How many hours have you spent stationary today?
Chances are, if you are the average American you have spent far more time standing or even sitting in place today than you have spent being physically active.
Studies show increasing trends of physical inactivity, which have no doubt been exacerbated by the pandemic and mandates for social distancing (Ham, Yore, Fulton, & Kohl III, 2004). This is undoubtedly partially due to increasing digitization of all areas of life – work, education, and even recreation. In 2020 alone, it is projected that the average time Americans will spend (primarily stationary) on electronic devices will rise by more than one hour per day (for a total of 13 hours, 35 minute). It remains to be seen just how much this increase in sedentary activity will impact the broader population, but one projection is almost certain: increased sedentary activity will have a direct and negative impact on human health (Paril, 2020).
Physical inactivity is increasingly recognized as a major contributor to major contributors to chronic illness, many of which such as cancer, heart disease, dementia, and stroke are some of the primary causes of death and disability in this country. The common link between contemporary metabolic, psychiatric, and neurodegenerative diseases is low-grade inflammation. Both physical inactivity and being overweight are linked through research with persistent and systemic low-grade inflammation. All this is to say that, when you live the average American lifestyle, you get the average American disease.
However, research on physical activity and chronic disease also show that while physical inactivity puts health at risk, physical activity serves to enhance health and reduce inflammation. Research indicates that physical activity is an effective protective mechanism against a variety of chronic diseases associated with low-grade inflammation, as well as with decreased inflammation overall. It is likely that physical exercise exerts this protective ability via regulation of metabolic processes, including the immune system (Burini, Anderson, Durstine, & Carson, 2020).
So if physical exercise plays such an increasingly important role in health and wellness, what’s keeping all of us from getting up and getting moving?
Barriers to Physical Activity
There are many barriers to physical activity, and they are very personal. However some of the most common are: lack of time, dislike of exercising, lack of energy, lack of motivation, fear of injury, lack of company, lack of skill, lack of transportation, inclimate weather conditions, and lack of money (CDC, 2020).
Identifying the barriers to physical activity which play a role in your lifestyle is the first step toward creating and implementing a realistic wellness plan for yourself.
Want to get real about what keeps you from being physically active? Take Harvard’s Barriers to Physical Activity Quiz.
Once you have taken the quiz, you can be more mindful about what barriers you face, and how to overcome them moving forward. You can also use this information to create a wellness plan tailored to your lifestyle, which helps to remove your barriers.
At home yoga is an increasingly popular way to work around the common barriers to exercise.
How at Home Yoga Overcomes Barriers to Inactivity and a Sedentary Lifestyle
It’s estimated that about 55 million Americans practice yoga and in January of 2020, 65 percent of those practiced yoga from home. It’s likely that number has skyrocketed since the pandemic has caused many to shelter in place. It remains to be seen whether this trend will continue to rise, but for the moment it looks like online yoga is here to stay in a major way, even after shelter in place orders lift and studios reopen (Rakicevic, 2020).
Benefits of Practicing Yoga from Home
This trend is likely due to the many benefits of practicing yoga from home, one of which is overcoming many of the obstacles which prevent people from engaging in physical activity in the first place. Yoga at home is an accessible and approachable way to counteract a sedentary lifestyle and protect your health for a lifetime of wellbeing.
Research indicates that lack of money is a significant and common barrier to physical activity. One study revealed 40 percent of participants indicated that this was a barrier for them (Reichert, Barros, Domingues, & Hallal, 2007). Given most studio memberships are around $100 a month, it makes sense why practitioners often opt for self-practice at home or for less pricey guided options such as an online yoga class video library membership.
Studio membership also incurs other expenses, such as transportation, parking, and mat rentals if you forget your own (we’ve all been there). At home yoga can be as low-budget as you like, making it more accessible than a studio membership by overcoming the cost barriers to physical activity.
Design your Space
Studio yoga also comes at the cost of having complete control over the space you practice in. Lighting candles, burning incense, or diffusing essential oils are typically luxuries set aside in studio classes in favor of catering to a variety of practitioners.
