As yoga continues to grow in popularity, there are still a number of people that wonder if yoga is something that is right for them. Any yoga teacher would tell you, “you don’t have to be flexible to do yoga; you have to do yoga to be flexible.” Still, the thought of needing to touch one’s toes or hold an inverted position seems too intimidating for some. The truth is, there are many different types of yoga and there is a style suitable for anyone willing to try. The word yoga does not mean “touch your toes or fail.” The word yoga actually means “to join” or “to yoke.” Practicing yoga is about connecting with the disconnected parts of our lives, body, mind, and spirit. In most yoga classes, the session is primarily focused on connection through physical poses (asanas) and breath (pranayama). The connection of the two leads to a sense of grounding and focus on the present moment. This connection is beneficial for people of all ages, sizes and backgrounds. Anyone willing to try yoga and approach it with an open mind will find themselves enjoying the benefits. With regular practice, you will see the physical benefits of trying something new and will notice the positive effects trickling into other aspects of your life.
Yoga benefits everyone including young children with playful minds, athletes with limited or hyper-mobility, older individuals experiencing chronic pain or limited mobility, and everyone in between. Taking yoga classes 2-3 times per week aids in building long, lean, and strong muscles, while simultaneously increasing mobility and flexibility in the body’s joints. In yoga, the aim is to create space through breath and movement. In that space is where strength is built. It is the combination of creating space and building strength where the magic happens, keeping people of all ages, shapes, and sizes coming back for more.
Through the practice of yoga, a strong sense of balance and focus is cultivated both physically and mentally. Every yoga class serves to improve balance and each pose offers individuals the opportunity to simultaneously engage, release, and breathe. This flow of energy, strength, and awareness is how physical balance develops, both on and off of the yoga mat. Focusing on one’s breath and physical movement in the present moment leads to a sense of feeling mentally focused and grounded. While people continue to experience the physical benefits of yoga, there is a growing awareness of the power that yoga has to calm and balance the mind. In an age where people are constantly met with an influx of information, communication, and expectation, it has become increasingly difficult to focus and relax. This inability to calm the mind has resulted in an increased number of individuals living with anxiety and depression. It may be impossible to rid our minds of everything that takes up space and causes distractions. However, with yoga and meditation it is possible to become more aware of the energy we give to those distractions. Yoga practitioners learn to control their breath as a tool to return to the present moment, turning off the distracting “noise” in the mind.
As the body ages, natural wear and tear on muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and even cells, has a deteriorating effect. Yoga has the ability to significantly reduce the rate of deterioration, and can even reverse the effects. Chronic pain, especially in the back/spine and major joints like the hips, shoulders, hands and feet, is often experienced as individual’s age, leaving people feeling helpless and frustrated. While many “western” studied doctors turn to prescribing medications as an immediate fix to the problem, many “eastern” medicinal practices focus on natural cures yoga. The power of yoga and focused breathing is becoming more accepted as a means of treating pain. This shift in treatment is leading to less and less doctors using medicine and surgery as a cure for their patients. In an article from Psychology Today, Christopher Bergland talks about the connection between breath focus and pain relief, and how a yoga practice ties them together.
Most of the pharmacological treatments for chronic pain are opioid based and are highly addictive. Luckily, the effectiveness of non-pharmacological interventions such as yoga and meditation have been shown to have potent pain-relieving effects on the brain. In the long run, alternative treatments for pain, such as yoga, could be more effective than pharmaceutical treatments for relieving chronic pain.
The article also explores the connection between the gray and white matter of the brain. The author explains how a yoga practice impacts the connections made in the brain and how these different parts of the brain interact. In short, yoga impacts not only the major muscles of the body, but also the tiniest and most important parts of the brain.
If you have considered trying yoga but thought it wasn’t right for you, think again. Yoga is proven to make you feel better physically and mentally, find more focus and enjoy less stress. Even just a few sessions will increase balance, improve flexibility, build strength and clear the mind. There is no prerequisite to being a good yogi and beginner sessions are available for students who have little or no experience. Getting started is as easy as finding a local yoga class, arriving with an open mind, trying your best in every session, and enjoying your journey to improved health and wellness.
Article by Kayla Tote, Head Instructor at The Hot Yoga Spot