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6 Ways Yoga Can Improve Your Life

Seth J. Gillihan, clinical assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, sat down with yoga instructor, Tim Senesi, to discuss the benefits of yoga for the Think Act Be podcast. Below are six ways yoga can make your life better.

1. Reclaiming control of your own happiness

A basic tenet of cognitive therapy is that our interpretation of events determines our happiness, not the events themselves. Yoga can be a way to look inward at what you are creating in your life. By shifting your awareness to yourself, you can see you have more power than you give yourself. You can then see that your actions are creating your reality.

Action Step: Look for times today when you are outsourcing your happiness. Is it possible to reclaim the final say in how you feel and act?

2. Supporting other positive life changes

Keystone habits are beneficial on their own but also help other healthy behaviors fall into place. For example, if you are training for a triathlon, you may be more conscientious about your sleep schedule, alcohol consumption, and food intake. Yoga can become a keystone habit that may influence your desire to decrease behaviors that are not as healthy, such as drinking, eating junk food, and staying up late.

Action Step: Identify your own keystone habit--one positive behavior that catalyzes others.

3. Fostering mindfulness practice

Some of the mindfulness elements of yoga come from traditional meditation, such as focusing on the breath, which frequently happens the beginning of yoga classes. An entire yoga practice can be an exercise in mindful action by bringing your full awareness to the practice and focusing on what happens on the mat. Through yoga, you can practice letting go, which is a core aspect of mindful living.

Action Step: When you wash your hands today, be aware of the full experience--the feel of the water, the scent of the soap, the movements of your hands, and the sensation of drying your hands.

4. Reducing anxiety

Yoga may not "solve" anxiety, but it can be an important component of dealing with anxiety. Elements of anxiety can come from a lack of bodily awareness and when you are more in tune with your body, you are more in tune with your mind. Practicing slow, rhythmic breathing through yoga can have a soothing effect on the mind.

Action Step: Try listening to a guided mindfulness meditation for stress and anxiety.

5. Managing stress

Yoga can be used to manage routine stress. Practicing slowed breathing by breathing fully into the lungs has a direct effect on your mental serenity. This likely comes from the connection between the breath and the vagus nerve, which is vital for allowing our parasympathetic nervous system to balance the fight-or-flight mode of the sympathetic nervous system. By practicing staying with a challenge (as what may happen in yoga with difficult poses) rather than fighting or fleeing it, you can reprogram your response to stress. You may even find a sense of ease in the middle of a difficult pose or an unexpected life problem.

Action Step: Schedule a time in your calendar to do something relaxing and enjoyable (such as a yoga class, a walk outside, or time in your garden).

6. Promoting physical health

Consistent yoga practice can increase strength, flexibility, and balance. Yoga can also be helpful in the healing of physical injuries. As we age, injuries can have a tremendous effect on our mental and emotional well-being, as well as our basic ability to do the activities we enjoy.

Action Step: Look into yoga videos for core strength. However, always consult with a qualified healthy professional before starting any physical exercise.

Original article by Seth J. Gillihan, Ph.D.