The Benefits of Yoga: Mind, Body, and Spirit

On August 22nd, I wrote an article about Yoga for The Madison County News-Record and Sentinel . Below is the text from the article published below. I had a 400 word limit (impossible) which I came very close to with a lot of cuts. It doesn’t flow exactly how I’d like since style had to be sacrificed for the space to put in that wonderful picture taken during one of my retreats. It was published with minor changes and a title chosen by the editorial staff. Overall, I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to write about something so dear to my heart, as a member of the local community. This is in Marshall, a small town, about 20 minutes north of Asheville, North Carolina.

Yoga for Body, Mind, and Spirit

While yoga is great for the body, a regular practice also nourishes subtler parts of the self. We become physically stronger, grounded, and centered, and so do our minds and spirits as we grow into our best selves.

Body

Yoga improves muscle tone, flexibility, and hormone regulation. Repeated postures on each side of the body slows brain activity, syncing the hemispheres and moving us into a calmer state. Cortisol reduces and natural chemicals release to relieve chronic inflammation and restore physiological systems. Deep stretches reduce tension and strain. As body awareness increases, we shift from thinking and doing to feeling and being.

Mind

Our minds can be considered in parts: basic survival instincts and drives such as securing shelter, nourishment, and human connection (stress responses like fight or flight also live here), while the discerning mind makes informed decisions. For instance, when hungry (basic drive), the discerning mind chooses salad instead of nachos.

The mind also holds defenses. Any trauma (we all have some) leaves us with a broken sense of trust (and other symptoms). They are useful defenses but can also work against us as distrust distances us from those who love us. Human connection is vital to our health.

When the mind holds tension so does the body, often below our conscious awareness. It settles in like a subtle fog that we don’t realize is there but that disrupts our sleep, concentration, and affects our relationships with a subtle anxiety.

Balancing postures sharpen concentration while long holds tone the nervous system, inducing a clearer and calmer state, on and off the mat. Over time we react less to life’s challenges and trust ourselves more.

Spirit

While physical injury and psychological trauma are obvious blocks to vitality, society goes against our basic instincts with food we can’t trust, a culture of fear, alarm clocks, too much work, and more. Our lifestyles demand constant output, but we are not static beings. Our bodies fatigue as we push through all seasons as though they are the same, losing alignment with the natural rhythms of our body and the planet, dampening our spiritual connection.

Yoga means union and is a spiritual practice at its core. This union is between you and whatever you connect with. For me, it is my intuitive self. You do not need to believe in traditional concepts of God to practice yoga.

While it’s unlikely that we can eat clean all of the time or take winters off, we can return to a healthier and more natural state as we address environmental stressors and psychological tensions through yoga. Beyond a workout, yoga instills a sense of peace, calm, strength, and confidence as we become more aligned at all layers of self. Our bodies improve and so do our minds, relationships, and the bigger picture of our lives.

Stephanie Toler hosts yoga retreats regularly in Marshall, NC. Check out her retreat packages at www.yoginistephanie.com. She also keeps a blog where she shares poetry and essays about yoga philosophy, spirituality, and life lessons at www.stephaniesfaith.com.

*Note* At the time I wrote this, I was in a very internally focused state and wrote this from the perspective of yoga as an internal practice. However, if I could give this article another go and had a higher word limit, I would include a section on heart. Yoga nourishes us: body, mind, HEART, and spirit. Not only is the practice itself heart-opening, but the connections I’ve made through yoga make up the bulk of my friendships and I am forever grateful for my yogi tribe.

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