The saying “I’ve been so busy today, I haven’t even had time to breathe” is usually said figuratively, but it can also mean you’ve been on autopilot, physically not giving your body a chance to slow down and rest. For many of us, our head hitting our pillow at night is the first chance we get to relax and unwind. And while this is great for tuning our bodies into rest mode for sleep, we often forget how important rest and mindfulness are in energy, productivity, and overall mood. Can you remember the last time you intentionally took a deep breath, breathing in through your nose, holding in your inhale at the top, and exhaling out through your mouth?
Most of us don’t remember to take the time to reset our bodies through breath during the hustle of our lives, therefore not allowing our bodies to rest for fear of losing time to be productive or missing a deadline. Our stress begins as a mental feeling, but is also contained at certain pressure points in the body, such as in the upper back and hips. Are you feeling stuck and exhausted from the cycle of toxic productivity? The practice of Yoga is a great way to disconnect and find a positive balance between your body and your mind.
Yoga, deriving from the Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’ means ‘to unite’. Created in India in 2700 B.C., yoga brings harmony between mind, body, and spirit, specifically the subconscious and conscious mind. It involves movement, meditation, and breathing techniques that have been shown to improve mental and physical well-being. A regular yoga practice promotes strength and endurance, while calming the mind and stretching the muscles. It is now one of the most common exercises in the world; seven out of ten adults in the United States practiced yoga within the last year.
Yoga, deep rooted in ancient philosophy, is made up of six branches. Each branch involves different practices of the mind, but each differs in its results. The most common, Hatha yoga, is a physical and mental branch that uses breathing techniques while moving through different poses. These poses differ in strength and flexibility, but paying attention to your breathing through movement allows the body to (comfortably) push past its comfort zone. The other subsets of yoga focus on solely meditation, wisdom, or celebration, ensuring there is a practice for every yogi out there.
Think of the connections formed through yoga practice as the flow of energy. From stress to relaxation, from sore muscles to a gentle stretch, energy through your practice is always being transformed. If you’ve ever heard of your third eye, you’ve heard of a chakra, or “spinning wheel”. Chakras are the center points of this created energy, and contain thoughts, feelings, and emotions that come out through movement of your body. Negative energy can become blocked in a chakra, triggering physical, mental, and emotional imbalances, leading to anxiety or poor digestion.
Yoga releases this energy through flows, transforming it back into positive, and creating space for more calmness to exist. There are seven major chakras within the body, each serving as a focal point for specific emotions and resulting in different physical outcomes. The Ajna chakra, or the third eye chakra, is your point of intuition. The Svadhishthana chakra, or the sacral chakra, is below the belly button, and corresponds to pleasure, well-being, and vitality. Yoga invites yogis to connect back to their chakras during times of high stress, looking to them to regain balance within the body.
There are various types and styles of yoga, ensuring there is something for everyone to benefit from. Hatha Yoga is a great place to begin; It teaches the basic physical poses that create a flow while introducing mind-breath connection. Bikram Yoga, or hot yoga is a great option if you’re looking to sweat out the toxins from a great, alcohol-filled weekend with friends. Your heart rate will be high but you will feel calm and relaxed when the class is over.
If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, the natural high that follows is a combination of happiness hormones, an increased flow of oxygen to the brain, and the result of calming down your body’s fight-or-flight response. According to a 2012 survey, 94% of adults who practiced yoga did so for overall health reasons. Physically, some yoga poses can be challenging! They can focus on your arms - downward-facing dog - or your legs - chair pose -, and every pose requires a strong and stable core - your abs and your back. Yoga is a full-body workout, building muscle strength while enhancing flexibility.
The muscles of your abdomen will also be activated, helping with constipation or other digestive disorders. Mentally, deep breathing alone can calm the mind, but not necessarily quiet the thoughts of your to-do list or the work you still have left to do at home. Combining poses that require deep focus while listening to your own breath reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. A regular yoga practice creates mental clarity, calmness and centers attention. Yoga even improves sleep; At night while laying in bed, your body can revert to the same naturally-rested state that you reached at the end of your yoga class.
Yoga is a great addition to a balanced, active lifestyle and is a way to decrease anxiety while incorporating physical activity. It is a proven way to enhance overall well-being and quality of life, simply through breathing. The feeling of mastering a new pose, such as a handstand (yes it’s possible!), will keep you motivated to keep returning back to your mat.
Yoga is also easy to do anywhere; Add a morning stretch into your routine before leaving the house, or remind yourself to take deep, meaningful breaths while you work. There are lots of resources, such as YouTube videos, that you can use at home, or check out your local yoga studio to join their next class. Yogis love to create a community in which everyone can mutually benefit off of each other’s energies. To learn more about adding yoga into your routine, schedule a discovery call with our naturopathic doctor. Heal your body by healing your mind, and reap the extensive benefits of yoga for yourself.