A survey on the Total Nurse page of OncologyNurseAdvisor.com asked what nurses do to take care of themselves. Exercise is, not surprisingly, a very common self-care activity, and a few of the respondents reported regularly practicing yoga.
Yoga has become a mainstay of my own mental and physical health. I started a yoga practice many years ago when I saw its visible benefits on my sister, primarily weight loss, improved muscle tone, and greater flexibility. But when I started to practice yoga regularly, I saw some of its other benefits. I slept better; I felt calmer and more even-keeled; I became more aware of my breathing; and it helps me deal with stressful situations in my work with cancer patients and their families.
Yoga is more than just exercise. Its benefits can be realized from within the body and from without the body. A consistent yoga practice can have a positive impact on body chemistry, disease prevention, symptom reduction or alleviation, and emotional health.
Meredith Walker described 77 benefits of a regular yoga practice.1 Below, I share a sampling of its many benefits. Perhaps some of these may inspire you to practice yoga, too.
FROM WITHIN THE BODY
Consistent yoga practice improves circulation and oxygenation of the body, thereby lowering blood pressure. Lower heart rate combined with improved oxygenation results in higher cardiovascular endurance. Yoga practice is frequently correlated with a stronger immune system. Those who practice yoga regularly have a higher pain tolerance. In addition, yoga may lessen or eliminate some chronic pain, such as back pain, for some people. Consistent yoga practice helps find the balance needed to maintain a healthy weight and control hunger, which creates a more efficient metabolism.
FROM WITHOUT THE BODY
Yoga practice can stimulate the body’s detoxification process, which may delay aging as well as provide other health benefits. Yoga uses body weight to build overall strength. Improved metabolism and exercise help with maintaining a healthy weight. Many yogis find their sleep is much better as a result of the many benefits to both body and mind. Yoga practice facilitates balance and control over your body. A yoga workout is a routine of movements in opposing directions performed in tandem. A strong core results in better posture and overall body strength, and it helps heal and reduce injuries. Yoga practice improves sexuality through better control, more relaxation, and more self-confidence.
Consistent practice of yoga produces better muscle tone. Natural and controlled breathing while practicing yoga provides more oxygen-rich air and more energy with less fatigue. Yoga improves endurance by working the entire body.
Increased blood circulation and fat burning may prevent harmful buildup of cholesterol. Yoga helps to regulate endocrine function and control hormone secretion, which promotes better overall physical and emotional health. Yoga practice may lower triglyceride levels, decreasing risks for heart disease and high blood pressure.
The effects of yoga on stress, blood pressure, weight, and cardiovascular health reduce the risk of heart disease. Weight-bearing exercises strengthen bones and help prevent osteoporosis. In additional, yoga lowers cortisol levels and may help retain calcium in bones. Yoga may help elevate brain gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels; low levels are associated with onset of Alzheimer disease. Meditation practiced with yoga has also been shown to slow the progression of Alzheimer disease. Yoga may lower glucose levels and has the potential to encourage insulin production in the pancreas, which can prevent type II diabetes.
SYMPTOM REDUCTION OR ALLEVIATION
Regular yoga practice has been shown to reduce the number of migraines experienced by migraineurs. Specific yoga poses can alleviate the intense pain associated with sciatica. Practicing yoga may lead to reduced obsessive/compulsive disorder symptoms, resulting in less or no medication needed. Yoga practice, combined with a healthy diet, can eliminate constipation. An overall improved posture helps the digestive and elimination systems work more efficiently. Some yoga postures can help control some of the side effects of menopause.
Yoga promotes a strong mind-body connection, which improves overall mood and well-being. Directing concentration inward to body movements and breathing encourages stress reduction by forcing you to release your mind’s hold on outside stressors. Yoga practice achieves goals not related to perfection, and the inward focus leads to improved self-acceptance. Improved concentration and greater motivation can be seen after 8 weeks of consistent yoga practice. Improved blood circulation to the brain, with stress reduction and improved focus results in better memory.
Kerstin McSteen works at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
1. Walker M. 77 Surprising health benefits of yoga. NursingDegree.net. http://www.nursingdegree.net/blog/24/77-surprising-health-benefits-of-yoga/. Accessed December 19, 2012.