Rural Doctors Foundation

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Jade Newnham

Accredited Health and Wellness Coach since 2008

3 minute read

The benefits of yoga for your mind and body

What’s in this article

We take a look at the different ways that yoga helps with physical and mental health. We explore the long-term benefits for your body and fitness, and how it’s also a great exercise in mindfulness. 

International Day of Yoga, recognised on June 21, is a global celebration of the many health and wellbeing benefits of yoga.

Here at Rural Doctors Foundation, we’re well aware that yoga can have an extraordinary impact on physical and mental health. It’s why we’re so passionate about connecting rural areas of Australia with access to yoga classes.

In 2021 we became a proud supporter of The Yoga Partnership. By providing funding for this service, we helped them set up free online yoga classes for those living in rural and remote communities.

The results from these sessions were heartwarming to hear: not only did the classes provide a physical outlet for those involved, but it also encouraged social connection, as participants bonded through their learning, despite living hundreds of kilometres away from each other.

So what exactly are the physical benefits and how does it help your mental health too?

Research shows most people see yoga as a physical exercise, however yoga is both a physical activity and a mindful activity.

The physical aspects of yoga are designed to challenge and improve balance, flexibility, strength and overall health. But yoga can also act as a moving meditation. It produces a physiological state opposite to that of fight or flight stress response. It interrupts the stress response, creating a greater sense of calm.

The combination of these two aspects of yoga makes it a wonderful option for people to enhance and support their overall health and wellbeing. Health practitioners may even recommend yoga to patients under the umbrella of social prescribing: an approach that connects people to groups and activities that meet their health and wellbeing needs.

The mind-body approach

Yoga combines the practice of structured movements, gentle stretching, balancing and isotonic holding of postures. Additionally, yoga combines the physical movements with concentration, awareness and using the breath, making it not only a physical practice but a mindful practice too.

The combination of the mind-body approach to yoga with regular long-term practice has shown to assist in the following:

• improving muscular strength and endurance
• improving cardiovascular fitness and blood circulation
• normalising blood pressure
• improving sleep
• reducing feelings of fatigue
• the gentle stretching of yoga can release muscle and joint tension and stiffness and has shown to reduce some back pain and improve posture
• supports stress management, lowering levels of perceived stress
• supports mental health, increasing the levels of wellbeing and happiness
• supports healthy eating and long-term weight loss through mindfulness

Yoga has been shown to improve body image through increasing non-judgment too, a quality of practicing mindfulness (beneficial to mental health).

Choosing the right yoga class for you

Yoga is great for all ages and all fitness levels and is non-competitive. However, it is important to find the right class for you.

There are many different types of yoga classes that may have different styles (e.g. more gentle vs more dynamic), level (beginner or advanced) and they can also specifically cater to groups with particular needs, such as postnatal.

For those living in rural areas who can’t physically attend a class in person due to distance, online yoga classes from groups like The Yoga Partnership are a great option.

Knowing a class that will cater to your individual needs and make you feel at home is so important to keep coming back. The multitude of benefits that yoga can give are found in regular long-term yoga. Some yoga classes even have time to connect with one another after class, giving you important social connection which is great for your mental health too.

Yoga postures should never cause any pain. If you do experience pain it is important to ease back or not do that posture at all. Your yoga teacher is always there to support you and help you through your own physical limitations.

If you have not exercised for a long time, are a male over 45 or a female over 55 or have a pre-existing medical condition, please check with your General Practitioner before starting any new exercise regime. Once you have got the okay to start yoga, you can enjoy the multitube of benefits yoga can have on both your physical and mental health.

Jade Newnham is an accredited health and wellness coach (with HCANZA) specialising in mental fitness. Jade is also a registered mindfulness, meditation and breath work teacher (with Meditation Association of Australia). Her work and educational background includes Public Health at state level and she is currently undergoing accreditation in Lifestyle Medicine.