Most people think of yoga as good exercise and a healthy activity for the body but accumulating evidence shows that it can also be great for your mind. Yoga promotes a feeling of relaxation and calm that has beneficial effects on every aspect of a person’s health. It is an activity that not only is useful for staying in shape but is actually used increasingly in the treatment of many different disorders.
Yoga promotes a feeling of well-being and control that is unique to the practice itself. The physical effects of yoga such as reducing stress hormones and decreasing inflammation can be helpful for a number of ailments both physical and mental. Yoga also helps people learn to be more calm in other situations in their life and prepares them for dealing with stress in the future.
The Benefits of Yoga
One of the key aspects of yoga that benefits our health is the connection of deep breathing with movements that strengthen the body, promote flexibility, and increase blood circulation. Deep breathing during yoga adds a meditation aspect to the practice that can help people calm their minds and focus on their movement. It creates an awareness of the body that can be helpful in minimizing stress and quieting negative thoughts.
Deep breathing and meditation work on the HPA axis or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis which controls the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The SNS is connected to the fight or flight response that we experience when confronted with stress PNS tells us when to relax. Yoga has been proven to reduce the SNS and increase the PNS which results in decreased blood pressure and heart rate.
As yoga calms the body and nervous system your brain takes messages and begins to calm down as well. Yoga works to balance the SNS and PNS so that people are relaxed but still experience the clarity and focus that they need to accomplish daily tasks with minimal stress. Doing yoga regularly can help people maintain this balance so that they function better in different situations.
Yoga and the Brain
Aside from minimizing stress and keeping the mind calm, yoga can also have many beneficial effects on the brain. Doing yoga regularly can keep your brain healthy and functioning better as age. Studies have shown that older adults with cognitive impairment were able to improve their memory by doing yoga for 12 weeks while also decreasing symptoms of depression and improving visual skills.
Yoga and other types of meditation have been shown to change the brain structure in ways that improve awareness, attention and self-related thinking. Areas of the brain that are connected to these functions tend to increase in volume with regular meditation and yoga practice. The hippocampus, which is related to learning and memory also tends to increase and develop more gray matter after eight weeks of meditation training.
People that practice yoga also tend to have a larger right insula which is the portion of the brain that involves body awareness. That area of the brain can make it easier to react less when you are faced with a stressful situation. A larger right insula can help people identify stressful emotions and prevent them from escalating.
Experts believe that a few yoga sessions a week can have a dramatic impact on reducing stress and improving brain functions. Two times a week can be beneficial although 40 minutes every day tends to create the most significant stress reduction. Most yoga teachers see students experience less anxiety within about 10 weeks of regular yoga sessions.
Yoga is often used in treatment settings to help people who are struggling with issues such as substance abuse or mental illness because of its many benefits to the body, brain and spirit. It can be useful as a complementary therapy to help reduce depression, anxiety and other symptoms that need to be addressed. Yoga’s dramatic impact on a person’s overall sense of well-being can be critical for people who have problems with addiction, eating disorders and other mental illnesses.
The practice of yoga can be simple enough for anyone to learn and there are many different types of classes available. Beginners can benefit from basic movements that strengthen their body, stretch out aches and pains and ultimately relax their whole body. Even one yoga session tends to have an immediate impact on a person’s stress level and can help them recover from an anxious or difficult day.
How To Clean Up Your Yoga Practice With A Proper Downward Dog
Whether you’re an advanced yogi or just beginning to learn, you realize quickly how important the downward dog pose is to your practice. It preps your body for more complex poses, serves as a recovery pose after strenuous holds, and grounds many of the core series’ across many styles of yoga. Shaping up your alignment in this pose will give you the support to improve the rest of your practice. Check your own down-dog with these 6 tips:
- Pull your belly button inward, towards your spine
- Tuck your pelvis in and up towards the ceiling
- Straighten your spine, feeling a smooth line from the base of your neck to your tailbone
- Spread your fingers wide and evenly distribute your weight between your two arms
- Soften your knees slightly
- Flex your feet, pushing your heels towards the floor
Many yoga classes offer affordable prices or are given on a donation basis so that students can pay what they are able to afford. Maintaining a regular yoga practice can keep your brain and body healthy as you age so starting early can have both immediate and long term effects on your well-being.