This article is Carin’s first contribution to the blog!
Content note: This article touches briefly on the topics of self-harm, substance use, disordered eating, anxiety, and depression.
An ancient and spiritual practice still widely popular in today’s world, yoga has followers all over the world. While some turn to yoga for its physical benefits, others do so to improve their mental or emotional state.
Asanas (the physical postures), and pranayama (focusing on the breath), are the two main aspects of yoga. Both can certainly offer plenty of benefits.
Often, in the LGBTQIA+ community, we can feel disconnected from our bodies. This may be due to issues of gender dysphoria, general feelings of detachment, or trauma. An unhealthy body image is unfortunately not uncommon. But, yoga can go a long way to helping us learn to care for, appreciate, and love our bodies!
What are the physical benefits of yoga?
The physical benefits are:
- Better circulation
- Pain relief
Endurance and Strength
While this practice is not always considered a cardio exercise, it certainly can be!
Any exercise that consistently elevates your heart rate will improve your cardiovascular endurance. Practicing vinyasas (or flows) is the best way to get a good cardio workout through yoga.
Many people are surprised to find that they become stronger with a consistent yoga regimen. Incorporating specific exercises, like planks, into your flow, will help to strengthen and tone your muscles.
Balance, Posture, and Flexibility
Yoga improves your coordination as you learn to view your body as a whole versus separate parts.
Your balance increases as you connect to your core while practicing static poses and transitioning from one posture to the next. Having a greater awareness of your spine, through postures like Cat-Cow, naturally leads to an awareness of your alignment and improvement in your posture.
Yoga is often connected to flexibility, and for good reason. Since yoga helps you to relax, it releases tension from your muscles, allowing you to stretch further.
Circulation and Pain Relief
Often, people are happy to find that yoga practice helps with pain relief. In particular, yoga can help with back pain, migraines, menstrual cramps, and any muscle soreness or tension.
While the physical postures help with easing discomfort, focusing on the breath can help reduce sensitivity to pain. Better circulation is another benefit of yoga as the postures increase blood flow to different areas of the body.
What are the mental health benefits of yoga?
The mental health benefits are:
- Increases focus
- Increases confidence
- Soothes anxiety
- Tackles depression
- Combats insomnia
Yoga can be a tremendous help in terms of mental health and well-being.
The most obvious benefit is that it helps with relaxation and a feeling of calmness. Participating in a session gives you permission to be still in a world where we rarely do so.
Doing a simple body scan helps you to understand where in the body you are tense. Letting go of this tension in the body goes a long way to relieving tension and stress in the mind.
Focus and Confidence
Many people who practice yoga find that it improves their concentration. Balancing postures force us to pay attention to what we are doing, to be in the moment – if we turn our attention elsewhere, we wobble and fall. Regular practice will improve your focus off the mat as well.
So much of what we learn in yoga can be taken and applied to the rest of our lives. Finally achieving a posture that we thought was out of reach can improve our self-confidence. At the same time, accepting imperfections in our poses teaches us to be kind and forgiving of ourselves.
Anxiety and Depression
Stress and anxiety are two of the main reasons people turn to yoga.
How we breathe is a big part of how we feel, and a lot of us are used to rapid, shallow breathing. Yoga teaches us to slow down and breathe from our bellies, or our diaphragm, which calms us.
Furthermore, performing yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system which helps us to relax.
Yoga can also help with depression in many ways. The release of serotonin that comes with any physical exercise helps boost our mood. Several simple postures, like Child’s Pose, help us to self-soothe.
Learning to practice self-compassion can help to ease feelings of despair.
For people who experience insomnia or other sleep-related issues, yoga can be a great tool. Similar to any exercise, it can cause your body to become fatigued, which can help you get a good night’s sleep. It is recommended that more active forms of yoga are not done within a couple of hours before bed, as this can over-stimulate you.
There are many gentle yoga postures that you can try in the evening to help relax your mind and prepare for sleep.
A word on substance use and eating disorders
Other areas where yoga can be beneficial are for those struggling with self-harm, substance use, and eating disorders.
A big part of learning yoga is becoming more connected with your body and having a greater appreciation for it and what it is capable of. Instead of viewing your body from a lens of shame, it helps you to practice compassion and love for yourself.
Click to read more about How Exercise Can Support Addiction Recovery!
Is it healthy to do yoga every day?
Doing yoga every day can be a very beneficial part of your routine—for both your physical and mental health.
Daily flows do not have to be time-consuming, and you may enjoy a simple ten-minute session to start your morning or end the night.
A regular routine
Developing a regular yoga routine offers a variety of benefits for both your physical health and your mental well-being.
Many fitness studios and gyms offer group classes, with some studios offering classes specifically taught by and for the LGBTQIA+ community. There are also a considerable amount of online videos that you can follow along with.
Yoga with Adriene has an extensive collection of practices focusing on everything from stress relief to core conditioning, and even postures you can do in the office.
Take some time to explore and find a program that fits with who you are—you’re worth it!