We all hear that yoga is good for us, but is it really for everyone? Here are simple reasons why it can help you stress less and how to get started. From YOU Stress Less: The Owner’s Manual for Regaining Balance in Your Life by Dr. Michael F. Roizen, MD, and Mehmet C. Oz, MD.
You don’t have to be a human rubber band to appreciate the beauty of yoga. This ancient practice not only stretches your muscles but also allows your mind to focus and trains your brain for meditation. The beauty of this workout is that any skill level can participate; you need to move only as far into each pose as you possibly can.
In fact, the only imperative you have to remember is to take deep belly breaths using your diaphragm to pull your lungs down during inspiration. (If the poses we outline below are too difficult for you to take continuous deep breaths, then back off to avoid compromising this golden rule.) That’s important because most of us never take a single deep breath all day long. It is important—deep breathing stimulates your vagus nerve, and that quiets and calms your brain and stress response. Or as we say—what happens to vagus doesn’t stay there, it relaxes your brain.
To exhale, suck your belly button toward your spine to push the diaphragm up and empty all the air from your lungs. Inhaling deeply brings a chemical called nitric oxide from the back of your nose and your sinuses into your lungs. This short-lived gas dilates the air passages in your lungs and the blood vessels surrounding those air passages so you can get more oxygen into your body. Nitric oxide also doubles as a neurotransmitter to help your brain function.
Other benefits of yoga:
• Yoga trains you to loosen the muscles and joints that are ignored in your day-to-day life. Routines get the blood flowing as you warm up and free your body to experience the new stresses you will inevitably face each day. The practice also helps you handle the weight of your body more effectively, which builds bone and muscle strength so you are more resilient. And it improves your balance so you don’t fall.
• Yoga also helps you to focus your mind on remote parts of your body, such as tight joints and muscles, as you gently but firmly deepen into your poses. Attaining the “empty” mind called for in meditation proves difficult, especially for novices, but if you can concentrate on the tension in your hip, for example, then you’re well on your way. The goal in yoga is not really emptying your mind, but rather freeing the mind to let any and all ideas rapidly pass through it without any attachment.
Follow the Yoga Guidelines
Yoga is designed to help you feel empowered and build your self-discipline. Follow these guidelines to improve your yoga experience:
• Never force a pose so you feel a painful strain. Go to where it feels comfortable.
• If your knees feel discomfort, use a rolled-up towel, pillow, or blanket as a cushion behind the knee joints.
• Resist locking your elbows.
• If a pose is difficult to balance, stand against the wall. Your balance may be different from one day to the next. Imbalance during poses may mean an imbalance in other parts of life.