Benefits of Yoga: Part 1

Physical (Body)

1. Relaxes the body to promote better sleep

Yoga is a beneficial way to relax the mind and body to prepare for sleep. Sleep is a critical period of time in which the body, mind, and soul can replenish itself for the following day. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it is recommended that children ages 5-12 get at least 9-12 hours of sleep each night. As for teenagers, 8-10 hours of sleep each night is recommended. In addition, it is recommended that adults get anywhere between 7-9 hours of sleep.

Because of the increase in technology use and the nature of people’s busy lives, sleep is sometimes neglected. However, yoga is a restorative way to promote a restful night’s sleep. According to a study by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, over 55% of people who practice yoga reported better sleep. So, instead of reaching for your television remote or scrolling through your phone, dim the lights and practice a few restorative yoga poses on your mat!

2. Strengthens the immune system

There are 219 viruses that can infect the human body. Humans are prone to sore throats, stuffy noses, and stomach aches among many other illnesses. Although the research is still in its infancy, yoga is a way to combat viruses by strengthening the immune system.

Stress is a major antagonist for illnesses. According to a study, 60-80% of doctor visits may be stress-related. Chronic stress has been known to cause psychogenic fever, especially among women, meaning that the fever is caused by psychological factors rather than inflammation or a virus. Chronic stress can also increase one’s susceptibility to the common cold because of the release of proinflammatory substances.

Although it is inevitable that we will get sick, yoga can help to lower stress hormones, which may then reduce the risk and/or severity of getting sick. Yoga calms the nervous system, which in turn signals to the immune system that it does not have to attack foreign antibodies. When the immune system is settled, inflammation decreases.

Let’s also not forget that most of us find ourselves sitting in a chair all day, hunched over the steering wheel, or frivolously texting. The tension that we create when we do such things causes blockages in the body. Yoga promotes movement. This movement allows optimal blood circulation throughout vital organs.

3. Improves balance and coordination

Have you ever wondered how some yogis can balance in poses that seem impossible? Well, the truth is that it starts in the mind. Yoga teaches us to still our minds so that we can embrace the present moment. When we free ourselves of distractions, we are better able to focus. This same principle applies in the physical yoga practice. When we can focus on our breath and not get too carried away in our thoughts, we can ALL balance in poses that seem impossible!

Practice the following yoga poses to help build upon your balance and coordination. Try not to get too caught up in holding the poses for extended periods of time or making them more advanced. Use a wall, yoga blocks, or yoga straps to support your body in the poses.

4. Spatial Awareness (i.e., midline crossing)

Another great aspect of yoga is that it encourages spatial awareness. This is especially helpful for healthy child development. In yoga, whatever is done on one side of the body is done on the other. This teaches children to differentiate between their left and right. In addition, yoga incorporates midline crossing. This encourages children to get familiar with opposites such as, right elbow to left knee or left elbow to right knee.

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5. Increases strength and flexibility

How many times have you heard or even said, “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible?” It is fairly common and not something to be embarrassed about. The fact is, many of us live sedentary lifestyles. As a result, our muscles and joints have become stiff and uncooperative when we engage in physical activity.

Yoga is a form of physical activity that promotes flexibility by encouraging us to lengthen and strengthen muscles and joints in a safe and effective manner. Like anything, flexibility takes time and diligence. Try not to get too caught up in what fellow yogis are practicing on their mat or what your mind is telling you. Over time, you will start to see changes in your flexibility.

6. Reduces injuries

Whether you are an Olympic athlete, an avid runner, or gym junkie, mitigating the risk of injury is essential for a healthy future. Restorative yoga is a slow and supportive practice that involves minimal movement. Most of the poses are done lying down and are held for extended periods of time. The use of blocks, bolsters, and blankets make this form of yoga truly effective.

Those who suffer back pain are often prescribed yoga. The reason being is that yoga strengthens and lengthens the muscles that support the spine. In addition, as mentioned before, yoga relaxes the mind and body, which in turn relaxes the nervous system. A relaxed nervous system allows the body to repair itself.

Mental & Emotional (Mind)

1. Reduces stress and anxiety

It is probably no surprise to hear that yoga reduces stress and anxiety. And let’s be honest, we are all probably struggling in this department! After all, we are all human!

Anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States. And, although anxiety is treatable, only 36.9% of the 40 million adults suffering actually receive treatment. As for children, 25.1% have an anxiety disorder, increasing their risk of poor academic and social skills.

Through the practice of yoga, we learn how to slow down and focus our attention. As we physically slow down, we mentally and emotionally begin to slow down as well. The nervous system naturally relaxes and we are better able to engage in the present moment. This allows us to make rational decisions, deal with difficult situations, and find a sense of peace.

Yoga poses that aid in anxiety relief includes Child’s Pose, Downward Facing Dog, Tree Pose, and Corpse Pose.

Angela Wilson, LMHC, RYT 500, and Kripalu faculty presenter, offers sound advice when using yoga to decrease anxiety and stress. Wilson acknowledges that we do not always have time to make an actual yoga class, so short yet frequent practices are better than nothing. Wilson also suggests trying a variety of yoga types (Yin, Restorative, Vinyasa, etc.), finding a space that feels comfortable to practice within, practice breathing!

2. Teaches present moment awareness

As mentioned above, yoga teaches us how to embrace the present moment. During yoga poses, such as balancing ones tend to force us to be in the present moment. If we were to practice Tree Pose with our mind wondering and worrying about every little thing that has to be done, we might find ourselves wobbling and eventually falling out of the pose. It is through these moments of falling out that we realize we have to truly be in the moment and not focus on every little thing going through the mind. When we can focus in the pose and find a Drishti, or focal point, we feel steady, stable, and strong.

The yoga practice challenges us to remain in the present moment amidst the chaos that might be surrounding us.

The benefits of yoga are significant. Not only is yoga a physical exercise, but it is an exercise for both the mind and breath as well. One of the greatest assets of yoga is that is truly has no prerequisites and so anyone and everyone can reap its benefits.

Still interested in learning more about the benefits of yoga? Stay tuned for The Benefits of Yoga: Part 2 Blog Post!

Sara Gottfried   Instructor & Teacher Trainer In-Training

Sara Gottfried

Instructor & Teacher Trainer In-Training

A dedicated and enthusiastic yogi, Sara thrives in the ability to spread yoga and mindfulness in a variety of settings. Sara is a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher, a Certified Children’s Yoga Instructor, CPR/AED Certified, and Level I Balanced Athlete Trainer. Having worked with children in a variety of settings, Sara understands the many struggles that children face on a daily basis. Sara teaches with creativity, encouragement, and passion, ensuring that each child has a beneficial and unique experience. Sara creates smart children’s yoga classes, targeting the three types of learners- auditory, kinesthetic, and visual. She is constantly creating and tweaking yoga classes so that children can thrive emotionally, mentally, and physically.