Yogi Badge, Step 1
The benefits of yoga poses are many. Regular practice benefits yogis both physically and mentally. This “feel good” result keeps bringing people (us included!) back to the mat to engage in this ancient practice.
Interested in learning more about the ancient practice of yoga? Our last post covered the history and types of yoga and yoga terminology.
In today’s post, we discuss the benefits of yoga and the common postures associated with the practice.
Earn the Yogi Badge
If you are interested in earning the Yogi Badge yourself, you can see the Journal Badge Guide, or “recipe” for the badge here. Each Badge Guide contains three steps to be completed in order to earn the badge. These steps can be done on your own, but we encourage you to grab a few friends and learn together!
Step 1 is always focused on research. Look up the topic online, watch videos to learn a skill, or visit your local library. You can read about the facts and resources we found below.
Across 81 different studies, Drs. Ross and Thomas concluded in 2010 that yoga is more beneficial than exercise at improving balance and kidney function, and reducing pain and menopause symptoms. Studies have found that yoga improves quality of life, reduces stress, and increases our social and occupational functioning above and beyond exercise. Similar to the benefits of exercise, yoga also reduces cholesterol and negative mood.
What makes yoga so beneficial for body and mind? Researchers have identified that yoga down-regulates the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), two systems that are triggered by stress which sends out “fight or flight” signals. This down-regulation is good for us because it reduces heart rate and blood pressure and other chemical reactions associated with the fight or flight response.
The Breath and Mindfulness
The physical practice of yoga is closely tied to the breath. T.K.V. Desikachar says that yoga is as much about the breath as it is about the body. During practice, yoga poses are guided by breath and vice versa. In yoga, breath is divided into four parts: inhalation, exhalation, retention after inhalation, and retention after exhalation. Breath retention can intensify the effects of any yoga posture.
Paying conscious attention to the breath as we sit in stillness or move our bodies brings our focus to the present moment, thereby increasing our mindfulness on the mat. One goal of yoga is to practice mindful breath and movement on the mat so that we can be more mindful off the mat.
In terms of relationships with others, mindfulness is associated with benefits ranging from better communication, lower emotional stress, more use of compromise in conflict, and having more satisfying relationships.
Common Yoga Poses and Their Benefits
Below, we detail the benefits of specific yoga poses I learned as part of yoga teacher training at Utah State University and from B.K.S. Iyengar’s book, Light on Yoga.
Downward Facing Dog, or Adho Makha Svanasana, has many benefits. To start, down dog can help calm the brain, stimulate the nerves, reduce fatigue, and increase energy. Down dog can also reduce shoulder stiffness, strengthen ankles, calves, legs, and the Achilles. Down dog stretches the back and reduces stiffness for runners.
Poses to prep you for down dog include shoulder stretches like arms over head and hamstring stretches like utanasana (chair pose).
Child’s pose, or Balasana (meaning: child), is a resting pose that is often done between other poses and sequences of poses. This pose should be avoided if suffering from a knee injury. Child’s pose stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles and can calm the mind and relieve stress. When doing child’s pose, think about breathing into the back and filling the back of your body with air.
Cobra, or Bhujangasana (meaning: cobra or serpent), is a back bend pose that benefits the body and mind. Cobra can strengthen the spine and wrists, stretch the chest, lungs, shoulders, and abs, and it can relieve stress and fatigue. Cobra can be good for asthma and soothing for sciatica. This pose should be avoided in late pregnancy and for people with severe back pain or carpel tunnel.
Good poses to do before doing cobra include shoulder stretches, chatarunga, and locus. Counterposes include child’s pose, down dog, tadasana, and cat-cow.
Warrior I, or Virabhadrasana I, is a standing pose that refers to a powerful hero. Practicing Warrior I helps with deep breathing, relieves stiffness in the back and shoulders, and tones the ankles and knees. Warrior I can also help with neck stiffness.
Tree pose, or Vrksasana (meaning: tree), is a standing pose that tones the leg muscles, improves core strength, and increases balance. This pose can help us feel more grounded. When doing tree pose, be sure to avoid putting your lifted foot on the knee of your opposite leg, instead placing it above or below the knee.
In our next post we will share about our experience completing 30 days of yoga! Later we will transform two spaces into home yoga studios and make our own yoga mat bags!