Written by Amanda Kim; First Year Co-Chair
As we begin a new year, it is important to use this as a new start or a way to refresh ourselves for a whole new year of experiences and opportunities ahead. One way to refresh our mind and body is through yoga. Yoga is a form of exercise that focuses on the mind and body through a combination of meditation, physical postures, and breathing techniques. Similar to tai chi, yoga’s purpose is to create a connection between the mind and the body, in order to achieve harmony within the mind and body. As a result from empowering this mind-body connection, yoga can achieve a great number of health benefits.
In terms of mental health, yoga’s greatest benefit comes from its stress-relieving nature. Stress can often lead to more than just a mental problem, surfacing often as back or neck pain, sleeping troubles, and other physical problems. Therefore, using yoga as a form of stress management can reduce both the mental and physical strains. Additionally, according to an article published by the Harvard Medical School, studies have shown that yoga can have an effect similar to traditional exercise and relaxation in terms of mood. In one study, 24 women who were described as “emotionally distressed” took two 90-minute yoga classes a week, while a control group of women was to continue their daily activities. At the end of the three-week trial, the yoga group was found to have improvements in their perceived stress, depression, anxiety, and well-being.
From the physical perspective, yoga also has a number of benefits. Yoga’s most direct effect is that yoga can build muscle strength and tone, despite being a low-impact exercise. Additionally, yoga can improve many other physical characteristics such as flexibility, weight, and metabolism. In respect to health conditions, research by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has found that a yoga program for once a week for 12 weeks has effectively helped those afflicted with chronic or recurring lower-back pain significantly. Yoga was found to be even more effective than regular medical care. Due to its low-impact quality, yoga can benefit people of almost any age.
If you are interested and physically able to safely do so without injury, here are some simple yoga stances that you could do at home. First, there is the Mountain pose. This one is very simple, but it helps with your posture and can be great as a breathing exercise. To do this, start by standing with your feet hip-width apart, facing forward so that your outside edges of your feet are parallel with each other. Rest your arms at the sides of your body and adjust your spine so that it is straight. Then, begin to breathe deeply and slowly at an even pace, focusing on each breath. Here, you can add modifications, such as stretching your arms upward to reach the skies. The key is to focus on each breath, making sure your posture is straight. Another stance is the Tree pose. This one is great for improving your balance and strengthening your thighs and calves. To begin, start with your feet together, heel-to-heel. Start to shift your weight onto your left leg and foot, as you raise your right knee towards your chest. You can use your hands to hug your knee. Then while keeping your hips facing forward, place the sole of your right foot against the inner side of your left thigh, either below or above your knee depending on your comfort level. After you find balance, then you can place your hands into a prayer-like position in front of your chest. Some added modification or challenge can include raising your hands up above your head similar to the Mountain pose from earlier.
After reviewing some of the health benefits of yoga and some basic yoga poses, perhaps you can stop by your local gym’s yoga sessions or a local instructor’s studio to explore this new opportunity.