This time of year can see people feeling a bit ‘out of sorts’ – summer is over, there is a definite chill in the air and the nights are starting to draw in. Plus we have also facing food and fuel shortages, and ongoing uncertainty around Covid-19! All of this is bound to be taking a toll on us both mentally and physically. But maybe yoga could help…
The scientific research into the benefits of yoga, for physical and mental health, is now quite well established. So lets take a look as some of the wellbeing benefits, for both adults and children. When researching the benefits of yoga, they seemed endless. This is great news for all the yogis and yoginis out there, but slightly overwhelming when trying to write about them! So I’ve tried to pick the ‘top five’ benefits for physical and mental health.
Starting with the physical benefits, yoga can…
- Improve your flexibility and help you to build muscle strength: this is probably the most obvious physical benefit as the asana (yoga postures & movements) stretch and strengthen the body. This can help to improve posture, protect the spine, and reduce general aches and pains.
- Improve your balance: Regularly practising yoga can help to improve your proprioception (your sense of where your body is in space), which can lead to improved balance and coordination.
- Improve your lung function: Pranayama, or breathwork, is an important part of any yoga class. Pranayama techniques can encourage you to use your full lung capacity and exercise the respiratory system helping you to breathe more effectively.
- Helps improve the health of your digestive system: Many bowel problems are exacerbated by stress, so the stress busting effects of yoga (see below) can also help relieve the symptoms of stress related gut problems. In addition, yoga stretches and movements may help get the gut moving and reverse the effects of a more sedentary lifestyle on the digestive system.
- Reduce your cortisol levels: Cortisol is the body’s stress hormones, but it affects a number of the body’s physical systems such as the immune system, bone health (it can extract calcium from the bones reducing the density), blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and fat distribution in the body. Through reducing cortisol yoga can therefore improve the functioning of all of these systems and reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and improve the management of autoimmune diseases.
Being physically healthier can help to improve mental health and wellbeing, but yoga can also have direct benefits on your mental health and wellbeing. Yoga can…
- Improve your mood: Both regular yoga and regular meditation practice have been shown to improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression.
- Relaxes you: Yoga practice encourages you to relax, switching the body from ‘fight or flight’ mode and into ‘rest and digest’ mode. This gives the body and mind the opportunity to relax, calm and restore. This helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Improve your self-esteem and confidence: Yoga practice is non-competitive, encourages acceptance and aims to gently push you out of your comfort zone. All this can have a lasting impact on self-esteem and confidence off the mat.
- Improve your relationships: Several research studies have shown Yoga to have a positive effect on relationships. Yoga and meditation practices often encourage the cultivation of qualities such as friendliness and compassion. Plus if we are feeling less stressed then we are more able to be present and connected with those around us.
- Reduce the impact of trauma: There is now quite a lot of research to show that when yoga is taught in a trauma sensitive way it can help people to heal from the effects of trauma. This is due to the physiological, neurological and interpersonal benefits of yoga. Yoga is now often used as an adjunctive treatment alongside other more ‘mainstream’ trauma treatments.
Yoga has lots more benefits that I could have mentioned, but hopefully this is enough to convince you (if you needed convincing!) that yoga is beneficial for physical and mental wellbeing. So if you’re not already practising regularly, then what better time to start? There are lots of online and in person classes available out there. For classes and events run by me check my Classes and Workshops page, or contact me for information about 1:1 yoga or therapeutic yoga sessions aimed at improving mental health and wellbeing.