There are many paths, goals, intentions, and different ways to approach the practice of yoga. The ancient yogis originally used it as a form of meditation and path of enlightenment. Now, most people practice to increase strength and flexibility, reduce stress and anxiety, and boost energy levels. Besides being an effective mind-body workout, yoga also provides several ways to promote self-care. If you are feeling worn out, emotionally exhausted, and mentally fatigued, a few minutes of yoga might be the key to find balance, ease, and connection that is lacking in your life.
What is self-care?
Self-care is taking care of ourselves in positive ways that improve our health, enhance our well-being, and improve our ability to cope with life’s challenges. Self-care is any type of physical, mental, or spiritual activity you do for yourself that can help you feel better, healthier, and have more energy.
Self-care is an integral part of living a healthy and balanced life. It is a vital component of wellness, and it helps us become better parents, employees, friends, and better people overall. Self-care practices keep us in balance and allow us to be our best selves. It is an essential component to prevent emotional exhaustion, burnout, and apathy.
What is yoga for self-care?
Self-care is arguably the most important aspect of your health and well-being, but making time for yourself can be difficult, especially since it can feel selfish and indulgent to do things that make us feel good. Yoga is an amazing self-care tool as it can improve and promote compassion, kindness, and love to give ourselves permission to take care of our needs. It can provide the awareness, contemplation, and introspection to uncover your genuine needs. A consistent practice can also give insight on how to creatively and effectively address these needs.
A 2015 study reaffirmed the power of yoga for self-care, with yoga participants reporting “significantly higher self-care as well as less emotional exhaustion and depersonalization upon completion of an 8-week yoga intervention” while the control group showed no change. The yoga group showed a significant improvement in their scores for self-care, mindfulness, emotional exhaustion, and depersonalization after their classes.
Yoga tools for self-care
There are several simple ways that you can use yoga to enhance your mental, physical, spiritual, and social wellbeing. The power of yoga for self-care is that it creates an easy and sustainable habit, is holistic and balanced approach to wellness, and strengthens our emotional resilience so that we can easily deal with difficult circumstances to prevent stress and burnout.
1. Reduce stress to promote wellness
Multiple studies have linked stress with many health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, insomnia, weight gain, and more. Stress reduction techniques, like breathing exercises, guided imagery, mindfulness practices, and yoga, all work together to lower stress in our bodies. Practicing these methods regularly is the most effective way to feel calmer and happier.
Feeling too much stress is a sign that something isn’t right in your life–whether physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or socially. If you’re feeling stressed out, there are several yoga techniques to create calm and inner peace. While yoga techniques can greatly reduce stress, make sure you are not using them as a band-aid over deeper life issues.
- Practice pranayama. Breathing deeply decreases anxiety and increases relaxation. This technique works because it allows oxygen into your bloodstream and triggers endorphins, which produce feelings of happiness and contentment. Incorporate basic diaphragmatic breathing in your practice and throughout your day. If you are feeling especially frazzled, practice a few minutes of Sama Vritti or Nadi Sodhana Pranayama.
- Meditate. Meditation reduces levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, by increasing alpha waves in the brain. When you meditate, focus only on your thoughts and sensations without judgment. Meditation helps people cope better with stressful situations because they learn to control their emotions rather than letting them run wild. Try a calming practice like our inner peace meditation or our heart chakra meditation.
- Practice calming yoga poses. Calming poses, such as forward folding positions and upper backbends, reduce muscle tension, calm the nervous system, and promote restful sleep. They also help decrease stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol.
- Incorporate gratitude. At the start or end of your practice, think of three things you’re grateful for or remember three positive experiences of your day. Doing this shifts you into a positive mindset instead of dwelling on negative thoughts. Gratitude is one of the easiest practices to bring joy and happiness to your life. Explore several other ways to bring gratitude into your yoga practice.
