Written By: Shannon Lombardozzi, Wellness Strategy Team Lead
I will admit, when I was in college studying exercise science, I focused hard on lifting weights. I was able to squat more than my body weight and do 10 consecutive pullups and I was proud. I was also waking up every morning hunched over in pain. My years of playing competitive volleyball and lifting heavy weights was catching up to me – and I was only 21 years old. Studying exercise science, I knew flexibility was important and one of the key indicators of physical health. However, with my busy schedule of taking classes, training clients, and lifting big heavy weights, I thought I simply did not have the time to properly stretch. That is until one day, one of my friends asked if I wanted to join her for a yoga class at the recreation center. I thought to myself “well this won’t be a challenge for me, but I will do it just to say I did.”
Interestingly enough, 10 minutes into the yoga class my muscles were shaking as I was holding one of the more basic poses. To say that that yoga class checked my 21-year-old ego was an understatement. But I never felt better after a workout! My eyes had been opened and I wanted to dive in headfirst to the world of yoga and incorporate this new “feel good” workout into my busy routine. I wanted to explore all the benefits and learn how to master this workout.
Fast forward over a decade, I have used yoga for many reasons and in many seasons of my life. I have used it for back pain relief, to improve my sleep, to help decrease elevated blood pressure and stress, and have even used it throughout both of my pregnancies/postpartum healing. There are so many benefits to yoga and so many ways you can do it. Yoga does not always look like the “zen” humming in an impossible pretzel pose with incense burning. It can look like a lot of different things and can be done by EVERYONE. Let’s breakdown some of the main benefits of yoga and how you can practice in your daily life.
It is probably not much of a stretch to state that everyone in America could probably use more sleep and better quality shut eye. Practicing yoga for just 10-15 minutes prior to bedtime has shown to improve quality of sleep, lessen the time it takes to fall asleep, and keep you asleep longer! Gentle slow movements and slow, deep, intentional breathing will help your body prepare for sleep.
Expert Tip: Try it in your bedroom with the lights dimmed. One of the best poses you can do to prepare for sleep is “legs up the wall.” This pose affects your nervous system to help slow heart rate and breath and decrease blood pressure levels.
Additionally, if you are on your feet all day, the pose is great to reduce swelling and the aches and pains of standing for long periods of time.
When I was a personal trainer, I had SO many clients with flexibility challenges. They could not reach down and touch their toes, sit “crisscross apple sauce,” or reach behind their back to scratch their shoulder. I found it important to dedicate the last 15 minutes of every session to flexibility training/yoga. We saw an improvement in flexibility after mere weeks of implementing this into their routines. It really does not take much time to see improvements in flexibility/range of motion when practicing yoga consistently. My clients began noticing less aches and pains throughout the day, and less injuries! Yoga has been proven to reduce injuries because of the increased flexibility throughout your joints. In other words, your body’s ability to “bend without breaking” is increased. By stretching your muscles, tendons, and ligaments, you are creating a bigger range of motion through each joint which allows your body to move easier and further. The increased range of motion can clearly benefit everyone of all ages but is especially important as you age. The older you are, the more important it is to practice yoga and stretch through all your joints. Practicing yoga 15 minutes two to three times a week is all you need to see improvements.
Getting started is always the hardest part about trying something new. Here are my best tips to get you started on your yoga journey:
- Start with 10-15 minute sessions two to three times per week.
- Every few weeks, add another session or make your sessions a few minutes longer.
- Gradually increasing will help you stick to your new habit and make it attainable on a weekly basis.
- Try it out at different times of the day.
- Some people get the most out of it in the morning before work, others do best after work.
- Even try a 5 minute “desk yoga” routine in the middle of the workday for an energy boost!
- Muscles stretch best when “warm.”
- Make sure you do a proper warm up before practicing yoga.
- The most natural way to incorporate it is at the end of your workout. Your muscles are warm, blood is flowing, and it is a great way to cool down.
- Even practicing yoga after you walk your dog is great!
- I typically save about 10 minutes at the end of my workout for my yoga routine in the morning.
- YouTube is a GREAT resource.
- If you have never done yoga before and would have no idea how to even start, start there.
- There is a huge selection of free classes with all different kinds of instructors that take you through the classes and even help you with your form.
- Some of my favorite channels on YouTube are Fightmaster Yoga (she has great cues to help you with your form and a wide variety of classes for all levels) and Yoga with Adriene (she has a dog with her for most classes which I love and has great easy flows).
Whether you are trying yoga for something new, to help you sleep better, or to improve your flexibility, you will absolutely see a change in yourself mentally and physically! Best of luck to you on your new wellness journey! Namaste!