You, Your Health, & Yoga
In today’s society, most people, especially students, are constantly doing something. Whether it's tuning in to Zoom lectures or rushing to your shift for work, we students never seem to catch a chance to relax. One of my personal life savers that has kept me sane thus far into the semester is yoga. If you don’t know, yoga is a physical and meditative practice that encourages mindfulness through various breathing techniques, poses, and resting periods. What I personally love so much about yoga is that you don’t have to be at a certain fitness level or be a certain size to practice. If you’re looking to just catch a breath or break a sweat, there is certainly a style of yoga for you. Another plus is that multitudes of research studies have shown that yoga has significant mental and physical health benefits. If you’re eager to find ways to optimize your health, continue reading to see why yoga is the perfect way to do so!
Physical Health Benefits
If you’re someone that suffers from joint pain, muscle stiffness, or trouble sleeping, then you may want to think about incorporating yoga into your daily or weekly routine. Some yoga practices utilize various poses that promote stretching and increase mobility of the muscles, which has been shown to alleviate pain and tension. Yoga often incorporates mindful breathing techniques, which increases blood flow to working muscles, promoting relaxation. These breathing techniques have also shown to aid in lowering blood pressure, building endurance, improving performance, and maintaining lung health. Another finding shows how regular yoga practice may decrease body-wide inflammation. Inflammation has been shown to contribute to the development of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Lastly, many studies have reported that regular yoga practice has been shown to improve quality of sleep. Yoga increases the secretion of melatonin and eases symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress; all of which have a significant effect on sleep quality.
Mental Health Benefits
Yoga promotes mind-body awareness that has been shown to have significant effects on mental health. As someone who personally struggles with anxiety on a daily basis, I can definitely attest to how effective yoga can be for not just the body, but the mind as well. I actually started yoga with the intention of managing my own anxiety symptoms and I found that it has done just that. I’ve noticed much better moods and I have been able to learn techniques that allow me to become more in tune with my thoughts and bodily awareness. The various breathing techniques have helped me to become much more mindful of my breathing patterns, which has significantly aided in relaxation. Of course yoga is not a cure-all, but the improvements I’ve seen in my own life are hard to ignore. What may work for me may not work for you, but I would definitely encourage you to try!
If you’ve made it this far, I’m hoping I’ve piqued your interest and you’re now eager to learn how you can start getting into yoga. As I mentioned before, I just recently began yoga practices of my own, but before then, I had no idea where to start. Lucky for me, I remembered that we live in the era of the Internet, so naturally I went to my Youtube app and typed in “Yoga for Beginners.” A plethora of videos popped up ranging from breathing techniques to stretches to full on body burns. I personally love to practice alongside Yoga With Adriene on Youtube. She has many types of videos including daily practice series, one of which I’m currently following (and I love it!). Her videos are beginner-friendly and usually don’t take much longer than 20 minutes. If you can watch an episode or two of your favorite Netflix show, maybe think about replacing that with a 20 minute yoga practice!
One of the most vital aspects of the yoga practice includes the breath. As simple as it may sound, attuning with the breath is important for centering your focus as well as connecting the mind with the body. Here are a few breathing techniques commonly used in practice:
1. Ujjayi or Ocean’s Breath
Inhale deeper than usual and exhale through your nose while keeping your mouth closed. At the same time, gently constrict the throat muscles like you were making a “haaah” sound, but with your mouth closed. This should resemble the sound of ocean waves.
2. Breath of Fire
Begin by inhaling through the nose slowly then exhaling slowly. Next, inhale again slowly through the nose and exhale vigorously through the nose in short spurts, while pulling your belly button in during each exhale.
If you aren’t someone that likes to follow videos or tutorials, here are 3 of my favorite poses that can get you into the swing of things:
1. Mountain Pose
For this pose, stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands pointed to the sky over your head. Be sure to relax your shoulders and draw your awareness to your breathing.
2. Child’s Pose
For this pose, sit your hips on top of your feet with your knees spread as wide as the mat and be sure to have your big toes touching. Lay your forehead on the mat with your arms extended forward. Be sure to keep your neck long and shoulders relaxed. This pose is perfect for stretching out the hips and lower back.
3. Downward Facing Dog
For this pose, have your feet hip-width apart and your hands placed away from you on the ground forming a triangle shape. Have your hands placed shoulder-width apart, being sure to keep them relaxed and lengthening through the spine. Your knees can be bent, but I find that I get a nice stretch in my calves and hamstrings when I straighten my knees.
Whether you’re searching for new ways to ease stress, exercise, or practice mindfulness, yoga is a perfect way to do so. Yoga does not discriminate and can be beneficial for everyone in more ways than one!