Living in 2022 can be pretty stressful regardless of where you live, your financial situation, and your beliefs. We’re stressed about our jobs, families, security, and even how we look because the physical aspect matters in today’s American society. While many people are looking everywhere to find something that helps them from top to bottom, many overlook the most basic, oldest, and most effective practice.
Yes, going to the gym helps. Actually, any type of physical exercise helps. Still, we have been dealing with lockdowns that closed gyms, and not everyone has access to gym equipment at home. We can do push-ups, squats, and lift weights that take the form of bottles of water, but it just doesn’t have the same effect. For me, it was difficult to give up on running, but during the lockdown, even that was out of the question. But relieving stress and anxiety from my mind, body, soul, and home is a priority nowadays. So, I wound up looking elsewhere.
One of the best things that came from the internet is the ease with which you can find anything you could possibly seek for. It doesn’t matter how old something is. If people practice it in the world, you will find it online. That is how I found everything I needed in order to start practicing the best practice for my physical and mental health. And that is the practice of yoga.
- What is Yoga?
- Yoga Benefits for Mental Health
- Physical Benefits of Yoga
- Yoga Benefits for Women
- Yoga Benefits for Men
What is Yoga?
Dating back to almost 5,000 years ago, the practice of Yoga began in India and was first known as a spiritual practice. However, even if yoga today is used for its physical and mental benefits, it still respects its core agenda. The quest for achieving the balance and harmony between the mind and the body.
The literal translation of “Yoga” is “union” and, as we mentioned above, it refers to the union of the mind and body. The holistic practice of yoga focuses on the connectivity between mind and body through exercises, positions, postures, but most importantly, breathing and meditation. Both health professionals and sciences in the western world recognize the powerful benefits the practice of yoga has for both mental and physical health. There are books written on the philosophy of Yoga and its practice. You can also find plenty of YouTube channels dedicated to yoga, so learning the movements isn’t difficult. Learning how to shut your mind might be a struggle at first, but you will succeed in tuning intrusive thoughts out with the right background sounds. If you are in the process of buying a home, stress can be your worst enemy.
Yoga is not a religion. While it interweaves elements from Hindu and Buddist philosophies and religions and is a much more complex tradition than the postures and positions, yoga practitioners don’t need to adhere to these practices. You don’t have to change your religion to implement yoga in your lifestyle. All you need is the determination to take direct action to improve your mental and physical health. We’ll first go over the yoga benefits for mental health and then cover the physical benefits of yoga and much more.
Yoga Benefits for Mental Health
When we look at the whole tradition of yoga, we can see that we can achieve some yoga benefits for mental health from something as simple as breathing. It’s called the pranayama practice of mindful breathing. Other practices like meditation and following ethical principles such as kindness, non-materialism, selflessness, and nonviolence also stand at the core of yoga. Furthermore, seeing as Tai Chi and Qi Gong both evolved from Yoga, these two physical exercises also rely heavily on breathing.
The yoga benefits for mental health are based on both physical and chemical effects in our bodies. To put it simply, yoga just makes us happier. But how do yoga benefits for mental health actually work?
Physical Aspects of Yoga Benefits for Mental Health
Firstly, seeing as breathing has such an imperative role in the practice of yoga, the heartbeat is affected by it. Two things happen when you practice yoga. Your vagus nerve activity increases, and your heart rate variability gets higher.
The vagus nerve is, probably, the most important nerve in the body. This one cranial nerve that stems from the brain is responsible for the main autonomous functions of the body. Things that keep us alive on the default that we don’t need to think about doing like breathing, heartbeat, digestion, cardiovascular activity, and reflexes, are all under the control of our vagus nerve. This nerve is stimulated during yoga. When the nerve lacks the necessary amount of stimulation, which can occur due to infection, inflammation, physical or psychological stress, it can lead to depression, brain fog, digestive problems, headaches, and other symptoms.
Among other yoga benefits for mental health, vagus nerve stimulation can cause a chain reaction in the body. It directly makes the heart beat faster, and people with a higher heart rate tend to be kinder, more compassionate, and simply more satisfied with their lives.
