In today’s fast-paced, modern world, we often have many thoughts racing about in our mind and don’t always notice how our body is feeling. Perhaps we skip lunch, or stay up late to watch TV or send emails. Yoga can help remind us to be aware of both our body and mind.
Aspects of yoga
Yoga is a practice that originated in Northern India over 4,000 years ago. In Sanskrit (classical Indian language), the term ‘yoga’ literally means ‘union’. Therefore, we can think of yoga as uniting the body and mind. This union of body and mind can be achieved through the following aspects of the practice.
These are known as asanas. Each of the yoga asanas help to increase your flexibility, strength and posture, as well as gently massage your internal organs. This helps to create balance within your body. Asanas may help to ease symptoms of digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, and also joint conditions, such as arthritis.
Pranayama is the practice of working with your breath when you do yoga. By breathing deeply and rhythmically, we’re allowing energy (prana) to enter our bodies. We inhale nourishing energy and exhale all the toxins and stale air. Pranayama may help to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, heart and lungs.
By meditating we can help to still the mind. It can be done anywhere – sitting down, walking your dog or during asanas. Meditation helps to reduce tension and anxiety through quieting the mind.
Relaxation is the most important part of practising yoga. It’s when we allow our body to absorb all the goodness and hard work of the yoga practice.
Five reasons to start yoga
Research shows that you can use yoga to boost your physical and mental health. It’s safe and effective, and a great way to improve your strength, flexibility and balance. Here are five reasons to join a yoga class near you.
1. Reduce your stress levels
Many of the breathing exercises and gentle poses you do during yoga help your muscles to relax and your breathing rate to slow. By taking a few minutes out of your day and doing some yoga may help you cope more easily with stress.
Regular yoga sessions may boost your mood too, especially if you’re feeling down. Some people use yoga to manage their mild-to-moderate anxiety and/or depression.
Yoga is also very good for business people, as it allows you to be in the moment instead of worrying about all the things you have to do. I use pranayama and meditation during my working day, as well as doing a daily yoga practice, to help keep me grounded. This helps to keep my stress levels down and focus on each task in my busy diary.
2. Improve your fitness
Yoga is viewed as a gentle practice, which is why people of all ages can join a class. Yoga is a great way to keep your body toned inside and out. It can be practised on its own or in conjunction with other forms of exercise. Ideally, you should aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity and at least two sessions of muscle strengthening exercise every week.
To the ‘non-yogi’, it may appear that ‘yogis’ aren’t doing very much when they hold a posture. But asanas are actively strengthening bones and muscles. In addition, postures such as the downward dog position (Adho Muka Svanasana) and the warrior (Virabhadrasana) work the cardiovascular system, therefore helping to keep the heart healthy.
Balance postures in yoga, such as tree posture (Vrksasana), can improve your overall balance by strengthening and stretching key core muscles. This can reduce your chances of falling over. The balance postures also require a lot of focus to hold the position, which allows you to be present in the moment.
Yoga can also improve your posture through the engagement of your core muscles, so you stand more upright and look taller.
If you do want to practise a more intense form of yoga, then Vinyasa, Ashtanga and Bikram (or hot yoga) are more physically demanding.
3. Ease your joints
Yoga can strengthen your joints so that you can move them more easily. So it’s a good form of exercise if you have arthritis. As many of the poses require some weight-bearing on the hands, these postures are great for strengthening your wrist joints. Blocks can be used during yoga to help with weight-bearing on arthritic wrists.
Some research shows that yoga can reduce pain and mobility problems in people with osteoarthritis in their knees. This is because yoga postures help to strengthen your muscles in your legs and the tissue around your knee joints.
If you have arthritis, always speak to your doctor before you start any form of exercise, including yoga. Make sure you find a yoga teacher who understands about arthritis, as some poses may not be suitable for you.
4. Lose weight
There are many different forms of yoga. While some are ideal for their relaxing and calming poses, others can provide a more active workout. Vigorous forms of yoga, such as Ashtanga, Bikram or Vinyasa, can keep your heart rate up and boost your metabolism to help you burn calories. Regular yoga sessions can also tone your muscles.
By keeping your energy levels up, yoga may motivate you to be more active generally. It may also make you think more about your overall health, which might lead you to eat a healthier diet. Research shows that yoga can reduce appetite and food cravings, and help weight loss.
5. Improve your sleep
Yoga can calm a busy mind, reduce stress and help you get rid of unwanted tension. You could practise some yoga poses and breathing exercises at home in the evenings. The breathing exercises may encourage you to relax, so you’re more likely to drift off when you go to bed. Yoga can help you sleep for longer, improve your sleep quality and therefore make you feel better during the day.
Visit Yoga Scotland or British Wheel of Yoga for more information and advice.
About Yoga Scotland
Yoga Scotland was established over 40 years ago and is at the heart of the yoga community in Scotland. Yoga Scotland wishes to help and guide each person who practises yoga to gain a greater knowledge and understanding of all aspects of yoga. They do this by providing opportunities for study and practice and access to education and training.
Yoga Scotland is recognised by Sport Scotland as the Governing Body for Yoga in Scotland and has a network of around 300 qualified, registered and insured teachers.