September is National Yoga Month! 1,600 studios across the United States have joined together to participate in this amazing observance, offering a week of free classes to new students. National Yoga Month was created by the Department of Health and Human Services in order to raise awareness about the physical and mental benefits of a regular yoga practice. From their website:
This grassroots awareness campaign inspires both youths and adults to take responsibility for their well-being by focusing on prevention and healthy lifestyle choices. (1)
The key word in this statement is prevention: our current health system is predominantly focused on post-symptomatic treatment and the curing of illness after it has already struck, as opposed to advocating preventive measures to avoid illness in the first place. But this is slowly changing. A 2003 report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, entitled “Prevention Makes Common Cents” highlighted the out-of-control health care costs in the United States and the dangers of living an unhealthy lifestyle. Heart disease alone cost our country over $300 billion that year. Our health care system also emphasizes the role of genetics in determining the fate of our health so much so that some people believe there is little they can do if a disease is already present in their family. I have friends that have said to me in response to a comment that they should wear sunscreen outdoors: “Everyone in my family has skin cancer anyway, there’s no point, I’m going to get it.” Hmm…
Obviously there are many genetic disorders and diseases that exist, and I am not advocating that yoga can prevent or cure such disorders, however it has been proven that heart disease and cancers, though they may carry genetic pre-disposition, are almost entirely preventable. (For further information, read T. Collin Cambell’s fascinating book The China Study, which highlights over 25 years of cancer research and supports findings that our diet is directly linked to the development of many types of cancers.)
So, why the case for yoga as one of the best “preventive” activities you can do in your life?
We know that yoga tones the muscular system, strengthens the skeletal system, increases bone density (hugely important for women), stimulates the lymphatic system and the endocrine system, oxygenates the blood and improves circulation, aids in regulating the digestive system, balances the nervous system, lowers blood pressure, eliminates toxins through sweating, increases mobility in the spine, increases flexibility, signals the brain to release serotonin (and has been proven to aid in treating depression), increases awareness and mental concentration, balances the body’s hormone production, the list goes on and and on and on and on…
I think one could make a very good case that people who regularly practice yoga tend to lead an overall healthier lifestyle than those who don’t. It’s a ripple effect: you start to notice so many positive results associated with the practice that it begins to trickle down into all other aspects of your life. I don’t have numbers or statistics to prove this, but I don’t need to: I see the benefits on the faces of my students every time I teach a class. I can hear it in the way their breath changes the second they cross their legs and close their eyes. I can feel it in my own body every time I unroll my own mat, and forget about what I have to do that day and find true quiet. And I can see it in all the phenomenal grassroots yoga organizations that exist out there, The Africa Yoga Project, Off the Mat and Into the World, The Prison Yoga Project, Yoga to the People, again, the list goes on and on…
On September 30th at 7pm, National Yoga Month is sponsoring a Global Community Yoga Practice. Find a participating studio, start your own event, or just get on your mat in your own home and join in on the practice!
What else are you doing to celebrate National Yoga Month? I’d love to hear about it!