Yoga has become more and more popular in the past decade. It’s a common word in our communities and people of all ages, sizes, and athletic abilities are practicing yoga more regularly. Here in Denver, there are yoga studios in every neighborhood; some are just 2-3 blocks from each other!
There are a variety of different styles and ways to practice yoga, but no matter the specific from, everyone from beginners to advanced practitioners can benefit from the positive effect that yoga has on your body and overall health. What is not as commonly known is how the practice of yoga is so closely connected to physical therapy.
Yoga and physical therapy have much in common. One practice is more known in the medical world while the other is more known to the general public. On a very basic level, they both have the same goals: improve flexibility, increase strength, decrease pain, improve posture, decrease stress, improve balance skills and advance your overall health. The most basic goal for all physical therapists is to improve the quality of life for each client. If you were to ask any yoga instructor about the basic goal of yoga, I would bet that you would get a similar answer.
When I think about “quality of life”, especially quality of life as I get older, a big part of that involves being active. Studies have shown older individuals that have higher functional abilities reported higher scores on quality of life questionnaires. Similar studies have shown this correlation for individuals of all ages, but the correlation in older adults was more significant. Higher activity levels, especially in older adults, usually leads to fewer health problems, increased mental / brain activity, and increased independence for longer periods of time.
So why is movement and being active so critical to our overall health? There are many ways to answer this question and many answers that are different but correct at the same time. What I tell most people is this…
What happens if your heart stops beating? You die. What happens if you stop breathing? You die. What happens if your body stops moving? Eventually…you die. What happens if the Earth stops turning? Eventually…we all die. Movement IS life. We need it every day, every minute, every second to keep living. We all have some movement every day. Our hearts beat, our lungs breathe, we sit, stand, and walk. We need these movements in order to live, and the more we move, the “better” health we usually have. Physical therapy and yoga both promote movement and in that respect they both promote life.
Yoga asanas or poses are excellent sources of “do it yourself” physical therapy exercises. Once you have the guidance from a physical therapist on what NOT to do and what TO do, these poses will gently help your body heal a number of different ailments and injuries…without medication or surgery. The precise movement of the poses, to your body’s capability, helps to increase blood flow to the injured area, decrease inflammation or pain, and promote healing.
The practice of yoga can be performed daily and with little to no equipment needed. Most people with injuries or pain will probably need extra support from blankets, pillows or yoga blocks to make the poses comfortable and less intense, but in general you don’t need fancy equipment for the basic principles. The poses should be done to your own level of comfort; never try to force anything to stretch, strengthen, or balance beyond your ability. Your body will tell you limitations and you should always respect those limitations. With time and practice you will have fewer limitations.
Yoga poses promote strengthening, posture, flexibility and balance- the same goals that physical therapists work towards. Both physical therapy and yoga can make life-long changes to your body. Your posture will improve, and you will get stronger and more flexible. You will achieve better balance, not just physical but mental and emotional as well. Balance is the key word for health! Try to stay in good balance in the realm of blood flow or pressure, emotional stress, flexibility, strength and posture.