Guest Post by Nicole Adams
There are many different styles and approaches to practicing yoga, and individuals can choose the one that best suits their needs and preferences. Some people primarily engage in yoga for physical fitness, while others focus on the mental and spiritual aspects. Yoga can be used as a tool for relaxation, stress reduction, rehabilitation from injury, and is a practice that can have a wide range of both short-term and long-term effects on the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of people of all ages.
What Are the Physical Effects of Yoga?
Generally speaking, yoga combines specific postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana) to integrate the mind and body. It’s an ancient Indian practice that’s made its way, in various forms, into modern mainstream studios, videos, and homes around the world. Yoga is a fairly accessible, gentle form of physical activity that can increase your flexibility, put you in touch with your breathing and connect you to different subtleties within your being. The scientific research into yoga’s benefits is still somewhat preliminary, but much of the evidence so far supports what practitioners seem to have known for millennia, yoga is incredibly beneficial to our overall well-being.
A regular yoga practice can lead to increased flexibility in muscles and joints, which over time, can help reduce the risk of injury and enhance overall physical mobility. In 2016, two of yoga’s leading organizations, Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, conducted a worldwide survey looking at a variety of statistics about yoga in an attempt to quantify its value amid its ever-increasing popularity. The most cited reason people selected for doing yoga was to “increase flexibility”, which is an important component of physical health. Reduced flexibility is a natural part of aging, and a 2019 study found that yoga both slowed down loss and improved flexibility in older adults. Yoga seems to be especially helpful for improving flexibility in adults ages 65 and older.
In studies on people with chronic pain conditions, researchers found that yoga can have a positive impact on low back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and neck pain. A study showed how people with chronic low back pain increased mobility by participating in a yoga class once a week, and the American College of Physicians recommends yoga as the go-to treatment for chronic low back pain, before medication. Yoga fosters an awareness of body alignment and can lead to improved posture, which can help alleviate chronic aches and pains. Many yoga poses also require you to support your body weight, which can lead to increased muscle strength.
What Are the Mental and Emotional Effects of Yoga?
As an increasingly well known form of exercise, yoga’s popularity has risen along with a deeper interest in mindfulness and mental and emotional wellbeing as it’s been realized that benefits of yoga aren’t only physical. At its roots, yoga has always incorporated a focus on being present and connecting to your body and breath, each of which has been shown to improve mental and emotional health. Derived from Sanskrit, and translated “to yoke”, which refers to the joining or harnessing of two things, yoga has been reinterpreted and reinvented and continues to be a practice that can strengthen your mind-body connection, fostering self-awareness and self-acceptance.
The mindful breathing and movement practiced in yoga increases the activity of your parasympathetic nervous system, and as a result, doing yoga can lower your heart rate, improve your digestion and quality of sleep, and strengthen your immune system. Yoga often incorporates breathing techniques and mindfulness practices that can reduce stress and promote relaxation, which over time, can lead to a greater sense of calm and emotional well-being. The mindfulness and meditation aspects of yoga can also improve focus and concentration, which can be beneficial in daily life, work, and decision-making.
Regular yoga practice can help manage and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and help promote emotional resilience and a more positive outlook on life. Many people also find that yoga helps them sleep better and they experience more restful nights, which can have long-term health benefits. There are also social and community benefits that come along with a regular yoga practice. Joining a yoga class or community, even virtually from one’s home, can provide social support and a sense of belonging, which can contribute to long-term mental and emotional well-being.
Kerry offers mindfully curated weekly classes in person or online via Zoom geared especially for those over 50 looking to age with more ease and wellness in midlife and beyond. You can also explore free pre-recorded yoga practices on her Youtube Channel.