Last night our financial advisor was over to talk to us about RSPs and portfolios and other such things. I had not met with him in a few years and so he was reviewing all my file information. At one point he says “It says here that you are teaching yoga for employment, is this accurate?” I replied yes. He then asked the million-dollar question – “Mona, what is the benefit to doing yoga? What would someone like me” – by which he means older, heavier, and unable to touch his toes (his words, not mine) – “get from doing yoga?”
Not to be dramatic, yet I realized that my answer could either get him on a mat, or keep him off one. I decided to pull out of my toolbox a “top three reasons to do yoga”. Here was my answer, with elaboration since this audience is keen!
#1 Mobility & Range of Motion
The wonderful postures and movements we engage in during our yoga practice move all the joints of the body. As the saying goes – move it or lose it!
Moving our bodies has the following benefits:
• Encourage the body to heal the tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and fascia), making them stronger and more elastic.
• Prevent the degeneration (break down) that comes from immobilization.
• Work against contracture, which is a shortening of the ligaments (which is happening all the time).
• Work against joint fixation, which occurs when two surfaces stick together: smooth surfaces with fluid between them under pressure. If fixated, it is not moving therefore it is no longer a joint.
• Allows toxins to release. As we move the gel like portion of the extracellular matrix can liquify which allows toxins and other molecules to move through the body (and out) more easily.
• Certain movements stimulate the organs in the body (compression and release), which massages them and supports efficacy of function.
• Integration of the spinal curves occurs. Our spine is in the shape of a “double S”. Anytime one of the curves goes out of whack, the other curves are affected as all the vertebrae are interconnected. Mindful movement can bring balance back to the spine.
This is all lovely and good, but so what? Well, being mobile means that your body will not limit you in your life! It will become your ally instead of your restriction. If you want to travel, climb, walk, explore, shop, run, hop, dance – being mobile means you can go and do the things you want.
#2 Induces the Relaxation Response
It is official – most of us are overstressed (yes, my nickname is “captain obvious”). Not only are we overstressed; many people suffer from chronic stress that leads to a myriad of other physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dis-ease. One of the skills that is very important to master is how to relax. It is only when we are relaxed that our body-mind’s innate healing mechanisms are able to work, and that our body-mind is able to recover from the stress of daily life. Yoga is a wonderful stress management technique.
I want to clarify – a dedicated and appropriate yoga practice can induce the relaxation response. Yoga is not the only way to induce this – everyone has their ways to meditate (running, sewing, nature walks, tea/coffee ritual). Let’s not forget that a yoga practice (or anything) filled with force and aggression will activate the stress response instead of the relaxation one. Yoga is not a magic-bullet-fix-all, it is a tool that when used skillfully has many, many benefits including the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system which is connected to our body’s relaxation response.
Here’s the low down on the Relaxation Response:
• Conscious tension release occurs (muscular, emotional, and mental),
• Strengthens the Immune System (ongoing stress burns out the immune system),
• Balances the Autonomic Nervous System by counteracting the stress response,
• Balances the Endocrine System (glands and hormones) to manage symptoms of burn out, menopause, and PMS,
• Decreases heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, metabolic rate (oxygen consumption), muscle tension (allows the muscles to relax), blood lactate levels (high lactate is associated with anxiety), and blood clotting,
• Reduced constriction of blood vessels (vasodilation), and levels of stress hormones in the blood stream,
• Increases digestive function and immune function (T-cell count and activity),
• Facilitation of lacrimation (tears), urination and defecation,
• Promotes sexual arousal,
• EEG changes to alpha waves – which are the meditative state brain waves), and
• GABA levels increase, which reduces our stress response and improves our mood. GABA is gamma aminobutyric acid – the second most common neurotransmitter in our CNS.
The stress response takes a lot of energy. Being able to induce the relaxation response not only allows the body to heal itself, it allows your body to conserve energy and to recharge. The more we are able to relax and heal, the more energy we have to live the life we want to live!
#3 Get to Know the Coolest Cat on the Planet – YOURSELF!
Each yoga practice is an opportunity to connect inward. Cell phones get turned off, computers are left behind, twitter can wait – we can unplug from out there, which gives us the opportunity to really recharge in ourselves!
Each movement and posture is a chance to see where our levels of being are at: where is my body, where is my breath, how do I feel, and what am I thinking?
As we connect with each of these levels of being, we get to know ourselves more and more. Habit patterns emerge. Once we see, then we can choose.
One of the greatest gifts yoga has blessed me with is the ability to create space by connecting with my breath in the present moment. It’s almost like a super power – as I breathe with presence, time slows down. Suddenly I have more room to think, feel, and process what ever is going on. I am less reactive, and more aware.
Enjoy the practice and all its benefits!
All of these pieces and opportunities to find more and more ease in being. More opportunities to meet life as it is (as opposed to our preferences, which change), to experience, to enjoy, to be you 🙂
Om Shantih and Prema (universal peace & love),
Mona L. Warner, ERYT500, of Janati Yoga, RYS500.