the time to practice yoga, even for just thirty minutes per day.
2) Reduces inflammation
Inflammation in the body is caused by a lot of things including allergies, stress, sickness, etc. Personally, I have something call patella femoral disorder. That essentially means that my kneecaps rub against my leg bones. Part of this is attributed to the fact that my knees are pretty bowed and the fact that I didn’t get all the nutrition I needed growing up because of my undiagnosed Coeliac’s disease. When I accidentally ingest gluten or if I’ve been on my feet all day, my joints become inflamed (super glamorous right??). I often have to place ice packs on my joints, mainly my knees, to reduce the inner swelling and the pain.
When I’m involved in a regular yoga practice, I’m able to deal with the pain a lot easier and I’ve noticed that my joints are getting much more flexible and strong.
This leads perfectly on to my next point…
3) Strengthens and stretches the body
Because of the above issues, I couldn’t do a lot of higher-impact exercises growing up. It even got so bad that I couldn’t walk to campus without a cane. Once I found out I was gluten intolerant, some of the inflammation went down, but the damage was done. Even though I tried to build muscle, it was extremely difficult because my body couldn’t handle it. I became fit, but at the cost of being in more pain than was probably necessary.
A lot of people think that yoga is just about stretching and breathing. But if you have ever been to a power yoga class, you know that it can be a very effective exercise. It utilizes body-weight strength training, cardio, and endurance all in a one hour window.
There have been many people, usually men, who have come to my yoga classes that don’t think that they’re going to get anything out of it. They’re most often just trying to satisfy their yoga-practicing significant other. Without fail, they’re usually the one’s sweating the most by the end of class. Partly because they pushed themselves throughout the class because they thought they could do everything better than everyone else, but mostly because they underestimated the energy and strength that yoga demands.
4) Improves mood
I started practicing yoga because I was trying to lose weight, but I didn’t know that it would become a remedy for my anxiety and depression.
During yoga, you’re encouraged to breathe deeply, match your breath with your movements, and focus on how your body feels. This mindfulness of the self has been show to lower stress and depression. This is mostly attributed to the fact that yoga mimics relaxation techniques. While you may not feel very relaxed while balancing your knees on your elbows, the fact that you are breathing deeply, moving slowly, and focusing on where you are in that moment can bring you to a place of calm.
Some find that a daily practice completely cures them of whatever ails them. While I still need some help with my mental illnesses, yoga has definitely helped soften the blow.
5) Improves quality of life.
This may seem like a bold claim, but it’s completely true. While I’m not going to claim that yoga will suddenly make you into the Energizer Bunny or into a peppy cheerleader, I can attest that I’m a much happier, calmer, and mindful person. My life is still busy, I still have anxiety and depression, and I still have bad joints, but I can more easily handle the things that life throws at me.
While there needs to be even further scientific study upon the medicinal benefits of yoga, I can attest from my personal experiences that you might as well give yoga a try. You might be surprised by the results.
Of course, when first starting a yoga routine, start out slow, perhaps consult a health professional, and don’t be too hard on yourself. You will feel stiff and perhaps a little weak at first, and you may want things to progress faster, but just listen to your body and let it do what it can. Always express gratitude for you’re your body and your mind at the end of each practice and never feel shy about asking your teacher for help.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional in any way. I am simply referencing my personal experiences and the scientific studies of others.
Bay Mehl is the founder of The Mini Meditating Dragon. A blog that hopes to help others find happiness and calm through yoga, minimalism, and meditation. Find her at https://theminimeditatingdragon.wordpress.com/.