This is a blog post that is always helpful to come back to every once in a while. You're welcome to share it to others you may know who want to try yoga, you may also learn something you didn't know previously!
If you haven't done yoga before, what has inspired you to try it? If you are an avid yoga practitioner what are the benefits that you have noticed the most? Yoga is a well rounded practice that not only allows you to explore strengthening your body, increasing your flexibility it also combines techniques that calm your mind, improve your lung capacity and reduce stress.
Here you will find a list of useful benefits to inspire you to make the most of the world of yoga!
Yoga reduces stress.
+ Did you know that practicing Yoga can reduce the amount of cortisol your body produces? Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone in the body that is responsible for keeping us on our toes when we are anxious, stressed and constantly in a state of overwhelm. Cortisol can increase the heart rate and blood pressure which has literally kept us alive for thousands of years, its there to alert us in emergency situations, to be ready for confrontation and ready to fight! Sadly because we are always feeling stressed these high levels of cortisol are always in a state of alert, which brings us into the point of exhaustion, lower immunity and rigid bodies.
- Yoga and meditation play the role of bringing the body physically into a place that is open, flexible and relaxed. The more flexibility & strength we can achieve we release physical tension and discomfort, the more we release this the more relaxed we can be. No more tight shoulders, no more lower back discomfort. As well as moving the body we can use breathing techniques (they are INCREDIBLE!) to calm the mind, and help the body sync back into itself. Ever noticed when you're stressed you hold your breath? By breathing deep and longer natural breaths we can help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, this is our bodies rest-and-digest response, which is the body’s way of helping to balance out the cortisol overload of fight-or-flight.
+ This is one of the benefits I personally noticed within the first few weeks of practicing. From since I can remember I was always a COLD person, not just emotionally (an Aquarius joke! :P) but physically. I couldn't leave the house without about 5 layers on! I would always have freezing hands and feet, suffer from chilblains, dry skin and could never seem to warm up. What I did notice when I started practicing yoga more and more is that I seemed to be warmed right through to my very centre, I would glow! It was funny as I would always have a bright red beetroot face (which I was super self conscious of) after attending a class, now it never happens. Im warmed through, I no longer need 5 layers of clothes and feel very comfortable in my body. Yoga boosts our circulation as it pushes more oxygen to your cells, which function better as a result, as we move the body in new ways, sequences and literally 'wake up' every muscle there is no room for stagnation of energy. You will also notice are very often moving up and down, side to side, in all directions on the mat, we are also giving the body chance to be upside down in poses like downward facing dog, bridge pose, forward fold, these aid circulation to the brain and upper body which gives the heart a rest. It must be hard work pumping blood all the way down to the feet all day and then all the way back up to the head!
- Flexibility does play a large role in our yoga practice but do you know why? Yoga is based around a philosophy of settling in meditation, without distraction, bodily disturbances, aches, pains and the need for constant movement. How long can you sit still for?! We create a strong and flexible body to actually sit in stillness, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, "yogas chitta vritti nirodha" refers to stilling the mind in order to experience Ultimate Reality and move toward realisation. As well as gaining clarity and a calm mind having a flexible body helps to release physical discomfort in the joints, muscles and bone structure. When we are stressed or experience trauma or an uncomfortable situation your body literally holds on to it and stores it in the connective tissues and ligaments. Like a sponge we hold on and hold on until we feel like rigid mannequins moving through life with too much on our minds with no room for freedom, playfulness and an open mind!
+ Gaining flexibility in our practice helps us to release the emotional discomfort we may be 'storing', it also helps us to unlock physical tension caused by habitual movements.
+ Increasing flexibility improves joint mobility and range of movement which brings the body into a happier state of balance, it can also improve our running, weight training and almost every other exercise or sport. It also decreases the chances of injury.
+ You're less likely to get those niggles and tight spots in the body, whether its the lower back a dodgy shoulder or recurring sciatica, the more flexibility you gain in your whole body it helps to iron out and particular sticky spots. Think of it as a personal acupuncture session with yourself in the poses, with a gentle approach into a sensation within your body as you relax, your body opens.
+ One thing I will say with the flexibility side of the practice is to be really honest when you show up on the mat. Some people have hyper mobility, some people are naturally more flexible than others, some of the postures we might NEVER be able to achieve due to our personal and individual alignment, we may have had surgery that has changed our bone structure, during pregnancy the body increases relaxin (flexibility) to prepare for birth. All the factors must be taken into consideration when practicing, we need to utilise our knowledge to get the most from our practice that creates balance. Flexibility has to be carried and supported by strength...
Builds muscle strength
- Building strength in your yoga practice is a wonderful exploration using your own body weight. Sure we can tone and build muscles in the gym but when you're using your own body weight and movements to build strength you get a different kind of tone and function. This function of the muscles is strength and contraction that can be maintained, rather than a strong and expressive kick of the leg in the air (reminds me of when I taught dancers!) we have the strength AND flexibility to lift the leg and hold it there. Yoga will allow you to build strength and tone in the whole body, it will help you carry yourself from a place of inner calm, the body is strong and wants the challenge and always wants to learn something new! Put yourself in those places that give you a burst of adrenaline, test your minds focus and strengthen your muscles and bones. Having strong muscles helps us to protect our organs and bones, it also helps us to move every part of our body, imagine a weak muscle trying to lift a leg day to day, no wonder it feels so tired! If you have ever had a bone broken and put in a cast you will see how easy it is for wastage to appear when something isn't used, you will also see how easy it is to build that strength back up to a place of function and beyond.
