My exploration of Yoga truly began a year and a half ago when I haphazardly committed to an unlimited membership to a yoga studio in downtown Ithaca. The real allure to start was thoughts of relaxing in a warm room in the middle of winter (as well a great deal for new students). After the deal ended, they asked if I wanted to continue and by that time I had invested to going two or three times a week, which had not only helped me gain strength and flexibility, but also given me two to three hours a week where I could focus solely on myself and what my body had to say to me.
After a few months I really began seeing the effects seeping into other areas of my life and I could physically tell when I had skipped too many days and needed to return to practice. I also began seeing how beneficial it could be for all of my patients; I do not believe there is a single injury or disease that would not benefit from yoga practices. That does not mean I think everyone should try to twist themselves into a pretzel (as that is what most people think of when the word gets mentioned), but I think everyone should be able to portion out some time for themselves to really try to communicate with their body and find out what it does and does not need.
While learning body awareness is always the first benefit I think of when it comes to yoga, as it can help prevent and rehabilitate injuries, there are many other benefits to practicing. Namely, it helps you train your body to shift from the “fight-or-flight” response to the “rest and digest” response during times of stress. This shift in using the parasympathetic nervous system over the sympathetic nervous system results in decreased breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, as well as increased blood flow to the vital organs. This shift can make it an effective intervention for depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
More specifically, yoga poses, meditation, or a combination of the two showed reductions in pain in persons with arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, and chronic pain. Additionally, a study by Catherine Woodyard reported persons with cancer that practice yoga have experienced decreased “post-chemotherapy-induced nausea frequency, nausea intensity, intensity of anticipatory nausea, and anticipatory vomiting”.
As I have learned more about my yoga practice I continue to see all the benefits that are supported by research and hope to help spread to words and poses of yoga!