Is Yoga Really Good For You?

YogaGranted that’s a silly question but in writing class they always tell you to try to create a catchy headline to pull the reader in and this was the best I could do. I’m still learning. Anyway, of course yoga is good for you but I wanted to really dive into it to see just how good it is. Is it better than an hour-long sweat session with weights? Does it do as much for you mentally as an outdoor run? Can it help to prevent diseases and build a stronger immune system? Can it help in lowering stress levels and alter your mood, taking you from raging b*tch status to calm and centered? You bet your sweet bippie it can. The meaning of the word yoga is “union”. It’s the integration of physical, mental and spiritual energies that enhance health and well-being. Sounds good on a spiritual, new-age level I admit, but what does that mean exactly?

Yoga incorporates deep breathing, body awareness, strength and flexibility to create one harmonious experience. Alright, harmonious may be stretching it a bit since there are times I find myself in some contorted position on the verge of toppling over thinking to myself, why in hell am I in this position anyway? But it means well. And I know for me, after every class I feel like I’ve opened up my body and cleaned out all the toxins and negativity. It’s like my stress actually melted away and I feel rejuvenated. It’s quite amazing and an effect I can’t ever seem to duplicate with regular exercising. So there are many physical and mental benefits to yoga and if you’re new to it, let me list just a few.

• Increased strength and muscle tone. Yoga stimulates muscles in the many difficult to hold positions you will find yourself in, and the fear of looking like a fool by falling over will help to keep you holding those positions until your arms fall off! And the more advanced the class is, the more likely you are to find your heart rate increasing and your body temperature quickly rising. (Although the hot Bikram yoga will have you sweating off half your body weight upon entering the studio. I have yet to brave the heat of one of those classes.)

• Improved immune system. Yoga helps to optimize blood flow to various parts of your body through the deep breathing and massaging of your organs that takes place through deep stretching. (You can actually massage your organs with yoga. Sounds totally gross to me so I’d rather it just happen without me knowing, but since I know I had to share.) The optimized blood flow helps in flushing out toxins in those hard to reach areas and helps to create a sense of renewal. (If that’s a little too spiritual for you then just know that increased blood flow helps in the release of endorphins (your feel good buddies) and carries away carbon dioxide and lactic acid build-up that might be occurring.)

• Improved posture. This is a big one! Pretty much everyone wants and needs a better posture. We are constantly moving our bodies forward which results in rounded shoulders, weaker back muscles and tighter chest muscles. Think about it, we lean forward at our desks, when we’re pushing strollers or grocery carts; we’re in our cars everyday steering around town. All this reaching forward compresses our chest and makes breathing more difficult since we’re pushing down on our lungs. Stand up straight for goodness sake, push those shoulders back and take a deep breath. That alone will help to make you feel younger. Stretching out the body does it good. Does it real good, so do it.

• Delayed aging. How does it do that you may ask? If you’re stretching out your body, building up your immune system, straightening out your posture, helping to prevent diseases and improving muscle strength and flexibility then you are helping your body function on a higher level which will slow down the onset of brittle bones, muscle pulls and strains, heart disease and type II diabetes and even possibly Alzheimer’s disease. You’re helping your body to lower your blood pressure, your cholesterol levels and so many other levels that are harmful to you. Don’t you just feel younger thinking about preventing and lowering all those things?

Improved mood. Yoga is like going on the “It’s a Small World” ride in Disney. Sounds weird but there’s a story here, a true one. When I was in high school my whole class went on a trip to EuroDisney (that brief period of time when it actually existed) and a group of us were going on this ride, and this one kid had his knickers completely twisted in a wad for whatever reason. He was just in a terrible mood, complaining and utterly miserable. That was him going into the ‘small world’ ride. Upon coming out of the ride, it was a totally different scene. This kid was the happiest, most well-adjusted teenager you ever saw. He was smiling and laughing and feeling all around happy. That’s what yoga is like. If you were having a bad day and you really let go of your emotions in the class, you can walk out with a whole new mindset.

As a bonus, at the end of every yoga session they leave about 10 minutes for nap time. What class other than kindergarten allows for that? Take the time to nap, rest your body or meditate, it’s up to you. Just relax and congratulate yourself on allowing you to make time for yourself to open up your body, to increase your awareness of your body and to improve your body both mentally and physically. It’ll keep you young, I guarantee it. And at the end of every class they end with the word ‘Namaste’. This means ”the spirit of the divine in me bows to the same spirit of the divine in you.” It’s supposed to remind you to be grounded and centered while at the same time striving toward your higher self. So Namaste to you and I hope that if you haven’t given yoga a chance yet, maybe now you will because remember, it’s a small world and you deserve to be happy!

Anne Marie Costanzo is a nationally certified personal trainer and owner of Little Black Dress Personal Training. She can be reached at am@littleblackdresspt.com or (914) 841-1121.

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About the Author: Anne Marie Constanzo