July 28, 2017

How Yoga Can Improve Your Quality of Life

General Health

yogaAfter decades of running I knew I was losing flexibility and my knees and hips were especially stiff and achy after running. I started practicing yoga in my 40s, on a DVD. I quickly gained flexibility and strength, but there was something more about it that brought me to my yoga mat two or three times a week. It would be years before I would discover what that “something” was. Today, after teaching yoga for six years, I find students just like me. They know yoga is important for their health, they’re just not sure why. Yoga provides such a wide variety of benefits for the mind, body and soul. More importantly, your health will benefit and your stress can subside.

I am fortunate to have chosen Alignment Yoga for both my 200 hour and 500 hour yoga training programs. Alignment Yoga emphasizes the benefits of the poses, not just how to do them. There is wisdom behind the poses, they’re not just stretches. They are intended to make us feel better mentally and physically due to how they position our inner organs. I know, that sounds kind of “out there”, I was even a skeptic at first. However, I have I learned the science and anatomy behind it which have allowed me to better understand my programs. The main body parts which come into play are the adrenal glands and the diaphragm (breathing) muscle. Forward folds are calming based on what happens to the adrenal glands during the fold. Back bending poses tend to energize, again due to what happens with the adrenal glands (think adrenaline). Inversion poses—the extreme being a headstand—cause the abdominal organs to shift their weight off  the pelvic floor muscles and onto the diaphragm muscle. This makes for a dynamic breath, and the movement of the diaphragm sends a calming message to the nervous system.

This might be overwhelming to you, but you don’t have to do a headstand to enjoy the benefits of inversions. I have many favorite yoga poses, but if forced to name only one, Downward Facing Dog (Down Dog) is a top pick.  Done correctly it encompasses most of the body and is considered an inversion post, because the head is down and the hips are up, allowing a dynamic movement of the diaphragm muscle.  Down Dog is both calming and energizing and can be down right in your home.  Most people can do Down Dog, although wrist issues may necessitate substituting with ‘Elbow Dog’. Visit Yoga Poses for pictures of these positions.

I continue to learn from my students and evolve as a yoga teacher. Our ego gets the best of us, and yoga can become a contest to see who is the most flexible and the strongest. Gaining flexibility beyond what we need for our daily activities does not make us healthier or happier.  In fact if we stretch our muscles to their maximum, joints may be irritated.  It is important that people learn to stay within their safe range.

Awareness is one of the hidden gems of yoga. Through hours of stillness and listening we reveal the bad habits in our body (e.g. poor posture) and in our mind (e.g. overwhelming and constant flood of thoughts and emotions).

I have seen people in my classes change in various ways. For many, yoga opens the door to other positive lifestyle changes simply through greater awareness.  People new to yoga often start off very disconnected from their body.  Simple instructions such as “put your left foot on the mat and lift your right foot” may be challenging.  In time, the dialogue between mind and body becomes more dynamic.  Students begin making observations and connections, figuring things out themselves. All I do is provide the space, literal and figurative, and offer simple instructions. On some levels, teaching yoga is the easiest thing.

I encourage you to try yoga either at home or through a yoga class. Visit FortHealthCare.com/Classes to register for yoga today!