Breathe In, Breathe Out, Breathe Benefits: How Yoga Cures All
In a society where relaxation is a luxury that’s worth its weight in gold, finding a yoga mat, digging for clean gym clothes, and setting aside a chunk of time to be still sounds more stressful than not. However, once the initial investment is made—deciding to at least try it—yoga has proven to be a valuable activity that not only has physical benefits, but mental and spiritual benefits as well. With yoga being a multi-place, multi-price activity, it’s a cure-all that truly is available to all who decide they want to reap the benefits body, mind, and soul.
Yoga is, in its very definition, a discipline practiced for health and relaxation. Most yoga classes focus on two main components: breathing exercises to control your body and quiet your mind, and postures or poses that range from relaxing and easy poses to more difficult and demanding poses. It’s these poses that bring about the physical benefits. According to the American Osteopathic Association, yoga can lower blood pressure, lessen chronic pain, and reduce insomnia. Yoga also stretches and lengthens muscles and soft tissues; increases range of motion in the joints; increases muscle tone; improves balance, coordination, and posture; betters blood circulation; lessens headaches and migraines; facilitates weight loss; eases symptoms of a wide range of diseases from asthma to multiple sclerosis; improves sexual functioning; and has many more physical benefits, as well. In fact, in a list of the benefits of yoga, complied from sources like the American Osteopathic Association, Psych Central, and the Yoga Health Foundation, over half of the 101 benefits are physical.
When practicing yoga, it’s not just the physical body that profits. Requiring nothing more than a mat and block, Yoga has been proven to help reduce stress, which is hugely destructive to both bodies and minds. Stress is caused when the hormone cortisol (used in small amounts to make muscles function) is released in large amounts because your stressed body thinks it’s dealing with an emergency. This increase in cortisol causes the physical symptoms associated with stress. According to Sarah Court, a featured yoga columnist and yoga teacher, one of the branches of the nervous system, called the parasympathetic, controls day to day functions—and this is what we need to use. Yoga uses pranayama—specific breathing patterns—to control the diaphragm during breaths, which allows our minds to ease into a “rest and digest” (or parasympathetic) state. Once in this state, the mental benefits pour out. Yoga increases relaxation, improves self-discipline, increases self-awareness and confidence, provides “me time” (which is extremely important for mental health), reduces anxiety and depression, improves symptoms of some neuropsychiatric diseases (like ADHD), and much more.
It’s at this crossroad of physical and mental relaxation and nurturing that spiritual benefits are reaped. Spirituality, according to Dr. Swami Shankardev Saraswati, is the “heart of yoga,” and is about self-awareness, self-discovery, and self-realization. Once the body and mind are at a heightened state of relaxation, self-awareness is easier to attain, and the mind can enter meditation to reach deeper into the spiritual benefits. These can include reaching a deeper state of peace, increased ability to harvest positive experience in daily life, creating a sense of being “in tune” with one’s consciousness, a sense of connection to something greater than ourselves, and a great sense of fulfillment and gratitude.
Even though it may require waking up just a few minutes earlier, or cutting 30 minutes off your daily television time, the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of yoga certainly outweigh the small sacrifice in time. If you’re interested in trying yoga, but don’t know where to start, some websites like AmericanYogaAssociation.org offer videos, tips, classes, and suppo