Yoga: Stretch Your Body and Your Mind


If you don’t have a yoga practice, yourself, you likely know someone who does.

Yoga has gone from a fringe activity--the pursuit of a few spiritually minded individuals--to a mainstream topic in fitness circles. Everyone from grandmas to Marines are now engaging in what used to be the purview of mystics, and that begs the it still a sacred pursuit? Or just a great physical workout?

What most Westerners understand as yoga is actually Hatha Yoga, which is a system of physical postures designed to prepare the body for meditation. Discussions abound on whether or not true yoga (which was first mentioned in the Rig Veda, thousands of years ago) is irretrievably tied with Hindu beliefs, or is a separate spiritual pursuit all its own, but one thing is certain, no matter which side of that argument you come down on; poses devised to challenge your body are extremely effective for training your mind to only focus on the now.

That in itself is enough to recommend it as a practice and probably explain its popularity in an age when it’s an ongoing struggle to unplug and unwind; anything that enhances your body’s readiness for mindfulness is a plus, and something that is also a vehicle for it gets bonus points.

While yoga can enhance strength, it’s different from traditional power exercises like weight lifting or bodyweight exercises...even Pilates, that superhero of supple muscle-building. Everyone who works out knows that exercise helps with mental wellness and physical relaxation, but yoga seems to have a distinct edge in this area, too. One answer might be the focus on breath; intentionality in measuring breath has been shown to have relaxing effects and therefore your yoga practice could have a leg up on other exercises when it comes to stress reduction.

Physical flexibility is great, but mental flexibility is a little harder to come by...something that can provide both is well worth your time. Developing a yoga practice, even if it’s a short, daily ten minute routine, could give you a spectrum of health benefits.