It’s a well-accepted fact that exercise improves your mood and your general sense of wellbeing. Not to mention the state of your physical body. So how do you choose what type of exercise to engage in, when you do? And why is the world going gaga over Yoga in particular?

Derived from the Sanskrit word “yuji,” meaning yoke or union, yoga is an ancient practice that aims to unite the mind and body, which are so often polarised in Western culture and even within traditional psychotherapy. In fact, yoga originated because those ancient yogis sitting in meditation for hours began to get bodily pains. Their teacher told them to move in certain ways before sitting for meditation. And the rest is history!

Yoga incorporates breathing exercises, meditation, and physical poses designed to encourage relaxation and reduce stress. In these ways, Yoga is set apart from other forms of exercise, as it goes beyond the purely physical.

Catherine Woodyard reviewed over one hundred scientific studies on the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase the quality of life. Results from her study reported in the International Journal of Yoga indicated that Yoga undoubtedly has longer-lasting positive effects on the mental state of individuals than other forms of exercise.

Drawing from the abovementioned study, and my own experiences, I have summarised some of the benefits of yoga. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it may help you understand Why Yoga? or this list may even inspire you on your healing journey! Yoga has been shown to:

  • Decrease stress and anxiety – many studies have shown that Yoga actually acts on the brain directly, decreasing levels of cortisone (the “stress hormone”).
  • Reduce inflammation and pain – inflammation is a normal immune response, but many people suffer from chronic inflammation due to stress, leading to the development of serious diseases. Yoga has been shown to decrease inflammation and pain in chronic disease patients.
  • Improve heart health – by pumping blood through the body in a steady and even way (the yogic breath control helps with this, avoiding extreme heart rate spikes), Yoga helps supply the body with important nutrients.
  • Improve the quality of life – yes, that overall feeling of peace and contentedness seems to stick around long after yoga practice than, other forms of exercise.
  • Fight depression – yoga is able to influence levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter often associated with depression
  • Improve sleep – research shows that individuals who practice yoga fall asleep faster, sleeps longer, and feel well-rested in the morning than individuals who do not practice yoga.
  • Improve flexibility, strength, and balance – naturally, feeling good physically helps you feel good emotionally.
  • Improve breathing – it may seem obvious, but breath is life and we often forget that. We often breathe incorrectly and this means we don’t get enough oxygen into our cells. This could result in many problems, including migraines and an increase in sympathetic nervous system (stress) responses.

Let’s stop there for now (yes, there is more!). Put simply, multiple studies have confirmed the many mental and physical benefits of yoga. Incorporating yoga into your routine can help enhance your health in numerous ways. Finding the time to practice yoga just a few times per week may be enough to make a noticeable difference when it comes to your health.

Some South African Yoga studios and Yogi’s that offer great online classes (for all levels) include:

Get moving, get breathing, get unified!

written by Misha-Joy, Clinical Psychologist

Continue reading about the benefits of yoga on your mood created by Clinical psychologist and Trauma Sensitive Yoga Facilitator Sanisha Vala.

The Goal of Yoga (No, it’s not the Handstand). The yoga pose is not the goal. Becoming flexible is not the goal. Standing on your hands is not the goal. The goal is to create space where you were once stuck. To unveil the layers of protection you’ve built around your heart. To appreciate your body and become aware of the mind and the noise it creates. To make peace with who you are. The goal is to love, well, you. Come to your yoga mat to feel; not to accomplish. Shift your focus and your heart will grow. – Rachel Brathen –

When you think of yoga, lifting or bending your body into shapes and forms might overwhelm you. This, however, is not the goal of yoga. Yoga is for everyone, no matter your age, gender, physical abilities, level of strength, or flexibility.

Yoga is an ancient science that originated in India, which is derived from Sanskrit, meaning to ‘yoke’, or join together. There are several schools of yoga, each has its own subtle approach to the practice of yoga, which includes physical, mental, and spiritual practices. Modern yoga tends to focus on pranayama (controlled breathing), asana (pose), and meditation. Many yoga schools incorporate props such as blocks, straps, blankets or bolsters to assist participants, according to their own physical abilities, level of strength, and flexibility.

Participants with injuries or chronic conditions may also benefit from yoga. Research has shown that yoga therapy can be a beneficial add-on treatment for both medical and psychiatric conditions. While a regular yoga practice has physical benefits such as increased flexibility and strength, it can also lower blood pressure, improve sleep, reduce inflammation, increases body awareness, and even enhance the way in which the immune system functions.  The American Institute of Stress stated that deep breathing increases the flow of oxygen to the brain, stimulating a state of calmness within the body.

Although there are physical benefits of yoga, many studies have shown the effect of yoga on mental health. Research indicates that participants who have a regular practice of yoga and meditation, experience a decrease in stress, anxiety, and depression. Another research study reported that yoga can be a valuable add-on treatment for psychosis, posttraumatic stress disorder, and eating disorders.

A regular yoga practice is anything from 10 minutes to 2 hours a day, depending on what your body needs at the time. There are many ways of accessing yoga teachers or yoga videos through books, social media, websites, or in your local community. Remember that your body is your best teacher, some days you may feel up to a fast-paced yoga practice, and on other days prefer a slower pace or restorative practice. 

Hey Happy wants to encourage you to start your self-love process through yoga today!