Day 12: Yoga or Stretching for 30 Minutes
A Clarity Exercise
Some physical exercise is a great way to get those endorphins going. And this can be as simple as some gentle stretching or as intense as a HIIT workout. But no matter how you get your body moving, there are not doubt numerous benefits.
Today’s goal is to shift our perspective on exercise.
A few years ago, I had an exercise addiction, and it made me treat exercise like punishment — it was something that I forced myself to do. Just the thought of exercise would trigger me, making me feel anxious because I looked at it so black-and-white: either I didn’t exercise, or I went all out.
But exercise doesn’t have to be so intense. And today’s challenge will show us this. What I love about yoga is that you can go slow and easy to get in tune with your breath and body. But you can also do a more intense yoga that focuses on strength.
Today is all about listening to your body and moving in whatever way feels best for you.
The 7 Scientific Benefits of Yoga
There are several different types of yoga, but all of their fundamentals lie in the link between mind, body, and spirit. And to link these, yoga uses meditation and body positions and movements which are well-known to have scientific benefits on our overall well-being.
And today we’re discussing seven of these benefits.
1. Decreased Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
When it comes to stress, anxiety, and depression, meditation is often recommended or even used in clinical therapy sessions to help relieve these difficult feelings. Yoga can be viewed as another version of meditation, being that yoga’s foundations lie the important links of the mind, body, and spirit.
And there are actually studies that demonstrate a correlation between reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.
Take this 2016 study for example. 70 people participated, and 23 of those reported to have anxiety. They had one group of three total practice yoga and found that by the end of the study, the yoga group demonstrated less feelings of anxiety and depression, as well as lower levels of cortisol.
2. Increased Flexibility and Strength
Really, no studies are needed to demonstrate the correlation between yoga and flexibility and strength. I mean, that’s why people attend yoga classes in today’s modern world — to get toned and to get bendy.
But here’s a study anyways because this is what this blog post is all about. After a 10-week period, people who practiced yoga were significantly more flexible and were able to balance better compared to a group that didn’t practice yoga.
In the grand scheme of life, yoga can be an incredible way to maintain our flexibility, strength, and balance for our later years when our mobility starts to decline and we’re more prone to falling.
4. Improved Heart Health
I had to throw this benefit in since heart disease is the number one cause of death in most populations living in the United States.
There are a couple of studies (1, 2) that show some correlation between yoga and improved heart health conditions such as lowering LDL levels and blood pressure. However, much more research needs to be done in this area because of inconsistent results and small sample sizes.
The stronger reasoning behind the correlation between yoga and heart health is because of all the other benefits such as all the reasonings on this page. In addition, people who regularly practice yoga generally lead a healthier lifestyle (1, 2).
5. Reduce Chronic Pain
I can say that this is one of the reasons that keeps me coming back to yoga. It’s helped immensely with my lower back pain — so much so that I haven’t seen a chiropractor in two years. But enough anecdotal evidence — what does the real science say?
Well, actually, a lot! Just like regular physical exercise, yoga is correlated with improved functions in people who suffer from all types of chronic pain such as arthritis, migraines, and fibromyalgia. There’s even evidence to show that yoga has positive affects on your brain by increasing gray matter, which controls many things but one of them is pain tolerance.
Also, turns out I’m not the only one who turns to yoga for chronic lower back pain — there are at least 303 people out there who have found relief after attending weekly yoga classes
6. Better Sleep Quality
Again, just like regular physical exercise, yoga can lead to better sleep quality.
One possible reason is because yoga has shown to increase melatonin in the brain. Melatonin is a hormone that gets secreted during dark hours basically telling us it’s time for bed. However, this area still needs a little more research.
Another reason is because yoga reduces stress, as we talked about above, which results in less disturbances during our sleep cycles.
And finally, there are numerous studies (1, 2, 3, 4) to show a correlation between yoga and better sleep in elderly adults because of all the reasons we’ve talked about already — reduced chronic pain, improved quality of life, reduced stress, reduced anxiety and depression, and much more.
And even though there are a lot of studies focused around the elderly for this particular reason (although, here’s one that’s not) we can all still appreciate the fact that no matter what stage in life we’re in, we already encounter these issues, or we will soon. So early prevention can be key to helping us live a healthy and happy life.
7. Improved Quality of Life
I think we can all agree — disregarding yoga — the above reasons are great factors that improve quality of life. So let’s take a look at a study that focused on a very specific population that can suffer from multiple mental and physical issues and see how yoga improved their lives.
What kind of population are we talking about? Breast cancer patients.
A study conducted in 2010 focused on breast cancer patients undergoing multiple treatments — chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy. Patients who undergo one or more of these treatments report a number of issues including skin changes and fatigue. Not to mention cancer itself brings a whole host of issues like weight loss, loss of social interaction, anxiety, depression, and more.
Just after one week, the women who attended yoga classes had an increase in various aspects of their quality of life. The group that didn’t attend yoga classes actually had a decrease in those same aspects. General perceptions about health were also vastly different.
This is insane — remember, this is only after one week, people!
Though there’s more research to be done in this area, this study definitely is promising for a future in which yoga can be used as a way to supplement other forms of therapy in people who experience traumatizing events.
Nah, Imma Stay on my Yoga Mat
There is my poor attempt at a yoga joke that takes a different spin than the “nah, imma stay in bed” joke.
I want to hear your thoughts now. Have your ideas about yoga changed? If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, which one of these benefits do you feel the most? Let me know in the comments!