Before I started doing yoga, I didn’t know what energy flow meant from a yoga perspective.
Deep in the rituals of yoga there is a belief that there are seven energy hubs within the human body that when free and open keep you healthy and happy. These centers of energy are also known as chakras. If they become closed off they can affect you physically and mentally, from depression and anxiety to tiredness to illness, to autoimmune diseases, and more.
When I tried yoga for the first time I wasn’t too concerned about chakras or my energy flow, but just wanted a better way to stretch. A few years ago, I dealt with iliotibial (IT) band issues that shut down my ability to run and hike. I tried to work on flexibility (not my strongest ability, like many guys out there), but my IT band was still tight. A friend suggested I take a yoga class to help, so I figured it was worth a try.
I’m fairly certain I’m not the only guy who has been a little intimated by yoga. The first class I attended was mostly made up of women, but I did notice some guys who looked pretty athletic in there too. It took me awhile to get the hang of the yoga flow and I felt unsure as we transitioned into different poses. After a few classes, I noticed that my body began feeling better and I was holding poses longer, deeper and stronger.
I’m a regular now in the yoga studio and as an athletic trainer and medical provider, I also have a substantial knowledge of how yoga impacts the body. Here are some additional ways it will challenge and change you:
- Bodyweight strengthening – Yoga helps to increase bone strength as well as muscle strength, and helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis. The moves in yoga target smaller stabilizer muscles that are hard to focus on with normal weight lifting. Yoga incorporates twisting and turning movements, working the body across multiple planes, activating a wide range of stabilizer muscles in the core, back, and legs. You’ll notice improvements in the gym from building these smaller muscle groups.
- Cardiovascular intensity – Yoga is a great mix of strengthening and cardio conditioning. Classes such as yoga flow move quickly between different poses using body weight to elevate your heart rate. This helps develop endurance helpful in both daily activities and sporting events.
- Spine protection – Spinal discs get proper nutrients through functional movements such as side rotations and forward and backward bending.
- Balance & Agility – Improved balance helps you perform in sports and can help you prevent falls and accidents as you age. The balance benefits come from the holding of poses and the transition between these poses. Many of the balance poses also teach the use of breath and stillness to increase stability. With better balance, your body will be able to perform functional movements better, such as carrying children or reaching for something on a high shelf.
- Decreased cortisol levels – The practice of yoga activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which most people commonly know as the fight or flight response. Activating this system triggers a decrease in your cortisol levels or the stress hormone. Decreased cortisol leads to decreased stress, lower blood pressure, less inflammation in the body, enhanced sleeping patterns, boosted immune system and more.
- Stress relief – Yoga focuses on deep breathing and calming the mind. Most classes end with savasana, a guided relaxation exercise where you lie on your mat, eyes closed, in a comfortable position. Just a few minutes of relaxing at the end of class can help bring calm hours after leaving class.
On another note, a lot of people tend to be stress eaters. When you are less stressed you may eat better. Likewise, stress is a major trigger for ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other autoimmune diseases. Regular practice of yoga may help keep autoimmune flare ups at bay and lessen symptoms for those with complications.
- Other health benefits – As you’re doing yoga, especially hot yoga, you may likely sweat which flushes out toxins and can boost your immunity. Poses will increase lymphatic drainage and can boost the lymphatic system which is an important part of your immune system. Yoga can also help reduce blood sugar and LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels
- Better sleep – Yoga can help you sleep. A national study found that over 55% of people who did yoga reported that it helped them get better sleep.
- Confidence – Yoga pushes your body and can aid in changing it, physically. When practicing yoga, you will begin to feel more comfortable in your skin. Post-class I always get a positive boost of energy which translates into a good base for the rest of my day.
Yoga builds muscle and can challenge you from a strength, cardio, and endurance standpoint, depending on what type of yoga you do. A hot flow yoga class will push your cardio while building strength at the same time. But sometimes all I want to do is a relaxing deep stretch class for flexibility, which is less intense.
Fellow guys and anyone else I encourage you to give yoga a try. Your chakras and health will thank you.
Evan Kureczka, LAT, ATC, PES, CES is an athletic trainer with OrthoCarolina and NASCAR’s Stewart-Haas Racing team. He is an avid hiker, backpacker, and yogi.