The physical and mental benefits of yoga and how to start a practice

  • 3 Minutes Read

Yes, it is best to keep cardio and strength training at the core of your exercise routine. Now let's venture beyond aerobic and resistance training and explore the mental benefits of yoga along with its impact on improved flexibility and balance.

Mental benefits of yoga

The experts tell us that for most people it is best to keep cardio and strength training at the core of our exercise routines. However, what about other forms of exercise, like yoga? Where does it fit? Let's explore the benefits of adding yoga to your exercise plan for improved flexibility, balance, strength and stress reduction.

The physical and mental benefits of yoga

Flexibility is the ability to move a joint through a complete range of motions. As we go through the life cycle, joints become stiffer and less flexible. As we age, there is an accelerated degree of accumulated deposits in body tissue that can lead to mechanical joint stiffness. Personally, having had a developing yoga practice for 20 years, I am absolutely convinced of its benefits for flexibility, body strength and relaxation. Common sense says that yoga is good for us, and now, evidence-based medicine is starting to confirm it. There are accumulating studies showing the benefits of yoga for weight management and eating disorders. Studies also show positive outcomes for improved glucose and lipids, enhanced nerve function and lowered blood pressure.

Managing stress is important for all of us because elevated stress hormones can trigger a cascade of negative health outcomes, like heart disease and high blood pressure. Yoga can help center the mind, and teaches deep and restorative breathing. It's funny, before I began practicing yoga, my shoulders were practically attached to my ears and my breathing was shallow...... Now, let's all practice taking a deep breath.

How to start yoga for beginners

Yoga has been around for centuries, having originated in India. It is a holistic approach to physical activity that includes body, mind and spirit. There are many different styles of yoga (hatha, kundalini, yin, vinyasa flow). Do some research, and find a style that appeals to you. Explore yoga videos on YouTube or go to Yoga Basics, a yoga resource center. Ask around for recommendations for local classes or search for local yoga studios on the web. Some studios offer free or discounted intro sessions.

When you start yoga, it is important to develop your own personal yoga practice. It's not a competitive sport. Keeping the focus on your own practice is an important yoga theme so that you modify poses for maximum benefit without injury. Comparing your poses to your neighbor or the instructor may actually cause injury if you are trying to keep up and aren't focusing on how your body feels. When you enter a live yoga class, it's customary to leave your shoes at the door. Yoga is usually practiced barefoot on a mat while wearing loose clothing. Many yoga classes have mats, stretch belts and blocks for use. Most yoga classrooms have mirrors so you can observe your poses. A good yoga instructor provides clear instruction and reminds you to modify according to your ability and comfort.

If a class sounds likes its too much for you or you want to try yoga at home, start with a short yoga video. It is best to practice yoga with a mat for gripping with hands and feet while doing the postures. You can buy an inexpensive yoga mat or borrow someone else's mat to try it out. I started my practice with a short AM yoga video when my children were young and still nestled in bed. I moved on to add a PM session and have evolved from there. I will say that live classes are helpful for getting expert guidance on poses from the instructor. Over the years, I have gone to yoga retreats. I attended a weekend yoga retreat recently with my daughter. It was a wonderful weekend, and she is now finding that yoga and meditation are beneficial for stress reduction and relaxation. My husband has also caught on to the benefits of yoga and finds he is much more flexible when he practices.

10-minute yoga videos for beginners

Want to give yoga a try? Try one of these short videos from some of my favorite on-line instructors!

Keeping yoga safe

If you have diabetes or other medical issues, consult with your healthcare team before starting a new exercise plan, including yoga. Muscle or skeletal issues might prevent you from twisting or bending, while eye conditions may mean no bending over at all. Some yoga forms are more restorative and gentle whereas others are more athletic and strengthening. The beauty of yoga is that you can modify all poses and movements to make it your unique practice. And if you are a MyNetDiary tracker, remember to give yourself well-deserved credit by recording your exercise minutes on MyNetDiary.

Namaste (nah-mah-stay)*

*Namaste is a traditional yoga gesture that means "I bow to you." It is typically used at the end of a yoga class by the instructor and students as a sign of mutual respect.

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Updated: April 10, 2020

Diabetes->Health Exercise->Pilates / Yoga / Core
Apr 10, 2020
Brenda Braslow
Brenda Braslow, MS, RDN, LDN, CDCES - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)

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