Physical + Mental Benefits of Yoga

As a Registered Massage Therapist, my job is to assess a client, provide treatment to them and then appropriate home care. I might recommend a heating pad and a few stretches, or strengthening your core to prevent back pain but, in every case, I am guiding people towards strengthening and/or lengthening their soft tissues.


Most of us sit all day and/or spend a lot of time in front of computer. Some feel low back pain when exerting themselves. This is often due to deep core weakness, tight hip flexors, and a muscular imbalance between the front and back body.




An Annals of Internal Medicine study found that among 313 people with chronic low back pain, a weekly yoga class increased mobility more than standard medical care for the condition. Another study published at nearly the same time found that yoga was comparable to standard exercise therapy in relieving chronic low back pain (Harvard Health Publishing, 2015).


Toning our core and developing strong and flexible hips are essential for our low back to operate properly. Opening chest muscles and correcting neck tension helps shoulder and neck pain.


Our bodies are better able to handle day-to-day demands when we develop a healthier body. Our facia (connective tissue), muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints all require a certain amount of strength and elasticity.


As a yoga teacher, I take my anatomy and physiology training into designing yoga classes that will benefit the majority of the public’s body discomfort. Yoga is a wonderful way to find that balance between length and strength for a functional body.


“SO - WHAT EXACTLY IS YOGA?”


Simply - yoga is 3 things: moving, breathing and focus.


In poses/postures/asanas, you will move into, hold and come out of a position.

Moving in and out of physical poses helps develop strength, flexibility, and balance.

This helps us to prevent injuries and falls.


Matching your breath with movement, directing your breath lower into the abdomen, and slowing it down will settle the nervous system.


Focusing on your breath and sensations helps to stop over-active thinking, worrying, and anxiousness. It provides a type of moving meditation that is deeply helpful to deactivate your “fight or flight” response (sympathetic nervous system).


“BUT I CAN’T DO YOGA, I’M NOT FLEXIBLE.”


First and foremost, anyone can do yoga, as each practice is personal and unique. Each pose has a way to make it easier or harder, based on where your body is at.


I always instruct students to begin to move into a pose and your body will tell you where to stop. Reaching our hands for the ground while standing, some people will stop with their hands on their thighs or their knees. Perfect! You’re stretching your hamstrings! And you’re doing yoga!


You get to find your version of each pose, each day, and whatever version that is, it’s wonderful. Find a yoga program best suited to your level and make it your own.


“I’VE HEARD YOGA IS A MOOD-BOOSTER - HOW?”


While yoga improves our muscular strength and elasticity, increases joint range of motion and aids circulation, it also helps us manage life stress. Being aware of the breath helps oxygenate the body and still the mind, helping with stress release and listening to your body’s abilities and limitations.


Breathwork is a powerful way to communicate to your brain, that you are relaxed and safe. Diaphragmatic breathing (or belly breathing) sends a signal to your central nervous system to calm itself. Here, we can activate your “rest and digest” activity or your parasympathetic nervous system.


By focusing the mind on the breath, one is able to tune out any “outside noise”. Being mentally present or mindful is calming in nature -and by activating the peaceful part of our brain, we can find ourselves better able to handle life’s outside stress.


Numerous studies have found that yoga has a beneficial impact on perceived stress and improvements in resilience or general mental well-being (Khansekar et al, 2021).


“WHAT CAN I EXPECT WHEN I GO TO A CLASS?”


These days, yoga is accessible anywhere.


Multiple local studios have different in-person options, or you could head to YouTube and enjoy a class in the comfort of your own living room. Pick the level that’s right for you (beginner, intermediate…) maybe select a theme (hips, for sleep, shoulder pain,) and find a large towel if you don’t have a yoga mat.


Most in-person classes ask you to bring a mat (some studios provide them), comfortable clothes and water. Currently, proof of vaccination is required and masks are worn unless yogis are on their mats.


Please let your instructor know if you have any impeding injuries that you may want your teacher to know about. They will often have suggestions for making things more comfortable. Once on your mat, your teacher will guide you through a lesson on breathing during your practice and a series of poses.


After moving through the physical part of the practice, yoga ends in a beautiful, final asana….Sivasana. It translates from Sanskrit as “Corpse Pose”. As morbid as it sounds, it metaphorically stands for being fully and totally at peace and then being born anew. A few minutes of silence in a very relaxed state is where you can enjoy the bliss of doing absolutely nothing. It is thought to allow you to absorb the benefits of the practice, letting the body integrate all the work already done.


“WHAT’S MY TAKEAWAY?”


Ultimately this: Life is hard and yoga can make it easier. Yoga gives us some tools to develop a better functioning physicality (decreased pain, better movement, balance training) and stress management skills.


And who couldn’t use both?


Written by: Kat Melia, Registered Massage Therapist


References


Khandekar JS, Vasavi VL, Singh VP, Samuel SR, Sudhan SG, Khandelwal B. Effect of Yoga on Blood Pressure in Prehypertension: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. ScientificWorldJournal. 2021 Sep 13;2021:4039364. doi: 10.1155/2021/4039364. PMID: 34552393; PMCID: PMC8452415.


https://www.health.harvard.edu/alternative-and-complementary-medicine/yoga-for-pain-relief