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The science behind yoga

Cross-legged hippies on tie-dyed mats - something a lot of people may associate with the word yoga, but dig a little deeper and the many proven health advantages for the body and mind become apparent.

Amy Crumpton of Social Cactus Coaching

There’s a lot of science to back up this ancient Indian tradition and Amy Crumpton, founder of Social Cactus coaching - expert in mindset, positivity and NLP techniques, dives into how yoga can positively impact you physically, mentally and emotionally and gives her top tips into how you can include this in your everyday life.

What is yoga and what are the benefits?

Yoga originated in India and comes from the Sanskrit meaning ‘to join’ or ‘to unite’. It’s a form of exercise where you create poses with your body in order to achieve improved control of your body and mind simultaneously.

“The benefits are never ending and you start to feel more alive, energised, fit and toned. You may find your body doesn’t want to scream at you anymore for putting it under unnecessary strain, and may notice your mind is calmer and less ’noisy’, We make better dietary choices, and feel more relaxed and at peace with ourselves and with what’s happening in the world.” Amy explains.

“It’s impossible to leave the yoga mat feeling stressed, anxious or angry - no matter what’s happening in the day, stepping on the mat for a yoga flow leaves it all in the past.” she adds.

Elisabeth Clare, founder of medical device supply company MBST UK agrees: “I love yoga as it makes me feel good and look good. Learning to hold a calm breath is fantastic for the nervous system and increases flexibility, suppleness and strength which is great for musculoskeletal health.”

Scientific evidence

As yoga works your body, your brain is focused on completing the physical activity at hand, and over time, this can actually change the chemical composition of your brain. The poses create a physical stress and discomfort that puts our bodies into a habitual physiological stress response – increased heart rate, anxious feelings, increased breathing rate, and tensed muscles.

Amy explains: “By practising the yoga poses, we learn to relax our facial muscles, breathe deeply and slowly, and calm our minds. In doing so regularly, yoga can retrain our brains, allowing our automatic stress reaction to become one of a calming technique, rather than elevated cortisol. This can then be used in many other stressful situations.”

Amy continued: “I practice yoga at the end of my day for at least 20 minutes, and it allows me to completely de-stress and reflect on the day. I cannot recommend yoga enough for a mind-boosting exercise.”

Studies have shown 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.’

Can I make space and time for yoga in my life?

Ever increasing zoom calls, appointments and juggling family with work life can make it tough to include yoga as part of your daily routine and offers us excuses as to why we can’t.

Amy has first hand experience of this: “We live in a world that is always connected, especially running our own businesses, there’s always someone wanting to ask a question, an email to answer or some deadline to meet. Because of this, we usually have a million things running through our minds, but when we step on that mat, we are fully present and can clear our minds for the 20-30 minutes during the practice, and it’s blissful.”

Though she dabbled in yoga in the past, she told herself it wasn’t for her - “I’m not flexible enough, I am too busy, I want a ‘real’ workout.” Any of these sound familiar?

Will yoga help with my aches and pains?

The reason Amy decided to get into yoga was because her body was starting to get achy and stiff after spending long days in one position at her desk - something most of the working population will be familiar with after the past year. “I was always complaining of a bad back, sore neck and shoulders, AKA ‘text neck form’ from looking down at my phone way too much.”

When Amy started practising yoga every day, she noticed these aches and pains vanished, and she felt more flexible, more toned and so much healthier.

In September 2019, Amy really got into daily yoga and is now a full convert: “I love the fact that my body feels so energised and alive after a yoga flow, it calms my mind, it makes all the aches and pains of sitting at a desk all day melt away, it wakes me up for the day and it calms me down after a busy day at work.”

In 2015 Elisabeth Clare was training for the London marathon and thought yoga would help her to stretch properly to prevent injury and learn to control her breathing. Elisabeth adds: “I love yoga as it makes me feel good and look good. The figure you get from it is very flattering but my body does need it as I am hyper mobile and it helps manage my hips and shoulders.”

Tips for those who are new to yoga

Want to get involved but don’t know how? Amy swears by the free yoga flows on YouTube: “My favourite yogi is Boho Beautiful who travels the world, flows from the most stunning locations, and has yoga programmes and a membership which are fantastic.

“Yoga is a practice because we all start somewhere and we are always improving. There really is no right or wrong with yoga, you go at your own pace and over time you notice you’ve become more flexible and can finally touch your toes or get into a position you could never do before, it’s super rewarding.”

Elisabeth shares her yogi insights: “When you look at others who can touch the floor and you can’t, the flexibility will soon come and if you can’t get down there you will be better at other things that others can’t do. Yoga is for everyone and improvements happen quickly if you practice regularly.”

“Try out a few different teachers and styles of yoga first. My good friend and yoga teacher ‘Cat Meffan’ has a youtube channel with a variety of styles. But as soon as you can get to a class, I would recommend going in person because the people you meet through yoga and being in the environment is as great as what benefits you get from doing yoga. Oh and don’t worry, everyone giggles during their first ‘om’!” recalls Elisabeth.

Mindfulness in yoga

Yoga is a space to focus on your breathing which has such incredible benefits for the mind.

“As someone who has an overactive mind and who is very driven, I love being able to totally let go and relax on the mat. I can just let my mind focus on the breathing exercises and the postures, which leaves me feeling totally relaxed and calm at the end of my practice. I would recommend everyone gives yoga a chance, it has so many health benefits but it’s also amazing for the mind too.” Amy concluded.

Elisabeth commented: “Before I did yoga I didn’t have a spiritual bone in my body, but it has helped me so much in managing my anxieties and welcomed me into a world of peacefulness and mindfulness. You may feel scared to try it, but everyone has to start somewhere.”

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