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Yoga

In recent years, yoga has become more popular and research has found many mental health benefits. It can be practiced by people from all religious backgrounds.

Yoga on the Mind

Yoga actually means “union” which can be applied to the union of body, mind, and spirit.

  • Through yoga a sense of control may be gained over the body’s movements, cognitive processes, emotional reactions, and behavioral patterns.

  • Besides increasing awareness, yoga may enhance intelligence and improve concentration, memory, and creative processes.

  • Yoga decreases stress reactivity. This means that it can help us control our reactions and perceptions in stressful situations.

  • Rumination, which is a process of repeatedly thinking negative thoughts, can be decreased in a yoga practice that cultivates mindfulness. Mindfulness is the focusing of attention on one’s present experience.

  • Yoga can be practiced as a physical exercise, a spiritual practice, or an entire lifestyle system.

Find the Right Yoga for You

Some people try yoga once and think that it is not for them. Trying different teachers will help to experience a range of styles and approaches. Trying a few different types of yoga may be necessary to find one that suits you.

Types of Yoga

Vinyasa Flow

Focuses on smooth transitions between movements and coordinating breathing with movement.

Ashtanga

A powerful and vigorous practice and more physically demanding. Recommended for experienced individuals.

Yin

The relaxed pace makes it good for stress and anxiety. This will deeply stretch the body, helping reduce muscular tension and tightness.

Hatha

It concentrates on the physical posture and breathing aspects of exercise. The goal is the balance the body, increase strength, and encourage ease in movement.

Iyengar

A form of yoga known for its use of props such as belts, blocks, and blankets. The development of strength, mobility, and stability are emphasized.

Sivananda

A slower paced class perfect for beginners or those looking for both the mental and physical. Poses are held for longer duration with rest in between postures.

Kundalini

Combines posture, movement, stretches, breath, meditation, and mantra to lead to a deeper awareness of the Authentic Inner Self.

Hot

The room is heated to 105°F (42°C) to allow muscles, ligaments, and tendons to be warmed.

Nidra

A type of guided relaxation. The leader will guide you through a meditation to help you deeply relax your body and mind.

Common Poses

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Child's Pose

  • From a kneeling position rest the top of feet on the floor and sit back on heels.
  • Rest forehead on the ground and reach the arms back by the feet, palms facing up.
  • Knees can be together or apart. Arms can also reach out straight in front of the body with hands on the mat palms facing down.
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Downward Dog Pose

  • Place hands shoulder width apart, fingers spread wide on the ground.
  • Step the feet back placing them hip width apart and push the chest towards the legs to straighten the back.
  • Straighten legs.
  • Look back at the knees to bring the neck to the right alignment and push the heels towards the ground while lifting the hips up to the sky.
  • Broaden the shoulders.
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Warrior Two Pose

  • Take a wide stance with front foot pointing forward with the back foot parallel to the back of your mat.
  • Bend the front leg and lift the arms. Check to see that the front bent knee is in line with the second and third toes.
  • Tuck the tailbone under and relax the shoulders down.
  • Look forward over the front fingertips.

Benefits for Students

  • Improves concentration.
  • Decreases stress and anxiety.
  • Increases positive thoughts.
  • Improved immune system.
  • Physiologically, rest and meditation are similar.
  • Encourages healthy lifestyle (more willing to eat healthy, exercise more, etc.).

Yoga and Meditation

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Meditation is a practice of yoga that many people find helpful for calming the mind and gaining insight. Meditation has been shown to improve concentration, decrease stress levels, enhance coping skills, increase willingness to engage in a distressing task (like studying), decrease distraction, and decrease rumination (the repetition of negative thoughts such as “I’m going to fail the final. I am going to fail the final.”). One study shows that meditation also benefits the immune system. Some say that meditating improves one’s quality of sleep while others find it useful to get to sleep.

Clearing the Mind Meditation

  1. Sit with your hands on your knees facing up.
  2. Inhale and raise your hands to the back of your head bringing fingertips together. Visualize all your thoughts being gathered in your hands.
  3. Exhale and push the thoughts up and away in front of your head. Allow your hands to drop back to your knees facing down.
  4. Visualize your thoughts becoming clouds and floating away.
  5. Enjoy for a moment your clear mind. Watch your thoughts float away like clouds. Repeat after a few moments or as the mind wanders.

Trying Yoga for the First Time

Saskatoon has many yoga studios and most offer student discounts or complimentary first class. The PAC offers yoga classes every day and puts the schedule on PAWS. Sign up for classes by calling the PAC or in person at the Customer Service Desk up to two days before each class.

If it is your first yoga class, show up a few minutes before the class starts. Bring a water bottle and a mat if you have one (most places, including the PAC, have mats for students to use). Wear comfortable clothing that you can move and bend in. Do not eat anything heavy just before. Many poses are done laying on the stomach and some have you twisting and inverting so a heavy meal can cause discomfort.

If you have any injuries, health concerns, or are at all nervous about trying the class, go early and talk to the teacher so they can offer some advice and can be aware of that when they are teaching you.

Always respect your own body’s limits – You may be tempted to try the most advanced versions of a pose, but refrain. You will receive the same benefits by practicing modified poses that are safer for beginners.

References

  • Posadzki, P. (2009). Yoga and qigong in the psychological prevention of mental health disorders: A conceptual analysis.
  • Chinese Journal of Integrative medicine. 16(1), 80-6.
  • Uebelacker, L.A. (2010).
  • Hatha yoga for depression: critical review of the evidence for efficacy, plausible mechanisms for future research.
  • Journal of Psychiatric Practice.  16(1), 22-33.
  • Uebelacker L. A.  (2010). Open trial of vinyasa yoga for persistently depressed individuals. Behavior Modification.  34(3), pp247-264. doi:10.1177/0145445510368845.
  • Shahidi, M. (2011).  Laughter yoga versus group exercise program in elderly depressed women: a randomized controlled trial.  International Journal of  Geriatric Psychiatry.  26(3), 322-7.
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