Yoga was first developed in Northern India 5,000 years ago 1. By definition, yoga is a Hindu spiritual discipline which entails controlled breathing, meditation and specific body postures. Today many cultures have adopted this practice. Some use it as a form of physical activity with health benefits, some use it in its traditional manner as a spiritual practice for the soul and others use it to calm the mind with elements of meditation.
Many studies have been conducted to demonstrate the value of yoga. For example, in an American study surveying over 1000 individuals that practice yoga, improvements to the following were noted: 84.5% in energy levels, 86.5% for happiness, 67% for social relationships, 68.5% for sleep and 57.3% for weight 2. The investigators concluded that while individuals who practice yoga are not free of health concerns, majority of them believe their health has improved because of this practice.
The practice of yoga is not limited to healthy participants. A literature review by Raub (2002) summarized medical information in support of yoga for healthy people as well as those with cardiopulmonary and musculoskeletal disease. In this review, numerous studies supported yoga for improved strength and flexibility, psychological variables such as blood pressure, heart rate and respiration and metabolic rate 3.
Yoga can also be adopted for improved health in cancer patients and survivors. A systematic review on randomized controlled trials was conducted looking for evidence of physical and psychological benefits of yoga in cancer patients and survivors 4. In sixteen publications encompassing 13 trials, yoga showed to have large reduction in distress, anxiety and depression; moderate reduction in fatigue and moderate increase in quality of life, emotional and social function, and a small increase in functional well-being. It was therefore concluded that yoga can be a feasible intervention with beneficial effects on physical and psychosocial symptoms on cancer patients and survivors.
There is therefore evidence that support the value of yoga. For me, at least prior to February of this year, yoga was simply a means to assist my body with flexibility, which in turn would help me with my weight lifting. A bi-product of these sessions would include a reduction in stress and a more mellow state of mind. It was, however, not my focus. But as I became more engaged in meditation, I came to see yoga as a way to allow my mind to still and my body to flow. It stopped being about forcing myself to do something “physical” for my body. Whatever your reasons for pursuing this practice, there are a number of ways you can do so.
1. Yoga Classes
Most places around the world offer yoga either through a gym/fitness facility or a yoga studio with a variety of options (Hatha, Vinyasa, Bikram, Hot Yoga, Yin and so on) and at different levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced) and varying lengths of time (60 minutes, 75 minutes etc). Check out your local listings and talk to those running the classes. Don’t be afraid to start. ANYONE can do yoga ! If going to a class is not your thing, you can purchase videos and practice from the comfort of your home, although I would recommend that it be best to have someone trained in this guide you through the postures.
If you live in Toronto, I would highly recommend attending pop up classes by my favourite yoga instructors Irina and Dee (pictured below). I may be biased because I adore these ladies but I swear these classes are the BEST I’ve ever done.
For now they offer them every Monday at 9pm at The Addison on the patio (link below for address) until the end of summer. Imagine being in the middle of downtown but it feels like you have escaped the hustle and bustle of city life. You lay on your mat with outdoor patio lights glistering above as the night falls and you zone out to the smell of sage, the sound of calming music and the guidance of these beauties. They do a mix of flow and restorative yoga, so perfect for all levels. Irina and Dee do random pop ups throughout the year so follow them on Instagram for announcements.
2. Yoga (and meditation) Retreat
In February I did a 1 week yoga and meditation retreat in Bali which allowed me to further develop my yoga practice. Blooming Lotus Yoga in Ubud offered a variety of retreat options and even yoga certification training for those interested. Along with my close friend, we opted for a retreat like this one that offered yoga and meditation at sunrise and sunset daily, as well as some workshops.
This might be a little intense for some, but for me this was perfect. Being surrounded in nature by the sound of birds and a flowing river on a property exclusive for the retreat participants, and in a place like Bali made for the ideal setting. The instructors Bindi and Lisa were super sweet and really created a space that allowed one to feel open and accepted. The participants were all like-minded amazing individuals drawn together in harmony. I truly understand why some are drawn to this kind of environment- free of judgement and full of bliss.
To check out more about this retreat, check out the link below.
3. Yoga events
Many fitness companies and athletic brands organize a variety of events in yoga- some are pop ups and some are annual. Lole hosts an annual yoga event in Toronto and Montreal.
Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Lole White Tour in Toronto last month. We wore white as a statement and tribute to peace. The venue was the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) place where a number of sponsors provided the participants with tons of goodies (Cliff bars, Biotherm products, Lole gift card to name a few). The event started off with a meditation followed by guided yoga. Beyries provided the musical show after the practice.
The Lole White Tour is a great way to meet people within the community and experience thousands of yogis together for an evening of practice. Stay tuned for next year’s announcement for ticket sales. The link to the white tour is below.
- Ross et al. National survey of yoga practitioners: mental and physical health benefits. Complement Ther Med 2013; 21: 313-323
- Raub J. Psychological effects of hatha yoga on musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary function: A literature review. J Altern Complement Med. 2002; 8 (6): 797-812.
- Buffart et al. Physical and psychosocial benefits of yoga in cancer patients and survivors, a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. BMC Cancer 2012; 12:559-580.