Yoga is known to be a wellness technique for mind, body, and spirit.
For beginners and veterans of a yoga practice alike the full range of benefits can often go unknown until one is able to experience it and recognize it. Some of the benefits are also subtle and shift over time and can go unnoticed. There are many types of yoga practices including Hatha, Vinyasa, Restorative, Kundalini, Meditation, and Yin. Some practices may be a stronger benefit in one area and another practice more beneficial in another. This article serves the purpose of providing benefits that can be found in all yoga practices and can help to develop an overall increased feeling of health and wellness.
Let’s discuss the physical body first.
In the beginning it is often a goal of yoga participation to become more flexible and perhaps gain muscle tone/lose fat. This is a great start but there are many more physical health benefits gained from yoga than just flexibility and muscle tone. Here are some:
- Increased flexibility: by holding yoga poses, which are known as asanas, the body is able to gently stretch muscles
- Increased muscle strength: sometimes yoga requires us to get physical! This can be from a specific pose or a series of movements which activate the use of muscle tissue
- Protects your spine: whether you sit in an office for work or are physically straining your back, yoga helps to keep the spine aligned and spinal fluid moving. When the spine is flexible and aligned the rest of the skeletal system has a better chance of fully functioning.
- Drains your lymphs and strengthens immune system: by moving your muscles and organs the drainage of lymph increases. Lymph is a fluid dense in immune cells that helps to fight infection, cancerous cells, and rids the body of toxic waste products. This also helps to detoxify the liver, lungs, and kidneys.
- Adrenal Gland Regulation: yoga helps to lower cortisol levels which are released in response to acute crisis. If cortisol levels remain elevated they can begin to compromise the immune system, affect memory; increases likelihood of depression, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels. Lowering cortisol levels also helps with stress eating and weight gain.
- Increased health habits: yoga tunes you into self-awareness allowing you to recognize what sort of habits are overall healthier for your body.
- Release tension in stress spots and decreased pain: when you take time to scan your body for tension/tightness common areas are the shoulders, neck, lower back. Others may hold tension in their lower arms from clenching their fists, others in their thighs. Regardless of the location, yoga helps to release the physical tension you may hold onto in your body.
- Deeper and more consistent sleep: this could be considered an emotional benefit as well as the better we sleep the better we also feel. However, yoga promotes consistent sleep patterns by becoming more present without all of the extra thoughts we tend to have at night. With the body in an increasingly more relaxed state the mind is also able to follow.
Yoga also has powerful benefits on the soothing emotions and improving overall mental wellness.
These benefits are directly connected with the physical benefits which supports the notion that a healthier body houses a healthier mind, and vice-versa. Here are some of the benefits that yoga has on mental wellness:
- Balances the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. This is not to decrease sympathetic stimulation but to increase parasympathetic response resulting in an improvement of the body’s ability to rest & digest.
- Increases mood, reduces stress, and decreases anxiety: mood-altering hormones are able to be released during your practice. Yoga is an opportunity to sit with yourself in the present moment without judgement or labeling. By being able to commit time for yourself, with the healing techniques of practice, the stressors of life become less trivial. The entire physical and nervous systems are invited to relax and release stressors in the mind and body.
- Increased self-awareness: yoga allows you to check in with your body and your emotions without a label. By being more in-tune with mind and body you are able to become more aware of things that serve you, increase habits of wellness, and increase self-esteem through self-commitment.
- Increased focus: yoga has a commitment of remaining present as best as one can which often requires focus to stay present with the breathe and movement within the moment. Distractions will happen naturally but the focus is to come back to the moment and remain focused on what is happening in class. This begins to noticeably trickle to life outside of the studio.
- Encourages self-care: THIS. Discovering the importance of self-care might be one of the overall most powerful benefits of yoga. Through practice your physical and emotional systems naturally understand what is needed for you to continue your journey of wellness. By practicing acts of self-care it is encouraging and noting self-love.
These are simply summaries of some of the highlights of the benefits of yoga. There are many more and the specific benefits to the body, mind, and spirit are astounding. Finding the right practice for you may take trial and error with a few different styles and practices. Once you have found the right space for you it will be your time to begin to enjoy the sense of commitment to yourself and the wonderful benefits that yoga may provide.
At Nourish Your Mind, we offer individual yoga therapy sessions, group classes with therapeutic benefits, and holistic integration into individual sessions. Interested in learning more? Call or text us at (845) 547-0479 or visit NourishYourMind.com/Appointment
Sara Pitcher, MS, MHC
Clinical Psychotherapist & Kundalini Yoga Instructor