One minute on Instagram and it becomes incredibly clear that yoga is POPULAR. Incredible poses, dazzling smiles, inspirational captions… it’s pretty lovely to look at.
But if you can’t make your butt touch your face, can you actually benefit from yoga?! Is it possible that this awe-inspiring activity is for everyone?
Heck yes it is! Yoga can actually be amazing for your joints, bones, mental health, and more. How cool is that?
And I promise that you don’t have to be able to turn yourself into a pretzel or fit into a size zero to make it happen (I certainly can’t do either of those things and I adore my yoga time ;)).
Let’s look into what makes yoga so awesome and why you really should give it a go (even if you can’t touch your toes):
Why I Do Yoga
(psst – that’s me!)
Back before my Graves Disease days I never would have even considered yoga as one of my go to workouts. I wanted abs for days and yoga seemed a little too low endurance for me. Boy was I wrong!
When my illness demanded that I keep my heart rate low and avoid any intense exercise, yoga seemed like a godsend. My legs muscles were a spasming mess and my heart was always racing but yoga was so gentle and kind and helped me move my body in a way that worked for me. I was so grateful!
And, super bonus, yoga even helped me to develop a new love and appreciation for my body. I started to feel less angry with my illness and less like my body was working against me. Instead I developed a sort of kinship with my gorgeous bod and realized that we were in this together, not working against each other. To this day yoga continues to be a relaxing form of self care.
What’s The Deal With Yoga
Yoga is like the triforce of workouts. We’ve got exercise, breathing techniques and meditation all worked into one. This practice hails from India and has been praised as a physical and mental health supporting activity for over 5000 years. (source)
Yoga not only gives you the opportunity to stretch and move, it’s also a chance to connect with your gorgeous body and be more present in the moment. Kind of cool, eh?
If you’re worried about injuring yourself, set those fears aside.
As long as you make sure to work with your own individual flexibility, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) says that yoga is a safe option (source).
In fact, a meta analysis of over 300 yoga related studies found that one of the many benefits of yoga is that it’s a safe form of exercise (source). Yoga related injuries are not common and typically don’t send people running to the doctor. This study found that less than one percent of the people who do get injured need to stop doing yoga all together.
And while the idea of doing yoga can be pretty intimidating (especially when you see experienced yogis doing some pretty intense poses), it’s important to know that it’s ok to be a beginner. You do not have to be able to fold yourself into a suitcase to start doing yoga. This is a wonderful exercise and form of self love that can work for everyone! No experience needed.
If you want to give it a go, sign up for a beginner course or look up some beginner yoga sequences on YouTube or Instagram. You don’t even have to leave the house if you don’t want to. It seriously doesn’t have to be complicated – don’t feel intimidated. Even the best yoga masters out there started from scratch. You’re allowed to be a novice!
6 Awesome Health Benefits of Yoga
1. Yoga Benefits Our Joint Health
Your joints are kind of cool (like the rest of your body – biology is fascinating!) Anyone who has arthritis can totally attest to the importance of joints. And yet it’s something we don’t tend to think about or appreciate until they aren’t feeling the best. It’s honestly so important that we take really good care of them.
So why should we make sure to move our joints on the regular?
Cartilage, a structural component in the body that cushions the ends of your bones, doesn’t even have it’s own blood supply (woah!) Instead your cartilage gets it’s nutrients delivered from the surrounding synovial fluid (which also carries away waste – such a hard worker!) But movement is a key part of the process; the more you move those pretty joints the more that fluid can circulate, keeping your cartilage happy.
If you aren’t too sure what cartilage does for your joints, think about it as a cushion. It works as a shock absorber and allows your bones to glide over each other comfortably when you’re shaking it like a Polaroid picture (or, you know, walking…) (source)
And yet we tend to move less and less as we age. Running around at the park kind of takes a back seat to working hard for our money and taking care of our homes. Not exactly the best for those sweet joints of yours. You know the saying ‘use it or lose it‘… well it certainly applies here. A sedentary life style can eventually lead to some pretty unhealthy joints. And eventually that means damage and pain.
So why yoga?
From an exercise perspective, yoga is pretty unique. It’s not just focused on muscle flexibility, joint mobility is important too. And trust me, those two things are not the same. One of the benefits of yoga is that it puts us through many different ranges of motion, moving our joints around and giving them some love. And we already know that movement is a pretty important part of joint health!
And the benefits of yoga continue, because it can be a really gentle way to move those joints and keep that cartilage happy. Woohoo! Plus, it’s also pretty wonderful that it exercises your muscles and ligaments and supports your bone health too (we’ll touch more on that later).
If you want to do a little joint supporting yoga, these moves are a great place to start.
Is Yoga Good For Arthritis?
Arthritis pain can be awful! And while long term inactivity isn’t great for sore joints, a lot of exercises can be too intense. But the good news is that yoga might be where it’s at for any arthritis warriors in the house.
According to this study published in the Journal of Rheumatology, yoga might be an awesome option to help arthritis sufferers increase their physical activity and even improve their physical and mental health. Fantastic, right?
But the goodness doesn’t stop there!
Rheumatologist Sharon Kolasinski at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine feels that “yoga not only safely exercises the muscles, ligaments, and bones in and around the joints, but also triggers a relaxation response that can help reduce pain and improve functioning.” (source)
And if that wasn’t enough, The Arthritis Foundation is even on board, recommending a gentle yoga practice as a great way to “help reduce joint pain, improve joint flexibility and function and lower stress and tension to promote better sleep.” (source)
Sounds kind of awesome right? Just remember to be gentle with yourself and take it at your own pace. The goal here is to support those joints, not to push them too far. Don’t be afraid to tell your yoga teacher about your arthritis or, if you’re practicing yoga at home, look up modified yoga postures for arthritis. And hey, talk to your doctor or physio therapist while you’re at it – they may have some awesome pointers.
