Are you considering starting a yoga practice? Or perhaps you have done it before, but need a little extra inspiration to continue your practice?
Over the years, I’ve gone on a wonderful yoga journey and enjoyed the incredible benefits of the practice. And through the experience, I’m moved to encourage more people to try it and enjoy the incredible holistic healing benefits it offers.
Here are 6 powerful benefits of yoga to inspire you to roll out your mat more often:
1. Calm your body and mind
In today’s modern world, the majority of people are stressed. Most of us are constantly on the go, working hard and juggling many different things on a daily basis. Even when we don’t feel stressed, we likely still carry tension and pressure with us wherever we go.
I put this benefit at the top of the list, as stress and anxiety have been a challenge for me for a long time, and yoga has helped immensely in soothing the nerves. When I started going to Vinyasa and Bikram Yoga classes, I’d find myself walking briskly into a class, getting there just in time after a busy day at work. I would start the class carrying a load of stress, still thinking about work and life, planning out my to-do-list for the next day in my mind, all with a layer of panic that I should probably be working instead of doing yoga. At some point during the class, without realising it, my mind would shift and focus on the yoga poses, concentrating on my breath as the teacher instructed or on a pose such as a balancing tree. As my mind shifted, I’d find myself forgetting about my stresses and rather getting swept up in the yoga sequence. After the 60 or 90 minute class, I’d float out of the room, my whole body feeling light and alive, and incredibly, my mind was clear.
This was a much-needed practice for me, and through it, I have a strong belief that people should be doing more yoga, even if just to unwind and destress. Stress is very unhealthy for the body and mind, and it’s essential that we do what we can to find calm in this crazy world.
There are many ways the practice of yoga relaxes and calms the body and mind.
By moving and stretching your muscles, ligaments and joints, you release tension throughout your entire body. The meditative element of yoga adds to this calming effect, where you focus on your breathing and find a soothing rhythm within yourself as you move into the different poses. By focusing on your breathing and poses, your mind starts to quiet, and you find a wonderful sense of calm, balance and focus.
So, besides releasing tension in your body from top to bottom, you’re also calming your mind and soothing your nervous system. It really is a full body and mind activity, great for distressing and unwinding.
2. Protect your joints with low impact exercise
I started Yoga because I needed a low impact exercise. At the time, my favourite exercise was a Thai kickboxing called Muay Thai. I loved it so much, however, after a few months of jumping around, kicking and punching, the high impact took its toll on my joints. My ankles, in particular, couldn’t take anymore, and by that stage, I was starting to limp into class. I was devastated, as I really wanted to carry on. Alas, it was not going to be possible as I needed to heal my ankles, and so I started looking into yoga as a way to carry on exercising without further damaging my sore ankles.
Vinyasa Flow and Bikram Yoga were the first two yoga styles I tried, and it was a wonderfully interesting experience. Vinyasa was faster paced, as you’d move into different poses in the sequence with each exhale and inhale. There were many poses to familiarise myself with, but after a few classes, it became easier and easier. The Bikram classes were a longer 90-minute sequence, and more of a mental challenge for me, holding poses for longer and testing not only my physical ability but also my mental strength in staying still and holding it. Both classes were heated, so at the same time I was sweating and getting an intense cardio workout and detox, all without the impact on my joints.
In Yoga, you don’t jump around. You move calmly and organically from pose to pose. You breathe in and out and move into poses with calm intention. That’s what makes yoga so incredible. You exercise your whole body with a steady clear focus, giving you the ultimate low impact exercise for your body and mind.
3. Get a powerful full body workout
Many of those who don’t do yoga may see it as simply a meditative practise and not an exercise. Some may think that it’s simply where people zen-out, breathing, meditating and stretching.
I beg to differ and hope to inspire more to open their minds to approaching yoga as a highly effective exercise, with many added benefits. This article covers the basics and my experience, so afterwards I encourage you to read more on the subject.
When approaching yoga as an exercise, the first thing to consider is the type of yoga you do. There are many many different types of yoga, each with their own rhythm and style. Be sure to try a few, so that you can find one that works for you. A Vinyasa Flow class is a bit more like an aerobic workout, where you move from pose to pose with each inhale and exhale. It is more intense, and especially when done in a heated room, it is a sweat-it-out power class. Ashtanga, Hatha and Bikram are also great yoga workouts, but each has their own different approach. I find Ashtanga to be a more rigid and disciplined approach, with a focus on the hamstrings. Hatha is my personal favourite yoga style, with a more playful relaxed approach but still holding poses for a lovely long time and offering an intense workout. I’ve always enjoyed Bikram with its own unique style, but have always found it very challenging, as its poses test my mental ability to stay still. Of course, it depends on the teacher and studio.
