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The Benefits of Yoga for Wellbeing

June 21 marks the International Day of Yoga – a celebration of the practice of yoga and its benefits for wellbeing.

Originating in India, yoga is an ancient tradition with roots that can be traced back at least 5,000 years. The word yoga means ‘unity’ or ‘oneness’, deriving from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means ‘to join’. Its practices focus on creating unity within the mind, body and spirit – and between the individual and the wider world.

In this same spirit, the International Day of Yoga also coincides with the solstices. June 21 is the longest day of the year (the summer solstice) in the northern hemisphere and the shortest day of the year (the winter solstice) in the southern hemisphere. It’s a reminder that we are all part of a greater ecosystem, and that balance lies in finding harmony with this.

An integrated mind-body practice

There are many styles of modern-day yoga, drawing on various lineages and spanning everything from meditation practices to breathwork and physical postures (asanas). This variety makes yoga a truly accessible practice that can meet us wherever we are at.

Practicing yoga has proven benefits for mental and physical wellbeing. The physical poses help to increase strength, flexibility and cardiovascular function, while promoting better posture. And the combination of movement, meditation and breathwork is shown to help ease depression, stress and anxiety, reduce inflammation and boost immunity. By enhancing our mind-body connection and honing our interoception skills (internal body awareness), yoga can also enable us to become more in tune with our bodies’ signals, support healthy neurological function and help to reduce the effects of burnout.

Making yoga part of your daily routine

Spending even a few moments practicing yoga each day is a wonderful way to support wellbeing from within. Below are three yoga poses that are great to practice as part of a daily routine. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced yogi, these poses can help to hone your balance and flexibility, relax your nervous system and boost your mood.

Cat-Cow Pose (Chakravakasana)

Cat-cow is a great way to gently mobilise the spine, while also improving posture, balance and co-ordination. It’s a good pose to practice in the morning to awaken the body, and throughout the day to release tension and promote relaxation.

Begin on hands and knees in table-top pose. Inhale and lift your head and sit-bones upwards into cow pose, gently pressing your torso in the direction of the floor. As you exhale, reverse the movement and come into cat pose, arching and rounding the spine upwards, tucking your tailbone and releasing your head down. Keep flowing in this way, synchronising the movement with your breath for one to three minutes.

Tree Pose (Vrksasana)

One of the best-loved yoga postures, tree pose helps to improve balance and concentration, while also strengthening the legs and core.

Stand and feel your feet root into the floor, with your weight evenly balanced. Find a steady spot on which to fix your gaze. Shift your weight into your right foot and lift your left foot off the floor. Bend your left knee and place the sole of your foot against your right inner calf or thigh, depending on your flexibility. Be careful not to place the foot directly against the knee. Gently press the leg and the foot against each other and keep the hips squared. Place your hands in prayer position against your chest and take five to ten deep breaths. Lower your left foot to the floor and then repeat on the other side.

Legs Up The Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)

This restorative pose is a gentle, supported inversion. It’s a calming pose that improves circulation, reduces leg swelling, invites deep relaxation and helps to ease stress. Legs up the wall is great way to soothe your nervous system and to wind down before bed.

Place a blanket or yoga mat on the floor against a wall. Sit in a seated position next to the wall, facing sideways, then lie back and swivel your legs so that they rest up against the wall. Your pelvis should remain on the floor, close to the wall, with your legs perpendicular to your body. You can also use a bolster or blanket to elevate the pelvis, or underneath the head. Once you’re in position, let your breathing settle and close your eyes. Remain for as long as feels comfortable – start with two to three minutes to begin with. To come out, slowly bend your knees close to the chest, then lay on your side. Afterwards, sit quietly for a few moments and allow yourself to adjust to being upright again.

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