Living your best life looks different for everyone, and for some, yoga makes life worth living. Robin Martin, an international yoga teacher, living in Seattle, helps others find their spark in life through this ancient science. She’s been practicing it for about 20 years now, and she says that there are both physical and mental benefits. Robin has noticed these benefits in herself and her students as well.
“I focus on my teaching in joint longevity. So, healthy joints that carry you through a lifetime of physical health, and of course, the mental benefits are moving meditation, and the opportunity to just kind of let go of things going on in the world. When the world is especially challenging, it’s really nice to just kind of shove things off for a little while.”
How yoga can help you live your best life
Studies on yoga have reported on many of these mental and physical benefits. A new study found that 89% of people practicing yoga saw a reduction in chronic pain symptoms. Yoga helps strengthen and stretch the joints, which gets the energy flowing in the body again. Once your energy becomes more balanced, instances of pain or discomfort start to lessen.
Yoga also decreases stress, a huge complaint in today’s world. Many studies have shown that yoga lowers cortisol levels, helping practitioners feel more relaxed and at ease. In fact, women in a three-month-long yoga program had lower cortisol, anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
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Chronic inflammation is also a growing problem, an epidemic even in our modern world. Our unhealthy diets, stressful lifestyles, lack of sleep, and imbalanced living, in general, promotes inflammation. This can lead to diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. However, yoga can reduce inflammatory markers significantly.
A 2015 study divided 218 participants into two groups: yogis and non-yogis. Both groups performed moderate and intense exercises to test their stress levels. At the end of the study, the yogis had lower levels of inflammatory markers than non-yogis.
Yoga can even improve your sleep quality, a lifestyle factor that many people need help with today. In a 2005 study, 69 elderly patients were told to either do yoga or take an herbal supplement or were placed in a control group. The yoga group ended up falling asleep faster, sleeping longer and feeling more rejuvenated than the other two groups.
Another study looked at how yoga impacted sleep in patients with lymphoma. They found that yoga reduced sleep disturbances, improved sleep quality, and duration and reduced the need for sleep medications. Though scientists are still not sure how it works, yoga helps increase melatonin levels, regulating sleep cycles.
Improves mental illness
Finally, yoga can cause significant changes in certain chemicals in the brain that lower mental illness risk. In a Boston University study, scientists performed brain scans on 19 volunteers: eight seasoned yogis and 11 non-yogis. The brain scans were done using advanced magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging to measure gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels. People with anxiety and depression usually do not have enough of this chemical.
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Scientists took the scans at the beginning of the experiment. Afterward, the yoga group participated in an hour-long yoga session, while the other group read a book. Researchers performed another scan after the groups finished their activities. What they found was remarkable, to say the least.
“We showed a 27 percent increase in the brain GABA levels of those doing yoga – a really significant increase,” said Dr. Chris Streeter, professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine. Researchers didn’t notice any change in GABA levels for those who read the book.
These are just a handful of the wonderful benefits you can enjoy from a regular yoga practice. Robin says she definitely notices a difference when she hasn’t practiced in a few days.
How Robin is living her best life with yoga
“I stay motivated to continue to practice yoga because I know that if I don’t, I fall into sometimes depression, sometimes anxiety,” Robin says.
She also says that when she doesn’t practice, she notices her body doesn’t feel refreshed or vibrant. However, she usually notices the mental aspects first when she goes a few days without practicing.
“If I’m not moving and I’m not breathing, I tend to just not feel well, so that is enough to keep me motivated and keep me moving in my practice,” Robin says.
If you’re starting, you don’t have to feel pressured to do any difficult poses. Go at your own pace, and let your body and mind ease into the practice. There are many types of yoga, but most beginners start with Hatha yoga. This consists of holding poses for a longer time period than the Vinyasa style, which focuses on moving through many poses relatively quickly.