9 Ways Yoga Will Improve Your Life
The Many Benefits of Child's Pose and Downward Dog
Although yoga — as well as the pants it has inspired — has become hugely popular in recent decades, it's still not widely acknowledged in a lot of mainstream health and fitness sources.
Many people are still turned off by the "new-age" aspects of the activity.
Even more find the poses and stretches intimidating, and few men are willing to give it a try.
What people who don't practice yoga might not realize is that there is much more to it than body contortions and chanting. Yoga is not just reserved for tofu-eating hippies and acrobats...
That's why today I'd like to outline for our readers all the major benefits anyone can get from practicing yoga — including beginners and veteran yogis — as well as how you can easily incorporate them into your life.
1. Stress Relief. Yoga literally means "union." More specifically, yoga refers to the relationship between body and mind... and anyone who's been to a yoga class knows how much emphasis is put onto clearing the mind and focusing on the present moment.
Essentially, yoga is a form of meditation that allows us to relax and combat stress and anxiety by letting go (if only temporarily) of worries. When I'm feeling particularly stressed or anxious about something, I immediately feel a physical change after just 45 minutes of yoga.
Stress is one of the major causes of weight gain in Americans. Getting a handle on how you deal with it can make a huge difference in your waistline — as well as your mental well-being.
2. Endurance. It may seem like a stretch (pun intended), but all the stationary poses employed in yoga can actually have an immense impact on your endurance. This is because yoga emphasizes awareness of the breath at all times. Your breath moves you from one posture to the next, and helps keep you focused and balanced throughout your practice.
This awareness translates to other activities as well. As a long distance runner, practicing yoga has totally transformed the way I breathe while running. Just by focusing on taking longer, slower breaths, my endurance has improved vastly, and I no longer exert unnecessary energy on those long 10- or 20-mile runs.
3. Patience. If there's one thing you need to get into extended side crow (if you don't know what that is, you'll get there) or any other challenging yoga pose, it's patience. When many people take up yoga for the first time — particularly athletes — they still have the mentality of pushing themselves to get to the most advanced position possible.
While it's good to strive toward a goal, yoga is about knowing the limits of your body and working within them while you improve. Having the patience to master the basics of a pose before moving into trickier variations will also invite this mindset into the rest of your life as well, allowing you to stay cool and collected in the face of a challenge.
4. Detox. Forget going on a juice cleanse... the poses you do in yoga can actually stimulate your organs (namely the kidneys and liver) and activate your natural detoxification processes.
Any simple twist posture will help with this; while any type of dynamic yoga helps increase the flow of oxygenated blood to the organs, an incredibly cleansing process.
5. Strength. Relaxation may be a major component of yoga, but you're fooling yourself if you think that means it's easy...
Many of the more advanced poses activate several muscle groups at once, while balance poses require great upper body and core strength. Yoga will help build and tone lean muscles and burn fat just like any other fitness routine.
6. Balance. Literally speaking, yoga incorporates tons of balance postures. From standing on one leg to headstands to even balancing on one hand, your stability will, without a doubt, be challenged.
But yoga also encourages balance in other aspects of your life as well. Besides bringing mental clarity to help deal with the balance of stress, yoga can physically balance your hormones by bringing your endocrine system into equilibrium. Certain relaxing poses like child's pose can even help reduce the release of cortisol, the obesity-causing stress hormone, into the body.
7. Concentration. As I mentioned before, in yoga, one of the main purposes of practice is to focus on the present. This requires intense concentration and the will to keep your mind from wandering as it does constantly. Taking the time to hone this ability will help you concentrate at work, at home, or on any task that requires your full attention.
8. Flexibility. This may seem like a no-brainer, but the stretches in postures incorporated in yoga will lead to much improved flexibility. Flexibility is proven to minimize the risk of injury and to improve aerobic training in athletes of all sports.
As we age, our flexibility is one of the first things to deteriorate if we do not constantly work on it. Fitting in several yoga or stretching sessions a week will help keep your muscles and joints in good working condition.
9. Confidence. Finally, yoga can dramatically help build confidence through self awareness. Yoga is non-competitive by nature, so the only opponent you have is yourself. By testing your own bodily limits and boundaries, you really get to know what you are capable of, and you can watch yourself improve and exceed goals over time. Seeing these improvements in yourself naturally increases self confidence, which we all know is a key to success and happiness.
After reading about all of these amazing benefits, you may find yourself ready to give yoga a try right now. The great thing is — you can! Don't be intimidated by the cost or equipment... Sure, there are many trendy and expensive yoga classes and accessories, but the truth is all you really need is a mat and the willingness to learn. Many yoga videos are available free online or readily found in stores, although you will notice a big difference in practicing "live" with others in a classroom setting.
Search in your city for free group yoga classes or invest in a membership at a studio. Many gyms also offer free classes included with your regular monthly membership.
Try yoga just once a week for a month, and I guarantee you'll learn new things about yourself and your abilities, and perhaps even find that inner peace you've been looking for.