2. Yoga’s Marvelous for Your Mental Health
While we may think about yoga as simply an exercise, it can actually function as a form of moving meditation as well. That might sound a little strange, but when you really think about it it all makes sense.
Mindfulness meditation is all about focusing your mind on the present. One way that you can achieve this is by paying attention to your breathing. In fact, meditation involves deep, relaxing breaths in and out.
But you don’t have to focus on your breath. Focusing on one specific thought like a mantra or on your body and its surroundings, centering your mind on your senses and the present moment works pretty well too.
Yoga also includes deep, relaxing breaths and encourages us to focus on the present moment and our incredible bodies. And if that aint a form of meditation. then I don’t know what is.
What can yoga as a form of moving meditation do for your mental health?
- Reduce Anxiety and Stress
- Improve Focus and Concentration
- Decrease Blood Pressure
- Increase Empathy and Compassion
How awesome is it that the benefits of yoga include supporting our mental health? That is a whole lot of potential goodness for you to tap into!
3. Yoga Supports Your Bone Health
So maybe this isn’t a huge surprise, since I already went over the benefits of yoga for your joints. But bone health is so much more than just joint health. And there are a few ways that yoga supports your bones.
Regularly practicing yoga actually increases your balance and coordination. And that means less falling flat on your face. While this may seem a little silly, it’s actually a pretty big bonus for those bones of yours. Especially if osteoporosis is a concern.
But it goes way further than simply staying on your own two feet. One study found that just 12 minutes of yoga every day helped to significantly increase bone density in the spine and had a positive effect on hip bone density too. Yahoo! (source)
While more studies are needed, this gives us the chance to at least be optimistic.
Dr. Loren Fishman, the Assistant Clinical Professor at Columbia Medical School who was involved in the study believes that yoga’s support of bone density is incredibly promising. “We did a bone mineral density (DEXA) scan, then we taught half of [the study subjects] yoga, waited two years, and did another scan. And not only did these people not lose bone, they gained bone. The ones who didn’t do the yoga lost a little bone, as you would expect.” (source)
He’s so passionate about the health benefits of yoga that he decided to study it in India and even uses it in his rehabilitation practice. Here are some yoga poses he recommends for osteoporosis.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, Yoga can help by improving strength, balance and even flexibility. But certain poses might not be safe for someone who has osteoporosis or a high risk of bones fractures. So please work with your physio therapist and doctor before you start practicing yoga so that you know which positions are safe for you.
4. Yoga Protects Your Heart Health
Vascular Surgeon Dr. Dilip Sarkar, a heart attack survivor and yoga advocate, has this to say about the benefits of yoga for heart health: “Hypertension is due to a constriction of blood vessels, and heart disease is due to blockage in the coronary arteries. When relaxation sets in, yoga therapy relaxes blood vessels and reduces blood pressure while increasing the blood flow to the heart muscle.” (source)
And the science backs it up! This study found that regularly practicing yoga improved cardiovascular health, lowered blood pressure and even reduced obesity rates. Which means tons of happier, healthier hearts. (source)
And I think we can all agree that any simple way to support your heart health is golden. Those tickers are pretty important after all!
5. Yoga is Gentle Enough For Graves Disease
But one of the benefits of yoga is that it’s very slow and gentle and keeps that heart rate low! So if you get the go ahead from your doctor, yoga can be a kind way to move your body without pushing yourself too hard.
Personally, Graves Disease also decided that my leg muscles should just spasm all the time… talk about not fun! Walking around the block was an impossibility. But you don’t even have to stand up to do certain yoga poses. So it was a wonderful way to get my body moving without making those legs (or heart) any angrier.
If you experience muscle spasms too know that you aren’t out of options. Work with your doctors and find what works the best for you <3. Yoga might be a fan-flipping-tastic option!
The goodness doesn’t stop there – this study showed that doing yoga as little as twice a week for just three months can potentially lower inflammation, boost energy, and lift your mood. And less inflammation is pretty sweet for any chronic illness warrior. So get that yoga on (with your doctor’s approval of course).
6. Yoga is a Wonderful Form of Self Love
It all comes back to love baby! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – self love is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle! And darling, you deserve all the love.
Yoga allows us to connect with our bodies and truly appreciate it and all of it’s glory. How often do we slow down and focus on our movement. When do we simply breathe and move and realize how wonderful this gorgeous body we were gifted with truly is? Yoga is the chance to silence that inner mean girl and simply appreciate and respect yourself.
Sounds a little cray, right? But it’s totally real. This study even found that university students who did yoga left feeling good about self-control, self-perception, well-being, body awareness, balance, mind-body connection and reflexivity.
Even Dr. Dilip Sarkar has a pretty positive opinion on the benefits of yoga and their effect on self-perception. “The word yoga itself means union. It unites your mind, body and spirit. During yoga practice, we inhale positive emotions and exhale negative emotions. Yoga also helps quiet the mind chatter.” (source)
Let’s stop worrying about how great we are at touching those pretty toes and just get on that yoga mat. You’ll be supporting your joints and bones, benefiting your mental well-being and heart health and being super kind and gentle with yourself while you’re at it. There’s a ton of goodness to gain here, one pose at a time.
Do you do yoga? Are you looking to add it to your self care plan? What health benefits of yoga would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!
Health and love,
Thought of the day: Sometimes it’s the gentle forms of self-care that have the most incredible outcomes.
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