It’s true that yoga is good for your body – the stretching, the poses, the muscle groups it utilizes. But there’s much more to it than a good workout. Practicing yoga is just as much about flexing your mind as it is about flexing your body. Yoga challenges you to focus on your breathing, clearing your mind and releasing stress, so it helps prepare you to manage stress and handle situations even after you’ve rolled up your mat and left the studio.
Next time you take on a yoga class, pay particular attention to the mindfulness lessons. The idea is to focus on breathing so you can take your brain away from worries about the future or the past and plant yourself firmly in the present. This mindful movement can help you relax to more easily slip into and out of your poses while you’re in the class, but it can also help identify unproductive worries that may be creating stress in your day-to-day. It may be beneficial for those with anxiety disorders or people with depression, as it allows them to detach from the worries or issues that may be dragging them down.
Another thing yoga teaches is to be intensely aware of your body. This may seem like just something that helps you know if you’re doing your poses right, but it can (and should) be incorporated into the rest of your life. Feeling tension in your body can give you clues to what’s bothering you: a sore back from bad posture, a groggy head from lack of sleep, or a tightness in your chest associated with stress at work. Being able to spot these issues means you’ll be better able to cope with them so they don’t build into something more serious.
“Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga. Start off slow, feel free to skip a pose if it makes you uncomfortable, don’t hold poses too long, and acknowledge anything that comes up in your mind and let it go,” suggested Eleana Conway, Health Improvement Manager at Lahey Health.
Studies have also shown that those who practice mindful yoga may have more resiliency when it comes to fighting diseases down the line. Studies have measured levels of the brain delivered neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that helps nerve cells grow and regulates immune response, metabolic regulation, and resilience to stress. More meditation has pointed to increased levels of this protein, which can be useful when fighting disease or managing stress.
So, if you’re feeling a little irritable, if a coworker is frustrating you, or if you miss your bus, recall your breathing, remember your mindfulness, and take a moment to clear your mind and stay in the present.
Learn more about Lahey Health’s mindfulness program.