Are you guilty of assuming yoga and Pilates are the same thing? Don’t fret, it’s a common misconception! But where Pilates is a series of exercises aimed at strengthening your physical core, yoga works to strengthen the muscles of your mind.
Yoga is an ancient practice, designed to unite the mind, body and spirit. Derived from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’, the word ‘yoga’ translates into ‘to unify’ or ‘to yoke’. The practice ties together meaningful exercise, breathing techniques and meditation to enhance physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
Nowadays, social media feeds are flooded with images of advanced and mind-blowingly acrobatic asanas (postures), you can’t blame beginners for feeling apprehensive to attend their first class! However, yoga is predominantly a practice of the mind. There actually isn’t an overwhelming focus on ability and flexibility; meaning, you can practice comfortably within your own limitations. It is, first and foremost, a tool for personal growth, and therefore should be accessible to everyone. Completing advanced movements is merely a bonus!
The way in which the muscles are tensed and released during practice not only enhances body strength and posture, but the exercise itself has the same positive effect on your body as a massage! Improved blood flow promotes the release of endorphins – natural pain and anxiety fighting hormones secreted within the brain and central nervous system.
Breathing techniques alone reap many cardiovascular benefits, such as a lower resting heart rate, better blood flow, increased endurance and oxygen uptake. Needless to say, a lower heart rate promotes decreased stress and anxiety, and with better blood flow to the muscles and brain comes improved cognitive function and clarity. Breathing exercises also improve lung function, which in turn triggers a relaxation response. Lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) have been reported in this instance, which may also promote weight loss. And if that hasn’t sold you yet, the range of exercises also promote better digestion! If intestinal studies have taught us anything in recent years, it’s that a healthy gut equals a healthy mind!
By uniting muscle exertion and breathing techniques, yoga works to harness control over the mind. You will soon find that as you become immersed in the flows and calming atmosphere, all of your woes and everyday stress melt away. Only 20 minutes on the mat has been proven to rejuvenate the mind, leaving you feeling refreshed and renewed.
You might feel a few aches and pains at the start, but this is just your body learning to activate the proper muscles. Beginner classes are a great place to start for those that are still nervous, but remember that if you can’t complete a movement or asana simply focus on your breathing, or return to child’s pose.
Looking to boost your own mental strength with the power of yoga? Sign up for a 30-day class membership trial and receive a free yoga mat!