We all know that yoga can help you improve flexibility, strength and balance. Yoga also helps to improve your health and well-being in less obvious, but extremely important ways. Once you understand them, you’ll have even MORE motivation to roll out your mat and get practicing!
Here are 9 more ways yoga brings health and healing to your body, mind and relationships.
I know it FEELS like magic, but science shows that yoga:
1. KEEPS YOU MENTALLY SHARP
When you practice yoga, you are challenged to learn completely new ways to move your body, your breath and your mind. Every new activity causes the brain to build new neural connections. Continuously learning new things helps you to maintain brain function as you age.
2. HELPS YOU FOCUS
One of the key principles of yoga is concentration. To that end, many practices hone your ability to focus. When you can turn off distracting thoughts and pay attention to what’s happening in the here and now, you free up a lot of brain real estate. An uncluttered mind is better for problem-solving, information retrieval and clear thinking.
3. LOWERS YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE
High blood pressure contributes to numerous medical problems, including heart attacks, kidney failure and strokes. Yoga and meditation can slow your heart rate down and induce your body’s relaxation response, bringing blood pressure levels down to safer levels.
4. IMPROVES YOUR MOOD AND RELATIONSHIPS
Yoga has been shown to increase serotonin levels and improve psychological health which translates into better moods, decreased anger, improved self-esteem and better relationships with others. Psychological well-being has a major impact on physical health and on your relationships. It’s all connected.
5. RELEASES TENSION
Have you ever noticed that when you’re stressed you clench your jaw? Or your shoulders start rising? Or your stomach tightens? Little unconscious tension-holding habits can lead to chronic tightness, pain and stress. Restorative Yoga and Savasana can train you to notice when and where you are holding tension and how to consciously relax.
6. HELPS YOU SLEEP BETTER
Research shows that yoga can be useful in treating sleep disorders. Stretching, breathing exercises and restorative practices reset the resting tone of your muscles so that you feel less tense – both mentally and physically. Concentration and meditation practices teach you how to dial down the mental chatter that might prevent you from falling asleep. When you sleep better you can think more clearly, you cope with stress better and you are less accident prone.
7. BOOSTS IMMUNE FUNCTION
When you move, you increase the flow of lymph in your body. Your lymphatic system is part of your immune system. It fights off infection, cancer cells and disposes of cellular waste. Unlike your circulatory system, your lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump. In order to move lymph through your body so it can work its healing magic, you need to move.
8. GIVES YOU PEACE OF MIND … AND BODY
Yoga can teach you how to quiet your mind and disengage from unhelpful thought loops of worry, fear, anger and regret. This also leads to peace in your body. When you are stressed and worried that creates muscular tension. When you turn off muscle tension, it sends a signal to your mind that it can relax too. And it’s a two way-street. When you relax mental tension, it sends a powerful signal to your body that it can relax too.
9. TURNS OFF STRESS AND TURNS ON YOUR RELAXATION RESPONSE
You’ve probably heard that stress is the number one cause of disease, and it is. Indirectly. Stress wreaks havoc on every system of your body and is involved in all kinds of health problems from high blood pressure to insomnia. Mindful movement, breathing and meditation can shift you out of your stress response and into your body’s relaxation response, which lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, improves digestion, allows tissue repair and other restorative functions to take place.
10. EMPOWERS YOU TO TAKE YOUR HEALTH INTO YOUR OWN HANDS
It’s empowering to know that you can gain a measure of control over physiological processes like your stress hormone levels, heart rate, blood pressure, and mood by adopting a regular yoga practice.
There you have it! 10 great reasons to motivate you to get on your mat and get practicing today.
Practicing yoga at home is not like studio practice, and that can be a really great thing!
But it probably won’t all be smooth sailing either. Practicing at home also has its fair share of challenges.
When I train yoga teachers, one of the first things I do is to get them to adopt a home practice. Why? Because practicing at home on your own is an opportunity to deepen your relationship with yourself and with yoga in ways that can be empowering and life-changing.
For example, you need to tune into yourself and decide how best to attend to your body’s mental, physical and emotional needs, rather than doing what your yoga teacher decides you’re going to do on any given day. Committing to a regular home practice requires you to develop self-discipline and to self-nurturing.
I’ve compiled a list of my top 8 tips for (realistically) practicing yoga at home:
1) DELIGHT IN THE FACT THAT THERE’S NO SOCIAL PRESSURE.
