Tracy Lease: Why practice yoga?
I am approaching the end of my second year as the director of Full Life Yoga Studio. While doing yoga on the deck in the sun — maple, oak, and dogwood leaves swirling around me — I asked myself, “Why do yoga?” One of the guys I guide in mindfulness at the local jail asked me that question recently and I am not sure my response was clear.
Today my mind quipped, “To relieve stress during power outages.” I chuckled as I moved into trikonasana, triangle pose, listening to the neighbor’s generator. Then I began listing reasons in my head: to tune into body and breath, to become mindful of stretching muscles, sensations in joints. To relax as the waves of breath carry stress out. The yoga practice makes me feel stronger, more graceful, alive, and more connected with myself. I feel more content, contemplative, and quiet when I am done.
I have been doing yoga for 28 years, and some of my students have been doing yoga longer! I started in rural Alaska with a book called, “The Iyengar Way.” With the wind howling outside I would set myself up in our tiny living room and try pose after pose. I would stretch out in poses after running sled dogs across the frozen bay and down the coastline.
Those are my personal reasons, my personal stories. So then why do I recommend yoga to others? There are so many reasons that are now supported by science. There are the obvious reasons: yoga can help develop flexibility, muscle strength, stability, endurance and balance.
Yoga has also been shown to have a significant impact on anxiety, depression, stress and even chronic pain. These four factors also contribute to sleep disorders so doing yoga can improve sleep.
Harvard Health’s article “Yoga — Benefits Beyond the Mat” tells us yoga helps us maintain a healthy heart indicating that it’s likely that the yoga restores “baroreceptor sensitivity” which helps the body sense imbalances in blood pressure and find balance.
This article went on to say practicing yoga improved lipid profiles in healthy patients and those with coronary artery disease. Yoga also lowered excessive blood sugar levels in people with non-insulin dependent diabetes and reduced their need for medications. Because of this, yoga is now included in many cardiac rehabilitation programs.
Yoga has been shown to increase mindfulness, even after class. For example, mindful movement can lead to mindful eating and a more positive relationship with food, body image and self-esteem. Researchers found the number of years and the number of minutes of yoga practice per week raised mindful eating scores in their surveys.
And the list of possible benefits goes on. Yoga, as mentioned earlier, helps students find stability by strengthening muscles in the hips and core as well as making people aware of connections between their feet, knees, hips and torso. This can be extremely beneficial as people age. The Journals of Gerontology describes one trial which evaluated the effects of a 12-week Iyengar yoga program on balance and mobility in older people. Participants completed a 12-week, twice-weekly yoga program which included standing postures. “The intervention group significantly improved compared with the control group on standing balance.”
As a public-school teacher, I taught yoga in my classrooms. At first my middle school students, especially the boys, made fun of yoga, joking around during class. Then I listed professional athletes who do yoga: Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James to name two. More of my students grudgingly gave yoga a chance. As the school year went on they would ask me, “Hey can we just go do the end part of yoga again, where we lay still and listen to our breath?” For these middle schoolers, busy with classwork, sports, and music the relaxation and restorative aspects of yoga became really important. I had students contact me from high school with stories. “I now practice the breathing you taught us before I take tests and it helps.” “The breathing exercises and guided stories you told still help me get to sleep.”
Why do yoga? Because from what I have witnessed teaching all ages, five to 95, people feel better after a practice. I hope the reasons I have listed convince people to give it a try.
Tracy Lease, owner & director of Full Life Yoga Studio has a passion for teaching Yoga, Pilates, and Mindfulness. An Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher and PMA Certified Pilates Teacher, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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