They’re more than just stretching, breathing and sitting still. Yoga and meditation are two of the most beneficial activities you can do to improve your total health. By embracing their physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual benefits, you can use yoga and meditation to strengthen your muscles, mind and soul. All it takes is a little space and a little time.
Stress and Anxiety Relief
You knew this one would be on the list, but you might not know just how effective yoga and meditation are for relieving stress. These relaxation and strengthening techniques -- yoga in particular -- can actually change the way your body responds to stress by moving you through a combination of stretching exercises, breathing techniques and challenging poses. Yoga and meditation are so effective at reducing anxiety that they are now being used by the U.S. military to counter the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Recent studies on active-duty soldiers found that yoga significantly improved their mental health and quality of life, which means that if your life resembles a war zone and you have the stress to prove it, yoga and meditation can be just the remedies you need.
Improved balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength -- these are just a few of the fitness benefits you’ll get from yoga and meditation. With these enhancements, you’ll be able to improve your daily physical activity level and also avoid many common injuries such as muscle strains and pulls. If you're an endurance athlete such as a runner or cyclist, yoga can also help you decrease muscle imbalances and weaknesses that can slow you down. It will also help you sleep better, making it easier for you to operate throughout the day.
Disease Help and Prevention
Yoga and meditation fight off harmful inflammation in your body, which is responsible for a plethora of chronic health problems. By practicing regular yoga, you can reduce your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, pain and arthritis and, while it’s not proven to fight cancer, yoga is endorsed by the American Cancer Society as part of disease treatment due to its positive effect on heart rate, breathing, metabolism, body temperature, brain waves and skin resistance.
Yoga and meditation are linked to a host of benefits that may not be important to you, but can certainly improve your life. Meditation has been linked to increased attention span, higher levels of emotional compassion, improved memory and a greater ability to learn. And due to its roots in spirituality, yoga and meditation can also be used for spiritual development and prayer.
You can reap the benefits of yoga and meditation even if you only do it once a week. YogaJournal.com recommends starting with two sessions per week -- one lasting an hour, the other an hour and a half, with shorter sessions being considered effective, too. The bottom line is to do what you can and let the benefits start working in your body and mind. As with all new exercises, though, be sure to consult with your physician before you start to get advice and helpful tips regarding yoga and your specific body or health concerns.
After graduating from the University of Kansas with a bachelor's degree in sports information, Jill Lee served for 10 years as a magazine editor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Also a published author, Lee now works as a professional writer and editor focusing on fitness, sports and careers.