By Myranda Lockwood
Inhale…exhale. It’s painted on the wall in calming earthly tones, and yet stepping into the studio, it is exactly the thing to do. The smell of eucalyptus and mint fill the nose and feel as if they can cleanse from the inside out. The slow ambient music trickles out of the studio room and sets the stage for the time that is to be put into improving oneself. Mat in hand, ready to go, stepping into the studio. Immediately, the music becomes a little louder than before and the scent a little stronger.
“It’s such a nice environment with the music and people all doing the same thing as you. It lets me get away from all the stressful stuff and clear my head,” said Anna Meyers, a first-year physician assistant student.
The ways in which yoga can help to enhance the mind and body are numerous.
In an article written by Hannah Nichols for Medical News Today, she reported, “According to scientific research yoga may: reduce stress, relieve anxiety, help manage depression, decrease lower back pain, improve quality of life in those with chronic conditions or acute illnesses, stimulate brain function and help prevent heart disease.”
With all this in mind, a very common reason people find yoga so beneficial tends to be for the mental health aspect of the practice. The ways in which yoga can instill calm, relaxing movements, tied together with easy breathing and restorative practices, can create a tranquil environment for true peace of mind.
“Yoga encourages one to relax, slow the breath and focus on the present; shifting the balance from the sympathetic nervous system and the flight-or-fight response to the parasympathetic system and the relaxation response,” Catherine Woodyard, a chronic disease and treatment specialist, found in her research study on the “Therapeutic Effects of Yoga and Its Ability to Increase Quality of Life.”
In a world where increased stress and instability are the new normal, the chance to have an outlet for both relaxation and exercise is something that is extremely beneficial to those who find heightened stress in their daily lives.
While stress is a common occurrence in people from all walks of life, it is especially prevalent in the lives of college students.
“I think yoga could be really beneficial for students who need to relieve stress in a calming and healthy way,” said Leah Marron, a first-year physician assistant student.
Marron has been attending yoga classes regularly since the start of her freshman year of college and makes time to go at least once a week. When her workload allows for a pause, and when she is ready to take a mental break, she finds that yoga has allowed her to be “way less stressed.”
The negative effects of stress on the human mind and body are topics that are quite often overlooked and unnoticed.
An article posted by the American Psychological Association says “stress affects all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems…our bodies are well equipped to handle stress in small doses, but when that stress becomes long-term or chronic, it can have serious effects on your body.”
This emphasizes the importance of finding something that can well-equip the mind and body with happy, helpful, and healthy coping mechanisms to deal with a high level of stress which the physical body is not built to endure quite as easy as people expect it to. Yoga can be the perfect solution.
“Results from this study show that yogic practices enhance muscular strength and body flexibility, promote and improve respiratory and cardiovascular function. Promote recovery from and treatment of addiction, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, improve sleep patterns, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life,” Woodyard continues in her research.
“Yoga is definitely beneficial for students. It’s a great stress reliever and relaxer. It lets you step away from your work, take a break, and come back with a more open mind,” Meyers said.
Meyers has just recently started yoga and tries to go once a week; while she is just beginning, she finds that once a week seems like “a good start.”
“It really just relaxes me; I often go on Mondays, so I’m prepared for the week ahead with school,” Meyers said.
Meyers uses yoga as an easy source of relaxation and stress-relief, as well as a beneficial source of exercise.
“It’s a really good way to exercise without going to the gym,” said Meyers.
For college students, the idea of trying to find time to go to the gym, around a busy schedule, without the guarantee of a structured workout that is beneficial to the individual’s body, can be very intimidating.
For Meyers, and many others, yoga is the perfect way to get a structured workout, while also reaping the benefits of meditation and relaxation.
“Yoga has made me more balanced, flexible, and really just stronger overall,” Meyers said, when asked about the physical benefits she’s seen from practicing yoga.
“I feel like my arms and legs have become stronger. My core too, everything just feels a lot stronger,” Marron said, coinciding with Meyers.
According to the American Osteopathic Association, “Physical benefits of yoga include increased flexibility, increased muscle strength and tone, weight reduction, cardio and circulatory health, improved athletic performance.”
Thus, emphasizing the physical benefits that can come along with the mental benefits received from yoga.
Additionally, one of the best aspects of yoga is the fact that it is not necessary to be good at it to feel its benefits. Simply taking the time to do breath and mind exercises, while only attempting to do the physical body exercises, is enough to ignite the essential “parasympathetic system and the relaxation response”.
“Regardless of your level of yoga expertise, if you’re practicing regularly, you can feel better from head to toe,” according to an article posted on the Johns Hopkins Medicine website.
This can encourage those who feel unable or not confident enough to go to the gym, to get on their feet, and treat their body to the exercise it requires.
“Whether you’re a couch potato or a professional athlete, size and fitness levels do not matter because there are modifications for every yoga pose and beginner classes in every style. The idea is to explore your limits, not strive for some pretzel-like perfection. It is a great way to get in tune with your body and your inner self,’” states an article in the American Osteopathic Association when discussing the benefits of yoga.
So, whether someone is a beginner or a certified expert, there are no limitations to the benefits of merely attempting the practice consistently.
“The instructors are always kind and helpful and never make you feel like you have to be perfect,” said Meyers.
“It’s just really nice to be around people who care so much about a similar topic, it just feels like a family,” Marron said.
This way, yoga is an all-welcoming, all-inclusive, practice that focuses on the healthy and positive aspects of the human body, rather than the perfect and idealistic standards that are often put on many other outside activities.
The main focus is the ability to relieve stress, in a helpful and positive way, alongside many other beneficial factors, without placing unrealistic expectations on its participants.
“I would definitely recommend it to others, especially students, but I even recommended it to my mom! Yoga is great for any age and the style could be easily modified for personal needs,” Marron said.
All in all, the benefits of yoga are extensive and aid in many areas of the body’s mental and physical health.
It is an exercise that is not out of reach for any age or talent and can be something entirely worth the attempt, with ample devotion and dedication. It is unnecessary to feel enclosed and restrained by what one can and cannot do in their daily life. It is time to take back the right to give the body and mind what it deserves and to strip it of all the daily stressful toxins that consistently flow in and out.
These are the benefits of harnessing your energy and power; this is the practice of Yoga.
The sun pours in gracefully from the walls lined with windows as if it is there to kiss the skin and let it be known how proud it is today. Picking a place wisely, too close to the mirror and the instructor can’t be seen, too far back and she can’t be heard. Picking somewhere in the middle, where the sun shines just right, and the music reaches the soul. The instructor walks in, shutting the door behind her as if to tell the rest of the world it has to go away for the next hour and a half. The time is now, to feel the outside world, to manifest what is already possible, and to dream with eyes wide open.