Good's wellness columnist Rachel Grunwell explains the benefits of yoga for overall health
You don’t have to be born bendy to do yoga. Ignore the glamazons you see on Instagram doing handstands; that’s not what yoga is about. Yoga can be a useful tool to have in life, and anyone can do it. Here’s how this ancient practice can benefit you:
Reduce stress Yoga teaches you how to slow down and de-stress. At the end of a yoga session is ‘shavasana’ (where you lie on your back with your eyes closed and relax), which helps you to access ‘deep stillness’ within the body and mind. Some people think it’s about having a nap but the art of relaxation and putting the brakes on a busy mind is a skill that many of us need to master.
Improve posture and move with grace Yoga essentially helps you to stand well and move well. One of the first poses you learn is the mountain pose, or ‘tadasana’. In this pose you learn how to stand strong with a sense of ease, holding yourself well and with confidence.
Be a better person If you tap into the spiritual side of yoga, you learn how to connect better with yourself as well as others. There are different facets to yoga and most people know only about the body postures. Yoga is also about universal morality, cultivating inner awareness, being kinder and more open, gracious, more giving and a nicer person.
Balance, bend and twist Like most things, the more you practise yoga postures, the more your flexibility will improve. One of my yoga students is Newstalk ZB newsreader, Niva Retimanu, who has just penned a book Leading from Behind (about how she overhauled her unhealthy lifestyle to lose weight and become an inspirational marathoner). In the book, she credits yoga with helping with her transformation. She was on a mission to keep her mind and body strong and her stress levels down and yoga helped with this, she wrote. She was apprehensive about trying yoga to begin with because she considered herself “not flexible at all”. But she listened to me when I told her yoga is all about moving your body well. You don’t have to be some circus animal. Now she’s loving these stretch and de-stress sessions and has become an awesome yogi!
Stretch like a blissed-out cat Cats move and stretch beautifully and we can learn a lot from them. Cats can also be playful, and yoga generally has a playful and fun element too. Take, for instance, the partner yoga classes (doing yoga with someone else will leave you in fits of laughter). Cats don’t care about what anyone else thinks and yogis learn, too, how to live life more in the moment.
Find calm while dealing with serious issues Experts are increasingly prescribing restorative yoga (among other strategies) to patients with cancer, depression, anxiety and even fertility issues. Restorative yoga can help with managing stress and finding inner calm when in stressful situations. Yoga has, for example, been offered by Fertility Associates, while the Starship Foundation has offered relaxation and mindfulness classes for cancer patients (both are strong elements of yoga).
Avoid injuries Some athletes use yoga as part of their training programme and as a long distance runner, I do too. I’ve run 13 marathons in the past two years and I credit yoga (and a great training programme through the GetRunning club) with keeping my body in ‘balance’. It has been a great tool to iron out niggles and tight spots. I wouldn't be without it.