Editor’s Note: To celebrate the summer solstice and the longest day of the year, the Italian Cultural Foundation at Casa Belvedere will host a special “Yoga With a View” class on Monday, June 21. Click here for details and to register.
Italians are fond of using a Latin proverb – Mens sana in corpore sano – a healthy mind in a healthy body, which clearly describes what yoga can achieve. Yoga combines physical, mental and spiritual wellness with breathing exercises, meditation, and physical poses.
Yoga originated in India thousands of years ago and is now practiced worldwide, including in Italy, where yoga retreats are also popular among tourists. The benefits of yoga can help both Italians and Italian-Americans:
Yoga reduces stress and anxiety. In our complicated, fast-paced world, stress is universal. In Italy, scialla is a popular slang word, the equivalent of relax or “chill out” in the United States. Studies have shown that practicing yoga on a regular basis can reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that influences serotonin levels.
Yoga may help reduce inflammation. Europeans are prone to high blood pressure, especially with diets rich in cheese and wine. Chronic inflammation can lead to heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Some studies have shown that people who practiced yoga had lower levels of inflammatory markers.
Yoga improves the quality of life. Yoga can improve your mood, reduce fatigue, even ease symptoms of depression and pain. In general, many Italians embrace a lifestyle of vivi il momento – living in the moment, not dwelling on past disappointments or getting anxious about the future. But for people who don’t, yoga teaches that same general principle.
Yoga does not influence your religious beliefs. Yoga’s origins date back to the philosophical tenets of Hinduism, but in the modern Western world, yoga is a form of exercise and meditation that has moved well beyond a trend. Even devout Italian Catholics practice yoga because of its non-medicinal benefits.
Yoga can keep you physically fit. Italians already have long life spans because of their Mediterranean diets, but yoga has a distinct added benefit. The physical postures and poses increase flexibility, boost bone density, and build muscular strength and stamina. If there are any doubts about whether you can safely practice yoga, consult your doctor.
Yoga can increase your brain function. Learning meditative skills through yoga can have a variety of benefits. It can bring mental clarity, improve brain function, and improve your self-awareness and self-image.
Yoga has been called the “new Renaissance.” The European Renaissance began in Italy and profoundly influenced artistic creativity. In recent years, the growth of yoga has been called a new renaissance, or rebirth of the human spirit. People who practice yoga feel better, look better, and find mental happiness and stability.