I’m sure you’ve heard of all the amazing things that can happen after starting up a yoga practice. Increasingly more popular in the west — the ancient practice of yoga seems to have revolutionized our culture. Not only has the yoga industry boomed in the last decade, with hundreds of yoga studios and yoga clothing brands appearing, but the amount of scientific study and research around it has increased. It is now a practice being recommended to the majority of the population for a multitude of reasons. So, what exactly is the hype all about? As more and more research is done on the benefits of yoga, the more it is being recommended by doctors and psychologists to improve overall health and wellbeing. When I first discovered yoga, I enjoyed putting my body into shapes, but over the last twelve years I’ve grown into a yoga teacher and lifelong student that has discovered this to be a never ending practice. In my experience, here are the ten most unexpected and powerful benefits of starting (and keeping up with) a yoga practice.
- 1. You learn how to breathe. Most of us use a very small percentage of our lung capacity as we breathe. More often than not, we are taking short, shallow breaths which are exasperated when we are stressed. Your diaphragm is a muscle, and the more you work it, the stronger it gets. The more you practice breathing, the more control you will have over it and the deeper, more nourishing breaths you’ll be able to take. Pranayama, or breath work, is a main component of yoga — without the focus on the breath, one would simply be stretching or working out. This practice will teach you how to manipulate the breath to change your state whether on or off the mat.
- You make friends with your mind. If you struggle with anxiety or depression, this practice can change your life. Yoga is a great way to reduce stress and educate yourself on how to become more present and aware of the current moment, which is an integral tool in managing anxiety and depression. Yoga promotes becoming curious about your thoughts and emotions without identifying as them. You will learn to notice what triggers you, and how to keep yourself grounded without being carried away by your emotions. In order to reduce stress, you often need to move the body and still the mind — and, yoga offers both!
- You learn stress management. This isn’t an unknown fact. Most of us agree that yoga helps manage stress, but I was surprised at the extent to which it does. By combining the focus of your breath, thoughts and feelings, you are learning how to relax. By moving your body and quieting your mind, you’re able to release both physical and mental tension.
- You gain strength & flexibility. Practicing yoga helps create strength throughout the entire body, while increasing range of motion. You’re creating balance, agility, strength, and flexibility with pretty much every practice.
- Yoga is a practice for life. Not only can yoga prevent health issues as we age and keep our physical bodies healthy, it can change as we move through life’s stages. Yoga isn’t just a physical practice, it is a mental and spiritual practice, too. No matter what stage of life or physical shape you are in, yoga can help with anti-aging.
- You can manage chronic pain. You don’t have to be a twenty-something to practice yoga. No matter what age or physical shape you are in, yoga can help with back pain, arthritis, high blood pressure, and physical aches.
- You learn to listen to your body. In the physical yoga practice, you are constantly reminded to pay attention to how you feel. Leaning into sensation helps teach you to listen and connect with your body. This practice will leave you feeling better and that is usually motivation enough to start implementing other health lifestyle changes in your life.
- You’ll sleep better. Learning and practicing relaxation helps with sleep! Yoga will give you movement and stillness, both a space to be strong and energetic, as well as relaxation and peace. Your body and mind will feel better, you’ll be less stressed, and your quality of sleep will improve.
- Yoga promotes personal development & growth. You could study yoga for your entire life and still not touch on everything there is to know. There is a multiplicity of different places to start with yoga. It can be a physical asana practice, meditation, and breathwork; it can be history, mythology, or the sacred texts. This journey is one of self-study and, if you try a few different things out, you’ll be sure to find at least a couple that really resonate with you.
- Yoga can help improve your focus. By practicing the alignment of breath and movement, you are practicing staying in the present moment. The real practice is off the mat and taking the lessons you learn in yoga into your everyday life. Can you remember to breathe when overwhelmed with emotion? Can you be 100% present? We live in a world where we are bombarded with distractions constantly, so yoga can be used as a tool to build the mental strength to not be overwhelmed by the constant noise.
We tend to be drawn to our yoga practice for a variety of different reasons, but at the bottom of it lies the desire to do better with ourselves and to others. This practice has helped me in all of these ways and so much more over the years, so I challenge you to take your first yoga class and see what it can do for you!
About the Author
India Allen is a twenty-something writer, yoga teacher, and health & wellness coach currently residing in the mountains of Idaho. She is a lover of quotes and asanas, the changing of seasons, old books, tattoos and chai tea. She attended Shanti Yoga Teacher Training where she found her passion in biomechanics, truth seeking, enlightening words, raw growth, and empowering others to understand why we do what we do in yoga.