The Benefits of Yoga and How to Create Your Own Daily Practice
By Kyla Jacobo, DPT
I have heard the word many times, often in the context of Indian religions, hippies, or sitting cross legged on a large, decorative pillow. Various interpretations of the word exist, such as “the divine in me bows to the divine in you”, and “my soul recognizes your soul”. Combined with hands pressed together and a bow, it can also be used as a gesture of reverence or respectful greeting. My favorite description, and the one that automatically plays in my head when I speak the word is, “the light in me sees the light in you”.
It was not until I started my daily yoga practice that I truly understood what that meant. For me, it means to look within myself and find self love…self acceptance…an understanding that I am a divine creation put on this earth for a purpose. To accept this means we also must accept that every person was of divine creation. I believe that if I can find the light within myself, I can better see it in others, thus helping them to shine.
The world needs all of us to shine our unique light.
Yoga has been a transformation of sorts, a time to look within, find stillness so that I may hear my inner voice. Amidst the busyness of our daily lives, we leave little time to reflect and listen to what our bodies are telling us. Hearing that inner voice, and trusting what some may call our intuition, is a skill that needs to be developed. My yoga journey has allowed me to be still, find self love, and exercise more compassion to those around me. When I am engaged in my daily yoga practice, I am more mindful of the goals and intentions I’ve set for myself.
Perhaps just as important, a daily yoga practice is a powerful tool for the body. Although it may appear to simply be a series of stretches and awkward positions, a comprehensive yoga practice encompasses breathing techniques, movements to elongate the muscles, and static holds for isometric strengthening. A good yoga instructor will also emphasize the importance of core strength, the area from which all of our movements should stem.
5 Benefits of a Yoga Practice…
- Physical Fitness
Participating in yoga at least twice a week can increase strength, balance, and endurance. The fluid movements and sustained poses engage a multitude of muscles and create a whole body experience. Static holds can elicit an elevated heart rate and labored breathing, which can aid in weight loss. In an article published by Harvard, they note that several small studies have found yoga to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension.
- Chronic Pain
Yoga has been shown to decrease chronic pain, especially in those with chronic back conditions. As previously mentioned, yoga emphasizes core strength, which greatly reduces strain on the lower back. Other areas of pain, such as hips or knees, can be caused by tightness or adaptive shortening of the muscles, limiting the joint’s ability to move properly. Alleviating this tightness can improve mobility and reduce the associated pain.
- Calms the Nervous System
The fluid movements and focus on the breath trigger a parasympathetic response, which has a calming effect. This reduces the seemingly ever present sympathetic (fight or flight) response that is triggered by stress and anxiety.
For those who deal with occasional anxiety and depression related to stress, difficult life events, or who, simply put, are just worry warts…yoga is a perfect antidote. Studies have shown a reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as decreased dependency on medications, in people who participate in yoga on a regular basis.
Many yoga instructors incorporate meditation and deep breathing practices into their classes, usually at the beginning or end of the class. Oftentimes, yoga instructors will even devote an entire class to some type of mindfulness. This practice can influence all areas of life, such as making us more mindful in our eating habits and in our interactions with our children.
5 Ways to Incorporate a Daily Yoga Practice Into Your Routine…
- Get Up Early
As with all high achievers, a morning routine is paramount to creating healthy, sustainable habits. When you wake up early, you gain valuable time to do the things that will make lasting changes in your life. Make yoga a part of your morning routine to set the tone for your day.
- Allow Your Kids to Join You
Attempting an at home yoga practice with kids in the house can be a daunting task. There will inevitably be interruptions, arguments, and an array of questions. So why not include them in the fun? If space allows, encourage them to follow along with the video, practicing poses and teaching them about breathing. Lead by example.
- Join a Yoga Studio
If, for whatever reason, at home yoga videos are not practical, join a local yoga studio. Many new studios are popping up, offering memberships, package deals, and drop-in classes. Oftentimes these classes are a bit of an investment, but well worth the health benefits. Plus, it’s an opportunity to support local businesses and get to know people in your community.
- At Home Yoga Practice
While I enjoy the atmosphere of yoga studios, an at home yoga practice best fits my lifestyle. I don’t need fancy yoga clothes or even have to worry about brushing my teeth! And I have limited time in the mornings, which does not allow for driving to and from a studio. Early on in my practice, I discovered a free, online yoga instructor whom I love! Shout out to Yoga With Adriene! She’s the best! Once I took her classes, it was hard for me to go elsewhere.
- Find the Right Practice For You
As my girl Adriene says, “find what feels good”. Modify the length of the class, difficulty level, and the focus of the practice according to what works best for you. Some do more flow and sun salutation, while others focus more on toning and strengthening. Start out slowly and never push yourself so far as to risk injury.
So get on your mat. Every day. Find your self love.