Now, I have always been more of a runner than a yogi if I’m being honest. I love being outside and I love the ‘high’ afterwards – in fact it’s been a big part of my life for a long time.
But I do love the peacefulness and serenity yoga brings me. I certainly notice when I haven’t been doing it, and I use the breathing exercises in my somewhat stressful job in a children’s hospital. One of the things I love most about yoga is that I feel just as welcome with my poor balance and tight hamstrings (two years in and I still can’t completely straighten my legs in downward dog!) as the guy at the front who always manages to stand on his head. However, what I hadn’t realised is what a huge impact a good regular practice of yoga can have on my health, especially when unwell.
Life With Asthma
I wasn’t diagnosed with asthma until I was 19 and living in university halls. All my childhood I had this loud, hacking cough that can best be described as being like a large angry dog barking – or so I’m told! It turned out the whole time, I had asthma of the ‘persistent cough’ variety. Incidentally – handy health tip for you kids – if you often have really persistent non-productive cough (no gross phlegm), get breathless easily and sigh a lot, that’s probably asthma. For the next few years, as it had done in my childhood, asthma could leave me stuck inside hacking away for weeks at a time, and I never felt I could control it. My newly prescribed inhalers and addiction to running certainly helped, though, and the dreaded asthma cough became much less frequent.
This year, particularly run down from a busy time at work and Christmas shopping, I picked up the dreaded asthma cough for the first time in a few years. I had hot baths, I rested, I took two puffs of my inhaler on the hour every hour, accepted the fact that for the next few days it would be all napping with intermittent coughs and no sleeping. Anyone with asthma should be able to empathise with this!
Finding Time For Yoga
However, I was also in the midst of the ‘December challenge’, where you have to find time to exercise every day in December, for at least half an hour. On this particular day it was four degrees outside and the icy wind outside was of the type I am sure only Scotland can produce. If I left my house I knew I would be coughing for hours. So yoga it was. As I stood at the front of my mat and tried to ground down, I almost chuckled to myself; this was a ridiculous idea and I’d cough through every pose. But then I thought, it might help and at least this way I wouldn’t lose the December challenge bet!
But as I started to flow through my second and third sun salutations I realised, for the first time that day, I wasn’t coughing! By getting into that slow controlled yoga breathing, I was getting enough air in to my lungs that my body didn’t need to make me cough to clear my airways. Concentrating so hard on the flow and the movements, I was astonished to have coughed once in half an hour of yoga, and that was when I lost concentration for a moment. Having struggled with asthma symptoms in winter for my whole life, I can’t even begin to tell you how much of an epiphany this was!
Health Benefits Of Yoga
It got me thinking about the health benefits of yoga. People often think about the flexibility, but I can tell you as an incredibly inflexible person there are many, many other benefits to doing yoga!
The deep breathing and the concentration to hold poses have great benefits for mental health. There is a growing body of scientific research that talks about the benefits of yoga on our neurotransmitters, and how this can ease the symptoms of depression. Moreover, the combination of the meditative state associated with yoga, controlling breathing and slowing heart rate has a great effect on the effects of stress. And if you can think of any physical illness, someone has done a study on how yoga can ease the symptoms, and for me it’s no surprise (for more details see the link below).
As someone who loves the endorphin high of cardio as well, I can say there are very distinct and unique benefits to both types of exercise and both have made me a happier and calmer person. Running is great for relieving stress and leaving me with a high, full of energy and for want of a better expression ‘buzzing’. Yoga, however, leaves me with a serene, ‘floaty’ feeling, energised but also calm. Savasana (the corpse pose at the end of yoga, where you lie still on the mat) is probably the calmest few minutes of my week, and I feel that I benefit immensely from both types of energies.
The experience left me with a sense of being mindful about my body and what it is telling me it needs.