Sunday, December 11, 2011
Coming from a "gym -y" background I spent years and years teaching aerobics classes, going to aerobics classes, teaching people how to teach aerobics classes, and I loved it. I still do. I haven't done it in awhile, however, because I got a little burned out. But, I'm starting to come around again. I don't really have time to commit to teaching it and I haven't found an instructor nearby that I like yet.
That being said, I've been teaching yoga for about the last fifteen years. I absolutely ADORE that, in addition to practicing martial arts for the last twelve years. In fact, I just opened a little yoga studio right behind my pool store, Pearson Pools you're one stop pool shop.
The yoga studio has been my dream for awhile now. Its finally coming to fruition. I love it when that happens!
Just the other day, I was reading The Yoga Journal online and came across an article that I found really interesting so I'm sharing it with you. You can read the entire article here Yoga For Health but I'm going to sum it all up for you.
Yoga is a very powerful tool in helping to reduce stress. Yeah, yeah, we all already knew that right? Right. But, what you maybe didn't know is WHY it reduces stress and you have to do it "right".
By "right" I don't mean you have to be proficicient in every pose. I mean you have to be present, focused on your breath and noticing the sensations in your body. When you do that, your body learns how to handle stressful situations in a healthy way. It actually prepares your body for stress, not just reducing it. That's exciting and its not all mental. There are actual physical things going on in your body and your brain making that happen.
The parasympathetic nervous system is the calming system in your brain. The deep breathing in yoga activates this system. The sympathetic nervous system is the active system in your brain. Its the one that kicks in triggering a "flight or fight" mode in your body when stress occurs.
Holding plank pose for an uncomfortable length of time triggers this sympathetic nervous system response. Hence, the feeling of "flight". You want to put your knees down and rest in child's pose. If you hold it and breathe, you trigger the parasympathetic nervous system to calm your mind down. In that single act, you're training your body to overcome challenges in other aspects of your life. In addition to that, you're creating balance in your body.
In 1997, The Newcastle University of England conducted a study on random sedentary adults. They split the group having half of them participate in a yoga program for six weeks while the other half participated in an aerobics program. At the end of the six week period, the yoga group had a lower resting heart rate while the aerobics group showed no significant change.
In another study done in 2007, at the University of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, the researchers hooked up 11 healthy yoga practitioners to instruments that recorded heart rate variability for 24 hours. They found that during an active class of 60 minutes their heart rate rose. Then, they did 30 minutes of calming, restorative poses and their heart rate dropped even lower. Not only that, but this change was driven by increases in the parasympathetic nervous system with no change occuring in the sympathetic nervous system.
What this means is that the yoga participants were not only calmer after class, but they were in autonomic balance and flexibility which is required to handle stress effectively.
In addition, years ago while at the gym on the treadmill, I read a little blurb in Muscle and Fitness about a study on men. The researchers found that lifting weights increased levels of corisol in the body (sympathetic nervous system response). So they took a group of men lifting weights and split them into three groups. They all lifted weights but one group only stretched after. One group sat quietly and rested. And the third group did 30 minutes of yoga. Only the yoga group had decreased levels of cortisol. The stretching and resting groups had no change.
Now, here's the disclaimer. If you go to yoga and you only focus on mastering poses without any of the breath work or relaxation in savasana (corpse pose). You will not gain any of these benefits. So, if you come in to class rushed, push yourself into poses, and then leave during the relaxation part you aren't any better equipped to handle stress than if you'd lifted weights for that hour.
The key here in helping your body respond to stressful situations calmly is to interchange the harder, more physically challenging poses with calming, restful ones while paying attention to the breath and staying present and aware of the sensations of your body while in the pose.
The other key here is to enjoy savasana at the end of class. It truly is a great gift you can give your body in this rushed, multi-tasking world we live in.