Why Yoga? I'm So Glad You Asked.
Yogahood Australia is on a mission. A mission to spread the benefits of yoga to communities in need. Why? Because we believe that yoga has the power to create meaningful and lasting positive change in the lives of individuals and communities. Science agrees with us.
There is a whole lot of yoga out there in the world. Yoga happens in gyms to the soundtrack of the Top 40 Hits. It happens on beaches, in parks, in studio's perched high in the tree's or tucked down alley ways. Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin, Partner Yoga, Acro Yoga, Beer Yoga, Goat Yoga, Unicorn Yoga (O.K, I'm not sure about that one, but I'm sure you could find it if you really wanted to). Then, there's yoga therapy, or yoga as therapy.
Therapeutic yoga is the practice of yoga applied to soothe various ill-healths. Numerous studies have shown that yogic practices and teachings can reduce, even prevent, physical, emotional and spiritual sufferings. Not only does yoga build strength, flexibility and improve cardiovascular functioning, it has been shown to promote recovery from ailments such as addiction, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic-stress disorder, sleep disturbances and chronic pain (Woodyard. C, 2011); and this list is not exhaustive.
But, isn't it just stretching? I'm glad you asked that, too.
If you want it to be, yoga can just be stretching. It can just be shapes on a mat. It can also be, and was created to be, so very much more. In terms of healing, yoga draws on some basic interrelated principles that support health, vitality, rejuvenation and recovery. Firstly, that the human body is interrelated, complex and inseparable in it's many parts. This acknowledges that the health of one area of the being (for example, physical health) will affect another dimension (like mental health). Secondly, yoga as a practice, and as a therapeutic modality acknowledges that an individuals needs and sensations are unique, meaning that what is appropriate for one, may not be appropriate for another. This feeds into the third guiding principle, autonomy. The practice of yoga empowers an individual to make choices regarding their own wants, needs and what feels supportive. Yoga invites an individual to listen to the mind, body and spirit, and act accordingly, acknowledging that each individual is an expert in their own needs. The fourth principle acknowledges the crucial role the state of mind can play in a persons over health and wellbeing (Desikachar. K et al, 2005).
Ok, so what does all of that do? Well, since you've asked...
Yoga loosens muscles and connective tissues around bones and joints, builds and maintains muscle mass and takes joints through their full range of motion, flushing parts of the body with fresh oxygen and blood, protecting against conditions like osteoporosis, back pain, arthritis and chronic pain. Yoga increases blood flow, allowing for more oxygen to reach body cells. Yoga thins the blood, decreasing the risk of heart attack or stroke. Yoga wrings out internal organs, and allows blood from the lower limbs to return to the heart and become freshly oxygenated. Yoga lowers the resting heart rate, improves endurance and uptake of oxygen during exercise. Yoga increases levels of serotonin (McCall. T, 2007).
When we slow and steady our breathing, we move towards the parasympathetic nervous system; decreasing blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol levels and the 'fight or flight' response of the sympathetic nervous system. We promote rest, relaxation, a sense of calm. When we connect movement to breath we encourage embodiment, present-moment awareness, interoception and self-attunment; building a connection with and awareness of the self. When we draw our attention to postures and shapes we are developing association with sensation in the body, an awareness of where our body is in space, and learning to tune into what is being felt and where. When we hold a posture we are learning to sit with discomfort, to accept wobbles, to accept imperfection. We are learning to breathe through tension, to release tension, to accept tension, rather than fearing or numbing or fixing. When we choose to move out of or into a posture based on our awareness of our bodies we are practicing agency, autonomy, measure and consideration. We are developing our ability to form an opinion about our own needs and act on them accordingly, regardless of expectation, perceived or otherwise (Van der Kolk, 2015). We are developing a connection with our selves, our needs and our capacity to meet those needs.
Not just stretching.
Yoga can just be something you do when you feel you need an excuse to wear stretchy pants and drink chai. But it has the potential for so much more, for those of us that need something more; and most of us do.
Yogahood Australia believes that every person has the right to access this practice and these benefits, so we're bringing it to the people, one Outreach Program at a time! We believe that yoga has the power to transform the lives of individuals and communities. Science does too.
Woodyard C. Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. Int J Yoga. 2011;4(2):49–54. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.85485
Desikachar K, Bragdon L, Bossart C. The yoga of healing: Exploring yoga's holistic model for health and well-being. Int J Yoga Ther. 2005;15:17–39
McCall T, Yoga as Medicine, 2007, New York: Bantam Dell a division of Random House Inc;
Van Der Kolk. B, The Body Keeps the Score, 2015, Penguin Group USA