Yoga for Healthy Living: Postures, Breathing and Meditation Work for All
Oct 03, 2018 05:31PM
Many people begin practicing yoga as a way to help deal with everyday stressors, to improve their current physical fitness, or to work on aligning with a more authentic version of themselves. Put another way, people generally come to yoga after they already need it. Yoga can also be a wonderful tool to build a better capacity to deal with stress before it becomes overwhelming, to help prevent injuries and diseases, and to have a positive mind-body relationship. While “yoga” has eight distinct limbs, we will be focusing on three of the more common limbs of asana, or postures; pranayama, or breathing exercises; and meditation.
Disease and Injury Prevention
Yoga postures work to lengthen the fibers of the muscles, making it a good cross-training tool for those who practice sports, engage in a lot of aerobic activities, or who train with weights regularly. These activities are great for increasing strength and speed. However, as the muscle fibers are building, they’re also getting shorter and tighter. Long, stretching movements like yoga help to gently lengthen the muscles before and after a workout, and build endurance, creating a more well-rounded athlete.
The movement of yoga asanas also helps to circulate fluids in the body, such as the synovial fluid that protects and nourishes the joints, and the blood which helps oxygenate the muscles and organs. It encourages flow in the lymphatic system to keep the body healthy from bacteria.
We don’t often find ourselves balancing on one foot throughout the work day, but one-legged and asymmetrical standing poses engage and strengthen the lower leg muscles. Continual practice improves overall balance, which is especially important for older adults in preventing injury from falling.
As an exercise, practice standing on one foot. Press into all for corners of the standing foot, drawing the navel in towards the spine, reach through the crown of the head, and get tall. Then pick up the other foot to hover a few inches off the floor. Repeat on the other side. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen the first time, or if one side is more wobbly than the other. It just takes practice.
Overall Stress Reduction
Many of us spend much of our days in the sympathetic nervous system, the “fight, flight or freeze” response. Work deadlines, traffic and even home life can cause stress. Our bodies were designed to use the adrenaline created by stress to get us out of a dangerous situation quickly. But prolonged periods of stress can have negative effects on the body, including muscle pain and a reduced immune system, which then can lead to getting sick more frequently.
A regular yoga practice, including pranayama and meditation, helps to reduce stress hormone levels, lowers the resting heart rate and encourages the body to engage the parasympathetic nervous system. This gives the mind and body more buffer room to deal with stressful events.
Take a deep breath. Inhale for a count of four, pause, exhale for a count of six, and pause again. Repeat the exercise at least six times. Notice the feelings in the body and mind.
“I’m too inflexible for yoga.” This is a common excuse for not trying yoga. It can be intimidating to see more experienced people practice, whether in the classroom or on social media. But every yogi we will ever meet, no matter how advanced their practice, had to take their first awkward yoga class at one point.
It’s never too late to start. There are no yoga Olympics or gold medals for meditation. We can start right where we are and still enjoy the benefits.
Don’t skimp on savasana. Savasana, or corpse pose, is the final resting pose of a yoga practice. It is an opportunity to meditate, encourage deep relaxation and give the body time to “cool down” and recover from the practice. Think of it like the nap after a Thanksgiving dinner.
Try going into the legs-up-the-wall pose (viparita karani). It has many benefits, including regulating blood flow, reducing anxiety and relieving mild back and leg pain. It is a great pose to reduce insomnia and prepare the body for going to sleep. To enter the pose, start by lying on a side with the buttocks as close to the wall as possible. Open up the arms into a big “T”, bringing the shoulder blades down to the floor. Then swing the legs up. Remain in the pose for at least 5 minutes, or until toes start to feel tingly. Then exit by bending the knees, and rolling onto one side.