Why practice yoga?
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It is a practice which is accessible to all from children and babies through to older age groups. There are several possible entry points for beginning - physical yoga, breath work, meditation along with others - and a vast array of resources to draw on including online classes, courses, books and podcasts.
It is impossible to present all the vast number of reasons to explore yoga for yourself, but here are a few - both general and specific - to get you started.
General reasons to explore yoga:
- Supports our mental health - studies have demonstrated the many positive and useful ways in which yoga influences our emotional and psychological health and well-being in many areas of our lives.
- Helps reduce levels of stress and anxiety - by encouraging us to focus on anchoring in the present and to veer away from overthinking, yoga can help us manage our thought processes.
- Encountering the power of the breath - by building a greater awareness of our breath we are able to make links with our nervous system, especially the parasympathetic, and this has crucial effects on our physical, mental and emotional states (linking back to the reduction of stress and anxiety)
- Builds connection - this happens in a variety of ways. Firstly, giving us time and space to look inwardly and establish a more positive relationship with ourselves. Secondly, by practicing alongside others in class settings (in person or virtual) this can have an impact on our social well-being. Finally, by linking us to others practicing all over the world, there is a wider sense of community created.
- Self-practice or teacher-led - it’s possible to take part in yoga through self-led practice or to attend classes with teachers guiding content. There is an option for everyone.
- Practice yoga ‘on and off the mat’ - we might know it as a predominantly physical practice ‘on the mat’, but it is equally applicable in everything we do in our daily lives, for example, how we treat ourselves and how we set up our relationships with others (be it family, friends, colleagues)
Reasons to explore physical yoga (asana):
- Something for everyone! - there is a huge range of forms or styles of yoga asana ranging from faster-paced types such as Ashtanga and Rocket through to slower-paced types such as Restorative and Yin. And there are many others besides which give ample opportunity to find a form which best suits us.
- Improved cognitive functioning - focusing on postures, movements and transitions helps us build greater concentration and clarity of mind.
- Physical benefits - working with our body weight and optional props through the physical practice helps in the process of increasing strength, flexibility and in some instances, mobility and stability, too!
- Rehabilitative tool - yoga is often considered to be useful as part of a rehabilitative process (usually post-physiotherapy) and can sometimes provide support for general aches and pains in the body (e.g. non-specific lower back pain)
- Energy systems - yoga provides us with the opportunity to tap into the body’s energy systems, both subtle (e.g. prana - energy, breath) and physical, measurable (e.g. energy generated from our contact with the ground), as we navigate postures and movements.
- Relaxation response - in restorative practices and through breath work (mentioned above) a process of calming and relaxation can be triggered in the body.
- Cross-training - it is a great practice to try integrating with other fitness, athletic, dance, movement practices to keep movement varied. It can also be a way to help the body restore and relax after vigorous exercise (if it's a restorative form of yoga).
Reasons to explore meditation:
- Focusing the mind - by giving us space to quieten the many thoughts which flit around our minds (i.e. the ‘monkey-mind’), meditation can help create a calmer and clearer mind
- Increased awareness - through greater focus (as above), our minds can become more open and receptive to what is going on around us, thus increasing our awareness of ourselves and the wider world
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