Health: The Benefits of Yoga for the Mind and Body

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Health—With the holidays approaching slowly but surely, I wanted to talk about the benefits of yoga in helping to reduce stress. For me, this time of year starts getting a bit crazy with my daughter starting school, then all of a sudden it is Halloween, Thanksgiving, and then Christmas. And as my husband is Jewish, we get the added bonus of celebrating Hanukkah. This is such a wonderful time of year, but if one’s stress levels aren’t managed, it can take away a bit of the pleasure because you are thinking of all that you have to do.

Yoga is one of the oldest known health practices in the world and research into yoga has had a strong impact on the fields of stress reduction, mind/body medicine, and energy medicine. The poses and breathing exercises, as well as the meditation in yoga, have been proven to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, reduce the pain endured by back pain sufferers, regulate heart rate and even retard the aging process. That sounds good to me!  (Source: Alternative Medicine – The Definitive Guide).

Yoga was first systematically set down in writing by Patanjali in the second century B.C.E. in the Yoga Sutras with the focus on restoring mental and physical health. If the mind is constantly restless and agitated (which happens to most of us around the holidays), the health of the body will be compromised; and if the body is in poor health, mental strength and clarity will be affected.  A consistent yoga practice really does counter these ill effects.

Classical yoga is organized into eight “limbs” that provide a complete system of physical, mental, and spiritual health, and outline specific lifestyle, hygiene, and detoxification regimens, as well as physical and psychological practices that lead to a more complete health and personal development (Source:  Alternative Medicine – The Definitive Guide).

Yoga has also been found to improve mood. I know that I feel much more at peace and less overwhelmed when I am consistent with my yoga practice. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine published a 2010 study that examined the anxiety levels and moods of people who practiced yoga for an hour three times a week. Yoga practice has been found to increase levels of GABA, an amino acid and neurotransmitter that may help reduce anxiety, according to the lead author, neurologist and psychiatrist, Chris Streeter. The slow, deep breathing exercises increase oxygen flow which in turn optimizes all your organs functioning – including your brain, says Anita Herur, M.D., an assistant professor of physiology at S. Nijalingappa Medical College in India.

A study led by Dr. Herur found that in the study’s subjects parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that promotes relaxation was most affected after three months of starting yoga. (Source: Real Simple Article on Mood-Boosting Workouts).  So, do yourself (and those around you) a favor – and look into finding a yoga studio to help ease the stress of the upcoming holidays!  Most importantly, you will thank yourself for taking the time to take care of you – I do every time I finish my yoga practice.

Do you practice yoga? If so, what do you enjoy most about it? How does yoga heal both your mind and body?

Photo courtesy of Flickr.


  • Alternative Medicine – The Definitive Guide, by Burton Goldberg.  The Second Edition, Celestial Arts.
  • Real Simple Magazine.  September 2011 issue.  Mood-Boosting Workouts by Tori Rodriquez.

Melissa Northway is a mom, has her Masters in Nutrition, and writes about topics that interest her – which are most things! She has written a storybook app and book called Penelope the Purple Pirate. Her tomboy was the inspiration to write about a girl who likes to have adventures with her friends, and at the same time teach little ones the importance of treating others with kindness and respect. Penelope is hosting a “Talk Like a Pirate” Giveaway in honor of September 18th TLAP Day. Go here to learn how you can enter to win some pirate booty:

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