Each of us will have different experiences and so it’s essential that you do a little research on the different types of yoga and go and give them a try. Don’t make up your mind after one or two classes, push through and do a few classes of a few types. Eventually you’ll find one that resonates with you.
Of course, there are types of yoga that are more focused on a meditative approach, and not necessarily full body workouts. It’s important to get to grips with the basic styles and give them a go. I can guarantee you that there is a yoga style out there that will give you the benefits you’re looking for, whether it’s to lose weight, tone your muscles, detox, de-stress, build strength and much more.
4. Stretch it out and stay young
As we grow older, especially if we sit at desks a lot, our spines start to curve. Just the other day, I saw a darling little old lady walking across the street at a full 90-degree angle. Straight up until her hips, and the rest bent over completely with her face basically looking at the ground as she walked along with her walking stick. My first thought was, “Gosh, if only she did a little yoga!”
Many of us sit a lot, at our desks, in our cars, at the television. Stretching your spine, instead of letting it compress or curl over time, is a good enough reason to do yoga. Just like we should all enjoy a really good long stretch in bed in the morning before we rise, a little yoga can go a long way.
Of course, yoga doesn’t only stretch your spine, it stretches pretty much every single part of your body. Our tired and tense muscles and ligaments are energised by a good stretch. Our internal organs benefit hugely too, as we give them an internal massage as we move around, pressing into different twists and turns.
Sometimes it really is the simple things that have a huge impact on our lives, and stretching is one of them. Instead of always running a marathon on that treadmill, give yourself one proper yoga stretch session and feel how good it feels. It is possibly one of the best ways to stay young, so why not give it a go? You can read more on the science behind stretching, but just know, it’s great for you. It feels good, doesn’t it?
5. Reconnect with your body through balance
When I started yoga, I found myself wobbling around a lot. My balance was out. It took a little time before I found the focus to reconnect with my body and maintain a level of control over it in order to stay balanced in the poses.
This aspect made me realise how we do disconnect from our bodies, living predominantly in our minds instead. Yoga asks us to let go of the mental business we carry with us and to instead to take the time to reconnect with our bodies through breath. To breath in and breath out deeply for an extended period of time, as we move from pose to pose, stretching, twisting, turning. Feeling our bodies move into different positions.
As you move from pose to pose, you connect with your body. Spreading out your toes and pushing them into the ground. Stretching out your hands on either side and feeling your upper back expand. Breathing in and out through your stomach. Making little adjustments as you go, building a healthy posture and expanding your whole body.
Many of the poses involve an aspect of balance. You will find that, when you start yoga, your balance will be out and you’ll find yourself wobbling into a pose. As you connect with your body, learning to really breathe deeply, you’ll find your rhythm and balance. It feels empowering as you move out of our mind, and into your body in a controlled way.
6. Move, sweat and detox
We’ve all got baggage right? As we move along through life, we’re collecting residue along the way. Be it mentally, emotionally or physically. There is always residue, and yoga is a great way to cleanse our bodies and minds, inside out.
Exercise, in general, is a great detox. It is a way to actively get our bits and pieces moving around, breathing new life into our bodies. Being active stimulates circulation, digestion and the overall flow of everything within our bodies. Some go as far as saying that those that keep active live longer.
Besides being active, sweating it out is another great way to detox. If you do a yoga like Vinyasa Flow, you’ll likely break into an invigorating sweat. I would recommend trying a heated class, of Vinyasa Flow or Bikram. At the end of one of these classes, you’ll have sweated a lot, and your body would’ve enjoyed a cleansing detox.
Besides movement and sweating it out, there are other detoxifying benefits of specific yoga poses that you can enjoy. Most of the yoga poses do each have their benefits, but there is one I have found very effective. The ‘Shoulder Stand’, often done at the end of a class, is a great example. You turn your entire body upside down with your legs up straight in the air, and your body resting mostly on your shoulders. Holding this post for even just a min allows your fluids to flow up your body, hugely important in getting rid of stagnant fluids and improving circulation and lymphatic drainage.
Are you ready to enjoy the nourishing benefits of yoga?
I hope that this post has inspired you to give yoga a go or to do a little more of it. There are so many benefits of this incredible practice. And because there are so many types of yoga, you can go out and find the styles that work for you in the best way possible. Go and explore, you’ll not regret it!