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Yoga. Many know it as the form of exercise consisting of funny and uncomfortable looking positions. But don’t let appearances fool you - poses like “downward dog” and “happy baby” actually provide many health benefits for the body and mind. Yoga is an evidence-based, holistic health practice used for reducing stress, relaxation, pain management, and resilience while supporting the body’s natural healing abilities.

We recently sat down with Keri-Ann Laurito, NMCSD/Mind Body Medicine yoga instructor, to learn more about the health benefits of practicing yoga.

NMCSD: What is yoga?

Laurito: The general term “yoga” comes from Sanskrit and means to join, to yoke, or to integrate. Yoga dates back 5,000 years, originating in India. Yoga uses the breath (pranayama) with the movement (asana) in the body. Practicing the movements, the different postures, opens up the body and mind, preparing you for meditation. A common misconception is that yoga is a religion. It’s not; however, it is considered a spiritual practice.

NMCSD: What are some of the health benefits of yoga?

Laurito: There are so many. It provides mental clarity, calms the nervous system, reduces stress and anxiety, helps with depression and insomnia, strengthens your bones, improves flexibility and balance, reduces back pain, improves migraine symptoms, and promotes better overall health. Yoga helps balance the mind, body and spirit.

NMCSD: How is yoga good for the mind?

Laurito: When you practice yoga there is a great sense of relaxation. People come to class with all types of concerns, and anxieties. After class, they always feel so much better and their mood is lifted. By using the breath and moving the body, it increases circulation and moves the body’s static energy. When you’re doing yoga you’re concentrating more on the rhythmic breath and instruction so you don’t have time to think or worry.

NMCSD: Is there research proving yoga improves physical and mental health?

Laurito: Yes, more and more research is demonstrating the positive effects yoga has on the brain. In fact, results from a recent study, which was funded by the Department of Defense and led by a Harvard Medical School assistant professor, found that veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder showed improvement in their symptoms after ten weeks of yoga classes, done twice a week, along with fifteen minutes of daily practice at home.

NMCSD: What would you say to someone who is thinking about trying yoga?

Laurito: Yoga can really help your mind, body and spirit. Before trying yoga, make sure to research the teacher or studio, especially if you have health concerns. Remember to always listen to your body and only do what you can, using modifications if necessary.

Laurito leads the “Mind Body Happy Hour,” Tuesdays 4:30-5:30 p.m., at the Athletic Complex, NMCSD, Bldg. 12. This class is free to active duty, retirees, dependents and civilian staff.

For additional information, please call 619-532-8516 or visit NMCSD’s Health and Wellness Department, located in Bldg. 26, first floor, between the NEX and food court.