With all the information swirling around the media, we are all too familiar that incorporating yoga and meditation into one’s life is beneficial. The benefits can include feelings of relaxation, an overall sense of well-being, and improvement in one’s health. But did you know that both yoga and meditation also have very measurable, biological benefits as well? To delve deeper, let’s take a look at yoga and meditation with a more physiological perspective.
In our highly competitive society, exercise for health has been overshadowed by intense training. Most people crave the burning feeling associated with strength training or HIITS (High Intensity Interval Training). What you might not realize is the burning feeling and post exercise pain is usually associated with lactic acid buildup and microtears in the muscle, which are natural processes in the body. However, it seems that we have taken those feelings of pain to be the validation of our exercise. In fact, we not only need to be sore and drained from our workout, but we also need to be so sore that we have something to brag about at work the next day. Being sore for prolonged periods of time can actually mean we are doing more damage than good, which is not really the intended purpose of exercise.
So why exercise at all? Well, a great benefit of yoga is that it can be considered functional exercise or training, meaning it is exercise that is designed to produce the most enhanced version of yourself by gradually increasing your natural abilities. With yoga, we are able to increase our range of motion, improve our posture, increase strength and flexibility, and improve our balance. For example, when you warm up at the beginning of your favorite yoga class at with cat and cows, neck stretches, side body stretches, and wrist stretches, you are able to increase the range of motion in those joints and ligaments with consistent practice. Posture improvement can happen throughout a yoga class, but some specific poses or practices that you may be familiar with include ab work and locust. For more details on how to get core work in during a yoga class, you can refer to the blog 5 Power Core Poses for Yogis. To see strength and flexibility improvements, play with arm balances, hold warrior 2 or crescent lunge, and don’t skip those chaturangas! Also, any stretching or twisting done at the end of class can help improve your flexibility. While the practice of yoga advocates balance in life, you can improve your balance by working on balancing poses such as tree, warrior 3, and standing splits.
In addition to our yoga practice enhancing our activities of daily living, there is also evidence that it can improve our cognitive functioning. There is so much emerging research that both exercise and meditation play a role in increasing the brain’s neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to our brain’s ability to improve upon and create new neural pathways, and to adapt to changes in the environment. Those are both things that we want because we need to be able to think on our feet, respond quickly to situations, and remember where we left our car keys! In fact, a consistent insight meditation practice in particular has been shown to increase the grey matter in our brains (which is just a fancy way of saying that over time, we can increase the neural pathways in our brain) . Additionally, a study published by Neurology journal 2016 found that incorporating leisure physical activity in your life is associated with improved brain function . And what is yoga if it is not considered leisure physical activity?
So there you have it. Adding to the many reasons you may already come to your favorite yoga class, here are a few more reasons to really make that meditation and yoga practice stick. If you are still working on adding a meditation practice to your life, start small. Make a goal of sitting and meditating for 5 minutes a couple of times a week. There are so many guided meditations that can be found online, and even more that can be found in the on-demand section of My Joy Yoga, Joy Yoga’s online resource for yoga.