Yoga: Healing the Body and Mind

Alexa Ferrante
Yoga woman on beach
5-minute read

Yoga is an exercise practice that stimulates both the body and mind. This relaxing pastime incorporates breathing, meditation, concentration and flexibility, and has turned nearly 20 million people worldwide into “yogis”.

While mindfulness practices are not new by any means, recent research suggests that practicing yoga enhances the body and mind’s natural tendency to heal. If you are interested in mindful practices, check out the following physical and mental health benefits of doing yoga on a habitual basis.

Physical Benefits

  • Strength and Flexibility

Yoga classes can vary from gentle and relaxing to strenuous and invigorating. The type of yoga class should depend entirely on overall levels of physical fitness as well as personal preference. Research suggests that practicing yoga can have a significant impact on an individual’s exercise capacity, as it greatly enhances fitness levels and promotes a mind-body relationship. Fitness components such as flexibility, muscle strength, balance, alignment and posture can all be improved with regular yoga practices. Individuals also tend to experience weight loss as many yoga practices promote healthy eating and allows people to be more in tune with their body. Finally, yoga can help ease or eliminate aches and pains by encouraging consistent stretching and physical movement.

  • Chronic Pain

While yoga can be a fun and relaxing way to eliminate stress, it can also help with more serious, pain-fighting strategies for individuals with chronic pain. Classified as any pain lasting more than 12 weeks, chronic pain persists even after healing has occurred. Physical symptoms of chronic pain including muscle aches, nerve damages and fatigue. Often times, individuals who have been diagnosed with chronic pain become physical dependent on others depending on the severity of the disorder.
Invasive treatments for chronic pain include medications, acupuncture, electrical stimulation and even surgery. However, lifestyle changes such as yoga allow individuals with chronic pain to self-manage their care. Back and neck pain are generally common, but yoga is able to relieve this pain by reducing inflammation.

One of the most common chronic pain disorders is Fibromyalgia, which affects nearly 10 million Americans and causes remorseless fatigue, headaches and muscle pain.  Individuals with Fibromyalgia can often be mistaken for other illnesses but is identified by the effects that the disorder has on muscles. Fibromyalgia causes muscles to shorten and get stuck, eventually causing constant, excruciating pain.
Fortunately, incorporating specific movements into daily routines can help to negate some of the effects of chronic pain disorders like Fibromyalgia. The steady stretches incorporated into a yoga routine allow the muscles to lengthen and decrease the muscles tendency to get stuck. It relaxes the central nervous system and in doing so, releases muscle pain.

  • Bone Health

Yoga aids more than just muscles. Bones and joints also benefit from regular, controlled movements and diminish the breakdown of cartilage and joints. Yoga provides better bone health as it strengthens and helps ward off osteoporosis. Yoga can also help improve spinal alignment and take pressure off of your back and neck muscles. Individuals with scoliosis can also benefit greatly from routine yoga.

  • Immune System

Frequently participating in active pastimes helps to boost your immune system and give your body a break. Yoga can help to strengthen your body’s natural ability to fight off infection by focusing heavily on the respiratory system. The breathing and meditation element of yoga allows the respiratory tract to become more elastic and the lungs to strengthen over time. In order for this effect to work, individuals must practice yoga at least once a week. Overall, yoga also has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, which can help your immune system protect itself as well.

  • Circulatory System

Frequent yoga sessions can also help prevent heart attacks and strokes by increasing heart rates and lowering blood pressure. Yoga has also been linked to lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, helping to protect the circulatory system from harmful attacks. As with all of the benefits of yoga, the levels of health improvements depends on how regularly individuals participate in classes or sessions.

Mental Benefits

  • Anxiety and Depression

One of the most prominent benefits of consistent yoga practice is anxiety and depression relief. Yoga and meditation have been linked to mental wellbeing since the 1970’s, and recent research suggests that it significantly lowers stress hormone levels. It can also lower emotional stress by shifting the nervous system and training it to react to stressful situations in a calmer manner.
Practicing yoga can also help to reverse the mental effects of chronic pain conditions. While physical pain certainly makes up the bulk of long-term pain conditions, a person’s limited mobility and strength can also deeply affect their mental capacity. Doing yoga regularly increases gray matter and white matter connectivity in the brain and allows individuals to feel some relief from both anxiety and depression regarding chronic pain. 

  • Insomnia

Yoga has also had positive effects on reducing insomnia. Individuals who do yoga before going to bed often feel a sense of peace and calm, allowing their bodies and minds to slowly shut down and relax before sleep. It can also provide a healthy nighttime routine, allowing individuals to release tension and reduce tossing and turning during the night.

  • Self-esteem

Mental difficulties such as anxiety or depression have been known to cause self-esteem issues as well. As many individuals can attest, lack of self confidence does not simply go away. Luckily, yoga has been linked with increased self-esteem because it enhances overall body image. Several main components of yoga are also directly related to amplifying body awareness, allowing individuals to make informed decisions about their health and improving their self-esteem.

  • Community

Yoga can help to build improve overall social wellbeing as well, by instigating new relationships and strengthening existing ones. Not only does doing yoga encourage individuals to make friends, it also facilitates meetings between people of different backgrounds and histories. Yoga can produce a very tight-knit community of fellow wellbeing advocates.

  • Focus

One of the main components of many different types of yoga is concentration. Achieving mental control allows individuals to focus on a task despite peripheral distractions and allow for a balance between mind and body. Some even find that memory improves over time when participating in advanced yoga practices habitually.

If you would like to sign up for a wellness event near you, visit MemorialCare’s Events & Education page.

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