Chemical Aspects of Yoga Benefits for Mental Health
All the chemistry you learned in school won’t be able to match the number of yoga benefits for mental health through brain chemistry. Studies conducted at the National Institutes of Health examined brain images to determine the amount of gray matter that results naturally through aging. They discovered that yoga practitioners did not experience as much gray matter declining in the regions of the brain responsible for joy and happiness, the cortex.
Lastly, zooming in on the cortex a bit more, the anterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex have experienced an increase in activity in yoga practitioners. These areas of the brain are responsible for emotions such as empathy, kindness, and gratitude.
We are all facing struggles in our lives, but some of these yoga benefits for mental health can make the struggle feel less overbearing. Through the practice of yoga, we are teaching our brains to work for our benefit and not against us. Isolation, stress, anger, and pain are all emotions that result from difficult times and experiences. If we allow our brain to focus on those emotions, we can, in time, develop depression, anxiety, and even dementia. However, the practice of yoga will help our brain flex those muscles that focus on positive emotions, and, as the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Why spend time in the darkness when the sky can be so bright?
Physical Benefits of Yoga
I’m not a Yogi or yoga teacher. I simply am someone who looked to yoga to replace another physical exercise that brought me both mental and physical benefits. You can find many Yogi or yoga teachers that will tell you all about the physical benefits of yoga. Still, as a runner that, for various reasons, had to stop running (don’t give me that treadmill nonsense – I run in the beautiful outdoors, and there’s nothing you can tell me to make me run on one), no other exercise gave me the same rush of adrenaline and slowness of mind. Yoga may seem like weird stretches in uncomfortable positions that might make you fall a few times in the beginning, but you won’t fall once you find your balance.
And I mean both physical and emotional balance. During yoga, if you let your mind wander off towards things that shouldn’t occupy your mind when you’re exercising, you can lose balance. Or maybe that’s just me because, before yoga, I was a klutz. I still am a bit, but not during yoga.
But getting back the physical benefits of yoga, the balance has to be at the top of my list. However, there are so many others, including:
- Improved posture and … well … balance;
- Improved breathing and lung function;
- Increased flexibility and strength;
- Improves heart beat and lower inflammation;
- Increased relaxation and better sleep;
- Decreased arthritis-related symptoms;
- Reduced back pain;
- Improved sex life.
Yoga Benefits for Women
With over 36 million people practicing Yoga across the US, the yoga benefits for women go beyond the ones mentioned above. Aside from mental and physical health, women that are considering starting the practice should be aware of the specific yoga benefits for women. We’ll list the most important yoga benefits for women below if you need any additional reasons to take up happiness practicing at home.
Lessening Premenstrual Syndrom Symptoms
Anyone who says that women have it easy should feel the craps of PMS and the hormonal imbalances that cause the emotional instability that makes some people complain about the women in their lives and their mood swings. No man should voice their opinions about this, and no man should complain.
Still, there are ways through which women can find comfort from this, and the yoga benefits for women are amongst these. According to studies and research conducted by the International Journal of Women’s Health and Reproduction Sciences, the yoga benefits for women can be seen in three areas. The behavioral, physical, and emotional symptoms associated with the dreaded time of the month known as PMS are diminished in women that have been practicing yoga. The old Buddhist practice is promoted as an alternative treatment for these symptoms and recommended to women struggling with PMS.
Helps with Pregnancy and Labor
Prenatal yoga has been proven to help both through the months of pregnancy and the actual labor. Findings from 2015 demonstrated that practicing yoga doesn’t only help women to manage the level of stress they endure during pregnancy but also reduces the amount of pain experienced in the pelvic regions. Furthermore, some signs show that women who practice yoga could experience a reduction in delivery time, making the whole process much more manageable and rapid.
There is something that women should take note of, however. If you are pregnant and think of starting to practice yoga, you should talk to a medical professional. This is because practicing yoga could also cause problems in rare cases. Researchers underlined that there is a small risk of yoga causing uterine contractions for women. Talk to a professional and follow their advice!
Diminishes symptoms of menopause
Women that are dealing with menopause have to cope with hot flashes. Researchers took a sample group of perimenopausal and postmenopausal women around the age of 54 that were experiencing, on average, four hot flashes a day. Following the ten weeks of yoga classes, the majority of 66% of the women stated they experienced a reduction in hot flashes. Furthermore, they noted that their hot flashes were not as intense as before they started practicing yoga.
