One of the most difficult things about yoga (asana) is getting to the mat. Excuses such as “There’s not enough time” or “I’m too tired” run rampant in our society of go-go-go. The irony is it’s the very activity that will energize your body, calm your thoughts and bring about a general sense of well-being.
But that’s not all. Yoga has dozens of benefits that positively impact our mind and body on psychological, physiological and chemical levels. Here are the top 5 reasons to practice yoga.
1. It improves strength, flexibility and posture.
A series of yoga poses, known as asanas, work by gently engaging and stretching your muscles. This releases the lactic acid that builds up with everyday use causing stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue. By focusing on the feeling in our muscles and breathing deeply into a stretch, our minds relax and help pull the body further into a pose. Over time, muscles become more smooth, firm and elongated. With this increased strength and flexibility comes better posture. Most standing and sitting poses develop core strength and with a stronger core, you’re more likely to sit and stand “tall.” This important shift in body language increases self-confidence and opens the heart.
2. It prevents sickness.
You may notice that you get far fewer illnesses while engaging in a regular yoga practice. That’s because yoga massages and nourishes every single cell in the body. By gently stretching muscles and joints as well as massaging the various internal and external organs, yoga ensures the optimum blood supply and balance of energy flow. In effect, yoga improves circulation, lowers blood pressure, stimulates the abdominal organs, conditions the lungs, optimizes the gastrointestinal tract, strengthens the lymphatic system and massages the glandular system of the body, sweeping the toxins away. Your immune system becomes stronger and your health improves.
3. It boosts your energy, focus and concentration.
Many areas of our lives suck the energy we’ve so thoughtfully contained in the form of rest. By being consciously aware and present during this activity, yoga serves as a way to plug into a power source that energizes and brightens your being. The attention required in yoga to maintain the structured breathing in conjunction with yoga poses increases the ability to keep a sharp focus on tasks. Therefore, you can get a lot more done in a shorter period of time outside of the yoga studio.
4. It puts you in a better mood.
Yoga includes a lot of stretching, but that’s not all. Yoga also focuses on meditation which in turn calms thoughts, relieves stress and lightens heavy feelings. Research shows that engaging in yoga postures has a positive impact on mood and anxiety on a chemical level inside the brain that helps induce relaxation and sleep. Deep breathing and relaxation releases oxytocin, otherwise known as “the cuddle hormone” which is responsible for stimulating many positive social interactions. In other words, yoga can make you happy.
5. It harmonizes your body and mind.
In Sanskrit, yoga literally means “to join together.” Sometimes we forget that our mind and body are connected. Yoga allows us to get more intimate with ourselves and see emotions more clearly. Emotions function in us as the “juice” that makes us feel more alive and connects us to other people in the world. If we only exist in our minds without feeling in our body, our lives feel lonely and flat. With a consistent practice, you will find that your overall balance of body and mind will improve both inside and outside of yoga class.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Interestingly, yoga has a snowball effect: the more you practice, the more layers of benefits you will receive. It gives us permission to take a break from our stressful and sedentary lives and invites a sensation of inner peace and groundedness instead. No matter what your level of yoga, you will most likely see and feel these changes in a very short period of time.
So, find your yoga mat, unroll it, sit down and just breathe for a few moments. Congratulate yourself for getting there. The hardest part is done.