September is just around the corner, and it just so happens to be Yoga Awareness Month! The word yoga means to “unite” or to “join,” ultimately, it’s about creating balance in the mind and body, allowing for harmony within an individual. Yoga’s origins can be traced back to India over 5000 years ago and even predates Hinduism. For many years in the Eastern part of our world, yoga was looked at as more than a physical practice – it was a lifestyle. Yoga was also about how you treat yourself, others, and the world. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that yoga got introduced to the western world and started to gain popularity for it’s physical, mental, and spiritual benefits. Now in present day, yoga is practiced globally in a variety of different styles for a variety of different purposes. It almost seems as though there is a sector of yoga for everything now – including puppy yoga!
In this blog post, we are going to simplify the benefits of yoga for you and share the ultimate benefits most humans experience from practicing yoga – both physically and mentally. If you’re interested in learning more about just how phenomenal yoga really is for us, keep on reading!
Mental Benefits of Yoga
Yoga is an amazing way to fully tune-in with the body. Through using the breath, movement, and quieting the mind, greater self-awareness is achieved. Many of us go through life constantly on the go or distracted, yoga allows for a period of reflection and awareness. Through becoming more still, we’re able to hear what it is our mind and body are trying to communicate with us.
There is a specific nerve in our body that just so happens to be the longest and plays a key role in our mental and physical health, it’s called the vagus nerve. This nerve is key in managing stress and correlated to social connection. There is more research showing that certain yoga poses and practices can activate the vagus nerve which influences breathing, heart rate, digestion, and mental health!
Releases beneficial brain chemicals
Even though most affects of yoga can be felt in the body, it greatly impacts the brain too! During a yoga practice, the brain releases chemicals that help you to relax and balances any stress or anxiety. Some of the chemicals released include GABA, dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. Another way that yoga benefits the brain is by developing new connections resulting in improved cognitive skills such as learning and memory.
More and more studies are showing the benefits yoga has on sleep. Since yoga directly impacts our mind, body, and promotes relaxation, naturally it creates a foundation for deeper rest to occur. Some of the other ways that yoga impacts our sleep include:
- Increasing melatonin levels
- Relaxing the nervous system
- Reviving the body
Physical Benefits of Yoga
Improved flexibility and balance
Have you noticed that movement at the gym isn’t as comfortable or enjoyable as it could be? Is your coordination a little bit off? Yoga can support both of these areas by improving flexibility and balance in the body. Oftentimes a lack of flexibility can impact our range of motion and movement, causing us to be more limited in the things we can do. Yoga works by stretching your muscles little by little. One study has even shown that in 8 weeks time people improved their flexibility up to 35%.
Allows you to become stronger
Watch out weight lifters, yoga is another popular practice that is particularly beneficial for building strength in the body. Regularly practicing yoga helps to tone muscles all over your body rather than focusing on strengthening a specific group. Yoga also builds a stronger core, improves functional strength, assists posture, and prevents injury. Whether it’s holding a plank or downward dog, you’ll be activating those muscles in a beneficial way during your yoga practice.
Reduces back pain
Another amazing way that yoga benefits the body is by reducing back pain, especially pesky pain in the lower part of the back. There are a variety of yoga poses that stretch and strengthen muscles that are located in the spine and back. One of the best poses for the back is the cat-cow stretch! Here is how you can do it yourself:
- Start by getting on all fours
- Make sure wrists are parallel to shoulders and knees directly underneath hips
- Distribute your wright evenly across the body
- Drop your belly down toward the mat and inhale as your lift your head to look up
- Exhale and drop your chin towards your chest and bring your navel towards your spine.
- Breathe deeply as you complete each movement
- Complete this fluid movement for as long as you need
Calms the nervous system
There are two parts of our nervous system that work together on a daily basis to keep us safe. One part is called the sympathetic nervous system which prepares the body for any potential danger. The other part of our nervous system is the parasympathetic nervous system which allows the body to rest and relax. The sympathetic part increases our blood pressure while the parasympathetic decreases it. Restorative yoga is particularly great at activating the parasympathetic nervous system by holding asanas for a long period of time and breathing deeply to release tension.
Living in the fast-paced world we do today, many people find it difficult to fully relax and slow down. There are so many things constantly grabbing for our attention on a daily basis. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to slow right down and come home to ourselves. Yoga offers so many benefits for our body as a whole. Not only will you feel better on the inside, it will show on the outside.