In 2012, Germany conducted further studies on the benefits of practicing yoga for menopausal women to see if it also improved the psychological effects of the condition. The study results conducted at the time demonstrated that there were significant improvements and felt it noteworthy to recommend yoga as a treatment for menopausal symptoms.
Yoga Benefits for Men
We are long past the biased and prejudiced ideas that yoga is a feminine activity that men should take no part in. We are living in 2022, after all, and gender norms are as outdated as the quill. Men should also get the opportunity to experience the beneficial effects of yoga. The yoga benefits for men are just as significant as the ones for women, and biased mentalities shouldn’t deter men from accessing them.
Body strength and conditioning
Many people think that the practice of yoga is gentle and easy to do. That is the greatest misconception regarding yoga. Regardless of the amount of strength and power you think you have in the muscles of your body, a 20-minute session of yoga will leave you breathless, panting, and tired, just like running a quarter marathon, doing sets of push-ups, weightlifting or boxing would.
Regular practices for a few weeks will show how you can achieve yoga benefits for men. Try focusing on flow styles of yoga known as Vinyasa, as this type of practice will work muscles throughout your body and will leave you dripping with sweat. Your muscles will lengthen, your physique will be more toned, and you’ll get similar if not better results than intense gym workouts even at home. The best part about it is that you can do it at home.
Full-body awareness and function
When you go to the gym, in order to distract yourself from the pain and discomfort created by the most intense sets of exercises, its good to listen to music, think of something else, and have your mind roam in search of anything to keep it busy and away from the pain. During yoga, however, you must remain in the moment. Be there and experience every sensation. Feel the muscles stretching, discover how they feel, understand your anatomy and respect the way in which they react to each movement.
The yoga benefits for men extend beyond the physical ones of traditional workout sessions as it makes you respect and understand your body like never before. It will give you a better appreciation of each joint, tendons, ligaments, and muscle in your body while you pay undivided attention to how your body reacts. You’ll understand that while your body is made up of different muscles, bones, joints, and tendons, they all work like one, in union with each other, dependent on each other. While you might often overlook some muscles while lifting weights, that is not an option during yoga. This also ensures that your body develops uniformly, therefore, diminishing the risk of imbalance, muscle cramps, or joint problems in old age.
Correcting body imbalance and diminishing the risk of injuries
As we all know and most men will agree with this statement, a large percentage of men practice a wide variety of sports from their childhood on. Sports like rugby, football, basketball, baseball, running, or weight training can lead to developmental imbalances. Meaning that practicing sports can affect the way their body and muscles develop. Maybe they use their legs more or use their right legs or arm more than their left ones. These are common effects of practicing sports that involve coordination, kicking, catching, throwing a ball. Some muscles are more utilized than others, which can lead to inflexibility in some places. Muscles can be stretched, stressed too much, over-utilized, and damaged if not properly maintained. Hamstrings and hip flexors are most exposed to damage and rigidity if overexerted.
At the same time, sitting down and hunching over your desk can unwillingly teach your body a dangerous default position that can take years to fix and can lead to severe pain in the long run. Your spine will be the wrath of eight hours of work, but yoga can be your get-out-of-jail-free card. The yoga benefits for men and women alike address these imbalances and irregularities. Through yoga, you will get to feel much better through head-to-toe discipline and awareness of restorative movements that will help your body reverse the effects of the stress caused by bad posture.
We all know or have heard of the famous Elle Woods quote, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” This quote applies to Yoga far more than other physical exercises. Due to the direct impact Yoga has on both your physical and mental health, balance, and strength, your whole life will improve once you start practicing the art of living.
Nothing can be used as a substitute for yoga, not even running, as the high you experience after yoga is one of serenity and calmness. Your mind and body are at ease with each other, in perfect balance, working together to make sure you are experiencing the best life possible, with the best mindset and mental perspective. Your mind will find the balance it needs between the positive and negative experiences in your life, and you’ll be able to make the best and most conscious decisions in your life.
Try it out at home and come back to us with results after a couple of weeks. We’re looking forward to hearing about your experiences in the comments section below. All those people around you, friends and family that are also dealing with the side effects of living in today’s world should have a chance to improve their life. Make sure you Like & Share this article and take care of your mind and body through the practice of yoga and meditation.