The incredible health benefits of yoga for mind and body
When we’re always on the go, sometimes we forget how to unwind and relax. Yoga is a fantastic way to centre yourself and destress, but it also has an amazing array of mental and physical health benefits!
In this article, we speak with yoga Instructor Karalee about some of the unexpected benefits you can reap from incorporating yoga into your life.
Namaste! My name is Karalee and I am a student and teacher of Yoga on the Gold Coast. I have been a student of Yoga since taking my first class when I was 13 years old and did my studies to become a teacher at the age of 24. I have since received Reiki mastery and have studied Traditional Hatha, Yin, Vinyasa and Tantra styles of Yoga and incorporate these techniques within my classes. Yoga has allowed me to teach throughout Australia and overseas and to see the transformation within myself and my students inspires me to continue sharing the delights of this ancient health science.
Why is yoga so fantastic for your wellbeing?
Yoga is a practice that helps keep the body at an optimum level, it has the power to heal and maintain perfect health. The asanas – or postures – within yoga are designed to increase circulation, strengthen, increase flexibility, release tension and balance the body and mind. Movement coupled with breath awareness increases the blood flow to the muscles (this includes your organs), bringing essential nutrients and oxygen to the active tissues, and more oxygen in the body can only ever be a good thing! In fact, more oxygen-rich blood throughout the body assists with muscle health and repair and promotes muscle strength.
And those deep breaths the teachers are always asking you to do are for a reason! They lower your blood pressure and can improve heart disease by activating the vagus nerve, which switches on your parasympathetic nervous system to keep us cool, calm and collected. This is because when the parasympathetic nervous system is on, it balances the nervous system responsible for keeping us in a state of stress or the fight-flight-freeze response. With a regular practice of Yoga and meditation you are increasing the level of alpha brain waves in your very own brain! This is what gives us a sense of ease and awareness and can assist our memory, concentration and coordination. This can also help with depression and other mental health disorders, increases happiness and improves our overall sense of wellbeing.
Yoga is an amazing health science, but you don’t really need to know how it works. Start your practice and see it for yourself.
What are the unexpected health benefits of yoga internally?
I believe that the greatest benefits of Yoga lie internally, having experienced this myself and among my students. Something happens to us when we make yoga part of our discipline. It builds self esteem and builds inner strength and also encourages self-care and self-worth. It teaches us how to connect with our body and mind and help us foster mental calmness. It even increases our learning capacity and curiosity in life. It helps create space in the body through movement and breath so that we may ponder the deeper questions in life.
Specific styles of practice particularly Yin Yoga which work on the fascia of the body can also help to release trauma and retrain our stress responses when we find the pose and learn to relax ourselves within each posture, therefore reminding us that we can relax even within an intense stretch. This in turn helps us to change our reactions to stressful situations at work or in the home. We learn that we no longer need to store that stress physically and fosters a clear mind so we can make better decisions.
Yoga is amazing! Not only does it feel awesome but your body, through the practice, begins to heal itself. It can boost your immune system and detox the body of toxins from food, drink or even toxic thoughts or experiences. We tend to think of Yoga as exercise for the body but what we may not realise, until we have started our journey, is that Yoga has magnificent effects on the mental body, emotional body, the spiritual body and even beyond that.
What are some surprising physical benefits of yoga?
If you want to tone up and strengthen those biceps, do Yoga! Externally, the body will transform depending on the style and frequency of your practice. A strong flow practice will tone the muscles and give you definition throughout the whole body. The postures encourage stability and strength in your core too which gives you that beautiful Yogi posture.
It is also anti-ageing. You see, when we stimulate the circulatory system in the body, we bring more oxygen and blood to the skin which helps reduce and even reverse the signs of ageing. Your skin will love all the stretching too and with the reduction of cortisol levels and the detoxifying power of Yoga it can prevent pimples and acne and give you a wonderful glow. Yoga makes us shine from the inside out! We look and feel better when we prioritise self-love and care.
How often should one practice yoga and for how long?
In traditional Yogic teachings, one should practice daily for 1-2 hours or more with time for meditation too! But that is not always possible to do in a modern world with deadlines and to-do lists. I think you can practice at your own pace and as long as you keep up with the discipline you will notice the effects. Even 15 min of Yoga daily can help increase your energy and release stress.
What are the most comfortable clothes to wear whilst practicing yoga?
You need to wear clothes that will let you move! I tend to wear leggings with a loose top that lets me go upside down and stretch out without any interference from my outfit. I think it’s important to wear natural fibres too such as cotton, hemp or bamboo whilst practicing so that the body can breath, but it is really up to what you feel most comfortable in.
There are so many different types of yoga. What do you practice and how do you feel this particular yoga benefits oneself?
I practice many styles of Yoga which have different benefits.
Hatha Yoga is a great daily practice which helps develop discipline and self control. It’s a more static style of yoga as you hold postures for around 30-90 seconds. There is also a lot of pranayama – or breathing – exercises within this style of practice and is great for the immune system and developing core stability.
Yin Yoga is what helps me to release and deeply relax. This style is a mostly floor based practice (great after big days at work) it targets the connective tissues between the muscles and also the fascia of the body which holds us all together. This style is great for circulation to the joints and helps alleviate that “stuck” feeling in certain parts of the body.
Vinyasa/flow yoga is a favourite of mine as it allows me a platform to be creative with the sequencing of my practice. Bringing postures together in a new flow is challenging and makes us feel alive and energised – great for a morning practice to get the blood pumping!
For more from Karalee
You can find me on the mat either teaching or practicing at my favourite studio – Peace Mojo House in Burleigh heads. I teach 5 classes per week there:
Tuesday’s 6 -7am
Wednesday 5-6:15pm and 6:30-8pm
I also teach one class on Saturday mornings at the magical Freeman’s Organic Farm in Currumbin Valley! But if I’m not there, I’m usually working at Borough Barista making coffee for beautiful people, or at home in Cabarita Beach with my partner and our pooch.
Follow Karalee on Instagram @karaleereed_yoga.