Why Yoga? What are the benefits

April 6, 2020

No matter what the question is, once you get to know yoga, it becomes the answer. It may even be the answer for stress heads battling with weight loss. Just thinking about the word “yoga” almost makes me feel instantly more relaxed. It makes me think about my personal yoga practice,and how chilled and calm I feel during and after it. At the same time, I am also very aware of other types of emotions different people associate with the practice of yoga.. “Intimidating, difficult, too challenging” are just a few that come to mind. While some people can’t touch their toes, are overweight or even uncoordinated, there is still no reason for them or anyone who can master the simple art of conscious breathing to miss out on the incredible benefits making friends with yoga can bring into their lives.

Friends with Benefits

Increasing strength and becoming more flexible are just a couple of the obvious benefits you will notice when you allow yoga to become one of your best friends. But reducing blood pressure, reducing stress levels, learning to connect with your spiritual self and becoming more aware and connected with your deepest nature, those you share your life with as well as your physical environment, are a few more of the deeper benefits you become aware of once you welcome regular practice into your life.  


Weight Loss for Stress Heads

Although the basic practice of yoga will not burn as many calories as going for a jog or getting on the stair climber at the gym, it can certainly make an incredible difference to those of us who struggle to lose weight. Especially the stress heads amongst us. Through my practice as a Naturopathic Nutritionist, I often come across many individuals who struggle to lose weight. Their bodies don’t seem to respond to regular cardiovascular exercise, intense boot camps and even the weight loss winner 'interval training' plans. It can get quite frustrating as they push their bodies to the limit physically but the scales are stuck on the same figure. When the body is already under continuous mental or emotional stress, adding intense exercise can further contribute to this Nervous System imbalance (as the body only has one mechanism to deal with any type of stress). I find this type of people to be Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) dominant (see below). This is exactly where yoga can help.

Weight Loss Starts in your Head

Unless you are living on a secluded island with no bills to pay, no jobs outside and inside the home to attend to, no exposure to media, mobile phones and internet, you are experiencing different levels of stress every single day. Our basic stress response, the fight or flight response, governed by the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), still functions exactly the same way today as it used to thousands of years ago. The SNS turns everything on and up – our blood pressure, our heart rate, blood flow to our limbs and head. It helps us to either fight a predator or run away from physical danger real fast. It’s basically designed to save our lives. In small dosages the Fight or Flight Response is actually not bad for us, it keeps our Nervous System sharp and “on its toes”. But when the stress is continuous or unresolved, we can get into some serious trouble. When the SNS is over active(when we experience continuous unresolved stress) we do not only produce too much of our stress hormones unnecessarily, our bodies also go into conservation mode. Our primitive SNS gets us to hang on to our fat stores in case there’s famine around the corner and no more food is left in the world to nourish our starving bodies. The good news is, the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS),the Nervous System which regulates our stress hormones, “turns everything down”, and helps us rest and digest can also help us lose that stubborn, diet and boot camp resistant fat. Yoga is the PSNS best buddy. And a lot of it has to do not only with practicing yoga poses but with simply teaching yourself how to breathe.


Losing fat can be as simple as breathing

Our breath is generally considered to be instinctive. We don’t need to really think about it as it happens automatically. The interesting thing though is, that just bringing awareness to our breath as we practice “Pranayama” (Breath regulation) in yoga as well as being aware of our breathing and controlling it in different yoga poses will help activate our “Rest and Digest”, energy burning PSNS. You will not only instantly feel more relaxed, but your body will begin to produce less and less of the stress hormone Cortisol, allowing you to sleep well, digest well and burn stored fat a lot more efficiently.


A pain in the Asana??

Randomly turning up to any yoga class for a beginner yogi or yogini is unfortunately a mistake I quite often see many individuals make. Some people swear they would forever stay away from yoga purely because they had a bad experience at a class that was simply too advanced for them. If you have never participated in yoga before, your best choice would be trying a beginners’ class. Beginner classes are just that little bit slower, as they explore the basic yoga poses. The teacher will take more time to set up the asana (yoga pose) and adjust students when needed so that the practice is safe. If a beginner class is not available, try a general yoga class but make sure you inform the teacher you are a new participant, and of course, also let them know of any injuries you may have so they can assist you during the class by giving you more simple options to follow or props such as a yoga block or strap to use. Sometimes you’ll finish the class thinking it was actually ok, but you really didn’t connect with the teacher. That’s perfectly normal too. We are lucky to have plenty of yoga in our beautiful city on offer through yoga studios and health clubs as well as free classes through the Gold Coast City Council’s Active and Healthy program (mine in on Thursdays,6am at Kurrawa during spring, summer and autumn – all welcome!). So instead of “Nama-staying” in bed, get out and try a few more teachers, there’s sure to be one out there who resonates with the yogi within you.

Yoga to suit every - body

If you want to get a great workout while practicing and getting the benefits of yoga, you might like to try Yoga Flow, Vinyasa or power yoga classes. These classes are more dynamic than the average yoga class. Vinyasa or flow classes will get your heart rate up as well as tone and stretch you beautifully, while power yoga will focus more on strength and core.

If you are after a more relaxed yoga class, especially if your stress levels are through the roof, try Restorative Yoga or a Yin Yoga class. Both these classes are very slow, where you hold different (mostly stretchy) poses for a long time, and learn to focus on your breath as you enter a semi – meditative state.

Did you know?

1. One of the translations to the Sanskrit word Asana, which relates to yoga poses, is “a comfortable seat”. One of the reasons yoga asanas were created thousands of years ago was as preparation for meditation - to simply get the body to become relaxed enough so that the Yogi could sit comfortably (or lie in Savasana) for long periods of time in order to meditate.


2. True Yogis and Yoginis are vegetarians following a diet which excludes meat and eggs known as the “Sattvic Diet”. “Sattva” in Sanskrit means goodness, calm and clear. Sattvic living promotes purity and a more contented existence.The yogis believe consuming mostly unprocessed, natural, vegetarian food promotes a peaceful state for the body and mind, while consuming meat, alcohol and processed foods deplete the body of Prana (energy) and can lead to dark emotions such as anger and greed. A Sattvic diet combined with regular yoga asana and meditation practice according to Yogic belief will lead to a purer, higher sense of living or bliss, also known as Samadhi.


3. The yoga we get to practice when we participate in a yoga class, the physical aspect of yoga that is, is generally only one aspect of this wholistic discipline. There are another 7 limbs of yoga which the average person is generally unaware of. The limbs include within them a set of “Yamas” and“ Niyamas”, which represent ethical and moral principles we should live in as individuals and as a society. So really, yoga as a whole resembles a set of instructions for us to live the healthiest and most spiritual lives we all deserve as equal human beings. It does not conflict with any religion, but helps promote spiritualism for those who follow a religious path of any kind, while also helps find spiritualism for those who don’t.  


4. Whenever you are feeling stressed or anxious, practicing just 5 minutes of “Nadi Shodhana” Pranyama (Breath regulation) can help turn down your internal speedometer and help you calm down. Try this: Nadi Shodhana Breath Regulation

(The extensive meaning of the word Namaste widely used is yoga)

“I honour the place within you which is also within me. I honour the place within you which is of love, of truth, of light and of peace. When you are in your place, and I am in mine, we are one.”



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