“Yoga takes you into the present moment; the only place where life exists.” Millions of people have discovered the transformative healing power of yoga, and honestly, how can you not be receptive to something that is called “a practice.” I mean, from the get-go, it sounds like you may try and try, yet possibly never fully nail downward-facing dog!
(Welcome guest author, Beth Campbell, to the blog! I hope you enjoy her story about her transformative journey with the healing power of yoga. – Pamela)
Wherever you are in life, right now is a perfect time to begin a yoga practice. The beautiful thing about yoga is that it meets you where you are: whether you are young or old; in top athletic form or striving for basic fitness; whether you are in perfect health or coping with a disability or illness. Nearly everyone can benefit from the regular practice of some form of yoga. Yet, many folks are a little apprehensive to give it a try. I know; I was one of those people.
I took up yoga at the age of 53, and my only regret is that I didn’t start sooner. I had just endured a very difficult year: my mom developed an inoperable brain tumor and died within 4 months of diagnosis; my only child graduated high school and left for college halfway around the world; and my husband accepted a job that required moving from our hometown to a much smaller city three hours away. Oh, and menopause…I would be lying if I said just thinking about that year doesn’t make me feel wobbly all over again.
But all of that loss and change had an upside: I finally got around to exploring yoga, and at the risk of sounding overly-dramatic, it saved me. Already suffering from depression and anxiety, just the thought of entering that yoga studio on my own was nearly debilitating. Insecurities sprang up like weeds after a rain. Would I fit in? Would I be dressed appropriately? Would my lack of flexibility and experience draw attention? Would I be the oldest person there? I smile as I write this, because all of my fears were unfounded, and I hope hearing my story will encourage you to put aside any fears you may have, as well.
You needn’t possess a “yoga body,” or be bendy and flexible to harness the healing power of yoga, so please don’t let that be an issue! We tend to fear the unknown and rationalize all the reasons we think we can’t do something. Yet most of us can recall a time when we nudged ourselves out of our comfort zones, tried something new, and then were so grateful that we did. Instead of making excuses and thinking negatively, remind yourself of all the reasons why you can –and should– take up yoga (or deepen your practice, if you’re already an experienced yogi)!
Yoga enhances physical and mental well-being
Yoga nurtures the mind, body and spirit. While that sounds almost too good to be true, science backs up the claims about the healing power of yoga. There are at least 38 specific health benefits associated with yoga. Ask any yogi why they practice, and they will immediately tick off any number of those desirable payoffs. In the broadest terms, regular practice helps develop mental clarity and calms the mind; it promotes strength, balance and flexibility; and some even find that their time on the mat encourages an exploration of the divine. Yoga is absolutely not a religion, but for many, the spiritual component is appealing and helps differentiate it from a regular exercise class. The word yoga actually means to join or unite, and yogis define this “union” in different ways — some view it as the unison of body, mind and spirit; others believe it means uniting with a higher power or spiritual force.
Yoga definitely helped calm my monkey mind and provided me with breathing practices that were as useful off–as they were on–the mat. Within months of my first lesson, my anxiety and depression began to lift. My body became more toned, and for the first time, I had a little definition in my upper arms. I felt both serene and invigorated, that delicious yin/yang feeling that a regular yoga practice generates. In short, I felt grounded and at ease in my physical body, as well as in my new physical surroundings. I had begun a transformation that continues to this day.
Yoga changes your brain
Part of the transformative healing power of yoga is that it literally changes your brain. In addition to helping you think more clearly and make better decisions, yoga increases brain plasticity (“neuroplasticity”). Simply put, this means we are better able to learn, memorize and retain new information. Research also shows that the regular practice of yoga seems to have neuroprotective effects against age-related decline within the brain (think Alzheimer’s and other dementias). Finally, studies suggest that the more regularly yoga is practiced, it is associated with larger brain volume in certain areas — yoga literally increases our gray matter!
I am putting this plasticity concept to the test by embarking on yoga teacher training this fall. (At 56 years old, I definitely have one of the oldest brains in the class!) I will need to learn the history of yoga, the Sanskrit names for dozens of poses, be able to develop logical sequences for students with wide-ranging abilities, and have a fundamental understanding of human anatomy and movement to ensure safe demonstration and practice of the poses. Three years ago, I never could have imagined having the courage and motivation to do this; yoga continues to transform.
Yoga is a lifelong, accessible practice
I am also less fearful of aging now. I am in the best shape of my life, and I am more open to new challenges as a result of my practice. Yoga offers so many different formats and modifications, that despite any age or physical limitations, literally everyone can benefit from a regular practice. Do a little research to find a class and instructor that meets your needs, then get after it! You won’t be sorry. And if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have a yoga body, here is the secret:
- Have a body.
- Go to yoga.