Originally published on Medium on December 20, 2017.
For all the yogis out there, I think we all have met at least one: that teacher or student that shines with radiant beauty from within. It’s easy to wonder, what is their secret?
Learning to live radiantly
What makes yoga such an interesting practice is that it works on many different levels in the body. To an outside observer witnessing a Hatha or Vinyasa practice, it’s easy to see that the practice could help to tone, strengthen and stretch the physical body. In addition, physical activity helps to increase blood flow to all areas of the body, supplying important nutrients to the skin.
What science shows
At the same time, there are even subtler benefits to the practice. Yoga helps to regulate our nervous system, shifting the balance from our sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight response) to our parasympathetic nervous system (rest-and-digest response). The latter is calming and restorative for our bodies, with a slower breath and heart rate, reduction in blood pressure while increasing blood flow to our vital organs. This is often referred to as the relaxation response.
Recent research show that yoga could help slow the harmful effects of stress and inflammation in the body. In an exploratory study, researchers have found that 12 weeks of yoga, meditation and breathing practice (pranayama) slowed cellular aging. The participants had lower levels of inflammation and significantly decreased levels of cortisol (steroid hormone secreted during stress) after the program. They even found higher levels of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein promoting growth and maintenance of the cells, suggesting that yoga potentially has protective effects on the brain.
Self-study and connection
In my experience as a yoga student and teacher, I notice an energetic shift from the beginning to the end of a practice. As a teacher, I love seeing the calm expression on my students’ faces as they come out of Savasana (the final resting pose). As a student, I do feel different at the end of my practice. However subtle the changes are, I tend to feel more grounded, connected, and present. The practice of yoga teaches us about our own thought patterns, habits, and perceptions. Reminding us that we are not our thoughts or habits. Instead, the practice of “sitting with the self” through meditation for example, guides us back to who we really are.
Remember, there’s no quick fix and there’s no one size fits all. That being said, regular students of yoga, meditation and pranayama will receive the immense benefits of this practice. Whether it’s through stress reduction, a healthy body, or by creating a sense of purpose and connection. Radiate from the inside and out, be you.
Written by Karin Karlsson, Certified Yoga Teacher
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38 Health Benefits of Yoga, Yoga Journal
Yoga could slow the harmful effects of stress and inflammation, Harvard Health Publishing