Boost your performance with yoga

Yoga is a mind-body (sometimes called a “meditative-movement”) activity that uses a series of postures, breathing techniques, and relaxation practices to promote spiritual, mental, and physical health. There are many different forms of yoga practice, each with a different focus—from overall health, to healing, to fitness, and even those that focus on sensuality. In general, yoga practice can improve many different aspects of health and be a potentially powerful tool to optimize the performance of Military Service Members.

Yoga and performance optimization

Yoga has several preventative and healing benefits for both mind and body. From a physical perspective, regular yoga practice can improve posture, increase energy and flexibility, strengthen muscles, and promote blood circulation and hormone function. Adding yoga to your regular routine can help you make sure you’re in top physical shape for whatever comes your way on the battlefield.

Yoga also has the potential to help treat injuries, either on its own or in conjunction with medical treatment. As a result of service, some Military Service Members might experience physical and mental health issues. And unfortunately, some of those issues aren’t resolved with medication alone—or sometimes the treatment (or its side effects) can be worse than the issue itself. Yoga is a type of complementary and alternative treatment that can be used to supplement (or in some cases, replace) traditional medical treatment. In fact, more than 30% of military treatment facilities offer yoga commonly as a treatment for chronic pain, but also for things such as stress management.

Yoga, mental fitness, and stress reduction

Among military personnel, yoga practice has been reported to improve symptoms of depression, sadness, and anxiety. However, one of the most commonly reported benefits of yoga practice is its impact on emotion management and stress reduction. A regular yoga practice can give you a chance to slow down and reconnect your physical and mental reactions to stress, which in turn can give you more of an opportunity to manage your body’s and your mind’s responses when they matter most.

Tips to get started

Whether you’re a beginner or expert, here are some tips for effective yoga practice:

  • Go slow. If you’re practicing in the morning, take your time and ease into the positions, because your body might need to warm up at first.
  • Listen to your body. If you feel pain or “overstretching,” stop. You’ve reached your “full expression.” If you’re having a hard time or breathing problems, move into Corpse Pose: Lie flat on your back with your hands facing upwards. Do this until you feel better.
  • Watch and learn. If you’re a beginner practicing alone, it might help to look at some videos first and become familiar with the various moves. If you think you’d like to do more, try finding a class that’s appropriate for your level.
  • Ask your healthcare provider. Discuss the different forms of yoga, so you can choose what’s right for you. This is especially important for those with heart conditions, older adults, or women who are pregnant.

Give yoga a try!

There are many different forms of yoga available, so depending on what you’re looking to get out of it, there should be something for you to try. Below are a few examples with short exercises to help you explore your interests. No matter what motivates your health or performance goals, you can benefit from HPRC’s video series on yoga sequences that target different parts of your body.

Challenge Yoga.

This activity can help strengthen your core, increase flexibility, and relieve stress through a number of poses.

Challenge Yoga with Weights.

This sequence combines light weights with challenging poses to reduce stress and increase muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility.

Calming Yoga.

This exercise helps activate the relaxation response in your mind and body by combining gentle yoga poses, breathing, and mindful awareness.

Balancing Yoga.

This routine focuses on breathing to help energy flow evenly throughout your body.

Bonus activity: Introduce your family to yoga

Do you have kids? If you enjoy these short exercises, consider introducing yoga to your family, especially your children. Start learning about the practice together, and make it part of your family fitness routine. Yoga can be a powerful physical and mental health booster for children and can help them build the emotional management skills they’ll need as adults. Specifically, yoga can improve sleep, reduce anxiety and hyperactivity in children, increase resilience, and promote anger management. It also can help with balance and flexibility, and it’s a fun way to get your kids moving. About 1 in 12 children have been introduced to or practice yoga, so your kids might have a head start already.

Bottom line

Yoga strengthens and eases your mind, and it improves muscle tone, flexibility, and strength. If your life is getting so hectic that stress is taking a greater toll on you, yoga might be the final piece of the puzzle you need to cope.


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References

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Galantino, M. L., Galbavy, R., & Quinn, L. (2008). Therapeutic effects of yoga for children: A systematic review of the literature. Pediatric Physical Therapy, 20(1), 66–80. doi:10.1097/PEP.0b013e31815f1208

Herman, P. M., Sorbero, M. E., & Sims-Columbia, A. C. (2017). Complementary and alternative medicine services in the military health system. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 23(11), 837–843. doi:10.1089/acm.2017.0236

Hurst, S., Maiya, M., Casteel, D., Sarkin, A. J., Libretto, S., Elwy, A. R., . . . Groessl, E. J. (2018). Yoga therapy for military personnel and veterans: Qualitative perspectives of yoga students and instructors. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 40, 222–229. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2017.10.008

Miller, S., Gaylord, S., Buben, A., Brintz, C., Rae Olmsted, K., Asefnia, N., & Bartoszek, M. (2017). Literature review of research on chronic pain and yoga in military populations. Medicines, 4(3). doi:10.3390/medicines4030064

Nanthakumar, C. (2018). The benefits of yoga in children. Journal of Integrative Medicine, 16(1), 14–19. doi:10.1016/j.joim.2017.12.008

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2020). Yoga for Health (pp. 40). Retrieved April 21, 2020 from https://files.nccih.nih.gov/s3fs-public/Yoga-eBook-2020_06_FINAL_508.pdf