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Give Yoga A Try to Help Your Mind and Body

9.26.17 | CMC - Blue Cross Blue Shield - Editorial

Yoga’s multi-faceted benefits make it ideal for achieving numerous fitness goals including strength, flexibility, balance, and stress relief. In addition, research shows a regular yoga practice improves mood and depression, helps ease arthritis symptoms and reduces pain. But unfortunately, the word yoga can scare some people away, says Emilee Garfield, certified yoga teacher. “People often say, ‘I can’t do yoga,’ so they never even try it. The truth is, you don't have to do those extreme poses that have you tied up like a pretzel to achieve the benefits that yoga offers. Yoga is meant to feel good.”

The yoga exercise system improves the flow of chi (life force) in our body, flexibility, strength, and connection to oneself, says Julie Rammal, leading holistic practitioner and celebrity trainer. “It also offers other physical benefits such as: detoxification, improved breathing, range of motion, and balance between body mind and soul.”

How to get started

Yoga includes many different styles, making it suitable for any fitness level. “If you’re new to yoga, start simple,” says Garfield, who suggests signing up for a beginner’s class at your local yoga studio. “It’s important to learn good form and alignment before you start doing more challenging classes that have you flowing in and out of poses quickly.”

A recent study out of Australia showed that while 74% of participants reported reduced pain from practicing yoga, it can have the opposite effect if done incorrectly. Yoga caused musculoskeletal pain in about 10% of people and worsened existing injuries. To reduce injury risk, Garfield recommends beginners start with a Iyengar class, a style of hatha yoga. “The teachers are well trained in biomechanics so they understand which positions are most likely to cause injuries. They will show you how to modify your form and give you props to make them less intense.”

Minimal equipment needed

Unlike many other forms of exercise, yoga requires very little equipment. Since it’s done barefoot, you don’t even need shoes, says Patricia Friberg, a certified yoga instructor and certified trainer. “Some studios provide mats while others have you bring your own. I recommend purchasing a mat, two blocks and a yoga strap to begin.” As you progress in yoga, Friberg suggests starting your own home practice using YouTube videos or online programs in addition to practicing in a studio. “On-hands training on adjustments is helpful with form as you get started, however,” she says.

Benefits beyond fitness

Yoga’s benefits go beyond other exercise modalities. In fact, new research found that participants in a three-month yoga and meditation retreat experienced, not only improved overall wellbeing, but less inflammation and stress markers as well. The mental and emotional benefits make it unique from other forms of exercise, says Friberg. “Yoga stimulates the PNS system, which is the relaxation response.’This balances hormone levels in the body to helps maintain homeostasis. With life stress we often go into the fight or flight response. Doing yoga can help down regulate your system.”

Decreasing stress boosts your  immune system, improves focus, and gives you a happier outlook, and healthier lifestyle.