By Debi Heptig, RYTSpecializing in yoga for cancer, restorative yoga, yoga and mindfulness for children
If you are one of the 20.4 million who practice yoga, maybe, like me, you were initially drawn to yoga because of a physical injury - or maybe you wanted to be more flexible or physically strong - or to get bendy like the people on the cover of yoga magazines! But after a while you discovered that what kept you coming back to your mat was not just the physical benefits, but how yoga made you feel in your mind, heart and soul.
Yoga, a Sanskrit word meaning “yoke” or union, is an ancient Indian practice of aligning the physical body (Asana) with the breath (Pranayama) and the mind (meditation) to awaken the awareness of the inner divine self. We spend most of our day reacting to the external demands of life. We are checking off our “to-do” list for work and home, managing life’s chores and people’s expectations. These activities require our constant attention to everything outside of our self. It’s no wonder so many of us are stressed and fatigued at the end of our day!
Yoga is a dive inward. A time of letting go of the “to-do” demands of our everyday life and taking a much-needed pause to just be present with yourself – your whole self – with total self-acceptance, unconditional love, curiosity and non-judgement. No place to get to, no competition. Your mat is your sanctuary for self-discovery.
And if that isn’t enough to convince the other 44% to try yoga, just google “health benefits of yoga” and read the research! Thanks to advances in science and technology we now have research showing that a regular yoga practice can help alleviate a variety of ailments. An impressive list that includes lowering blood pressure, increasing circulation and cardiovascular health, enhanced memory, better focus, improving balance and strength, and helping to alleviate insomnia, depression and anxiety.
Take yoga’s diaphragmatic breathing. This deep long inhale and exhale controlled breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system telling the brain that the body can rest and digest. The mind calms, the heart rate and blood pressure slow, and blood flow is directed to digestive and reproductive organs and to the endocrine and lymphatic systems of the body.
Now add meditation. MRI’s and EEG’s have shown that regular meditation activates areas of the brain that deal with concentration and memory while decreasing gray matter in areas related to fear and anxiety. A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2011 concluded that mindful meditation can even reduce sensitivity to pain.
Combine this with the asana or physical practice and we learn body alignment, balance, flexibility, range of motion and build strength. From activating our parasympathetic nervous system and increasing the neuroplasticity of our brain, to aligning our body, we can almost say yoga is our fountain of youth!
So why not add “yoga practice” to your to-do list and make time to stop time and just be….you may just discover yourself and increase your health and well-being!
Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine offers many yoga classes, including Survivor Yoga for Those Living with Cancer and Yoga…The Mind Body Happy Hour. Visit our website to view the class schedule.