The Benefits of Yoga

We had a very special day this week- the International Day of Yoga on 21st June! International days are set by the UN as a way to educate the public on areas of concern, to mobilise political will, or in this case, to highlight and celebrate an exercise that is fast being recognized as having many benefits for its practitioners in both a mental and physical way. So it seemed fitting to write a blog on some of the benefits of yoga and why it might be good to build it in to your daily routine. To start, there are different styles of yoga- Yin, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Hatha. I practice and teach Hatha. Hatha is usually what comes to mind when you think of your typical yoga class- slow movements, led by the breath, connecting mind, body and breath together. Slow movements doesn’t mean you won’t feel it the next day though- ask my yogis! Because there are a few different styles, it’s important if you try one and don’t enjoy it- don’t give up- try another, or even just a different teacher. So. Once you find the right class, with consistent work on posture and alignment, you can really start to build strength, stamina and flexibility as you become comfortable in the poses. STRENGTH Yoga is a great way to increase strength in your body- many of the poses are designed to work simultaneously on the upper and lower body- think of the Warrior poses and how they feel when you hold them for more than a few breaths! It’s a great way to build upper body strength, especially for women. Women often neglect the upper body, because traditionally lifting heavy things was left to men and the idea of a woman being muscular was just not the done thing for a long time! Thankfully, this is changing. I personally love doing weights and think everyone should add a bit of strength training to their routine!

FLEXIBILITY AND BALANCE Our modern lifestyles- sitting at desks for long periods; repetitive manual labour; sitting hunched up on the sofa when we get home from work; general stress; sports and life injuries- these all affect our flexibility as we age. Yoga gives us some of that flexibility back. It’s important to realise it won’t happen overnight. It can take time to heal a body that has been neglected for a long time. But we’ve all been there, so it’s also important not to give up if you find your flexibility is taking longer to bounce back than you thought it would. With flexibility and strength comes balance- every pose is done on the right and left side of the body, so that you work each side evenly. Think of how many sports focus on one side- kicking the ball off one leg, building strength in one side of the body for rowing/ boxing/martial arts, etc. Yoga gives our body some of this physical balance back and helps our hand eye co-ordination with actual balancing poses too! IMPROVED POSTURE-IMPROVED CONFIDENCE Unlike a gym class or team sport, yoga is just you on your mat. So stop looking around at everyone else (everybody does this at the start, it’s not just you!) and start to focus on what YOU are doing. This is when you start to connect your mind to your body.

This can lead to body awareness off the mat, which stops you from holding yourself in bad postures, or thinking a little more before you slouch and correcting it. By holding your body in a way which feels good, you feel good too and this leads to improved confidence. MENTAL WELLBEING THROUGH SELF AWARENESS AND CALM Starting and ending your yoga practice with breathing exercises and being aware of your breath throughout the class, helps you to learn to control your breath, which has great knock-on effects for your mood and wellbeing too. There are lots of benefits to be had, but obviously they come with a caveat. You won’t enjoy all of these things without a regular practice- daily or weekly. For many of us, money is the issue that stops us before we even begin, but there are many excellent free videos that you can access on YouTube. I have some on my Youtube channel, Aurora Yoga Studio NI, and some of you may have heard of ‘Yoga with Adriene’ which has introduced millions of people to the world of yoga. So. These are just some of the benefits of yoga for your body and mind. Every person will find a few more unique to them. And hopefully this will encourage some of you to take your first steps into the world of Yoga. Let me know what you think!