Why Does Yoga Work? How Does it Work?

The best way to learn about yoga is to just do it. But if you were ever interested in the how and why, here it is.

Yoga Lowers Stress. In 1974, Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School discovered that there is an opposite state to the stress response, commonly known as “fight or flight” (the sympathetic nervous system). It’s called the relaxation response (the parasympathetic nervous system), and it’s a state of rest that changes the short and long-term physical and emotional responses to stress. The relaxation response turns off “fight or flight”. Methods to elicit the relaxation response include yoga and meditation

From a practical standpoint, when we practice yoga we train ourselves to be calm and peaceful in a difficult moment—or to restore calm, if we’ve lost our cool. When we’re in a challenging pose we can choose to focus on how hard it is and fill our minds with negative thoughts or, instead, we can breathe and remind ourselves that we are going to be okay. It’s as if we are practicing living while on our yoga mats. We are working on controlling how we react to external events. We can train our mind just like any muscle in our body. Over time, we start to cultivate a new skill: relaxing in a stressful moment instead of fighting.

Yoga Increases Our Awareness. When we pay attention to our breath and the present moment, we begin to notice our thought patterns and habits. We discover where we hold tension in our bodies and how we cling to or repeat thoughts in our minds. This is where yoga becomes a moving meditation. Yoga gives us the tools to strip away these layers, through cultivating awareness and practicing letting go of unhealthy patterns. Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response to what happens. This response is something we can learn to control. 

In yoga, an awareness of our breathing (or lack thereof) is our top priority. As we begin to breathe fully and consciously, we take in more oxygen and feel calmer, more mentally present, and emotionally soothed. The breath leads to healing.  

Yoga is challenging, and because of our habit of fighting, our first response typically is to hold our breath. This challenge of physical intensity, countered with breath, is the practice of yoga. 

Just Breathe 

●     If you feel overwhelmed, breathe. It’ll calm you and help you let go of tension.

●     If you find yourself in a state of worry, or fixated on a past event, breathe. It will bring you back to the present moment. 

●     If you find yourself rushing or hurrying, breathe. It will prompt you to slow down and enjoy life more.

●     Breathe, and relish each and every moment of this life. Life moves too fast to miss these moments.