It’s likely no surprise that I’m a huge fan of yoga. I’ve been practicing for about 6.5-7 years now and it’s truly become one of those things that I didn’t know what I did without it. Yoga has had a major impact on my life in a way that I didn’t think was possible. After all, when I joined my first yoga studio I thought it was going to be like any other fitness bootcamp I did in the past. Boy, was I wrong! While I know it seems a little dramatic to say that yoga had such a profound impact on my life, but it really has. You can check out my post here where I talk about how much I love yoga.
There are a ton of benefits to practicing yoga on a regular (or even semi-regular) basis. Just like anything else, the more you do it, the more benefits you’ll start to see. I’ve divided them into two categories: physical and mental/spiritual. The list below is mainly focused on benefits experienced during a yoga class, but there are a lot of benefits that follow you from the studio and enter your regular life… you can taken a lot of them with you.
Physical Benefits of Yoga
Increased flexibility – you always hear people say they can’t do yoga because they are not flexible. That is absolutely false. Everyone can do yoga! I have had the tightest hamstrings since forever, and while I still can’t fully touch my toes without bending my knees, I am getting better. It’s a slow process and that’s OK. But yoga can help improve your overall flexibility with regular practice.
Increased strength – there are different types of yoga, with some being more restorative and meditative but others are powerful classes that move quickly and really build a sweat. If you’re into Ashtanga or power yoga, you know how much strength is required for those classes, but slower classes also build strength by holding the poses longer or really getting deep into them. Generally, yoga is going to help build up your overall strength as you learn to move through the flows.
Builds a stronger core – in line with building up strength is building up your core. Not only does yoga require a ton of balance for certain poses, but even coming into chaturanga essentially lowering down from a plank position (and you do a lot of chaturangas each class). The balance required in both power classes and a lighter hatha class is the same, but I’d even argue that hatha classes build up your core more because you move through the flows slower so you really get a feel for them. I know when I’m in a power class sometimes I’m rushing through the flows just to keep up with everyone.
Improves circulation – as with building up your strength and core, yoga can help improve your circulation. The flows really do help the blood circulate and flow through your body. It’s thought that the twisting in and out of poses help the oxygenated blood flow easier. Any type of inversion pose (where you head is lower than your heart) can help to give the heart a break because it doesn’t have to pump the blood so far to your brain. It also allows some “drainage” from your other limbs.
Can get your heart rate up – there have been times when in a power yoga class that I have needed to stop and take a rest because I’ve been completely out of breath. I felt like I just did a full cardio class and it was only a 15 minute series. Power yoga or Ashtanga classes are great for getting that heart rate right up, but the slower classes can also have the same impact… holding certain positions for long periods of time require concentration and stamina and that heart rate starts increasing fast!
Improves posture – when you start doing yoga on a regular, or even semi-regular basis, you’ll start to notice your posture improving. That’s from building up your core and your strength overall. With your core strength improved, your spine can remain in a nice straight line. Yoga can help to open your shoulders and help to keep them inlined, as opposed to rounded forward from sitting at a desk all day.
Works out your brain – one of the favourite things about my hot yoga instructor is that she makes us use your brains. We don’t just follow her instructions; she puts us to work! She’ll build a flow and as a class we’ll work through it three or four times and then she kills the lights, cranks the music and we’re on our own. It’s so powerful! But I do admit that I have completely blanked out when I wasn’t paying close enough attention and I just had to sit on my mat until the flow came back. Even if you’re not in that type of class, yoga can help work out your brain as you sometimes have to truly think about how you will get into a pose, you think about activating certain muscles and you focus on your breathing.
Improves digestion – all that twisting has to be good for more than one thing, right? But it is true: yoga may help improve your digestion. Yoga can help reduce bloating and make it so the food doesn’t sit heavy in your stomach. There are even certain poses that are said to be helpful to do after dinner to get things moving. Overall, yoga leads to a more relaxed state and that’s very important for your digestive tract. When your digestive tract is relaxed, the food and move more feely through it.
Mental & Spiritual Benefits of Yoga
Quiets the mind – by focusing on nothing but yourself and the movements and your breath, your mind stops racing and calms down. There is definitely a meditative aspect to yoga. The final pose of savasana (or corpse pose) is where you can really get the benefits from meditation. It can be hard to quiet your mind… when I first started practicing yoga, I wasn’t even sure what that meant…and even now, there are times when I still struggle to simply focus on my breath and not what errands I have to run when class is over.
Helps you to connect to your breath and self – if you’ve been to a yoga class, you’ve likely heard your instructor say something like “focus on your breath,” or “bring it back to your breath.” We hear those a lot in yoga and they are a much needed reminder that yoga isn’t about finishing the flow first or being the fastest to get into a certain pose. It’s about learning to connect to your body. Each movement follows a breath and each breath follows a movement. When you learn to move through the flow with your inhales and exhales there is a sense of connectivity that is present and so powerful.
Can help lower stress – exercise in general lowers stress by releasing endorphins that target the opiate receptors in our brain and give us a sense of overall pleasure. If you’re a runner, you may have experienced that “runner’s high” everyone keeps talking about. I’m not a runner but I have experienced a “workout high,” I guess. Yoga is no different in that endorphins are released and we get that overall sense of pleasure that naturally reduces stress, even if it is for just a 60-minute class.
Boosts happiness – lower stress levels, meditative end poses, stronger physical body… what’s not to be happy about? I know that when I leave a yoga class, or when I’ve just finished a video at home, I feel great and relaxed and all around happier. Usually that feeling lasts a while, too! People who have committed to a regular yoga practice have an overall sense of increased happiness. When I’m feeling out of sorts, I know it’s time to get to my mat and that once I do, I’ll instantly feel better. And happier.
Improves focus and concentration – this one goes in line with ‘working out your brain.’ In yoga, we are challenged to focus on our breath and the movement and because we are learning to focus on one thing we learn to deepen that concentration. With that knowledge in hand, we can then take that into our day-to-day lives and apply it outside of yoga. Not to mention, challenging our bodies to twist and fold into different positions we didn’t think was possible takes a lot of focus. Sometimes it’s a thought of, “how am I supposed to do that?” Not to mention, holding certain poses does require A LOT of concentration!
Leads to a better appreciation for your body – as with any type of physical activity, when you really see how strong your body is, it’s a mind-blowing thing! I know the first time I kicked up into a handstand and actually held my position for about 0.2 seconds, I landed on my mat with the biggest smile on my face. I couldn’t believe what I’d just done. When I saw others gracefully popping up into handstand I thought it was something I’d never be able to do. But yoga teaches us that our bodies are strong and powerful and wonderful.
There are so many other benefits to doing yoga, but these are the main ones that come to my mind. I truly believe there are only benefits to yoga and no negative consequences (although, like anything else, pushing yourself too far can lead to injury). As the saying goes, “I regret going to yoga. Said no one ever.”