Finding a Happy Heart and Mind with Yoga

As a yoga studio owner, teacher and practitioner I get asked quite frequently about the health benefits of yoga. Though I’ve known personally how I felt in my own body post yoga class, I wanted to know more. Especially when my youngest son was diagnosed with type one diabetes, and several private clients kept asking me for help with stress relief and help with heart health and weight loss. All of these events prompted me to research a little deeper into the science behind the claims that yoga is “good for you”.

As yoga grows in popularity and more people are looking for an upgrade in their current health habits and lifestyles, I would love to shed some light on the many benefits that yoga can provide. The first benefit I’d like highlight is the amazing value in cardiovascular health that comes from a regular yoga practice. A study published in the April 2015 issue of the Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome Journal found that yoga exercise improves the cardiovascular risk factors including central obesity and blood pressure in middle-aged and older adults with metabolic syndrome, (MetS) which is a clustering of cardiovascular risk factors, which is associated with diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease. Yoga researchers demonstrate that “yoga works” because it modulates the physiological system of the body, specifically its effect on the heart rate. This review is significant because yoga presents an effective method of treating hypertension that is nonpharmacologic and therefore there are no adverse effects and there are other valuable health benefits. Research suggests that stress is a contributing factor to high blood pressure; hence, yoga is a physical and mental exercise program, that truly looks to nourish the whole individual and not just a patients disease.

Along with improved heart health, yoga has also been shown to help diabetic patients manage their disease. Of course this peaked my interest as a mom with a young son with juvenile diabetes. I was happy to find that there have been several studies siting that a regular yoga practice can help with managing healthy weight, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, cholesterol and exercise self-efficacy. Meditation which is part of the yoga practice has also been found to benefit diabetics. A recent study sited through the American Diabetes Association suggests meditation helps through self-calming skills including non-judgment, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance and letting go. The researchers also found that a meditation practice lowered the participants’ blood pressure levels and reduced stress and anxiety. The relaxation response from meditation was also found to promote the regulation of cortisol and other stress hormones.

So with the science backing what I already knew in my own body and experience, I became committed to educating as many people as I possibly could about the wonderful benefits of yoga. I recommend new students ease into the practice with a gentle style of yoga such as Yin Yoga which is a passive practice done mainly on the floor with props such as blankets, bolsters, blocks and straps. In Yin Yoga your asked to relax in the posture, or “asana”, and soften the muscle to move closer to the bone. It is not uncommon to see postures held for three to five minutes, even 20 minutes at a time. The longer holds and time spent in the postures allows space for meditation and deep mindfulness.

At Ebb and Flow Yoga we offer Yin Yoga 5 days a week and also have Vinyasa Yoga which is a flowing style of yoga which is great for cardiovascular health, we also have Barre which is a whole body workout and incorporates yoga, pilates and barre technique inspired from ballet.

It’s never too late to start a new habit, especially if it is good for you! Why not give yoga a try You may find what so many others all over the world have found, peace of mind, a place to destress, decompress and improve your overall health. Roll out your mat, take a deep breath in and exhale into a new life waiting for your there.

By Jill Hines E-RYT