Opinion | Yoga: A form of medicine for stress | Opinion

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It’s a new year and with that comes the promise of clean slates, crossed off items from bucket lists and hopes for fresh starts with fewer tears and more courageous acts of adventure. As our calendars flip to a new page and the weather grows nippier, individuals everywhere are swearing that this year will be different — this year they’ll hold true to their resolutions. 

I’ve always wondered why it’s so difficult for so many — myself included —to stay true to New Year’s resolutions, why that simple decision to start eating healthy or sticking to a weekly workout routine seems impossible after week three. I began to realize the issue didn’t lie in lack of motivation or drive, but more so in the lack of connection between the mind and body and the beautiful power that can come from uniting the two. The human mind is an extremely complex and powerful force that possesses the unique ability to dictate emotions, moods and mindsets.

An amazing way to combine the mind and body in a harmonious and effective way is through the practice of yoga. In Sanskrit, the word yoga simply means “union” or “connection” of any kind. The modern-day term is often used to describe the connection of the mind and body through the practice of yoga. Yoga approximately originated in fifth century B.C., dating back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions. From its birth, yoga has been used as medicine for both a healthy body and mind.

Yogis don’t only receive physical power from practicing yoga, but emotional and mental liberation as well. Studies found that practicing yoga helps individuals to treat depression and anxiety, manage stress and improve their well-being. Harvard Health Publishing found that “By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems. In turn, decreasing physiological arousal — for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration.”

Asana, or the poses you most commonly think of when you hear the word “yoga,” are mental exercises just as much as they are physical. As you practice each asana, you work to sync your breath with each movement of your body, allowing your mind to arrive at an almost meditative state, the same way it does during running or other intense exercise.

Human beings subconsciously store pockets of difficult emotions in our bodies — stress, anxiety and past hurt — resulting in tension and tightness. By continuously moving or “flowing” through each asana, the individual begins to break up those pockets of tension, leaving them feeling happier and more at peace at the end of their practice.

Like any mainstream activity, stereotypes are inherently formed about those who participate in the practice, as well as the practice itself. Yet yoga isn’t simply reserved for the eccentric free spirits of the world, it’s for anyone of any age, religious background and gender. According to Yoga Journal’s national survey, as of 2016, there were more than 36 million yoga practitioners nationwide, up from 20 million in 2012, and 15 million in 2003.

Other misconceptions are that yoga is simply too expensive to keep up with. Although there are studios that charge an arm and a leg for a class, yoga is practical and accessible to do within the comfort of your own home. Yogis like Adriene Mishler and Jessica Aolie provide free online videos found easily on YouTube, inviting all to flow with them from anywhere in the world.

We underestimate the power of happy thoughts; happy thoughts can turn a gray day to magnificent shades of yellow if we let them. I believe that if we begin to recognize the intense power that we as individuals have over what we think, we’ll no longer feel as though we must wait for the calendars to change to make a difference. The time has come to say goodbye to unneeded stress, and hello to the world of yoga.

Hannah Robinson is a senior communication studies major. Contact Hannah at robinshl@dukes.jmu.edu.

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