My personal experience (of practicing yoga several times a week and stretching daily for over 20yrs) and the testimonies of my students and research coming out continually , convince me unequivocally that the long term benefits of a regular commitment to many of the yoga based practices and daily stretching will SIGNIFICANTLY contribute to better long term health outcomes for most people.
It's not what we do occasionally that affects our long term health - it's what we do often or commit to daily that has the most impact. The choices , sacrifices and commitments we make daily/ weekly shape who we become and contribute to our future in so many ways .
Ultimately , there are usually consequences to our choices - some benefit us / others and others harm. We know a sedentary lifestyle is VERY bad for our overall health - even Google will tell you the many negative consequences of that - so humans are now (more than ever) walking , jogging, booked in with gyms , personal trainers , buying treadmills , weights and exercise bikes in the hope for the body beautiful , for some "me" time, to lose weight etc etc.
Yes, exercise is popular and good for many reasons but I am suggesting that yoga and stretching may really be the BEST form of "exercise " for most people because the overall benefits are HUGE and the wide variety of practices can be easily done daily at home or anywhere AND right through to old age.
As a counsellor , health educator as well as a yoga and stretch teacher, I see the holistic benefits of yoga and stretching differently to most people. So, let me explain why I am so convinced......
Stress and mental , emotional health issues are increasing exponentially both in children , adults and the elderly. Life is getting more and more complicated and busy.
The "system" is overburden and often ineffective at quickly identifying the cause and offering effective support that is individualised and effective long term.
There is a tendency for the "easy way out of issues" , such as ,"numbing" the feelings with legal/ illegal medications and drugs and with distractions of various sorts ( that's a whole other blog).Or even running away and avoiding issues rather than been equipped to deal with them (hence the high divorce rate).
BUT... Yoga practices such as breath regulation, body awareness , mindfulness, meditation, self regulation etc (when taught properly) EMPOWER us to identify when things are NOT QUITE right and give us may tools to modulate these feelings/ behaviours and can give us greater insight as to how to sort through problems, in a calm and focused way, so as to identify and seek out what might help to minimise or eliminate the impact of stress and other issues.
PLUS, all the above mentioned practices produce measurable change in the body which benefit overall health.
The body and nervous system begin to relax more often and more easily and then the many physiological benefits
of relaxation occur:-
blood pressure comes down
stress chemicals reduce
inflammation reduces ( inflammation is the root cause to many/most health conditions)
focus, mental clarity and decision making improve
moods become more stable
hormonal balance is benefited
cravings and addictions become less
feelings of stress, anxiety and depression reduce
self confidence and hope increase
mental and emotional stability are enhanced
self awareness and self regulation increase goal achievement
self control to make good choices improves
more peaceful , content feelings emerge
AND I am very sure , there are many many more benefits to the yoga based practices even BEFORE the actual physical practices of the yoga poses are considered.
Lets consider the benefits that the physical poses, called asanas , of yoga and correct stretching on overall long term health :-
Safe , weight bearing exercise using the body only increases bone density and muscle without causing harm to joints or impacting negatively on flexibility. Poses can be adjusted and equipment used to cater for individual requirements. The individual is responsible for choosing how far they go in the pose and how long they hold it and if a variation is more suitable. This process of noticing and choosing appropriately is very powerful and should not be underestimated. Especially when teaching children, I stress the importance of making appropriate choices for yourself and accepting responsibility for the consequences.
Systematically and mindfully stretching each part of the body (including fingers ,toes and ears ) produces powerful benefits for the body as a whole. There about 600 muscles and some 360 joints. These muscles and joints are all connected in very complex ways . Tight muscles, weak muscles , overstretch muscles and any muscle imbalance will affect joints , posture and movement fluidity .
What MANY may not realise ( but is widely appreciated by :- traditional Chinese medicine practitioners , Ayurvedic practitioners and holistic practitioners of may types eg. chiropractors, osteopaths, kinesiologists , natural health practitioners etc) is that the movement of the muscles and joints in a wide variety of positions as in yoga has some of these less thought about long term benefits :-
range of movement increases
unblocks stagnant energy in the body
meridians are balanced = overall health affected
blood flow nourishes muscles and joints to heal and rejuvenate
feelings of relaxation and "loosening up" mentally occurs
feelings of stress are reduced
reduces risk of injury
muscle tension is reduced
decreases back pain and joint pain
blood pressure reduces = reduced risk of heart disease
improved balance and co-ordination
chakras are opened up
overall feeling of well-being is fostered
I could write a book about all the reasons I feel yoga and stretching should be number one in our health and exercise choices or at least be included regularly in our exercise and healthy lifestyle rituals.
Let me encourage you to find windows of opportunity in your week to experience these benefits and include many more health promoting habits into your everyday lifestyle.
I believe God is intimately in control , however, as we have been given free will to make personal choices in how we live (and there are clearly consequences to our choices) it may be irresponsible to attribute our poor health outcomes to bad luck , bad genes or old age.
Stress management skills ,dietary choices, sleep choices , movement choices , relationship and spiritual choices ALL impact hugely on our mental and physical well-being.
In my classes at Yoga & Beyond at Bonnyrigg Heights ( and in private sessions) I cover all these aspects of health and teach how to use the breath, body and mind to safely foster great long term health benefits.
As a "lived life practitioner" I keep learning and keep practicing everything I teach, with the deepest desire to be a wealth of knowledge and support for my own health benefit and to all who seek to learn from me.
BA(psych) Dip Ed , Dip Prof Counselling
Certified Yoga Teacher , Stretch Therapy Instructor
Certified Ayurdeic Lifestyle Coach