Yoga for Your Health
Updated: Nov 9, 2018
If you are anything like me, yoga is the one activity that you probably need the most but constantly struggle and fail to fit into your schedule. I have this underlying desire to be a zen yogi who is goes about her days being in touch with her mind-body connection, but the reality is that I run around like a stressed-out chicken with her head cut off 90% of the time. And I’m sure I am not alone in this! I also am a self-proclaimed cardio junkie, so often prioritize heart-pumping sweat sessions over gentle yoga flows. But whether you thrive on high intensity exercise classes or favor gentle meditative movement, yoga is an activity that should have a place in your regular routine.
The term “yoga” is derived from the Sankrit work “yuj,” which means “to unite.” Yoga is a practice rooted in ancient India and harmonizes the mind and body through various breathing techniques, poses (also known as “asanas”), and meditative exercises. Because of its focus on the mind-body connection and direct effect on the nervous system, yoga has a slew of health benefits and can be utilized as an adjunct therapy to many chronic diseases. Not only that, it can help you better manage stress, improve your sleep, and improve your mood. And that’s just scratching the surface!
Without getting too carried away, here are 5 of the more well-known health benefits of yoga.
1. Reduced Stress. I want to reflect back on the stress reducing effects of yoga. While it is perhaps the most commonly known health benefit of yoga, it is one of the most important. Stress has more of an effect on our overall health and wellbeing than we give it credit for. Along with a diet and sleep, stress is an incredibly important determinate in lifestyle-rooted chronic disease. On a physiologic level, yoga reduces cortisol (1,2), your primary stress hormone and activates the parasympathetic nervous system (aka your “relaxation response”).
2. Improved Mental Health. Because of its effect on the nervous system, yoga can be beneficial in the management of depression and anxiety. This is likely due to its ability to lower cortisol and its positive effects on neurotransmitters such as serotonin. While no studies conclusive show that yoga increases serotonin levels, exercise in general has been linked to improvements in this mood-boosting substance. Multiple studies have looked at yoga in the treatment of anxiety and depression and the effect is, overall, favorable (3,4). While medications may still be necessary, yoga can serve as an effective adjunct if you suffer from one of these common disorders.
3. Reduced Inflammation. It has been well established that chronic inflammation can lead to a host of diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Which is exactly why reducing inflammation is an important goal of lifestyle interventions. Yoga has been linked to reductions in inflammatory markers (5,6,7), therefore making it a worthwhile adjunct therapy in patients with (and without!) these conditions.
4. Improved Heart Health. A number of studies have shown that yoga can be a useful treatment intervention for those with heart disease. In addition to a reducing stress and inflammation, two major players in heart health, yoga can help lower blood pressure (8,9,10) and improve cholesterol (11,12,13). While the magnitude of these positive effects is yet to be fully researched and determined, it is safe to say that yoga should be considered in the overall management of cardiovascular disease.
5. Increased fitness. In addition to its positive effects on the mind, yoga can improve your overall fitness. While all types of yoga improve flexibility (and often forgotten aspect of physical fitness), certain types can increase strength and cardiovascular fitness. Ashtanga (power) yoga and Bikram (hot) yoga are great for improving stamina and aerobic capacity, while Vinyasa is especially good for building lean muscle. If you are a beginner or want to focus on flexibility and relaxation, give Hatha yoga, Iyengar yoga, or Kundalini a try.
With all of this being said, you may be wondering how you can possibility carve out time in your already packed schedule to make it to a yoga class. If joining a yoga studio is not a feasible option, there are plenty of apps and online resources that can allow you to practice in comforts of your own home. And like all forms of exercise, you do not have to do it for an hour to see the benefits! Even a short, 10min session can be beneficial. I personally love Beachbody on Demand as it provides a whole collection of yoga workouts- everything from gentle, 10 min flows to 30-45min sweat-inducing power sessions. You can also sign up for an online yoga platform such as Gaia or download one of the many phone apps that are available.
While I realize that incorporating a regular yoga practice into a busy schedule is not always easy, it’s hard to ignore the profound positive effects that yoga can have on your overall health and wellbeing. With this in mind, I challenge you to make September the month that you make yoga a regular part of your weekly routine. Your body, mind, and spirit will thank you! As extra incentive you will be entered into a draw for a fun prize if you share your yoga journey on Instagram using the hashtag #FYGMNPyogachallenge – so get flowing!
Continue to #followyourgut,
As with all forms of exercise and lifestyle practices that we recommend, be sure and check with your own health care provider before starting anything new.