Is Yoga Beneficial During COVID-19?
First, the answer is emphatically yes. If you’d like to know on more of how and why, join me as I tell a story….
Yoga has exploded in popularity in the western culture not only because it’s a great exercise, but because it has underlining benefits when it’s practiced regularly. You don’t have to be a pro or super flexible to experience the benefits, just the willingness to practice, and patience to learn. So really, what are the benefits of yoga during COVID-19?
Personally, I’ve had a myriad of things happen for me when I return to my mat regularly. I’ve been a professional skydiver for more than half of my life and as an athlete, I’ve had a lot of wear and tear on my back, shoulders, and knees (and not because of bad landings, it’s just repetitive use in non-ergonomic ways in our sport). I also broke my back and right wrist (yes, that was from a bad landing, but it was filming a stunt for a TV show and the producers convinced me to do a bad landing…. I was young and young in skydiving… that lead to bad decisions and I’ll share in another blog).
Since becoming a yoga instructor in 2008, I’ve had a yo-yo relationship with my practice. I would binge practice, then not practice for a while. I’d pop into a yoga studio, then be gone for awhile. That’s because skydiving and traveling ruled my world. However, in the last few years, I’ve rededicated myself to simply just show up.
When I first opened the yoga studio in June 2018, I could barely hold a down dog because of my right wrist. I didn’t have a lot of mobility in my shoulders or spine. I was stressed, busy and I also had held onto a bit of my pregnancy weight from 2014 (25 pounds held on to be exact!). Even though I wasn’t at my fittest physique, I’m not young nor super flexible. I many look up to teachers to be many things and I felt far away from that image – even myself! However, I kept showing up. Since, my practice has helped me rebuild strength, mobility, stability and even flexibility in my back, my wrist, back, and helped me reshape a healthy lifestyle that works for me now – not before when I was thin, didn’t have a child, a business and a million other projects! Although I haven’t lost more than 4 pounds since opening the studio, I feel amazing.
However, yoga has done much more for me. Yes, I feel happier in my body, but it’s much deeper. I’m more calm in stressful situations, I feel more balanced, grounded, and strong. But yoga does different things for everybody. It’s something I never push dogma, philosophy or even my experiences at the studio because I truly feel everyone is in different places and phases in their life and with yoga. And I truly want people to have their own, unique and organic experience with practice.
So I wanted to know more how yoga could really help in this time where we’ve quarantined, social distanced, and now start to reintegrate into society and with each other. This time has caused so many unsettling issues, so how can my story with yoga help during COVID-19? Let’s let research tell the story.
There have been over a dozen studies done with over 1000 participants that found when practitioners have a a regular yoga practice, many participants showed improvements in physical or psychological measures related to stress. Also, in a national survey from 2012, 86% of practitioners stated that yoga helped them reduce stress in their lives. In an article by the American Osteopathic Association [AOA], Dr. Nevins shares, “Aside from physical benefits, one of the best benefits of yoga is how it helps a person manage stress which is known to have devastating effects on the body and mind. Stress may reveal itself in many ways, including back or neck pain, sleeping problems, headaches, drug abuse, and an inability to concentrate.”
MENTAL / EMOTIONAL HEALTH
A recent review of over a dozen studies and just over 1000 participants found that yoga improved aspects of mental health, improvements in resilience, and general well-being. Again, Dr. Nevins from AOA explains, “Yoga can be very effective in developing coping skills and reaching a more positive outlook on life.” Emmy Lymn further explains in her article, “104 Evidence Based Benefits of Yoga: Why You Should Do Yoga,” “During yoga, the body releases hormones that help improve mood and lowers stress.” Perhaps this is why practitioners feel uplifted after a class!
STIMULATES BRAIN FUNCTION
According to Yoga Medicine’s, Emmy Lymn, “In yoga, your constant use and practice of control in your postures, breathing, and mental activity results in increased gray matter density and activation in your hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Together allowing you to have better: focus and concentration, emotional and impulse control, helps you be in tune with your senses and self-awareness, willingness to delay gratification, and helps improve decision making.”
BOOSTS YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Several research articles suggest that yoga helps to lower the stress hormone that is directly tied into our immune system. William Mitchell, MD. states in a YogaJournal.com article, “Yoga helps lower stress hormones that compromise the immune system, while also conditioning the lungs and respiratory tract, stimulating the lymphatic system to oust toxins from the body, and bringing oxygenated blood to the various organs to ensure their optimal function.”
BOOSTS PARASYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM
The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) is correlated with our sympathetic nervous system which is our “fight or flight” response. With mind-body practices like yoga, is stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. In the article by Emmy Lymn, states, “In doing so, it helps slow down our heart rate, lower our blood pressure and regulate our breathing. This lets us rest, relax and heal.”
More and more research is coming out that various medical organizations are utilizing yoga for mental health because of the many benefits. Yoga is not only a great practice in and of itself, it is an incredible tool to help us in our day-to-day life and boasts many benefits as we cope with COVID-19. Everyone comes to their own mat for different reasons, at different times, in different environments, in different bodies, in different moods, I hope that you find as many benefits as I have had in my journey with yoga and hope you find the benefits of yoga during COVID-19.
If you are looking to start an at-home practice, Yoga House is offering free pre-recorded classes on our studio platform, MINDBODY, and you can find them HERE.
There is a myriad of resources that back up this article and they are as follows:
Yoga Journal, “Support Your Immune System”
“104 Evidence Based Benefits of Yoga: Why You Should Do Yoga”
Yoga Medicine, “How Yoga Changes Your Brain”
Psychology Today, “Take a Stand For Yoga Today”
American Osteopathic Association, “The Benefits of Yoga”
National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health, “Yoga: What You Need to Know”
How to Start An At Home Practice
Do You Have to Be Flexible to Start a Yoga Practice