Yoga is a 5000 year old Indian body of knowledge about harmonizing the body with the mind and breath through the means of various breathing techniques, yoga postures and meditation. The benefits can be physical, emotional or mental, or even all of them combined. Today most people practicing yoga are engaged Hatha Yoga which is a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.
I was interested to see what benefits such an ancient and deep rooted practice might bring. First I started with a couple of yoga sessions at my gym. But the schedule didn’t really accommodate people who worked full time during the week as much as it did the stay at home moms and housewives. Rather than pay an arm and a leg to join a yoga studio across town, I bought a yoga subscription to The Yoga Collective and started practicing at home. Here are some of the benefits I began to see after only a few weeks:
1. Increased Strength, Agility and Flexibility – Very few sports or practices will increase strength, agility, and flexibility all at once. The practice of yoga tones our body muscles and also makes them strong. Stronger muscles help prevent injuries due to overexertion. Studies have shown that people can their flexibility up to 35% after only 8 weeks of yoga. Results will vary with each individual of course, so while I may not be at the 35% mark, there is a marked difference in my flexibility and strength.
3. Decreased Blood Pressure – Yoga has been shown to be as effective as dietary changes for improving blood pressure in some instances. The deep breathing yoga exercises help slow the breathing rate, which reduces blood pressure and soothes the nervous system that generates stress hormones. Two studies of people with hypertension compared the effects of Savasana (Corpse Pose) with simply lying on a couch. After three months, Savasana was associated with a 26-point drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number) and a 15-point drop in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number). It was mentioned that the higher the blood pressure was to start with, the greater the improvement was. While my improvement wasn’t nearly that great, my blood pressure wasn’t too far out of the normal range to begin with. Nevertheless, the improvement was there.
4. Improved Posture – Yoga has made me much more aware of my posture. Throughout the sessions you’re constantly being asked to lengthen the spine and to focus on your shoulder, neck and head position. It was exhausting at first because muscles weren’t used to having me force them to straighten and align everything. It was something I had to constantly correct and pay attention to. The more I practiced the more I became aware of all of times outside of my yoga practice where my posture was poor. Poor posture can cause back, neck, and other muscle and joint problems. Just picture your head like a big round heavy bowling ball sitting on top of your neck. When it’s balanced directly over an erect spine, it doesn’t take as much effort for your neck and back muscles to support it. However, since most of us don’t hold our head up directly over our spine, that’s a constant strain that can cause you to slump. As you slump, your body may compensate by flattening the normal inward curves in your neck and lower back which can cause pain and degenerative arthritis of the spine.
5. Improved Sleep – According to my sleep monitor, one of the byproducts of reduced stress appears to be better sleep. Practicing relaxing asanas such as forward fold (uttanasana) or lying on your back with your feet up the wall are helpful poses that calm both your mind and body and lead to a deeper and more intense sleep. Researchers from Harvard found that eight weeks of daily yoga significantly improved sleep quality for people with insomnia.
You don’t need to be an expert at yoga (or in my case, even good at at) for the benefits to take effect. People keep telling me it will get easier with time, but I’m truly SO. SO. SO. BAD. AT. YOGA. While I haven’t been particularly consistent or dedicated, I do like the results I’ve seen thus far. I can only imagine the benefits I would see if I actually committed myself to some kind of consistency.