Home yoga on the other hand allows you to curate your sacred space in a more meaningful and personalized way. At home you have the freedom to play your music, hang your vision board, or decorate your alter space. Practicing yoga at home also helps to overcome traditional barriers to physical activity including transportation and weather conditions.
Access to Worldwide Instruction
While it’s always lovely to connect with our instructors in person, studio membership limits access to your circle of instruction to whoever is available and currently teaching in your area. Studio membership also limits your yoga instruction to the types of classes offered at your studio.
Yoga from home allows you to access a broader variety of instructors when you learn online, and to access a whole host of classes which might not be offered at your local studio. The yoga world is broad and deep with many diverse practices and perspectives… Why limit yourself?
Learn at your own Pace
Many of us come to the yoga mat for that sense of pause, stillness, to slow down the pace of our lives. Learning from home allows you the freedom to learn at your own pace in a way which community classes just can’t cater to. We all come to yoga with different strengths and challenges and the “one size fits all” tendency of group classes can feel intimidating to new practitioners in particular. At home, you can tailor your practice to your goals and needs. Practice the same class seven days a week, rewind the yoga instruction video so you can go deeper or literally give yourself a pause by pausing the class halfway through for a restorative moment — the choice is yours.
Set your Schedule
Ever had the awkward experience of walking into yoga class late? Everyone’s already in the zone and you creep in and attempt to find the open spot for your mat which of course is always at the opposite end of the classroom? We’ve all been there. Adhering to a yoga class schedule which was designed by your studio based on what fills classes may not come naturally. Why should it? It’s generalized — not personalized.
Home yoga offers the advantage of allowing you to personalize your practice time not only for your lifestyle, but for your health needs. Start and finish your class whenever you like and enjoy a variety of varied class lengths you wouldn’t find on a traditional studio schedule. Squeeze in an asana practice after you put the baby down for a nap or get a 20 minute meditation in on your lunch break. Practicing yoga from home allows you to overcome that barrier of “not enough time,” by letting you practice on your time! Additionally, when you free yourself from the commitment to a studio, it can be easier to integrate yoga into “off the mat” situations in your everyday life.
Many practitioners are intimidated or distracted by practicing yoga around others. Home practice offers the solitude to really focus on self-practice. At home, there is no one else to compare yourself to, and your benchmark for success becomes feeling really good, not looking really good in your outward pose. Practicing from home can help overcome barriers around lack of skill, as you have plenty of time to develop your most impressive poses away from watchful eyes. This helps build the confidence which might one day land you in a live yoga class, retreat, or workshop.
It’s all about balance. Home yoga offers another balancing-element to bring us back to equilibrium: solitude. In the words of the Bhagavad Gita, “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” In today’s fast paced world, many of us are surrounded all day by family, co-workers, friends, and strangers. This leaves little time for self-inquiry and personal development. Yoga practice can offer a powerful moment with the self to counteract our otherwise extremely socially-stimulating lives. Yoga also helps overcome the idea that one needs company to exercise, given that it promotes personal practice.
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Tapas, (translated as “fiery discipline”) is one of the five niyamas, or observances, to which a yogi subscribes. Home practice develops a deep level of discipline which is not required for community class participation. Besides building discipline, it builds a sense of achievement and self-confidence. A sense of discipline helps overcome common barriers to physical exercise such as lack of motivation.
Without a teacher to hold students accountable, home practitioners learn to rely on themselves to get themselves to their mat and give themselves what they need. This practice often translates to life off the mat as well, building adherence to other goals — including wellness goals!
One study even found that yoga helped improve adherence to other health behaviors. Regular yoga practice was found to be associated with consumption of more servings of fruits and vegetables, fewer servings of sugar-sweetened beverages and snack foods, and less fast food. The study also found habitual yoga practice was also associated with more hours of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (Watts, Rydell, Eisenberg, Laska, & Neumark-Sztainer, 2018). Thus it appears yoga not only improves discipline related to yoga practice, but also reaffirms commitment to health habits overall.
