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Dating back over 5,000 years, yoga is considered by many to be the oldest defined practice of self-development. The methods of classical yoga include ethical disciplines, physical postures, breathing control, and meditation. Traditionally an Eastern practice, it’s now becoming popular in the West. In fact, many companies, especially in Britain, are seeing the benefits of yoga, recognizing that relaxed workers are healthier and more creative, and are sponsoring yoga fitness programs.
Many studies have found that a little yoga in the morning, at night, or even on a lunch break, can minimize stress and increase productivity. It is believed that yoga is so effective for stress relief because, aside from the physical benefits that yoga brings, it encourages a good mood, an increase in mindfulness, and a healthy dose of self-compassion.
Many of the popular techniques found to reduce stress derive from yoga:
- Controlled breathing
- Physical movement
- Mental imagery
Yoga, which derives its name from the word, “yoke”—to bring together—does just that, bringing together the mind, body, and spirit. But whether you use yoga for spiritual transformation or for stress management and physical well-being, the benefits are numerous.
The following is only a partial list of yoga’s benefits:
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Sound sleep
- Reduced cortisol levels
- Improvement of many medical conditions
- Allergy and asthma symptom relief
- Lower blood pressure
- Smoking cessation help
- Lower heart rate
- Spiritual growth
- Sense of well-being
- Reduced muscle tension
- Increased strength and flexibility
- Slowed aging process
Yoga’s benefits are so numerous, it gives a high payoff for the amount of effort involved.
The practice of yoga involves stretching the body and forming different poses while keeping breathing slow and controlled. The body becomes relaxed and energized at the same time.
There are various styles of yoga, some moving through the poses more quickly, almost like an aerobic workout, and other styles relaxing deeply into each pose. Some have a more spiritual angle, while others are used purely as a form of exercise.
Virtually everyone can see physical benefits from yoga, and its practice can also give psychological benefits, such as stress reduction and a sense of well-being, and spiritual benefits, such as a feeling of connectedness with God or Spirit, or a feeling of transcendence. Certain poses can be done just about anywhere and a yoga program can go for hours or minutes, depending on one’s schedule.
There are several mechanisms in yoga that have an effect on stress levels, meaning there are multiple ways that yoga can minimize your stress levels. Studies show that the most effective ways in which yoga targets stress are by lifting your mood (or positive affect), by allowing for increased mindfulness, and by increasing self-compassion.
By simultaneously getting us into better moods, enabling us to be more focused on the present moment, and by encouraging us to give ourselves a break, yoga is a very effective stress reliever.
Yoga requires a time commitment so chose a time each day to get on your mat to support consistency. It is more difficult for people with certain physical limitations. Chair yoga can be a good option. Some people feel self-conscious doing some of the poses. Feeling self-conscious is normal. You won't be alone and over time your confidence will increase.
Also, yoga classes can be expensive although it is possible, albeit perhaps more challenging, to learn from a book or video. Yoga can be pricey but many studios offer donation-based classes and online content can be more financially accessible.
As yoga combines several techniques used for stress reduction, it can be said to provide the combined benefits of breathing exercises, stretching exercises, fitness programs, meditation practice, and guided imagery, in one technique.
However, for those with great physical limitations, simple breathing exercises, meditation, or guided imagery might be a preferable option and provide similar benefits.
Yoga classes can be wonderful for beginners—you will be surrounded by others of all levels of expertise and ability, and you will have someone talking you through the process and helping you to learn the correct forms.
Remember, yoga is a science and has many systems so if the physical practice isn't possible or enjoyable, there are other options such as meditation, bhakti, and self study.