Benefits of Yoga and Meditation
It's the New Year and if you are like most people, you may be looking for ways to change bad habits, get in shape, stress less and do more. What would you think if I told you that by practicing yoga and meditation, you can reap all those benefits and more?
Yoga is a 5000 year old tradition that encompasses spirituality, philosophy, and various practices, for our purposes we will concentrate only on modern western yoga practice. The term yoga means “to unite", the union is between self and spirit, body and mind. The practice incorporates breathing techniques, physical poses and meditation. Yoga is not simply an exercise for health and flexibility, but can improve quality of life by decreasing stress, increasing a sense of well being, vitality, healing, wellness and mental clarity. Yoga is also all about balance, in yoga if you do a bending pose, you must also do a stretching pose, if you work one side of your body, you will work the other.
Personally, I find it best to attend yoga classes, I do better with structure and instruction, that way I can be fully engaged without worrying about what pose to do next or if I am doing a pose correctly. I have a friend who has been practicing by himself for decades, I have also used DVD's and now they have streaming classes as well. There are lots of different options available for the beginner to more advanced.
Some of the benefits of yoga and meditation are:
Fitness, Strength and Flexibility
Modern life is quite sedentary and by using practicing yoga poses and stretches we work our muscles, increase elasticity and flexibility and surprisingly strength and muscle is also increased. I enjoy lifting weights, but even seemingly docile poses increase muscle mass.
Clearing the mind, holding yoga poses, and using proper breathing techniques can decrease stress and the physical manifestations of stress such as high blood pressures, cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases. Mindful breathing and paying attention to your body and breath melts stress away.
Yoga can improve spinal flexibility, and strengthen the back. Regular yoga practice has been shown to improve chronic back pain and there are special exercises specifically for back pain. If you have any type of pain or injury in the body, let your yoga instructor know, they may have special exercises to help and they can certainly tailor the practice to your situation with modifications or props, such as straps, blocks or zafus.
Yoga incorporates poses which massage internal organs including twisting poses and poses that stimulate the lymphatic system. With these poses you can decrease bloat, make your gut happy and regulate your bowels.
As noted yoga is a great way to reduce stress, and practicing twice a week can make a great improvement in sleep quality. Add in meditation and breathing techniques to clear your mind, lower anxiety and get those Z's.
Boost Mood and Mental Clarity
Okay, just looking at all the other reasons yoga is helpful, it makes sense that if you are sleeping better, less anxious, have less pain and better digestion... you will be in a better mood and thinking more clearly. Practicing yoga in a group setting also produces more oxytocin and serotonin levels which are mood boosters. Yoga and meditation help to clear the mind which keeps you sharp and can improve memory function as well.
So much more... Yoga can help with migraine pain, asthma, arthritis, diabetes; it helps with balance, endurance, and can even strengthen your immune system and even help with hangovers. There are lots of ways you can tick off New Year’s resolutions, but it seems to me that adding a yoga class or two each week might just fix a whole lot of ills and start the New Year off right.