How Yoga Makes You Healthier (and Happier!)
How and Why
You’ve heard it before, yoga is good for your health. But, why?
The word yoga itself usually brings up an array of preconceptions depending on who you are. The truth is that yoga isn’t necessarily about twisting yourself into funny shapes, or standing on your hands. The word yoga actually means “union”, and the practice of yoga is designed to unite mind and body.
Aren’t our bodies and minds already connected? Yes, of course. When your body is nourished and well-rested, then the mind is free to achieve its highest potential. When your body is physically tired or hungry, the mind is often clouded or slow. Conversely, our mental state can also affect our physical state—when feeling happy we may be physically energized, when sad we may feel fatigued or achy.
The practice of yoga challenges both body and mind equally. All of those funny postures? They each have their own physical benefit— designed to stretch, strengthen, or detoxify the body in different ways. Unlike other forms of exercise that may aggravate the nervous system, yoga postures are designed to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system activates the “rest and digest” phases of the body, contrasting the sympathetic nervous system which ignites our “fight or flight” responses.
Put all the poses together and they work synergistically to take the practitioner out of their thinking, (stressed out) “monkey mind”, and into their feeling body. Who can think about their upcoming assignments while trying to balance on one foot, twisting, bending their back knee and holding onto their toe? These actions intentionally bring us wholly—mind and body—into the present moment.
When focusing on the body as it is in this moment, without the mind chattering away, we can begin to identify our own physical imbalances or weaknesses. Over time, the poses aim to bring balance, strength, and perfect health to the body. The control that it takes to balance on one foot sharpens the mind. The strength it takes to do a chaturanga evokes confidence. The focus that it takes to stick a handstand brings the practitioner fully into the here and now.
The more we practice living in the present moment, the easier it gets. If we are fully engaged in the moment, we are often more productive and more enjoyable to be around—not wrapped in our personal mental world, making projections about the future, indulging in our fears, or regretting moments of the past.
If I hadn’t personally experienced these changes for myself, I would not be able to write about them. As a sophomore in at UA, I encountered my first taste of depression. I was diagnosed with MDD, or Major Depressive Disorder. Over a matter of months I went from a fun-loving, ambitious, outgoing student to ghost of my former self. My lack of appetite led me to drop a large amount of weight in a short amount of time. My body didn’t feel like my own. I was constantly plagued by worry and fear of the future, my grades were slipping, and I couldn’t remember the last time I laughed, let alone smiled. It was my second year away from home and I no longer had the protection and constant contact with friends that was afforded to me during my time spent in the dorms. I had never felt so low, I didn’t know why I felt the way I did, and I definitely did not see a way out of it. I do not like to imagine what would have happened to me if I did not have a group of friends and family who urged me to find help.
That help came in the form of yoga. Tucson has a variety of studios to choose from, and the yoga community that comes along with them is loving and all-inclusive. My home became YogaOasis. First, the classes worked on a physical level to put me back in touch with my body. In time, I regained a sense of confidence in my skin, I had made friends within the yoga community, and above all I had cultivated an inner peace that I had never experienced before. I was living in the moment, able to focus on school, think about the future without an overwhelming feeling of dread, and laugh again.
In order to help others attain the same relief that yoga had given me, I completed my yoga teacher training, and have taught yoga at the UA Rec Center, 4th Ave. Yoga, etc. If you have any questions about yoga in Tucson, don’t hesitate to reach out to me (even if you just need someone to go to that first yoga class with!).
- Tucson Yoga Studios:
- YogaOasis ($5 classes)
- 4th Ave. Yoga ($5 classes)
- Session Yoga
- Om Yoga
- Tucson Yoga
- Barefoot Yoga
- Sumits Yoga