- This is an interesting one and may take a little while to grasp the concept, how can we boost our immunity when we are always on the go? One of the most important things we can do for ourself is REST. Yoga is not only about moving the body and enjoying all the other benefits Im mentioning here but it also highlights our emotional state and the ability to listen to what we truly need. Being honest with yourself allows you to create a plan of action and accept how you're feeling, ever noticed how when you seriously don't have the time in the day to get ill, you do? Thats your body taking over and making you stop! So next time you're feeling a little to rushed off your feet, you have a little ache in those temples or your body is feeling really sluggish take time out, slow down and honour those signals your body is trying to communicate with you.
+ Physically stretching and contracting muscles stimulate our lymphatic system, this system is a viscous fluid rich in immune cells. When we move the body is helps to increase the drainage of the lymph, which helps breakdown toxins within the body and fight infections. As well as the connection with the lymphatic system, increasing the circulation helps to balance the resting heart rate, we increase our lung capacity, we are less stressed and a less stressed body and mind are less likely to become ill.
Helps improve bad posture
- Im sure have all caught our reflections in a window or mirror before and suddenly stood bolt up right, amended our hair and taken a deep breath in! Our day to day habits will naturally pull our posture all over the place, driving in the car, seated at a desk, being on our feet all day all take their toll. Something as trivial as carrying a shoulder bag on the same shoulder for a few years will manipulate the shoulders in some sort of way, once the shoulders are out of whack the whole body follows, which may highlight hip imbalances, knee pain and sore feet.
+ One of the most amazing benefits of Yoga (and absolutely not missing out Pilates here) is that it stretches and strengthens the WHOLE body, it mobilises all the joints, it improves the synovial fluid, the circulation, the pliability of the connective tissues. Its very normal for us to first notice our weaknesses and imbalances BUT this is a GOOD thing! Rather than becoming disheartened by our weakness, injuries or imbalances they actually become the path to our healing. If we feel weak in downward dog it highlights that we lack strength in our upper body, by practicing poses that strengthen the arms we get more mobility in the upper body, less injuries and strains in the shoulders and we start to notice less discomfort and tension between the shoulder blades. Did you know that we may feel aches and pains in the body not from over work but by weakness? I will never forget when I attended an amazing anatomy workshop with Andrew McGonigle and he said 'use it or lose it'. Simple but effective words that I will never forget.
Brings you into focus
- Yoga is all about bringing yourself into the present moment, we release the grip of the past and we acknowledge the future. One of the most important roles in yoga is allowing yourself to connect to the here and now, to truly feel into what you feel (whether this is physical or emotional). To pay attention to the small stuff, it may be a conversation with someone (don't pick up that phone! Make eye contact!) it may be the birds singing on a walk, it might be your child's first steps. Looking back at the 'Reduces Stress' breakdown you'll see how easy it is to become distracted and always in a state of adrenaline and in those moments where we cant even focus on the task at hand because there is SO MUCH TO DO, SUCH LITTLE TIME!
Practicing yoga brings you into the present moment, if you are not concentrating on the pose (balances are great for instilling focus) you will fall out of it! Physical poses require your complete attention, and in turn when you are feeling that stretch, that strength, those quivers in boat pose you certainly cant make that shopping list in your mind. Things can wait, an hour to yourself can bring months and years of clarity. Being less distracted allows you to have more intent to everything in life.
Let's get better sleep.
- Sleep is something I have never struggled with, Im not an over sleeper, but I do love it so much. Different people naturally have different sleep cycles and we will all function on different hours rest, I personally function best on 12 hours sleep (seriously) so once a month Ill go into hibernation mode and do my bedtime routine and sleep until Im topped up. We aren't all blessed with happy sleeping habits and yet again stress can have a huge impact on those valuable few hours we may get. It's important to find a routine, whatever your schedule is like. Giving yourself ample time to wind down has bounds of benefits.
Yoga Nidra is a beautiful way of helping you relax your body before bed, you can find guided meditations on youtube (ill be recording one very soon for you to enjoy!) that bring you into your body, your breath and guide you into a state of relaxation.
We don't need to exert ourselves in a yoga practice to enjoy the benefits of sleep, if anything you will notice that a Yin Yoga practice really calms the body and mind and is the perfect way of settling you for a good nights rest.
Create a bedtime routine, limit caffeine and sugar after 6pm, put away technology and social media an hour (or longer) before you settle to sleep. Meditate, read a book, take a long bath, light some incense or give yourself some space in doing what you love that relaxes you. Our bedtime routine is listening to classical music, reading, lying on our acupressure mats, meditating and then sleeping, it works a charm.
Ill keep adding to this wonderful list, and I would absolutely love to hear from you about the benefits you have experienced from practicing.
Lots of love,