Almost a year ago, I found myself laid up on my couch in excruciating pain. Since my early teens, I have been managing a recurring low back injury. Usually, my back would go out after a work out or after doing some sort of vigorous physical activity. After I had my kids, my back would go out more often and the pain was becoming more debilitating. In this instance, the injury was so bad that I couldn’t get off the couch to take care of my kids. After a series of tests, my chiropractor discovered that not only did I have pretty severe degeneration of my lower vertebrae, but I also had heretofore undiagnosed spina bifida occulta.
Hearing this news was devastating. I have always been a pretty active person and I thought this diagnosis was a death sentence for my love of fitness. Luckily, I have a really amazing chiropractor and, with her help and guidance, she assured me that I could avoid surgery and remain active if I worked to heal my body. She prescribed a combination of chiropractic care, acupuncture, and yoga.
At the mention of yoga, I inwardly rolled my eyes. I loved working out, but my idea of a good workout was sprints, a bootcamp class or crossfit. If I wasn’t spent and sweating like a pig by the end of my workout, I didn’t think it was worth it. But now, I was barely able to even sit up on my own. So as much as the idea of yoga bored me to tears, I was willing to give anything a try. As soon as I was able to get myself to the YMCA, I started taking yoga class twice a week.
Within a couple of months of twice-weekly yoga, I was hooked. Not only was my horribly painful back injury healing like I never would have expected, but I was losing weight and gaining strength like crazy. I couldn’t believe that this practice, which I had looked down on as boring and lazy for years, would transform my physical and mental health so rapidly.
Since then, I have been practicing yoga three times a week and I continue to see incredible benefits in my body and in my mental and emotional health and healing. I am a firm believer that yoga can transform lives, and I want to give you just a few reasons why you, too, should be practicing yoga.
Why You Should Practice Yoga
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Improves General Physical Health. Regularly practicing yoga increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure. Yoga can also lower blood sugar and cortisol levels.
Reduces Stress & Anxiety. Regular yoga practice can improve depression and lead to a significant increase in serotonin. Yoga also shifts your brain into using the parasympathetic nervous system, which is calming and restorative as it lowers breathing and heart rates.
Increases Flexibility. Obviously, practicing yoga on a regular basis will greatly improve flexibility in many areas of the body. Most people don’t realize that many of their muscles and connective tissues are chronically tense, causing many ailments such as back and neck pain. Regularly stretching the tight muscles will greatly reduce every day aches and pains.
Helps Relieve Chronic Pain. As stated above, much chronic pain is caused by tight or inflamed muscles, ligaments and tendons. Further, most people carry chronic tension somewhere in their body (clenching your jaw or gripping the steering wheel). Yoga helps to relieve pain and tension by making you aware of where your tension is and giving you tools to relieve that tension, thus relieving the pain it’s causing.
Improves Sleep. Yoga teaches you how to use breath and focus to turn off your mind and slow your breathing and heart rate. Many of us have a hard time falling asleep because it is hard to turn our minds off after a busy, perhaps stressful, day. Yoga encourages an inward focus of the senses which helps your nervous system relax and fall into a more restful state.
Promotes Weight Loss. Yoga encourages a more health-conscious lifestyle on top of the already weight-reducing benefits like lower cortisol levels and increased muscle strength and flexibility. Moving your body regularly, stretching and strengthening muscles, and being more aware of your stress and eating habits all lead to a more healthy weight.
Protects Your Spine. The vertebrae in your back need to move in order to stay strong and functional. We do far too much sitting in our society and it can wreak havoc on our spines! Yoga also strengthens the muscles along your spine and your core muscles, which in turn strengthens your spine and corrects your posture.
Increases Strength. I was shocked at the amount of strength I’ve gained in my arms and core by doing yoga! Yoga promotes a lot of body weight movements by focusing on using our arms, legs, and core to balance in various poses. The more you practice these poses, the stronger you will become.
Helps You Focus. Yoga teaches you to focus on the present. This is one of the hardest components of yoga for me. I have a hard time turning my mind from the stresses and to-do’s of the day/week/month, but yoga forces me to turn my mind to my breath and my body for at least an hour at a time. I still struggle with this part of yoga, but it gets better the more I practice.
Boosts Immunity. Moving your body and stretching your muscles aids in draining your lymph nodes. This helps the lymphatic system, a part of your immune system, fight infection, destroy harmful cells, and dispose of toxic waste in your body.
Regulates Adrenal Glands. Yoga lowers cortisol levels which is regulated by your adrenal glands. Cortisol is meant to be secreted in response to acute crises, but many people suffer from chronic elevated cortisol levels. This creates adrenal fatigue and can lead to depression, fatigue, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance, among other ailments. Practicing yoga will help to get those adrenal glands out of crisis mode and back to a normal, healthy function.
Promotes Community. Practicing yoga regularly puts you in a room with a bunch of like-minded people seeking relaxation, relief and better health. Cultivating the emotional support of friends and community has been demonstrated repeatedly to improve health and healing. A regular yoga practice helps develop friendliness and compassion for people around you.
This list could go on and on, but you get the picture. Yoga is so beneficial and people of all ages and sizes and capabilities can find a style of yoga that works for them. If you haven’t given it a try, I encourage you to do it as soon as you can!
Do you practice yoga? How has it transformed your life and body?
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