About four years ago, I started yoga. My gym was offering classes once a week and I felt that I had nothing to lose by taking part in it. Overall, my goals were to keep fit and shed some weight. And yoga sounded like a great way to achieve those goals. After all, a lot of people were practically swearing by it.
During my very first session, I was too conscious of the awkwardness of my poses. I wasn’t very flexible and I felt too clumsy. But towards the end, we were instructed to do the Shavasana pose – lying flat on our backs with legs spread as wide as the mat and with the eyes closed. We kept that position for a few minutes. During the entire time that I was doing the Shavasana, I could not relax. My mind was just running and thinking of all the things that I needed to do. But then my instructor had this great way of urging us to relax which I mastered for all of a couple of minutes.
And that is simply what sold me on yoga. For a while there, I was able to let go of all my worldly cares and relax. I felt renewed and more energized.
I have heard stories of people who share the same kind of experience. They tried yoga for one reason or another, mostly to lose weight, and ended up practicing it on a regular basis. According to a Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal study, there is a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of Americans who are practicing yoga in the past four years. That number has jumped to over 36 million in 2016 as compared to just 20.4 million in 2012.
The reason for the rise in those practicing yoga AKA yogis? It is simply good for you so admits 75 percent of Americans.
The Benefits of Yoga
Harvard Health lists four main benefits of yoga:
1. Yoga promotes self-esteem.
Yoga studios do not have mirrors. This is because the emphasis is on channeling self-awareness and strengthening the mind-body connection. According to Maggie Giuffrida, people may start with yoga because of its physical benefits (quite similar to my reason for doing it in the first place) but what makes them continue are the mental benefits, which include inner awareness, stillness and peace.
2. Yoga helps in ensuring mindfulness.
Self-awareness leads to mindfulness. And this mindfulness affects different aspects of a person’s life. This then leads to mindful eating – savoring each bite and sip and even weight control as a yogi becomes more aware of his or her own body.
3. Yoga positively impacts cardiovascular health.
Yoga helps manage stress. It maintains blood pressure balance, improves lipid profiles especially for those with coronary artery disease, lowered the blood sugar of diabetic patients, helped those suffering from depression and arthritis, and helped increase the survival rate of those with cancer.
4. Improving fitness.
Yoga can definitely enhance your health. This is because holding a pose takes a lot of strength and can thus improve your muscles. Harvard Health reports that in a study of sedentary individuals who practiced yoga for eight weeks at 180 minutes per week, it was found that it enhanced their muscle strength endurance, flexibility and cardio-respiratory fitness.
Indeed, there are a lot of positive benefits to yoga. But all of these point to the fact that we live in a society that is too stressful and always on the go. The fact that people are turning to yoga to de-stress and boost their confidence says a lot about how we are living our lives.
In fact, the rise of yoga classes for kids also point to an increase in social and school pressures. In her report for ABC News, Genevieve Brown cites a little boy: “After class is over it seems like I’m not so worried about my problems as when I was in school,” he said. “Like when I’m here I’m not thinking about oh how much homework do I have, or what do I have to do, what do I have to not do.”
This sentiment from a little boy of school age is definitely concerning. Why are we as a society tolerating so much stress? This is definitely not good for our well-being, especially those of children.
Do you agree that we as a society should make a shift in our lifestyles and habits? Aside from yoga, is there anything that can help clear our minds and free us of stress? Let us know what you think.
In the meantime, I think I really need to go back and attend yoga classes again. Looking at all that’s on my plate, I can already feel the stress building…