Yoga - May the Force be with You


With the recent release of Rise of Skywalker, the final film in the Star Wars saga, I couldn’t help but think about the parallels between Jedi training and one’s Yoga practice. The similarities are striking as both teach us about the interconnectedness of life and the importance of maintaining balance.


In yoga, the “force” is referred to as “prana” - the universal energy that runs through all beings. Since all activities use prana it is important that we identify sources of prana that can help restore balance within our bodies. This can be done by following many of the healthy tips listed on this

blog -–fueling our bodies with healthy food, hydrating, exercising regularly, meditating, and getting good sleep, to name a few.


Today we will be focusing on yoga as it pertains to our “prana” or “life force” and how it can work to serve us from

a health perspective. Let’s take a deeper look at yoga and some of the health benefits.


1) More Mindfulness, Less Stress


When I initially began my yoga practice I was doing it for the physicality aspect. I needed a way to incorporate more exercise into my life that better served my body, as my old exercise routine of weight lifting and HIIT training was keeping me fit, but causing a number of nagging musculoskeletal injuries.


What I didn’t expect was how much I would enjoy the mindfulness component of yoga. Never before had I appreciated the peace that comes with clearing my mind and focusing my attention on the present moment. I learned to pause my always-racing mind and appreciate the here and now. No judgments. No creating fake stories in my head. No planning out the rest of my day. Just being–and ultimately learning how nice that is.


Don’t just take my word for it. Let’s take a look at a study out of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine where researchers enrolled 46 people into an 8-week yoga course. Using a validated tool, the Frieburg Mindfulness Inventory, researchers were able to evaluate pre- and post-levels of mindfulness as well as three sub-categories including, attention to the present moment, developing an open attitude toward experience, and insightful understanding.



Not surprisingly, the data showed that yoga participants were found to have improved mindfulness after their 8 weeks of training. In addition, positive changes were also appreciated in each of the sub-categories previously mentioned. [1]


Other studies have revealed that yoga practice can substantially reduce levels of perceived stress. [2] I can certainly attest to this as I believe my yoga practice is one of the best tools in my armamentarium for stress reduction. More mindfulness, less stress–all without taking a pill.


2) Increased Flexibility and Strength


Yoga improves your strength and flexibility. [2] And to all those who think yoga’s "too easy," I have this to say, “You’re doing it wrong.” In yoga, you are taught to make your practice your own. If you find that it’s “too easy” try doing your asana, or pose, with your eyes closed. Still easy? Lift an extremity and balance with one less limb on the ground. How about now?


The point is, there are always ways that you can modify the practice to make it more challenging. You can add a push-up or two every time you are asked to go through a vinyasa flow, hold your pose for one breath longer, etc. It is up to you to make whatever change is necessary to ensure you are being challenged.


By doing so, I guarantee you will continue to experience gains in both your strength and flexibility.


3) Reduce Insomnia


In a randomized clinical trial looking at insomnia severity in postmenopausal women, participants were separated into 1 of 3 groups: a control group, a passive stretching group, and a yoga group. The study took place over a period of 4 months and revealed that those in the yoga group had a statistically significant decrease in insomnia severity scores compared to those in the control and passive stretching groups. [2]


4) All the Good Things (Reduction in blood pressure, blood glucose level, cholesterol, and BMI)


A meta-analysis of 10 different studies suggests that yoga therapy can help to reduce blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels. It can even help people maintain a healthy BMI. [3] Not too shabby.


5) Improve Bone Health


Have you been diagnosed with softening of the bones also known as osteopenia or, even worse, osteoporosis? Yoga may be a good option for you. Given that weight-bearing exercises help to cause bone remodeling, many of the weight-bearing poses in yoga can help to promote bone health.


Also, given the stress reduction that comes from a yoga practice, less cortisol (your body’s stress hormone) may be released in your body. Since cortisol triggers bone resorption, in order to free amino acids as an energy source for the body, decreased levels of cortisol could mean healthier bones. [4]


6) Improve Lymph Drainage


Your lymphatic system acts as a transport system for many of the body’s infection-fighting white blood cells. Since your lymphatic system does not have a large pump in place like your cardiovascular system does as it is hooked up to your heart, your lymphatic system relies on the contractions of your muscles to drive lymphatic fluid forward. The muscle contraction that comes along with most yoga poses will help to propel this fluid which not only results in the delivery of immune cells throughout the body but also works to remove toxic waste products. [5]


7) Pain Reduction


In a randomized, controlled, single-blinded study the effects of yoga on pain reduction for individuals suffering from chronic low back pain were observed. When compared to a control group receiving physical therapy and education, the test group receiving yoga therapy experienced a 49% reduction in their pain after 7 days compared to the control group whose improvement was only 17%. Furthermore, the yoga group experienced a reduction in both anxiety and depression scores. [6]


No matter what your reasons are for considering yoga, the key is to give it a try. If you are new to the practice, work with your doctors and yoga instructors to develop a practice that is right for you. For those seasoned practitioners, focus on the changes that you can make to deepen your practice. By doing so, I can guarantee the force will be with you!


We’d love to hear from you. What's your experience with yoga? What’s the best way for people to try this practice? Are there any other health benefits that you’ve experienced?


References:


[1] Shelov, D. V., Suchday, S., & Friedberg, J. P. (2009). A pilot study measuring the impact of yoga on the trait of mindfulness. Behavioural and cognitive psychotherapy, 37(5), 595-598.

[2] Cowen, V. S., & Adams, T. B. (2005). Physical and perceptual benefits of yoga asana practice: results of a pilot study. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 9(3), 211-219.

[3] Okonta, N. R. (2012). Does yoga therapy reduce blood pressure in patients with hypertension?: an integrative review. Holistic nursing practice, 26(3), 137-141.

[4] Mathis, S. L., Farley, R. S., Fuller, D. K., Jetton, A. E., & Caputo, J. L. (2013). The relationship between cortisol and bone mineral density in competitive male cyclists. Journal of Sports Medicine, 2013.

[5] https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/count-yoga-38-ways-yoga-keeps-fit

[6] Tekur, P., Nagarathna, R., Chametcha, S., Hankey, A., & Nagendra, H. R. (2012). A comprehensive yoga programs improves pain, anxiety and depression in chronic low back pain patients more than exercise: an RCT. Complementary therapies in medicine, 20(3), 107-118.

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