If your tree pose falls and there’s no one there to see you fall, do you feel differently about it? I bet you do! When you practice at home alone, there is NO social pressure to keep up with anybody else in the room. This can be very freeing!
When I practice at home alone, I feel more inclined to listen to myself and less inclined to try to keep up – because there is no one to keep up with. It’s just you doing you.
2) ACCEPT THAT THERE WILL BE DISTRACTIONS.
Unlike a yoga studio, your home has a ton of distractions to draw you away from practice - laundry, dishes, doorbells, phones, etc. This is all part of the home practice experience. This is training for INTEGRATING practice into your everyday life.
It is easy to feel peaceful in the pristine quiet and serenity of a yoga studio. So, you might find that you are really good at zenning out in the yoga space and less good at it when at home. If you can only ever find peace when you’ve pushed everything in your life away, how useful is your practice really? Your yoga practice should help you do life better.
Practicing yoga at home is an opportunity to get good at practicing peacefulness, acceptance, contentment in a space that is not inherently peaceful. This is a HUGE step in your growth as a yoga practitioner.
3) WELCOME INTERRUPTIONS AS PART OF THE PRACTICE.
It is a well-documented fact that kids and pets do not care about your yoga mat until you are on it. Then suddenly everyone wants to get on your mat with you.
I say just go with it. Equanimity asks us to not try to grasp onto things or push them away; that we practice accepting what is. I have learned to just accept when my dog Dharma wants to get involved in my practice and incorporate her into it (as you’ll see when you start rooting around the online library. Check out Dharma’s cameo in the Restorative Inversions class). You can incorporate the kids into your practice.
Instead of getting annoyed, invite the unexpected onto your mat and make peace with it! You get better at what you practice. So, better to practice loving acceptance than to practice being annoyed!
4) YOU DO NOT NEED ANYTHING YOU DON’T ALREADY HAVE LYING AROUND THE HOUSE.
You don’t need to dress up in expensive ‘yoga pants’. “Yoga pants” are just pants that you wear to yoga. You can wear your pyjamas. You can wear your skivvies. Wear whatever makes you feel comfortable. Yoga is about how things FEEL rather than about how they LOOK.
And when you don’t feel like you’re being judged or watched by anyone else (or you don’t care) it can be incredibly liberating. This is your permission slip to not worry about how you look and to focus solely on the way practice makes you feel.
Raid your linen cupboard and use extra blankets and pillows for props. You can grab a belt out of your closet to use in lieu of a yoga strap. In the studio, I’ve got classes that show you how to use your chair, couch and kitchen countertops as yoga props.
5) YOUR PRACTICE PROBABLY WON’T LAST FOR 60-90 MINUTES.
Your home practice does not have to be the same length as a studio class in order for it to count. There is nothing magical about the length of time of a studio class. Studios need to keep schedules and pay staff for their time. That is why studio yoga classes are the length they are.
When you do yoga at home, you can practice for as little or as long as it takes for you to get what you need from your practice. Which brings me to my next point…
6) YOU CAN TAILOR YOUR PRACTICE TO YOUR EXACT NEEDS.
Maybe you really want to focus on your hips, but you only have 15 minutes. When you practice online, you can actually select a 15 minute hip class and just do that! Or maybe you want to lie down and have a nice long savasana at the end of an exhausting day. You can do that. Savasana only. You can tailor-make a practice to suit your needs. EVERY. SINGLE. TME.
7) YOU CAN’T BE LATE FOR CLASS, EVEN IF YOU TRY.
You can show up for practice whenever it is convenient for you. You can start at 2:18pm and and finish 16 minutes later...or anytime you feel like stopping. When you don’t need to schedule an hour to practice at the studio and an additional hour for commuting, that actually leaves more time in your life for yoga as well as the other things that matter, which means that you can practice with more …
When you do yoga at home you eliminate the commute and practice time required studio yoga requires. That means you can probably find the time to practice with more consistency. Consistent practice leads to change. If you consistently practice relaxing, you will become more relaxed. If you consistently work on your balance, flexibility or strength, you WILL get better at those things.
I’ll say it again: You don’t NEED to practice for 60+ minutes in order to reap the benefits of yoga (although you certainly CAN go for 60 minutes if you want to). To really maximize the benefits of practice, consistency is king!
So, there you have it
Amanda Tripp, Yoga/body nerd and woman of a 1000 opinions