The Physical and Mental Benefits of Yoga

January 26 | The Lifestyle | The Practice |


The Physical and Mental Benefits of Yoga


Yoga practice provides many physical and mental benefits, offering improved circulation, flexibility, respiration, energy, and more. While all exercise offers physical benefits, yoga is unique. Not only does it provide preventative mental and physical benefits, but it also teaches breath awareness—called pranayama—along with a variety of breathing techniques to help you maintain energy, strength, and relieve stress. Experts have long publicized the advantages of yoga for your mind and body, and there are many great reasons yoga has become so popular for maintaining physical and mental wellbeing.


Because yoga is so customizable, it’s ideal for people of all ages, abilities, and fitness levels. Mitzi Reed, a longtime yogi, says, “I have been practicing yoga since my teenage years. I am now in my 50’s. … I can still do the moves and I have noticed that I am more flexible and limber than many thinner and younger people who don’t practice yoga.” A consistent yoga practice leads to lasting results and can also help avoid future problems. Jessa Mehta, a novelist and yoga teacher, notes that yoga can help address physical ailments and postpone complications. She says, “Yoga has also been a big part of address[ing] early onset degenerative disc disease. It’s a common ailment that happens when the discs in the lumbar spine wear out due to bones rubbing against each other. Ultimately, addressing this disease through yoga can delay and even prevent back surgery.” Regular yoga practice keeps your body flexible and healthy regardless of age or fitness level, as well as helping to postpone or avoid medical procedures.


Yoga can also be particularly helpful for moving through difficult periods in your life. Yoga helps you remain calm, present, and mindful, even in the face of pain or hardship. For cancer survivor Erin Michaela Sweeney, yoga was a way to help her through cancer treatments. “Throughout my chemo, radiation, and bone marrow transplant (BMT), I relied on yoga techniques and practices to help me. Instead of fretting about what lay ahead, I remained in the present moment, enjoying time with my one-year-old son. When not visiting with family or friends, I practiced calming breathwork techniques to keep my anxiety at bay. Part of regaining my strength after the BMT involved walking laps around the hospital floor, which I thought of as a moving meditation. Applying yoga methodologies gave me a sense of control during a scary medical time in my life.”


Yoga has also been shown to provide relief for physical discomfort from a variety of ailments, from the pain of cancer treatments, to arthritis, to migraine headaches. Dr. Mark Khorsandi of The Migraine Relief Center notes, “A study in the International Journal of Yoga found that regular yoga sessions reduced scores on the Headache Impact Test, a procedure often used to diagnose migraines.” Because of the whole body approach in yoga, Dr. Khorsandi points out “yoga can decrease stress, improve posture and help with circulation – all things that have been known to contribute to migraines or act as triggers.” With regular practice, yoga can be used to treat and prevent debilitating ailments that may otherwise keep you from regular life and activity.


Perhaps most significantly, yoga can have a substantial impact on your mental health and wellbeing. Because yoga teaches you to manage stress, focus on breath, and incorporate meditation, regular yoga practice can help you cope with stressful situations, manage anxiety, and maintain clarity in the face of challenging situations. Sheree Surdam is a Wellness Program Manager at Mountainside Treatment Center, a nationally acclaimed alcohol and drug addiction treatment center helping individuals work toward sobriety and mental wellness through an integrative care model approach. She’s observed the benefits of yoga and notes, “There are a number of ways yoga impacts wellness and mental health…. It really can alter your brain chemicals, and alter the way you brain processes neurotransmitters. Exercise and yoga enhances endorphins and dopamine – meaning it naturally makes you feel good.” As such, yoga can replace less healthy habits that keep you from living a healthy, happy life.


Finally, Surdam says, “Yoga can boost self-confidence, help us feel accomplished, and help us feel better physically. Mentally, it can make us feel like we have a sense of empowerment and mastery. It can also help us feel in control of ourselves.” When you’re empowered and stable, you’re less likely to participate in destructive habits. Dempsey Marks, a certified fitness expert and yoga instructor, reminds us of the vital balance yoga provides to our busy lives. “The deep breathing, concentration and physical movements of a yoga class really help me to clear my head and feel more centered. I feel like I’m ready to calmly tackle anything that lies ahead after my regular yoga practice.” Consistent yoga practice provides the physical and mental equilibrium required for a balanced, healthy existence, no matter what life brings.