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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Yoga as Self-Care

Dec 01, 2022 06:00AM ● By Mila Burgess
The most important relationship each of us has is our relationship with ourselves. Self-care is the intentional, planned set of actions one takes to promote and enhance physical, mental and emotional well-being. It is a multidimensional approach, embracing strategies that target healthy functioning in multiple areas to promote optimal health. 

According to the World Health Organization, self-care is important because it encourages health, prevents disease and improves people’s ability to cope with illness. Research shows that it reduces stress, anxiety and depression, bolsters happiness, increases energy and fosters strong interpersonal relationships. Self-care also helps people build resilience and equips them to better handle the unavoidable and inevitable challenges of life.

Despite its benefits, many people view self-care as a self-indulgent luxury rather than a self-preserving priority. A lack of self-care can lead to feelings of overwhelm, fatigue and greater levels of stress. 

To fully care for oneself, one must give attention to several domains—balancing physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual needs. 

Self-Care On and Off the Mat

Yoga is thought to be one of the best forms of self-care precisely because its many benefits reach across so many domains. A 2015 study out of Texas Christian University confirmed the power of yoga as self-care. Study participants reported “significantly higher self-care as well as less emotional exhaustion” after completing an eight-week yoga program, while the control group showed no change. Practicing yoga helps people develop self-care routines both on and off the mat.

Physical Self-Care. These activities involve taking care of the body with rest, relaxation, nutrition and movement. Examples include eating healthy meals, taking walks, staying hydrated, napping, attending healthcare appointments and getting massages or manicures. Exercise is an excellent form of physical self-care. Not surprisingly, yoga is often first on the list of recommended forms of physical self-care because of its strength, flexibility and mobility benefits. 

Mental Self-Care. Activities that stimulate the intellect and keep the mind sharp are considered mental self-care. Reading books, doing puzzles, playing chess, visiting museums and following dance or yoga sequences are examples of mental self-care strategies. Practicing mindfulness to create a healthy mindset is also an important part of mental self-care. 

Yoga is an excellent mental self-care strategy. Yoga students turn their attention inward, learning to minimize outward distractions while maintaining mental focus. They practice self-awareness, self-acceptance, presence and mindfulness and recognize that the ultimate goal of yoga is mental clarity. 

Emotional Self-Care. Emotional self-care practices help people acknowledge, process and reflect on a range of emotions and help to improve their coping skills and emotional regulation as a result. Activities can include journaling, talking to a close friend or therapist about feelings and setting and sticking to boundaries. Seeking and accepting help when needed and writing and/or repeating positive affirmations also fall into the realm of emotional self-care. Other activities that create a sense of recharge are also recommended.

Yoga practitioners receive emotional self-care naturally as they learn to listen and respond to sensations in their bodies. They learn how to lean into and breathe through uncomfortable sensations and moments on the mat, which supports emotional regulation. And doing so on the mat nurtures their ability to do the same off of it. Further, because stress hormones are released through sweat and positions that open the hips are linked to a release of emotional tension, yoga serves as an emotional release. 

Social Self-Care. Studies show that social connections are vitally important to health and happiness. Like-minded yoga practitioners often come together, form communities within yoga studios, and participate in shared activities that they enjoy. They get to know one another and often build new relationships that turn into strong friendships. Yoga retreats offer opportunities for practitioners to travel with other members of their yoga communities, experience new places and make lasting memories together. For many, the practice of yoga is a practice of relationship building.

Spiritual Self-Care. Spiritual self-care doesn’t need to be religious in nature, although it certainly can be. Spiritual self-care strategies—such as meditation, self-reflection, spending time in nature, prayer and volunteering—can help one develop a deeper understanding of the universe. Yoga is often considered a spiritual self-care strategy because practitioners are challenged to think bigger than themselves through yoga’s emphasis on gratitude, its philosophical teachings and its focus on selfless service. Additionally, because the goal of yoga is to reach a meditative state by quieting the mind, yoga and meditation are inextricably woven together. 

Simply put, yoga is self-care. Studies show that people who regularly participate in yoga classes have healthier activity levels, eating habits and self-care routines than those who do not. It enriches one’s physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual well-being and can be a sustainable, holistic regimen with benefits that extend far beyond the yoga mat. ❧

Mila Burgess, E-RYT 500, YACEP, teaches at LifePower Yoga in Sandy Springs. She is the owner of Metta Yoga, offering workshops, private lessons, virtual classes, teacher trainings and retreats. Contact her at [email protected].
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