I hate to sound cliche, but I think it’s safe to say that daily yoga has changed my life.
For real, ya’ll.
But before I get into it, let me back up a minute for anyone who is new to my blog and unaware of what’s been going on.
I started a daily yoga practice at the beginning of 2021, originally taking a 30-day challenge – which lead to my continuing the practice by using the free yoga calendars provided by Yoga with Adriene.
Side note: At the end of March, I switched to a paid membership through Sarah Beth Yoga and I’ve been working on her 31-day Slow Down calendar for April. (The switch from Adriene to Sarah wasn’t anything personal. They each have different styles of teaching yoga and for this season of life, I’m sticking with Sarah’s chill vibes.) For May, I’m using her Happy Yogi calendar.
Today, I’m amazed that I’ve completed over 115 days of practice. It doesn’t even feel like we’ve been living life in 2021 long enough to say that, but it’s true. And, honestly, once I finished the first 30 days, all the days afterwards just flew by.
So, that’s the brief backstory. I’ve written a post about how those first 30 days went here and another post with tips for maintaining a daily yoga practice here. If you’re interested, feel free to check those out.
But for today’s post, I want to share with you some of the health benefits I’ve experienced this year as a result of my daily yoga practice. Remember, your experience could be different than mine, but I wanted to still share how my daily yoga has benefited me in case it’s something you’re considering.*
*Be sure you’ve got the all-clear from your doctor before starting any exercise practice. While yoga is definitely more gentle than other forms of exercise, it can still be intense so keep that in mind.
A few things I want to point out first
I’ll explain a little bit more about each of the health benefits I experienced from daily yoga in a few minutes, but first I just wanted to remind you that I’m not a medical professional. I can only share what I’ve personally felt and experienced.
Some of the health benefits I experienced could also have been the result of other lifestyle changes/circumstances that had nothing to do with my yoga practice.
For example, I completed a 30-day meditation practice during the month of March that overlapped with my daily yoga practice.
I also introduced a new supplement (tumeric)in mid-January (for inflammation).
Therefore, it’s hard to say with certainty that the benefits I’m experiencing are strictly from my daily yoga. I just wanted to put that out there so that you can keep that in mind as you read on.
What studies say about frequent yoga
Let’s start with some background context – yoga studies conducted by medical professionals – so that you can get a better idea of how my experience lines up with what others have experienced. Of course, my daily yoga practice at home can’t compare to what was done in these studies, but it’s close enough of a comparison for you to get an idea. Bottom line: it shows that my experience isn’t isolated.
Sometime last year (2020), Time Magazine released a special edition called “Alternative Medicine: The New Mainstream.” On page 30 was an article about yoga by Lesley Alderman that cited an Ohio State University College of Medicine study where they compared 25 newbie yogis with 25 expert yogis.
The expert yogis (people who’d been practicing at least twice a week for a year or more), had “lower blood levels of interleukin-6, a marker of inflammation that often results from stress.” The study also revealed that the “IL-6 levels in the expert yogis increased less after they were subjected to stressors.”
In the same article, Alderman cited another study from Boston University School of Medicine. Two groups of people were monitored for 12 weeks: “one group walked for 60 minutes three times a week; the other spent the same amount of time doing yoga.”
The yoga group reported lower levels of anxiety and a greater improvement in mood.”
Chris Streeter, one of the authors in that study, said “Yoga may work in part by correcting imbalances in the autonomic nervous system caused by stress.”
Finally, in another study Alderman cited from the University of Pennsylvania, they “found that after completing a three-month yoga course, participants with hypertension had significantly lower blood pressure.“
My daily yoga experience
Most of the health benefits I noticed were physical in nature, however, I can’t deny the emotional health benefits. Like some of the yogis in the studies I mentioned above, I feel like stressful events don’t get under my skin as much as they did before. And my recovery time, emotionally, after something stressful is much less.
This isn’t a new benefit for me. I’ve noticed this same effect in the past, whenever I’d made a point of practicing yoga regularly (as in multiple times a week). Prior to this year, I never had a routine practice. I’d go through seasons of life where I’d practice often, and then I’d back off and practice irregularly. But I always noticed that when I was practicing regularly, I did feel that effect of bouncing back quicker after stressful moments.
But here is my list of the changes to my health that I’ve noticed this year:
- stronger core / increased ab strength
- looser hips / hamstrings
- better range of motion (neck & shoulder)
- natural hip realignment (it “popped” back into place; it was loud)
- calmer mind / less stressed
These are all pretty self-explanatory. My body is clearly in better physical shape. But what I’m most excited about is the mental health benefit of feeling calmer.
And I know I’m calmer because I tracked my mood for the months of March and April and “calm” was the mood I felt most of the time, with “okay” being second. (For me, “okay” is sorta like answering neutral in those personality tests when you don’t feel swayed one way or the other. Not good, not bad.)
I also tracked my stress levels during the same time period, and on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being low stress, 5 being high), I recorded a stress level of 1 for 38 days and stress level 2 for 17 days.
I’m so glad I tracked these things because it’s helped me actually see that I really do feel calmer and less stressed and that I’m not just sugar coating and forgetting the bad days. I know that the tendency when we reflect back is to only remember the hard times, but clearly, I’m having far more calm and low-stress days than anything else.
I think another thing to point out here is that just because I’ve felt calm and low-stress for most of the time doesn’t mean that I haven’t felt any stress at all. I have noticed that I don’t allow stressful moments to totally take over my mood for the entire day. My daily average mood might be calm, but I’ll also experience moments of annoyance, happiness or sadness.
What I’m trying to say is that it seems like my mind automatically resets back to calm when other fleeting emotions pass. In yoga, we are taught to return to the breath, return to the mat, focus on right now. Yoga (and meditation) has trained my brain to reset back to a neutral (okay) or zen (calm) state because I’m not attaching my mood to the events that are making me feel annoyed, sad or stressed.
Is daily yoga the only factor contributing to how I feel?
Probably not. But considering the studies that have been done on yoga, I’d say that it’s definitely a factor.