7 Life-Changing Benefits of Yoga & Why It's for Every Body

[Guest Blog Post from Rachel E. Maxwell of This Original Organic Life.]


So I have some pretty exciting news to preface this post.  I am officially a certified yoga instructor as of August 17!  After 12 weeks of training all weekend every weekend, lots of sweating, soreness, inner and outer transformation, practice teaching, great relationships formed, and outlook changed, I am finished!  Look!


If you can't tell, I'm pretty excited.  This has been a goal of mine for the last several years, and I feel so at peace with having gone through this process; everything is moving along in my life plan.  My plan is to start teaching a couple classes per week around the Twin Cities in the near future.

From here, who knows exactly how things will unfold.  Ultimately, I plan to incorporate yoga classes, workshops, and retreats into my future farm, education center, and B&B.  I'm open to whatever takes place leading us from here to there in the coming years.

Because I have grown to appreciate this practice so deeply, I want to share some of the many benefits of yoga that I've found to be true in my own life and that I see as being quite universal. 

 

Yoga's Life-Changing Benefits

1.) Yoga is for Everyone

(source)

  • This is important to get out there right away.  You may hear some yoga studios or people say this, but how hard is it to really believe?  Sure, yeah, "Yoga is for everyone," just like Oprah is for everyone (sorry, Oprah), or running marathons is for everyone.

    Yoga can definitely feel elitist and inaccessible depending on your experiences with different folks.  There is certainly a huge industry that thrives off of people seeing yoga through one lens: the white, thin, financially affluent, young woman lens (I myself happen to be a white young woman). . . but, this is just what you see on the cover of magazines or online stores that want you to buy stuff.

    True yoga, the kind that is meant to improve and cultivate positive health of mind, body, and spirit, is for everyone.  Yes, yoga is for everyone - for every body.

  • You don't have to be flexible, you don't have to have a strong sense of spirituality, you don't have to wear tight-fitting clothes, you don't have to know the sanskrit words for poses, you don't even have to have done any of the poses before.

  • Yoga is truly a beneficial practice for anyone who is interested in improving their health, reducing stress, and doing any of the other things in bold in this post :)

This is what I have seen in the yoga community I'm a part of:  men who practice (and teach!) yoga, people who wear all kinds of different styles of clothing when they practice, a variety of body types, shapes, & sizes, a wide range of ages, different colors, backgrounds, & faith practices.  So, get out there and represent!

2.) Stress Reduction

Most of us are stressed - at least a little, maybe a lot.  No matter where we're at, we could all use a little stress reduction. 
 
How the Body Handles Stress:

Our nervous system has several branches.  One of these is the autonomic nervous system, which has a couple of main parts you've probably heard of: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.

When you're really stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol to help cope.  If your body is truly under stress, you do need this cortisol to deal with physical injury like broken bones.

  • This is the nervous system's fight or flight response, which is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system.  If you are just stressed out by your job, driving during rush hour, or trying to make ends meet, then this excess cortisol can lead to health problems such as headaches, weakened immune system, weight gain, high blood pressure, unhealthy cravings, anxiety, and even depression.  Sound familiar?
  • The parasympathetic nervous system controls the rest and digest state we are in when we're calm, healthy, and relaxed.  This is the non-stressed state that we all most likely would prefer to be in over the fight or flight state. 

The thing is, these two states/two parts of the autonomic nervous system are controlled pretty much automatically, meaning we don't have to think about breathing to breathe, and we don't have to think about going into fight or flight mode (Picture: you turn a corner on a hike and a giant grizzly bear is right there.  Your reaction is pretty automatic).
 

How Yoga Handles Stress:

The breath, however, is something we can control even though it can also keep going without our consciousness. 

  • In focusing on the breath, we can actually take ourselves into the rest and digest state, leading to relaxation and a reduction in stress.

    Because yoga is so focused on the breath, it is a wonderful way to reduce stress.  Not to mention, it just feels good to sweat things out, move around, take time for yourself, and clear your head of negative thoughts and distractions - these are all pretty big stress reducers as well.

 

3.) Pain Relief

It may sound crazy, but doing yoga can actually reduce or eliminate aches and pains!  Yoga poses strengthen the muscles, which reduces pain and improves posture.

