Written by Felicity Downes-Casipit (Naturopath B.Nat)
Yoga and meditation have both been around for so long, nobody can be certain exactly when it began. Ancient scriptures from around 5000 years ago hint at the early beginnings of yogic practice and meditation, however, it has only been in the last 200 years that it has gained momentum in the Western world.
The popularity of yoga continues to grow in Australia. A survey conducted in 2017 showed that it was Australia’s preferred choice for cardio, strength and flexibility exercise with two million participants getting out their yoga mats1, while one in six adults in Australia will practice meditation2.
Both yoga and meditation had been a pivotal aspect of wholistic health and wellbeing long before Instagram came about, they are not simply a trend and are here to stay. So why such enduring longevity?
There’s no denying that modern lives can often be busy, rushed and at times quite stressful for most of us. Many people use yoga and meditation as a means of bringing calm and quiet to their lives. The benefits of both yoga and meditation are many and although often used in conjunction with each another, they also offer their own individual benefits.
Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word meaning ‘union of the body and mind’. Using both physical postures and rhythmic breathing techniques, there are many forms of yoga, providing a broad range of options for every body type and level of agility. There are many benefits of yoga, here are just a few.
1. Improved Flexibility
Most of us associate yoga with flexibility which may deter some people from taking up the practice. Yoga is suitable for all levels of flexibility, the more yoga you do, the more flexible and agile you will become. Yoga poses, or asanas, are slow and gentle, helping your body to ease into each position within our own capability. By improving flexibility, our bodies can move more freely as we increase our range of movement and develop strength in our muscles and joints. This conditioning may also lessen our risk of injury and improve our everyday functions like balance.
2. Stress and Anxiety Relief
More and more people are turning to yoga to help them deal with their stress and anxiety. When we are stressed or anxious, we often hold it within our bodies. We tend to tense up, grit our teeth or clench our muscles. Yoga helps to ease out this tension by encouraging relaxation within our muscles and joints, effectively soothing both the body and mind. Several studies have shown that yoga can be an effective tool for supporting mental health3. A survey conducted in Australia in 2012 on 3892 participants, concluded that the majority used yoga as a form of stress relief4.
3. Pain Relief
Modern day living may see many of us sitting at our computers or hunched over our phones for hours on end. Extended time spent in the same position can cause tightness and stiffness throughout our muscles and joints resulting in back, shoulder and neck pain. Yoga can help to counteract these positions helping to prevent further complications which may include headaches and unwanted postural changes.
Meditation is a mental exercise which encourages mindfulness, deep concentration and relaxation. When you meditate you are in a fully awake state however, the most common form of meditation is to clear the mind and aim your focus internally, rather than on what is going on around you. Meditation can be practiced by anyone young or old and is often used to help calm and clear the mind but there are many more benefits, here are just some of them.
4. Improved Neuroplasticity
Neuroplasticity is the ability for the brain to change throughout a person’s life by forming new neural connections through experiences. Studies have shown that meditation can help to support the neuroplasticity of our brains, effectively re-wiring our brains and boosting the health and function of our body and minds, in a similar way to that of acquiring a new skill6. It basically keeps our brains young.
5. Increasing Focus and Concentration
Meditation helps us to be more mindful and in the present moment, it also helps us to fully focus and concentrate. Sometimes our lives can be so busy that we find ourselves multitasking so frequently that we may barely remember doing a particular task at all. Meditation helps to eliminate outside distractions and concentrate on the task at hand, enabling us to complete the task mindfully and effectively.
6. Focusing on the Present
Research indicates that regular meditation can help to lift our mood and enable us to let go of negative thoughts and habits7. By resetting our minds through meditation, we can better move past repetitive thoughts on the past or future and focus more on the present moment. Often thinking too far ahead or dwelling on past issues can cause stress and anxiety, meditation can help to bring us back into the present moment and focus on what is important.
Yoga and meditation are practices that all ages can benefit from. Take a little time for yourself to re-centre or calm your mind with some quiet meditation or why not involve your children in some wind-down yoga poses before bed?