Just do it

Why you need more yoga in your life

Incorporating yoga into your fitness routine is ideal for increasing physical strength and mental wellbeing. Becky Crepsley-Fox shares her top five reasons why more yoga equals more fitness:

The Physical
The comment I hear the most from people who are yet to try yoga is: ‘I can’t practice yoga; I am not flexible’. Sadly, this misses the point of yoga completely. Yoga isn’t about flexibility, although it can lend itself to increasing flexibility. As a form of exercise, it also improves athletic performance, joint mobility and, of course, balance. The physical movement required by yoga practice is also very beneficial for reducing fatigue, and increasing muscle tone, cardio health and spinal posture.

The Mental
Although it seems a strange place to start for mental wellbeing, one of the key reasons yoga is good for your mind is because it stabilises the digestive system. Hear me out: the sequences and flows of movement required when doing yoga, massages internal organs into place, which in turn moves us from flight or fight (sympathetic) to rest and digest (parasympathetic). The deep breaths we take in yoga also help to pull us out of our adrenaline-fuelled lives and into a more relaxed present state. For this reason, yoga works like meditation and mindfulness by reducing stress and anxiety, which in turn lowers the body’s heart rate and blood pressure. By this lowering of cortisol hormones in the brain, yoga helps to reduce perceived stress. It’s a workout which is inherently mindful, by focusing on the physical asana, keeping balance, engaging your core, breathing in sequences and focusing on flow — the mind has little time to think of anything else.

The Spiritual
I have also heard a lot of people say: ‘Yoga: is that where everyone sits in a circle and chants?’ Although there are certain branches of yoga where chanting is used as a form of release, in Western culture, this is a part of the practice you won’t come across as much. Though, for most, the mindfulness element of yoga does give a sense of spiritual connection to the body. For those that find this reassuring and important to good physical and mental health, there is no better form of exercise.

The Short Term
Many people have the preconception that yoga is slow and boring. Although some yoga is slower, such as Yin Yoga, there are branches that require strength and cardio fitness too. For those looking for a dynamic class, try Rocket or Yogasana, where poses need to be held for five breaths at least — this really makes you sweat! For those looking for a workout to strengthen arms and abs, a Jivamukti or Dharma class is a good place to work to. Yoga doesn’t get easier with more regular practice, it only gets more interesting, more dynamic and more challenging as you improve.

The Long Term
Although in the short term, yoga practice lends itself to increased physical and emotional wellbeing, by continuing yoga for long-term gain, you can decrease the risk of future injuries and improve range of motion for joint pain. Yin and restorative classes are good to help ease connective tissue between the muscles as well as to gain more overall flexibility and relaxation. It’s important to combine these sorts of classes with the more dynamic ones to give yourself a fullbody and mind lift.

Becky Crepsley-Fox is head of yoga at London studio chain MoreYoga (moreyoga.co.uk)

Om Magazine

First published in November 2009, OM Yoga magazine has become the most popular yoga title in the UK. Available from all major supermarkets, independents and newsstands across the UK. Also available on all digital platforms.