  • According to a study by Spine, people suffering from back pain who participated in two 90-minute yoga classes a week for about six months relieved their pain by 56 percent; while those given treatments like pain medications and physical therapy decreased aches by only 16 percent.

There may be initial soreness as you begin your practice, but that is totally worth the outcome of reducing your overall aches and pains for the long run!


4.) Sleep Better

(source)


Research has shown that lack of sleep has negative impacts on brain function, but you don't need research to tell you that - just knowing how you function (or don't) after one sleepless night is enough. 

 
Insomnia:

In a recent study, researchers at Harvard Medical School found that subjects who suffered from insomnia and practiced yoga daily for eight weeks experienced improvements in the following: sleep efficiency, total sleep time, total wake time, sleep onset latency (the amount of time it takes to fall asleep), wake time after sleep onset. 
 
Bedtime Yoga:

There are certain poses you can do before bed that will take you into a more relaxed state and thus prepare you for sleep.  Simple seated poses like twists, child's pose, hamstring stretches, and happy baby - all while focusing on your breath - can help you relax. 

  • Meditation is a great way to bring inner calm and clear your mind before bed as well. 

 
Overall Improvement in Sleep:

In general, being active during the day helps you sleep better at night.  So no matter what kind of yoga you are practicing, if you do so somewhat regularly, you will begin to see positive results in sleepland. 


5.) Self Awareness

We move pretty fast these days.  All of us.  Okay, at least most of us.  There doesn't seem to be much time for ourselves, to really look inward and ask the big questions like:

  • What do I want out of life?
  • Where am I headed?
  • Am I where/who I want to be?

 

Yoga gives us not only the time, but the space and the direction to look inward.  You don't have to have a deep meditation practice to gain greater self awareness, though this would certainly help.

  • Simply taking time to practice the poses, without the TV on, the kids talking, or the to-do list in hand, allows you to begin that journey inward.

  • Coming back to the breath as a focal point, as yoga encourages, allows us something to focus on that is not all these other distractions.

  • Moving through a physical yoga practice opens up the time and space for self awareness.

    In carving out this time for ourselves, we are acknowledging that our own self growth is important and we are likelier to explore and come to know more about who we are and what we want from life.



6.) Positive Outlook

(source)

 

  • Yoga can make you happier.  


I don't know about you, but if numbers 1-5 on this list applied to me, I would for sure be happier.  Aside from this, a study from Boston University's School of Medicine shows that doing yoga poses helped people raise their levels of the brain chemical GABA by 27% compared with those who simply read quietly.  This was after doing just one hour of yoga.

 
GABA is found in classic anti-anxiety medications and is also what alcohol mimics.  So what I'm encouraging here is for you to get drunk on yoga!

 

7.) Positive Self Image

Yoga enhances self image and acceptance of our bodies, not because it gives us the token "yoga body" featured on the cover of yoga magazines, but because it allows us to understand and appreciate our bodies.  
 

  • We walk through life often disconnected from this thing that is helping us do life in the first place - our bodies - and it becomes much easier to dislike this vessel when we are disconnected from it.  It is easy to remain disconnected when we only view it as something that has to look a certain way, not something that functions in a unique way that is just for each of us.  

 
In my own journey with body image and yoga, I have found that I appreciate and love my body so much more than when I exercised simply to look a certain way.

  • Yoga has helped me cultivate a positive relationship with my body that revolves around not how it looks but how it operates.   I understand its strength, I acknowledge its talents and limitations, and I care for its growth.  I know that I am healthy because I practice yoga, and that is more important to me than being thin.  Whereas, I could be thin and have a "yoga body," but be very unhealthy.

  • I choose health.

 
In the more scientific world, research from UC Berkeley finds that women who practiced yoga regularly rated their body satisfaction 20% higher than did those who took aerobics.

 

Do you do yoga?  What are some other benefits you've found from practicing?  Share in the comments below!

 

peace & beets

Sources:

 

Rachel is a homesteader, hand-maker, and healthy liver residing in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is passionate about many things: gardening, living simply, sustainability, yoga, making jewelry, photography, nutrition, and living a balanced, whole life. By day (and sometimes night) she works at a spirituality center, and by night (and sometimes day), she blogs about these many passions at This Original Organic Life and sells jewelry via her Etsy shop, Original Organics. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram.

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