Written by: Pamela Todd, Certified Yoga Therapist and Yoga instructor pamelatoddyogatherapy.com
Are you in pain, tired, stressed out, or simply too overwhelmed to start or maintain your fitness program? Are you ready to join the many who started in January and failed to fulfill their new year’s resolution? If so, you ought to consider that slow and steady wins the race and try yoga to get started.
The benefits of a weekly yoga practice are often touted in the news and online. Yoga emphasizes balance, flexibility, and breathing to overcome stress. Yoga makes you more aware of your body, mind and spirit and how they interact. It can be added to your already active exercise routines as the perfect yin to your yang, or if you are trying to get started with a fitness regimen it is a great way to start slow and protect your body as you step it up.
Unfortunately, it can be confusing. There are so many types of yoga, so many studios and teachers; what is right for you may not be easy to know. Perhaps you are just beginning a fitness routine after a long hiatus, recovering from surgery, have injuries or just aches and pains. If so, I suggest a therapeutic approach to your yoga. One on one with a certified yoga therapist may be for you, where the therapist can draw from their vast body of yoga knowledge to find a specific, and perhaps evolving practice to fit your circumstances precisely. If you are a fitness pro, or just shaping up, yoga classes taught by someone with a yoga therapy background can help you become more fit by releasing, lengthening stretching, then finally strengthening those sore tight muscles and their connective tissues.
There are scientific principles (with big names) at work here. Interoception is simply feeling what is going on inside your body, mind and spirit. Proprioception is feeling how your body is moving or being still in relationship to the space around it. Master these principles, breathing properly, moving mindfully with the breath while stimulating your nervous systems gently, and you will see improvements not only in your fitness but also in ability to deal with and minimize pain.
Further, science has learned that the human brain has the ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections in response to learning and experience. Our brain keeps growing and changing throughout our lives. This process is called neuroplasticity. Through yoga, one can direct the changes in the brain, resulting in brain growth that translates to better posture, healing injuries, mitigating pain and improved focus. The brain helps the body adapt and heal.
Through neuroplasticity old patterns and habits can be broken or changed. When we are injured, such as for example a shoulder injury in an accident, we do not feel pain immediately. We feel pain when the brain says so. The brain acts as the hard drive in a computer. When the action happens, nerve cells immediately send a message to the brain asking for help. If the brain perceives the body needs to be aware of this, as in an accident, it sends a signal down the nerve and we feel shoulder pain and do something about it. But sadly, even after an injury heals, we still might feel pain. So you feel pain in shoulder muscles when you reach into the refrigerator for something, an action that now should not cause pain since the injury is healed. This is known as a “brain/pain connection” in the nerve pathway. It expects and subsequently feels hurt/pain. Yoga is the control-alt-delete. Yoga gives us the interoceptive awareness to reboot and release tension, and release the anticipation that pain will occur.
Also there are muscle imbalances implicated in body discomfort, when one pair of synergistic muscles is weak the other overworked. Moving through the correct yoga postures with the breath can help to give us better muscle balance. If connective tissues are tight or knotted we can learn to slowly release. Yoga also has a spiritual component, but is not a religion. A person learns to become more centered, understanding that you are fine just the way you are in the moment.
So think about letting yoga go to work for you.