It is widely accepted that a regular yoga practice has a multitude of health benefits, from helping soothe physical discomfort to alleviating emotional distress. I often praise and suggest the physical practice of yoga for my patients for these very reasons. What you may not realize, however, is that the practice of yoga extends far beyond the studio and off of the mat. Yoga, when applied to your well being as a whole, can revolutionize the way you view the world, yourself and your health goals.
Of course, I recommend that everyone try yoga at one point or another just to reap the physical benefits of enhanced balance, coordination, strength and flexibility. For the sake of this post, though, I want to touch on the emotional and mental benefits of yoga. “Yoga” comes from a Sanskrit root “yuj” which means union, or yoke, to join, and to direct and concentrate one’s attention[i]. The mental practice of yoga does just that—it helps you direct and concentrate your attention on yourself, the world around you and your unique place in it. If you have goals of better nutrition choices, more regular and enjoyable exercise and increased focus/energy, you can benefit from yoga off the mat.
Through the physical practice of yoga, you learn heightened awareness. You are told to observe your body’s motion, its pain, its strengths and its weaknesses. With guided breath, you’re able to target specific areas through muscle contraction, release and stability, all while seeking mental clarity. Why not bring this focus into your real world experiences?
During any physical activity, you want to practice the sort of physical awareness demonstrated in a yoga class. Whether you’re running, lifting weights, cross training or playing a sport, injury can be prevented through enhanced awareness of your own body. Think about it: the last time you were in a fast-paced fitness class, what did you tell yourself if you started to feel pain or resistance from your body? Your instincts probably told you to push through it, that pain is a part of achieving results. Though some discomfort is definitely okay when it comes to building strength through exercise, pain and numbness is not. Paying close attention to the way our muscles, joints and nerves feel throughout various exercises (or even daily activities) can really tell us a thing or two about our bodies’ strengths and weaknesses.
Further, yoga teaches you to focus on your body’s alignment. When you’re in the gym or on the court, your body works best when it’s perfectly aligned. The perfect basketball shot, golf swing and the ideal form when squatting or dead-lifting is reached through alignment. Being aware of your joints in relation to one another (wrist, elbow, shoulder; foot, knee, ankle) not only prevents injury, but helps attain optimal physical results.
When it comes to reducing stress and anxiety, yoga is one of the highest praised methods. Sure, the endorphins that are released during a class at your local studio definitely assist with mental well being, but it’s the emotional practice of yoga that really reaps lasting results.
When in a yoga class, a major focus is letting go of negativity and accepting positive energy. This is especially true when it comes to overcoming physical discomfort or limitations. This practice can be carried over into your daily life in numerous ways. For instance, learning to slow down and focus on the positive aspects of any given situation can really help with preventing negative reactions or lasting feelings of anxiety. Also, the concept of working through mental, emotional and even physical pain through rhythmic breathing and positive thinking goes a long way off of the mat. Target your breath to the areas you’re feeling pain; with each inhale, imagine yourself taking in only positivity, while exhaling feelings of negativity, pain or self-doubt.
And finally, yoga centers around self-control and the focus on optimal health. This one sounds like it would be the easiest to attain off of the mat, but it’s a constant challenge. The daily choice of proper nutrition definitely falls into this category along with the decision to exercise regularly. Only you have the ability to control your own impulses. Do you sleep in or do you go for that morning jog? Grab a quick doughnut or take the time to blend a smoothie? By constantly bringing your health goals back into focus, you take control of your body and mind.
If you need extra motivation, advice, pain relief or alignment assistance, reach out to me at Lifestyle Chiropractic. I’ll gladly assist you!
Best of health,
Dr. Chad M. Hoffman
[i] Lasater J. The heart of pantajali. Yoga J.1997;137:134–44.