Weekly exercise series: Yoga
The life-changing benefits of yoga, and where to try it out on campus.

During the pandemic, one exercise that became increasingly popular was yoga. This fall, UTM will offer yoga classes both in person and virtually so that making time for exercise is convenient. The Medium spoke with Nikki Robichaud, a Fitness Program Assistant for Yoga RTY500 at the Recreation, Athletics and Wellness Centre (RAWC), about the resources available to students, how they can sign up for workshops and classes, and the many benefits of yoga.

“This fall, the RAWC is focusing our efforts on welcoming our students back to our facilities, as well as offering virtual options. We are currently offering virtual and in-person classes of Yogilates and Relax and Renew Yoga,” says Robichaud. “Students can check out our website (www.utmeagles.ca) for more information on our programs and services for the 2021-2022 academic year.”

With almost no equipment required to get started and flexible class hours available at the RAWC, many students will find it easy to enjoy the many mental and physical benefits of yoga. Especially during a pandemic that has raised stress levels and caused uncertainty for many at UTM.

Stress affects the body’s hormones, sleep patterns, energy levels, and mood. Yoga is an effective exercise because it regulates imbalances that stem from stress.

Yoga is proven to raise Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) levels. GABA plays a role in regulating depression, appetite, and anxiety. A sedentary lifestyle, the kind where people need to stay home all the time, causes GABA levels to decline and stress levels to rise, which can lead to depression, binge eating, and weight gain.

“GABA is an amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system and has been associated with decreased depressive symptoms,” reads a blog post from the Boston University School of Medicine.

The Boston University School of Medicine conducted a study that revealed how different groups of depressed individuals responded to increased yoga activity after three months. MRI scans of individuals from both groups validated that GABA levels increased after consistent yoga sessions. 

“A group of 30 clinically depressed patients were placed in two random groups. Both engaged in Iyengar yoga and coherent breathing,” reads the post. “In this study, we found that an important neurochemical, GABA, which is related to mood, anxiety and sleep, is significantly increased in association with a yoga intervention.”

The study concluded that it might only take one yoga session a week to maintain high GABA levels. The benefits of taking time every week to engage in yoga can lead to better sleep, a happier mood, increased energy levels, and a stronger immune system.

Yoga is also connected with mindfulness, which is the conscious awareness of your body and how it feels and thinks. But it has a surprising benefit. Achieving mindfulness can create new healthy eating habits by becoming aware of how you eat food.

“Researchers from Harvard found that people who practiced yoga were more mindful eaters,” reads a blog post from Harvard Health Publishing. “Practicing yoga helps you to be more aware of how your body feels. This heightened awareness can carry over to mealtime as you savor each bite or sip, and note how food smells, tastes and feels in your mouth.” 

Robichaud shared her insights on how yoga is a beneficial way to achieve mindfulness because it is an exercise that invites yogis to focus on their breathing, movement, and endurance. “The benefits of yoga are numerous including the creation of a mind-body connection with breath work, increased flexibility, body weight strength, and relaxation.”

Yoga is an exercise that is both mental and physical. You can choose to engage in either a low-intensity or high-intensity yoga session, both of which offer a full body workout. This creates a routine and cycle of awareness that we can apply to other parts of our lives, and it allows us to realize we can take control, and care, of our health.

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