The health benefits of yoga

What could yoga do for you? Kat Farrants explores the health benefits of yoga

I started to practice yoga when I was in my teens. Yoga really did seem to have a magical effect of transforming my body so that it felt light and free, and it transformed my mood. It made me feel happy, and I found that I was a happier person around others on the days that I practiced - I was more able to just 'let things go'.

Then, as the years of practice turned into decades, I found deeper health consequences. I discovered that I started to be a better listener, had improved focus and was more resilient. When my husband left me, completely out of the blue, of course my life was shattered and I was in tattered emotionally, but yoga really did help me to come to terms with my grief. It helped me to transform my life, to start up a new business and to leave my old, comfortable life being a lawyer. It gave me courage.

The emotional benefits have of course had a massive effect on my physical health. Even when faced with the loss of my husband after 16 years, I didn't go into a depression and face illness, as is so common. And when I was involved in a life-threatening car-crash a decade ago, although I lost my mobility for months, my practice gave me the breath-work tools to help me to recover and regain full movement.

Yoga, for me, has been such a useful tool to get through the physical and emotional ups and downs of life.

But it doesn't even have to be that dramatic. Yoga has really eased my anxiety, and helps no end with sleeping issues, too. The breathing exercises really are game-changing for managing moods and feeling relaxed. One of the most common issues that people have in the modern world is back pain. And it's no wonder! I don't know about you, but for me, work can be a real pain in the neck. As founder of Movement for Modern Life, the online yoga platform, I spend many hours of every day hunched over a laptop. When I'm on the go, I'm often to be found peering at my phone and the rest of the time my neck and shoulders are hunched forward, my face frowning, my hips shut in a seated position. No wonder that, at the end of a working day, I often find that I have backache, sore shoulders and tight hips. I'm not alone! It has been estimated that about 80 per cent of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lives.

And yoga is so healing for back, neck and shoulder pain. Gentle releasing exercises, such as those in Yin yoga, are really wonderful for facilitating a deep release and openness of the shoulders and finding space in the upper back. I find the longer holds so much more effective than swiftly moving through poses. My personal practice these days involves a lot more longer holds in poses, rather than rushing through sequences.

Yoga is also wonderful for core strength, so that my abdomen stays toned and supports the muscles of my lower back and for this, I love Forrest yoga. In fact, I think that Forrest yoga is one of the best as an antidote for computer-based tension, with its focus on a strong core and releasing the neck and shoulders. Building up strength in the shoulders and upper back is also important for me, so as well as the Yin yoga backbends and shoulder-chest openers, I focus on shoulder strength, which can so easily weaken after time spent seated. Of course, the final thing that I really need to target for my often rounded lower back, are my hamstrings nad hips. When my hips and hamstrings start to open, my back feels the release it needs. It makes all the difference. My mum has suffered terribly with a bad lower back, and every day that she does Andrea's Hamstrings class on Movement For Modern Life, she says the pain is gone... that's the magic of yoga.

Kat Farrants is Founder of Movement for Modern Life, the UK's online yoga and wellbeing site. 

This article first appeared in Issue 12 of Be Kind magazine, published February 2020