The practice of yoga is over 5,000 years old, yet research is revealing modern benefits for both body and mind. Delving deeper into what the ancient practice entails provides some clues as to why yoga is transformative for the estimated 300 million people who practice worldwide.
Yoga Connects Mind, Body, & Spirit
Bringing yoga into your life can be quite transformational. It has a variety of healing effects on the body and changes the structure of the brain in a way that improves how we mentally process our experience in the world. Let us look at the different ways this ancient practice has a transformational effect on us.
Yoga Benefits The Body
The physical practice of yoga has a myriad of benefits for the body including increased flexibility, muscle tone, and strength, improved cardiovascular health, respiration, and vitality, and preventing cartilage and joint breakdown.
Mental Health Improves
Mentally, yoga practitioners report decreased depression, anxiety, stress, and fatigue (Michalsen, et al., 2005). With this practice, we get double the bang for the buck: enhanced health paired with mental and emotional balance. This leads to more self-confidence and the feeling of living well in our bodies.
Over time, the lessons learned on the mat – healthy movement, breath awareness, and stress reduction – start to influence how we live off the mat through lifestyle choices such as healthier eating, management of stress, and the importance of taking time for self-care.
Ability to Handle Stress Improves
Beyond the physical practice of yoga, the original yogis described a system that also included controlled breathing, concentration, and meditation techniques. These techniques have a significant influence on the nervous system. Considering that most adults’ nervous systems are sympathetic-dominant (i.e., overwhelmed and over-stressed), yoga postures, breathing, and focusing the mind are natural remedies that balance the nervous system by activating the relaxation response.
During rest, the nervous system takes on cleanse and repair functions, which are key to recovering from the stresses and strains in life. Breath awareness and meditation are transformative tools that can empower you to change your state from stress to calm in a matter of minutes.
Healthy Social Connection Increases
With increased availability and accessibility, yoga has become more mainstream, creating a sense of mutual transcendence where practicing in a group allows us to feel a part of something larger. Living in the digital world, we have less person-to-person interaction. One of the most powerful and healthy ways to meet people and make lasting authentic connections is by practicing together! There is a sense of ‘we are all doing this together,’ which serves to facilitate exchange between others.
Finally, yoga is transformative because put simply, it works. You feel better after class than you did before. Stress hormone levels decrease, the mind is calmer, and we tend to be more self-aware. Self-awareness leads to mindfulness, which is the ability to be present in the moment. Much of our internal struggles are related to our thoughts about life (and not actually what is going on in life). Mindfulness and the other powerful lessons learned in a yoga class, such as letting go of judgment, are related to measurable structural changes in the brain regions associated with memory, learning, and emotional control (Holzel, et al., 2011).
Practicing yoga is a great way to build social connections and become part of a health-oriented community. Modern science continues to reveal the positive effects yoga has on the body and mind and the ancient practice gives us the tools to take charge of our well-being.