2. Boost physical health and immunity
Regular practice of asana and pranayama builds muscular strength and increases your immune system’s ability to fight off colds and flu viruses. Regular exercise improves cardiovascular function, muscle tone, bone density, flexibility, strength, coordination, posture, and endurance. All of this leads to improved quality of sleep, reduced risk of injury, and increased energy levels.
A yogic lifestyle also promotes a healthy diet, which includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, lean protein sources, and low-fat dairy products. This way of eating supports optimal digestion and absorption of nutrients into the body.
3. Create emotional balance
Yoga and meditation teach us the importance of being present and mindful during stressful situations. When practicing this form of meditation, we learn to focus only on the here and now without getting caught up in past experiences or future worries. We become aware of our thoughts and emotions and begin to understand them instead of reacting to them. By becoming conscious of our feelings, we can choose which ones to act upon and which ones to let go of.
In addition, by focusing on our breath, we develop an awareness of our body and its sensations. This helps us recognize where tension exists within our muscles, allowing us to release any built-up energy. Regular asana practice improves cardiovascular function and circulation, reduces fatigue, builds muscle tone, and burns calories. All of this contributes to improved mood and increased vitality.
4. Strengthen social connections
Practicing self-care doesn’t have to mean sitting alone in silence. Your well-being depends on deep connections and healthy relationships with others. Regularly attending a yoga class is an easy way to put time and energy into building new and maintaining established relationships. Being a regular at a yoga studio also gives you the opportunity to connect with a like-minded social community.
5. Find spiritual connection and higher purpose
Practice yoga asana and pranayama to connect with yourself spiritually through meditation. Meditation involves sitting quietly and concentrating on one thing, such as your breath or mantra. You may find inspiration in nature when meditating outside. If you’re not comfortable doing this alone, consider joining a group practice. Many studios offer classes specifically designed to promote spirituality, or consider visiting an ashram for a deeper spiritual experience.
How to practice yoga for self-care: 5 steps
There are many ways to incorporate self-care into your daily routine. Use these tips to make sure they happen regularly so you don’t neglect your own health. Here are five easy steps to take when incorporating self-care into your life.
Step 1 – Reflect on your needs
Before you start taking care of yourself, it’s important that you know what exactly is throwing you off balance in your life and what it is that makes you feel good. Finding balance and wellness may require letting go of unhealthy patterns and relationships. It could require adding or changing something physical, mental, or spiritual. Make sure you reflect on everything and every aspect of your life! Once you’ve identified these things, make a list and note which are the most enjoyable, effective, and beneficial.
Step 2 – Set an intention of self-care
Once you know what you need to add or subtract from your routine, you can create one or more simple affirmations or intentions to use as powerful reminders of your goals. For example, “may I spend more time meditating” or “I am open to receiving friendship and connection at the yoga studio.” Make these statements powerful and inspirational, and post them at home where you can see them often.
Step 3 – Plan ahead
If you are to be successful in achieving your goals, planning out how much time you will spend on self-care should be done beforehand. Examine your day-to-day schedule, and set aside some time each day or several times a week to do those activities. Remember that allocating specific amounts of time does not always guarantee success. However, setting up a plan helps keep you motivated and focused.
Step 4 – Start small
Start off slowly. Don’t expect to change overnight. You may find yourself feeling overwhelmed or discouraged if you try too hard right away. Take baby steps by starting out slow. Try one new thing at a time until you feel comfortable enough to add another activity to your schedule.
Step 5 – Assess how you’re caring for yourself
Make note of what is working to bring more care and nourishment into your life. Let yourself reflect on these successes to fuel your motivation to continue with your routine. If you’re not enjoying anything about your day, reassess and make some changes. Keep trying different options until you get it right. Fortunately, there are many other articles on yoga for self-care that you can explore and experiment with their recommendations.
Self-care isn’t always easy to initiate, but it doesn’t have to be difficult either. When we put our well-being first, we become healthier people who enjoy their lives even more than before. We all deserve to live happy, healthy lives, and we must remember that we are worthy and deserving of a bit of self-care time every day. Yoga is an excellent option to fulfill many, if not all, of your needs for care and wellbeing.