June 21st is the International Day of Yoga — Val Koschnick, RDN, RYT-200 breaks down her top 5 reasons why yoga is for everyone.
Increased Flexibility & Strength
All too often I hear folks say, “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga”. If this is how you feel, then you are in the PERFECT condition to begin a yoga practice! You might not be able to touch your toes during your first or twentieth yoga practice, but stick with it, and you will notice improvements in your flexibility over time. You don’t need to do the splits to be a yogi. We all need a basic level of flexibility to move comfortably and freely in our everyday lives. Simple tasks such as putting on your shoes, picking up your kids or grandchildren, and squatting in the garden can be made more accessible with yoga.
Yoga builds strength, by engaging muscles in specific ways to bring a sense of controlled expansion into the body. Increased strength helps us to look and feel our best, and it also helps to prevent conditions like back pain. Common strengthening poses include plank variations, warrior poses, back strengthening postures, and balancing postures.
Many yoga postures, even those with both feet on the ground, ask us to practice balance. Especially as we age, balance is key to preventing falls. Falls are the leading cause of death from injury among people aged 65+ in the US, according to the NCOA. Balance is critical to other activities you may enjoy, like hiking, skiing, and home improvement projects. Yoga is an exceptional way to train the body to balance safely. The postures and muscular engagement you regularly practice on your yoga mat eventually extend into your everyday life and movement habits.
Yoga also brings to light the postural compensations that you likely hold in your everyday posture. Poor posture can lead to back, neck, and hip pain. Do you have a tendency to round your upper back and shoulders? Do you notice that you hyperextend or lock your knees when standing? Maybe you over-arch your lower back? Perhaps your head is not aligned with your spine when standing, and you stick your chin out? Yoga will help to correct these behaviors on and off the mat, simply by making you more aware.
As a quick exercise, if you are seated, place both feet flat on the ground. Sit up tall and extend the top of your head to the ceiling. Let your chin relax down and in slightly growing the back of your skull toward the sky. Relax your low back down, gently engage your abdominal muscles, broaden across your collar bones and create a subtle lift through your heart. As you breathe in, expand into the front, sides and back of your lungs. Exhale just as evenly. Repeat this steady breath a few times with your eyes closed.
Research shows that weight bearing exercises strengthen bones and help to ward off osteoporosis. Many yoga postures ask practitioners to support their own body weight. Common postures like downward facing dog, plank and upward facing dog especially ask the arms to support the body’s weight.
We can never control the twists, turns, and stressful events that life throws our way. We can, however, manage how we respond to these events.
An article published in the December 2017 volume of Complimentary Therapies in Medicine explains the impact that both acute and chronic stress has on our health: “Studies have demonstrated that acute emotional stress itself is potentially harmful to cardiac health, with episodes of anger associated with increased risk of myocardial infarction symptoms. Furthermore, the chronic effects of acute stress reactivity have been established, with greater reactivity linked to the development of hypertension and atherosclerosis as a function of repeated exposures.”
Stress is a way we often describe our emotional state, but it is also a physiological response- increased blood pressure, heart rate, and even immune and hormonal responses. The study previously mentioned found for the first time how yoga reduces both these physiological and emotional stress responses. Researchers found that a single yoga session prior to stress exposure accelerated blood pressure recovery from stress, reduced the hormonal response to stress, and increased self-confidence in preparation for the task as well as after completion.
It is amazing to learn the science behind why yoga helps practitioners to feel so great, but it is even more profound to experience it for yourself. Check out a local yoga class or try a video in the comfort of your own home. Yoga with Adriene on YouTube is a great place to start.
Practice with Val at High Barre studio in Mineral Point, WI! Visit thehighbarre.net for schedule & info.
Thirthalli, J., Naveen, G. H., Rao, M. G., Varambally, S., Christopher, R., & Gangadhar, B. N. (2013). Cortisol and antidepressant effects of yoga. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 55(Suppl 3), S405–S408. http://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.116315
Mateus J. Benvenutti, Eduardo da Sliva Alves, Scott Michael, Ding Ding, Emmanuel Stamatakis, Kate M. Edwards. (2017). A single session of hatha yoga improves stress reactivity and recovery after an acute psychological stress task—A counterbalanced, randomized-crossover trial in healthy individuals. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 35:120-126. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2017.10.009.