With the challenges of lockdown, revisiting your yoga practice might be a good way to start the day on a good note, take a midday break from work, or wind down for a quality night’s sleep. Read on for five benefits of a regular yoga practice, and some tips on how to incorporate yoga into your day. 

1)   Improving flexibility 

“I’m not flexible enough” is the reason most people give for never trying yoga, but ironically, increased flexibility is one of the most obvious benefits of a regular yoga practice. Even if you start out as stiff as a board, you’ll see some progress with a little commitment. During your first class it’s easy to compare yourself to others, especially those who fold themselves in half when you can’t quite touch your toes. But committing to a regular practice, you will find the floor slowly becomes closer to your fingertips, the poses that used to seem out of your reach are within grasp, and your body feels more open and relaxed. A bonus result of a yoga practice is that you recognise comparison with others is a waste of precious energy, that is better directed into self-inquiry.

To try at home: Passchimotanasana (Seated Forward Fold)

Take a seat on the ground (or in a chair if the ground is too far away). Lengthen your legs out, keeping a small bend in your knees. Feet can be together or approx. hip distance apart. With hands on your legs, start to lengthen from your lower back, imagining that you’re creating space between each vertebrae of the spine. Use your inhale to lengthen, and your exhale to move a little deeper. Lift your chest, creating length in the upper body. Gradually start to ease your upper body forward and towards your feet. Once you find your limit, rest here. Let your hands fall where they fall. Stay for 5-10 breaths.  We are lengthening the hamstrings and calf muscles, creating space in the back of the body, and sending our breath to any tight spots we find. Gently ease out of the pose when it feels like enough.  

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2)   Reducing Pain 

You might notice after a few classes that your aches and pains start to disappear. If you spend a lot of time hunched over the computer, you likely experience some neck and back pain, tightness in the hips, restriction in the hamstrings and poor postural alignment after a few hours of work. Yoga helps by releasing tension in the hips and hip flexors, which could strain the knee joint due to improper alignment of the thigh and shinbones. Tight hamstrings can lead to a flattening of the lumbar spine, which can cause back pain. Forward folds in yoga can help release those tight hamstrings. Poor posture is caused by inflexibility in muscles and connective tissue, such as fascia and ligaments, and yoga can help to correct that. Many yoga poses strengthen core muscles which can help improve your posture, which is especially helpful in these “work from home” times.

To try at home: Matsyasana (Supported Fish Pose)

You will need a muscle release ball, a yoga block, or simply a thick, tightly rolled up bath towel. Place the rolled up towel lengthways along the length of your spine, so that your shoulder blades sink to the ground on either side. If using a block, place it on its lowest level, lengthways between the shoulder blades. Relax your head back onto the ground or a cushion. Your legs can be stretched out, or knees bent and out to the sides, and soles of the feet together, in a bound angle pose. Relax here for 10 deep breaths. This pose opens the heart and chest muscles, provides release in the thoracic spine and reverses the effects of hours of computer work.  

3)   Better Balance

Regularly practicing yoga increases proprioception (the ability to feel what your body is doing and where it is in space) and improves balance. Better balance could mean fewer falls as we age, and reduced risk of injury. Postures like Tree Pose can make us feel less wobbly on and off the mat. 

To try at home: Vrksasana (Tree Pose)

Focus your eyes on a point out in front of you, eye level or slightly higher. Bring your weight into one foot, while bringing the other foot to your calf or above the knee (but never on the knee). Turn the knee gently outward, and bring your hands to your hips or if you’re feeling steady, reach them overhead like the branches of a tree. You could also hold onto the back of a chair if you’re feeling extra wobbly today. Stay for 3-5 breaths, then switch sides. 


4)   Reduce Stress & Anxiety

One of the eight limbs of yoga is pranayama, or discipline of the breath.  A yoga practice encourages deep nasal breathing in a downward action into the belly, expanding the ribcage and diaphragm, and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, or “rest and digest” system. If you watch yourself closely, you’ll notice that when you are stressed out or simply not aware of the breath, it becomes more shallow and centred in your chest. This type of breathing tends to be our default, and it can stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, or “fight or flight” mode, which signals to our body that we may be in danger. Our body then produces cortisol, our stress hormone,  sending all our energy away from non-vital processes such as digestion or immunity, and increases blood pressure and blood sugar – anything to create a boost of energy in the body. By relearning how to breathe, we can lower our stress levels, get restorative rest, better digestion, and remind our bodies they are safe in the present moment. 

To try at home: Belly Breathing

Sit or lie down in a comfortable position and bring one hand to the belly, one hand over the chest, and start to breath in and out through the nose. See if you can direct your breaths down into your belly and ribcage. Guide your inhale to the count of 4, hold for 4, and release for 4. Repeat 10x. 

5)   Sleep Well

A consistent yoga practice (even if it’s just lying in child’s pose for five minutes before bed) can has been proven to improve sleep quality and help us get to sleep more easily. By stretching out tight muscles, tuning your attention inward and dropping into the present moment, you can set yourself up for some quality rest. 

To try at home: Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose)

Sit with your left side against a wall, then gently turn right and lift your legs up to rest against the wall, keeping your back on the floor and your sitting bones close to the wall. Your arms can rest out to the side or overhead. If your lower back needs more support, place a bolster or pillow under your pelvis/lower back. You can remain in this position for 5 to 15 minutes, and it is a lovely way to wind down before bed. 

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