Happy National Yoga Month to all my Yogis out there! Since we are celebrating all things yoga during the month of September, I thought this would be a perfect time to explore what this ancient practice is all about and how incorporating it into our lives can benefit us in a variety of ways. I had dabbled in yoga over the years and by dabbled I mean taken a class here and there mostly when a certain pushy friend of mine would bribe me with Starbucks if I got up at an ungodly hour on Sunday’s to attend a class with her. I neither loved it nor hated it but simply went because, well, it seemed like something I should at least try a handful of times before I wrote off completely. I will freely admit I went into those classes already having decided it wasn’t for me simply because I had this preconceived notion that it was a sleepy little practice that wouldn’t benefit my then goals of getting stronger and building more muscle. I went to the classes, made my friend happy, but never practiced it outside of those few select instances.
Fast forward to March of this year and the start of living the pandemic life and I decided to expand my horizons and give yoga another shot. I am not sure if it came about because I started sitting more, or if it was the amount I was running outside on hard pavement instead of on a treadmill that triggered this but I suddenly found myself with a significant amount of lower back pain. Not wanting to pop pain relievers like Tic Tac’s, I figured yoga could be a much healthier and more holistic approach to alleviating some of the pain and stiffness. I dove into a 3 Week Yoga Retreat (virtual) program and by the end of the 21 days, I was a believer. I felt more flexible, my back pain had diminished quite a bit and even more unexpectedly I actually felt calmer, more grounded and an increased connection to my body that I don’t believe I had ever experienced before.
All those things shouldn’t really have been a surprise though because the very essence of yoga, which by the way goes back a whopping 5000 years, is the unification of the self, that is the connection of the mind, body, and emotions. Yoga really is a total body and mind practice and as I have found, if done with a little bit of consistency and dedication, can offer benefits that you may not even be aware you need. Keep reading for a few of the ways yoga has enriched my life:
5 Benefits of Yoga and the Poses You Can Use to Achieve Them
Amazing Stress and Anxiety Reliever
There is something very calming about focusing on only your breath and the present moment you are in. Yoga stresses the need to be connected to the here and now, not thinking about a hundred different things that either already happened or might happen. It is a practice centered around relaxation and re-connecting us to our bodies. Through the use of controlled breathing and gentle, targeted stretches, yoga has actually been shown to decrease the levels of cortisol in our bodies which is the hormone responsible for stress. Decreases in this hormone can help lessen or fight off anxiety and depression as well.
3 Poses for Stress and Anxiety Relief
- Childs Pose
- Half Moon Pose
- Bridge Pose
A Natural Inflammation Fighter
This benefit is a big one for me as someone who was diagnosed with an inflammatory disease many years ago and has been fighting to keep it in remission ever since. Like I mentioned above, yoga is a wonderful and natural way to combat stress and studies have shown the more you practice yoga the lower your body’s inflammatory reaction to stress becomes. By combating how sedentary we have become, fighting that chronic stress we all find ourselves under (especially and particularly given the current situation we are living through) and helping to alleviate some of that constant tension we find ourselves living with, yoga along with an otherwise healthy lifestyle and diet can go along way in ridding our bodies of that oh so very damaging inflammation.
3 Poses to Fight Inflammation
- Seated Side Bend
- Warrior II Pose
- Viparita Karani or in English, the Legs Up Against the Wall Pose
Great for Flexibility
Gaining more flexibility is something that I have wanted and frankly needed to focus on for a while now. I am not patient by nature so taking time to stretch each day is a struggle for me. Luckily one of the greatest benefits of practicing yoga regularly is greatly improved flexibility. One of the main goals of yoga is to increase range of motion in order to be able to move better while putting less stress on your joints. Less stress on your joints leads to a reduced risk of injury, less pressure, and pain especially in your back, shoulders, and neck region, and even better circulation. It also leads me to my next benefit which is improved posture.
3 Poses for Increased Flexibility
- Cat-Cow Stretch
- Triangle Pose
- Downward Facing Dow
If you are anything like me and find yourself slouched over a computer screen for roughly eight hours a day getting a chance to work on your posture while reaping all the other benefits of regular yoga practice could not be more necessary. One of the major culprits that lead to poor posture is tight, stiff, and even weak muscles. Yoga gives you a chance to focus on properly aligning your body and lengthening back out your spine after being hunched over for most of the day. Many yoga poses are also very focused on strengthening your core which is another key component in having correct posture. Both your spine and your core work all day long to hold you upright so giving these areas a little bit of love and making sure they are strong and properly aligned is key.
3 Poses for Improved Posture
- Hero Pose
- Standing Forward Bend
- Cobra Pose
So my previous excuse for not doing more yoga more often because I wanted to focus on getting stronger was clearly misguided. The more yoga I have done, the more I realize there are definitely certain poses that have helped me get stronger. Ever tried the Chair Pose? Wow, does this move make my quads burn! Another one that comes to mind is the Drinking Bird pose. Another great move for leg strength, this one I feel the most in my calves. Another often overlooked benefit to yoga for strength training is it virtually hits all the muscles in your body in one workout whereas in traditional strength training you might only be focusing on your back or your arms for an entire workout. Yoga is an all-around strength builder and a great addition for anyone who is looking to build lean muscle!
3 Poses for Increased Strength
- Tree Pose
- Standing Split
- Dolphin Pose
Whether you are looking to work on your flexibility and balance, tone up a bit or just find some stress and anxiety relief yoga is a great total body and mind workout you can do right from your living room. Along with the benefits I mentioned above, yoga has also been shown to reduce blood pressure, help manage diabetes, and can even help lower cholesterol and combat heart disease. It is a chance to get your body moving in a truly meaningful way while giving your mind a chance to slow down and enjoy being present in the moment. After all, your body thrives from movement and your mind from stillness. Yoga combines both these principles into one amazing workout that I highly recommend you give a go. Namaste my friends and Happy National Yoga Month!