Janie Kol | March 6, 2019

Newsflash: Those sun salutations we do in our Livekick yoga sessions aren't just good for a strong core, flexibility, and a lean physique. They're also good for making you feel happier, more grounded, and even more confident! As a yoga teacher, I love to debunk the myth of yoga as just a physical practice. It's so much more than that. Yoga holds the power to transform our minds as much as it does our bodies.

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word yoga? Probably stretching and the visualization of some crazy gravity-defying pose, and then some thoughts about how you'll never be able to do that, right?! First of all, those poses might be far more attainable than you think. But that's for another blog post. Stretching and cool poses are just two of the many perks yoga offers. The practice of yoga is so much more.

Creating a balance of the things we must do and the things we want to do in life is very challenging in today's world. It's hard to find time to devote to ourselves because we are constantly bombarded with e-mails, texts, calls, etc. One of yoga's perks is that you actually gain time. Sounds crazy, right?! How do I gain extra time in my life when I'm giving up my time to practice yoga? It's because when we learn how to be present with ourselves and focus on the given moment, we stop rushing through everything. Let's break that down a bit further and discuss some specific mental benefits of yoga. 

Yoga helps reduce stress

  • The Mayo Clinic boasts yoga's power to fight stress and improve moods for all. Yoga can offer a moment to escape from our busy lives. A yoga practice, whether it be solo, with your Livekick teacher, or in a group class, will always begin with a check-in. You check in with yourself, meaning you really sit there and listen to what your thoughts are saying and how your body is feeling. In doing this, we often notice minute things that can have a huge impact. We notice if our mind is running and where it’s running to, we notice where we are carrying tension, and more. Research shows that a mindfulness-based check-in like this can help lower anxiety and stress. In a study at the University of California, Los Angeles, participants who practiced yoga for just twelve minutes every day for eight weeks showed a decrease in their immune systems' inflammation response. When we're overstressed, our bodies lose the ability to regulare our inflammatory response, which can lead to a long list of health problems, including greater risk of depression. By lowering our stress levels, we can also lower the risk of depression.

Yoga boosts your brainpower

  • Not only do poses like downward dogs relax and de-stress, but they may actually increase brain function. Practicing brief sessions of Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation can significantly improve brain function and energy levels, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo. "Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation both focus the brain's conscious processing power on a limited number of targets like breathing and posing, and also reduce processing of nonessential information," said Peter Hall, associate professor in the School of Public Health & Health Systems. The study found that practicing just 25 minutes of Hatha yoga or mindfulness meditation per day can boost the brain's executive functions, cognitive abilities linked to goal-directed behavior and the ability to control knee-jerk emotional responses, habitual thinking patterns and actions. So the next time your head’s feeling foggy, consider ditching the Redbull or cup of Joe and opting for some time on the mat instead! Hall adds that practicing yoga "... might have some positive carryover effect in the near-term following the session, such that people are able to focusmore easily on what they choose to attend to in everyday life."

Yoga makes you happier and more confident

  • People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. Psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University conducted a study to get this information, using an iPhone Web app to gather 250,000 data points on subjects’ thoughts, feelings, and actions as they went about their lives. “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.” The researchers estimated that only 4.6 percent of a person’s happiness in a given moment was attributable to the specific activity he or she was doing, whereas a person’s mind-wandering status accounted for about 10.8 percent of his or her happiness. Time-lag analyses conducted by the researchers suggested that their subjects’ mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness. That feeling you get when you roll up your mat after class, dripping with sweat and smiling a relaxed smile, isn't just in your head. It's a feeling of being strong, centered, confident, and happy and it's very real! The research from the above study shows that the simple act of living in the moment boosts mood - and yoga requires you to do that. So if you just took a 30-minute yoga class, you were just present for a full half hour. Yoga helps us focus on the present by providing both physical and mental exercises. That's why we as yoga teachers often encourage this reflection and living in the moment during class, rather than simply running through poses. 

So what do you think? Do you notice that when you practice yoga, you feel your senses of confidence, self-worth, and compassion improve? I do. I've noticed how I learn to slow down physically and to slow my mental chatter down. I learn what things I need to pay attention to, how to allow myself a break, how to be present in a given moment. I learn to let go of the things that no longer serve a useful purpose for me, thus creating more space for new experiences. We are constantly growing and it is crucial for all of us to take the time to get to know who we are today and let of the things that no longer resonate. We gain so much on top of stretching out our physical bodies... but also, you might just find yourself in a gravity-defying pose WHILE doing a mental check-in someday!!!!

Enjoyed reading this article? Consider signing up for a Livekick membership with Janie as your yoga teacher! Janie grew up in Jacksonville, FL but is now based in Atlanta, GA. She is first generation Cambodian-American- her parents came to the States as refugees in the 1980s. Janie's career started off quite differently from what it is now: she has an Associates in Arts and Associates in Science degrees! She worked in the healthcare field for 11 years and has a deep understanding of human anatomy due to that work. While in healthcare, Janie saw firsthand how lifestyle and mentality affects the health of individuals. She first began her yoga practice as a way to become more physically fit but to her surprise, it started to change her life not just physically, but mentally as well. Yoga has been a great asset in Janie's life to help deal with daily challenges, and helps her to stay grounded and balanced. She has empathy and compassion for individuals and loves to help people take care of their overall well-being. When not practicing yoga, Janie enjoys traveling and being out in nature. Some of her trip highlights include staying at an Ashram in the Bahamas, visiting Iceland, and taking a solo trip to Bali! Her next trip this March, and she's heading to Cambodia for the first time.