Why Yoga?

By Misha-Joy Clark, Clinical Psychologist

It’s a well-accepted fact that exercise improves your mood and general sense of wellbeing. Not to mention the state of your physical body. So how do you choose what type of exercise to engage in, when you do? And why is the world going gaga over Yoga in particular?

Well I must admit I am a fan of yoga myself and have walked a long personal journey with the practice so I might be slightly biased. But let’s look at the facts, shall we…

Derived from the Sanskrit word “yuji,” meaning yoke or union, yoga is an ancient practice that aims to unite mind and body, which are so often polarised in Western culture and even within traditional psychotherapy. In fact, yoga originated because those ancient yogis sitting in meditation for hours began to get bodily pains. Their teacher told them to move in certain ways before sitting for meditation. And the rest is history! Yoga incorporates breathing exercises, meditation and physical poses designed to encourage relaxation and reduce stress. In these ways, Yoga is set apart from other forms of exercise, as it goes beyond the purely physical.

In her comprehensive review of over one hundred reputable studies on the therapeutic effects of yoga, Catherine Woodyard (2011) found that Yoga undoubtably has longer lasting positive effects on the mental state of individuals than do other forms of exercise.

Drawing from the abovementioned study, and my own experiences, I have summarised some of the benefits of yoga. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it may help you understand Why Yoga?, or this list may even inspire you on your healing journey! Yoga has been shown to:

1.     Decrease stress and anxiety

Many studies have shown that Yoga actually acts on the brain directly, decreasing levels of cortisone (the “stress hormone”).

2.     Reduce inflammation and pain

Inflammation is a normal immune response, but many people suffer from chronic inflammation due to stress, leading to the development of serious disease. Yoga has been shown to decrease inflammation and pain in chronic disease patients.

3.     Improve heart health

By pumping blood through the body in a steady and even way (the yogic breath control helps with this, avoiding extreme heart rate spikes), Yoga helps supply the body with important nutrients.

4.     Improve quality of life

Yes, that overall feeling of peace and contentedness seems to stick around longer after a yoga practice than, say, after a gym class.

5.     Fight depression

This may be because yoga is able to influence levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter often associated with depression

6.     Improve sleep.

Woodyard showed that in a 2005 study, 69 elderly patients were assigned to either practice yoga, take an herbal preparation or be part of the control group. The yoga group fell asleep faster, slept longer and felt more well-rested in the morning than the other groups.

7.     Improve flexibility, strength, and balance

Naturally, feeling good physically helps you feel good emotionally. There’s not much more to say under this topic, it’s so self evident!

8.     Improve breathing

It may seem obvious, but breath is life and we often forget that. We often breathe incorrectly and this means we don’t get enough oxygen into our cells. This could result in many problems, including migraines and an increase in sympathetic nervous system (stress) responses.

Let me stop there for now (yes, there is more!). Put simply, multiple studies have confirmed the many mental and physical benefits of yoga. Incorporating yoga into your routine can help enhance your health in numerous ways. Finding the time to practice yoga just a few times per week may be enough to make a noticeable difference when it comes to your health.

Some South African Yoga studios that offer great online classes (just google them!) for all levels include:

1.     Yoga Works – check it out here 

2.     Yo Yoga YouTube – check it out here 

3.     An international option: Yoga with Adrienne – check it out here 


Get moving, get breathing, get unified! Namaste.