The term “yoga” is a blanket term for a family of self-cultivation traditions that originated and are widespread across India, Tibet, and Southeast Asia.  Typically, they involve a combination of physical postures, breathing, and meditation to manage and maintain the health of the body and mind.  Historically, yoga was developed by meditators and ascetics through experimentation and experience as a method for maintaining one’s health and opening the body.  Over the last 100 years or so, some of these practices have been brought to the West and have gained popularity.  Most recently, yoga has found popularity with its translation into the western fitness world.

Typically, when one thinks of yoga one thinks of the postures or the stretches, and one engages in these stretches to become more flexible.  But why should one want to become more flexible? Flexibility is an aspect of fitness that is often overlooked and glossed over in favor of training other aspects of fitness like strength or aerobic capacity.  Flexibility is an important fitness vector and one that just like the others will decline with age unless it is trained.  Flexibility is not trained in the same way that strength or aerobic capacity, where more effort gets you more results (to a point).  Strength training can be thought of as progressively getting your muscles to contract and shorten more and more forcefully through practice over time. In other words, the ability to build tension in the body is trained and adapted to.  On the other hand, You can think of flexibility training or stretching as training muscles to relax and lengthen progressively over time.  Although the benefits of stretching are widely known, stretching is a surprisingly controversial topic among the fitness industry and exercise science research.  Some claim that plastic deformation of soft tissue and fascia is not possible.  Others claim that stretching work neurologically, some claim that gains in flexibility come from modulating the sensory stretch response.  Regardless of the empirical studies, clinicians and physical therapists use stretching routines daily to help people regain mobility and decrease pain after surgery or injury.  If you devote some of your time regularly to working on flexibility and training relaxation, it will improve.

Yoga also seems to have a fairly powerful ability to regulate the body, mind, and physiological processes.  Studies have shown that yoga practice modulates the stress response.  Yoga has been shown to reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure, ease respiration, and increase heart rate variability(a measure of the body’s ability to respond and recover from stress).  Participants of a three-month study reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being.  Yogic breathing practices have been shown effective for alleviating depression and useful for patients recovering from addiction.  Yoga has also been shown to be able to tone down maladaptive nervous system arousal, and may be used to help treat veterans with PTSD in the future.  The takeaway from all of these studies is that mental health and physical health are not just closely allied, but in many ways functionally equivalent.  The evidence shows yoga to be a practice that is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health.

SPARC offers a Power Vinyasa Yoga Class with Ruby Chandler Friday’s at 6pm.  

Come join us!