As a society whose days are often dictated down to the minute, we’ve become overstressed, overextended, and overworked. Our bodies and minds reap the consequences, which means that, in general, we’re tired, and anxious and needing mental space to reclaim the sense of inner peace and strength required to meet our daily challenges and be present for our families. We’re also feeling the physical effects of it all as it piles up; we’re achy, stiff, and less in shape than we’d like to be. The challenge lies in what do to about it, especially since the world doesn’t seem to be spinning any less slowly on its axis, and life doesn’t offer a pause button—no matter how much we may wish for one.
For these reasons, yoga and meditation are on the rise as ways to get back on track when it comes to physical and mental health. More than just trendy time-fillers that make us look “self aware,” they have proven benefits that sway arguments to their validity heavily in their favor.
Yoga and meditation typically work symbiotically and have been a common practice for thousands of years as an alternative method of exercise to keep both mind and body healthy and happy. Studies have shown that yoga improves strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance, while meditation helps sharpen the mind, relieves stress and anxiety, and can even strengthen your immune system. Sounds like a win-win, right?
Additionally, if you’re hoping to manage your stress levels, improve mental clarity, manage chronic conditions, and promote a healthier lifestyle, you might want to consider meditation and yoga before seeking out mainstream medicine. A few simple poses, combined with breathing techniques and positive coping skills can mean all the difference in living a happier, healthier life.
For anyone suffering chronic back pain, doing yoga throughout the week can be a game changer. Studies have shown that stretching exercises and poses improve spinal flexibility and help ease pain in the lower back. Even individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can find relief in practicing certain forms of yoga because their slow, easy-paced poses and movements benefit the muscles, bones, and joints.
Forget hair of the dog when you’ve got a hangover and focus instead on downward dog. Expert studies show that doing yoga can detox your system and get you feeling like yourself (i.e. a human who can tolerate light and sound and can move without waves of nausea crashing over you) much faster after you’ve over-indulged on the adult beverages. Certain yoga poses work on the thyroid gland, which improves the metabolism to rid your system of toxins. Reversing the blood flow and bringing more circulation to the brain also helps your body create balance and renew itself for the day ahead. Bonus: you’re not only curing your hangover faster, you’re also burning fat. Where’s the downside here?
Heart health is also a huge issue that yoga and meditation address, and studies have linked yoga to reduced risks of heart disease because, as something that induces healthy blood flow, it helps eliminate arterial plaque. A natural blood pressure reducer, meditation also helps lower the heart rate and improve blood circulation as well as helping you relax, reducing stress hormones, and improving blood flow.
If you think about it, it makes sense that the focused breathing techniques of yoga would also improve cases of mild to moderate asthma. You’re controlling your breathing during those yoga sessions, which can help you control your breathing when you’re outside the studio and in the real world.
Stress and improper diets and insane schedules also have a tendency to wreak havoc on your gut, as well, but practicing yoga can be a tremendous help in keeping you regular. Many yoga moves actually “massage” internal organs that help move food through your digestive system and help stimulate the lymphatic system, flushing out toxins. In addition, meditation can help with symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) by reducing your stress levels, which in turn reduces the frequency of stress-related flare-ups of the conditions.
Proper rest is essential to daily function, but let’s face it: it’s not always easy to get the amount of restful sleep we need. Fortunately, you don’t need to hit the sleep aid aisle to help with that, as yoga can greatly improve your sleep quality by reducing stress and lowering anxiety. Couple that with meditation and breathing techniques to help clear your mind and allow your brain to relax, and you’ll be sleeping like a baby in no time.
Yoga and meditation have proven links to emotional health, as well. “From an emotional standpoint, studies have shown that stress and trauma can rewire the brain, causing us to be stuck in a constant fight-or-flight response. Yoga can help restore the body to homeostasis through the effects that yoga breathing has on the parasympathetic nervous system and the body’s stress response. In that regard, yoga has been proven to help with those suffering from PTSD, anxiety, and depression,” says Erika Wolfe, co-owner of Yoga Mat yoga studio in Clarksville, who opened the studio in 2015 with her business partner and fellow yogi, Amanda Rush. A yoga enthusiast since she took up the practice in 2013, Wolfe became a certified instructor in 2014 and has been spreading the peace to her clients ever since.
“When it comes to the emotional health benefits of meditation, cultivating a meditation practice can help bring us back to ourselves.”
- Erika Wolfe
Wolfe goes on, “It grounds us in the present moment and reminds us to breathe. Meditation can help build a pause that comes between action and reaction. Tools we learn through our meditation practice can be used in our everyday lives to help cope with the stress that comes along with living, and meditation can come in many ways. Anything we do mindfully, with intention can be meditative, whether it’s walking in the woods, woodworking, putting together a jigsaw puzzle, or even washing the dishes.”
Not into all the “Ohmmm-ing” and “Namaste-ing? You don’t have to be. “We define yoga at our studio as the union of body and mind through breath awareness,” says Rush, who has been practicing yoga since 2014 and became an instructor in 2016. “Everything is about the breath. Breath is life, and we connect mindful movement through breath. "We often hear people express the concern that they can’t do yoga because they’re not flexible enough, not in shape enough, or not young enough. We tell them that as long as you can breathe, you can do yoga.”
Breathe in, breathe out…better health is just a breath (and a few poses) away.
Erika Wolfe is a Certified Holistic Life coach and holds an E-RYT 500 certification as a yoga instructor. She is co-owner of Yoga Mat yoga studio and is the lead instructor of Yoga Mat’s RYT-200 Hatha Yoga teacher training held annually at Yoga Mat.
Amanda Rush holds an RYT-200 certification as a yoga instructor. She is co-owner of Yoga Mat yoga studio and is currently enrolled in the Nashville School of Massage Therapy program to become a licensed massage therapist.