Holistic Health Enhancement
For those who are not inclined to being physically active, those who report dislike of exercising, or the nearly 40 percent who reported feeling too tired as barriers to exercise, yoga offers a unique alternative to many traditional active exercise practices (Reichert, Barros, Domingues, & Hallal, 2007). Yoga not only offers a variety of styles at varying levels of intensity from completely restorative to active heated practices. It’s also a holistic practice which works on all tissues of the body, as well as positively affecting the mind, and spirit.
Yoga offers many styles which are more passive, or gently active, including Yin Yoga, Yoga Nidra, Restorative, Senior Yoga, Chair Yoga, and Gentle Yoga. These styles still offer many health benefits including stress reduction (a powerful precipitant of chronic inflammation) and may be more appealing to beginners or to those who report disliking traditional workouts. Some of the more restful forms are perfect for those who report feeling too tired as a barrier to physical activity. These gentle styles also offer an accessible way to exercise for those who have concerns about injury during exercise. Yoga has particularly low rates of injury, particularly in it’s gentler forms.
Yoga offers health benefits as soon as after one practice, including improved brain function, lower stress levels, altered gene expression and increased flexibility. After a few months, yoga results in lower blood pressure, increased lung capacity, reduced chronic neck and back pain, improved sexual function, anxiety relief, and improved balance. After years of practice, practitioners show stronger bones, healthier weight, and a reduced risk for heart disease (Gregoire, 2017). For these reasons, yoga is an efficient way to get a full-body, holistic workout which helps practitioners meet their health goals with one practice.
Yoga helps overcome a number of barriers to physical activity, including the most common obstacles. In fact, research indicates yoga itself increases previously inactive participants’ adherence to physical activity. Overall, it can be concluded that mind-body exercise programs such as yoga are an effective intervention in the fight against physical inactivity (Bryan, Zipp, & Parasher, 2012). Ultimately, yoga is a powerful practice to counteract the deleterious effects of stressful, sedentary, and inflammatory aspects of modern life and to help ensure longevity and wellness across the lifespan.
Want to give a home-yoga program a try?
Ham, S. A., Yore, M. M., Fulton, J. E., & Kohl III, H. W. (2004). Prevalence of no leisure-time physical activity-35 states and the District of Columbia, 1988-2002. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 53(4), 82-86.
Paril, B. (2020). 2020 Trends: COVID Impact on Time Spent With Media. Digital Remedy. https://www.digitalremedy.com/2020-trends-covid-impact-on-time-spent-with-media/
Burini, R. C., Anderson, E., Durstine, J. L., & Carson, J. A. (2020). Inflammation, physical activity, and chronic disease: An evolutionary perspective. Sports Medicine and Health Science.
Center for Disease Control (2020). Overcoming Barriers to Physical Activity. US Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adding-pa/barriers.html
Rakicevic, M. (2020). 31 Yoga Statistics: The Modern World Embraces Yoga. Disturbmenot.https://disturbmenot.co/yoga-statistics/#:~:text=1.,in%20the%20US%20in%202008
Reichert, F. F., Barros, A. J., Domingues, M. R., & Hallal, P. C. (2007). The role of perceived personal barriers to engagement in leisure-time physical activity. American journal of public health, 97(3), 515–519. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2005.070144
Bryan, S., Zipp, G. P., & Parasher, R. (2012). The effects of yoga on psychosocial variables and exercise adherence: a randomized, controlled pilot study. Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine, 18(5).
Watts, A. W., Rydell, S. A., Eisenberg, M. E., Laska, M. N., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2018). Yoga’s potential for promoting healthy eating and physical activity behaviors among young adults: A mixed-methods study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 15(1), 42.
Gregoire, C. (2017). How Yoga Changes Your Body, Starting The Day You Begin (INFOGRAPHIC). HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/body-on-yoga_n_4109595