Moving beyond the pose: The many benefits of yoga
Social Media feeds are often filled with images of people in yoga poses that are meant to inspire, but instead they often look impossible – and can actually discourage people from giving yoga a go. What these images often fail to highlight, is that simply getting on your mat to practice has many positive benefits beyond the physical. Yoga can also offer a general sense of wellbeing that can translate to other areas of your life. Anyone can find a style of yoga that is suitable and accessible for them and makes them look and feel more positive - well after they step off the mat.
Originating in India over thousands of years ago, the purpose of yoga is to help guide the mind and body, so those practising can be present, observe and become more self-aware. A message that often gets lost in Western culture.
“The word yoga itself is derived from Sanskrit and it means to bind or to integrate- so yoga is the integration of your body, mind and spirit,” says Sonja from Honestly Yoga. “It’s not solely about moving through poses and flexibility. The fundamental philosophy of yoga encourages being non-judgmental and finding compassion towards yourself and others. These are all equally important values in the yoga philosophy that contribute to the positive benefits of the practice."
Yoga promotes these values through breathing (Pranayama), meditation, self-discipline and self-care, as well as physical poses.
The positive benefits of the practice can make you look and feel better, and achieve an overall wellbeing that feels more peaceful regardless of where you are in life.
Improve strength and mobility
Thanks to the physical practice of yoga – poses and sequences – yoga is a great way to build strength, and increase flexibility and range of mobility.
“This is especially beneficial as many of us live sedentary lifestyles, with some of us sitting at desks or in cars for prolonged periods of time.” says Sonja. “Yoga can help ease physical tightness, increase blood flow and improve your mobility – which can make you feel younger, more agile and more motivated to get active.”
And although some of the poses may seem tricky, there is a style of yoga that is accessible for almost anyone.
“Even the gentlest Hatha style yoga class can be effective in improving your mobility and help improve your health and sense of wellbeing. It can even transform your life path to a more spiritual journey.”
Be kinder to yourself
Yoga can also reduce anxiety, stress and tension.
“When you’ve had a difficult day or feel depleted, yoga can nourish you and really fill your cup. When you practice yoga your awareness is narrowed to two aspects: your breathing and movements.”
This narrowed awareness helps you focus less on your thoughts, leaving you feeling less anxious. Your stress hormone levels can also decrease making you calmer, and more grounded and peaceful.
“Many of my yogis are amazed at how their anxiety and stress levels have decreased after committing to a regular yoga practice.”
Improve your overall health
When you’re stressed, your body produces a hormone called cortisol, which can have all sorts of negative effects on your body. It can affect your digestive system and alter your immune system’s responses, causing headaches, weight gain, sleep problems and issues with memory and concentration.
“Cortisol can also wreak havoc with your skin. It can lead to excess oil production and a variety of other skin concerns. Studies have shown that increased levels of cortisol can also accelerate the ageing process.”
So reducing stress and anxiety doesn’t only help you feel physically and mentally calmer, it can have long lasting health benefits that make you look and feel fitter and younger.
Bask in that post-yoga glow
For many people the last pose, Shavasana, is the highlight of their yoga session. Sonja encourages everyone to stick around for it, as it promotes rest for body and mind.
“Lying down in the resting pose at the end of class can leave you feeling very relaxed and give you a refreshed and rejuvenated glow. Some yogis refer to it as the post yoga glow”.
The ultimate self-care ritual
This combination of physical, mental and spiritual practice can be the ultimate way to look after your health and wellbeing – and age well.
Sonja says nourishing your sense of self and overall wellbeing is just as important as nourishing your skin.
“Yoga is like going to the spa, for your insides. Its effects permeate through you like an elixir softening, rejuvenating and replenish you,” Sonja says.
Discover the magic of the mat
For those who are new to the practice, Sonja recommends you find a yoga style that resonates with you.
“A beginner’s style class may be a good place to start, but take into consideration that your choice of yoga style can evolve depending on where you are at in your life. Our needs for nourishment both physically and mentally can change through-out our lives. Sometimes you may feel more drawn to a restorative or simple breath practice, while sometimes you need a more active class.”
Sonja also encourages everyone to learn more about the philosophy of yoga, as it can help you understand the reasons behind the many elements of the practice.
You can follow Sonja & learn more about yoga through her instagram account at @honestlyyoga