You’ve probably heard it before, maybe even from your doctor. Yoga is beneficial. But what exactly are these benefits? The seven benefits mentioned below have been felt by me and people I’ve taught. In fact, all the quotes below were given as testimonials after a two month class with me. Read on to discover the possibilities.
1. Increase flexibility and range of motion.
Most of the time, we as people do the same things over and over again. This shortens the muscles in the body and creates areas of tightness or inflexibility. In yoga, not only are the asanas (poses/shapes) different from the things we do during our day, they’re also held for extended periods of time. Over time, this brings flexibility, and with flexibility can come increased range of motion.
“I started to be able to bend more.” --Melissa Tonn
2. Build strength.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog focusing on if yoga is really exercise, students in a vinyasa yoga class lift and lower their bodies many times. It’s kinda like doing a tricep pushup, only more enjoyable (at least from my perspective). Students might even balance on their arms! But even without all this lifting and lowering and arm balances, the simple (or not so simple) act of practicing standing poses builds strength through isometric contractions. This means that even though you aren’t moving, your muscles are working because they’re holding your body up in whatever position you place it. All these body weight resistant activities and isometric contractions make the muscles work, which eventually builds strength.
“I realized how much strength I had gained.” --Melissa Tonn
3. Improve breathing.
We do a lot of breathing throughout our day. It’s kinda how we survive. However, when you practice yoga, you actually focus on your breathing. It’s used as a tool. You learn to control your breath, and you practice working with your breath. Therefore, like anything else we practice, we have the ability to get better at it as long as we practice correctly.
“I appreciate learning how breathing can relax and focus a person.” --Shelly Mix
4. Create and improve body awareness.
So many times, we go around life in autopilot. We place our bodies in certain positions without even knowing we do it. For example, I stand on one leg more than the other when I wait in line. Athletes have their favorite activity and place their bodies in the best way for that activity. Is your bicycle molded to fit you, or are you molded to fit your bicycle? Whatever it is, the body becomes comfortable in certain positions. Then it becomes stuck. Then it becomes numb. While practicing yoga, students bring in new movements and are focused on where and how they place the body because of the following: these asanas (poses) are different than their regular, everyday positions; focusing on how the body is reacting to these asanas helps prevent injury; and focus and intention are actually part of the practice. With all that focus on how the body is placed and what parts of the body are moving, you bet there’s an improvement in body awareness.
“All of the stretching and positions really cued me in on what worked for my body to feel better.” -- Cara Keup
5. Calm the mind and decrease stress.
Certain muscles are engaged in the fight or flight response. If these muscles are continually tight, the body will continually be in a state of stress. Once these muscles are stretched, they can begin to relax, which brings the body out of that fight or flight mode. There are even poses (ie. placing the forehead on the ground or a block) that send a message to the brain to let the body know that all is well. By focusing on what the body is doing, students become present in the moment instead of focusing on the 10,000 other things they have to do. The way the breath is used during practice, like reverse engineering the fight or flight response, actually triggers the mind and body to relax. Even the location and atmosphere of the class can contribute to a sense of relaxation.
“[Going to yoga] helped me get away mentally and physically!” --Ashley Visner
6. Increase quality of life.
One of the great things about yoga is that all these benefits above don’t just stay in the yoga classroom or on your mat. They come with you into your daily life, and the techniques learned in the class --- mindfulness, being aware of your body, strength and flexibility, etc --- can be translated out into the real world. Being more aware, can allow people to see areas of their life, thoughts, or habits where they can affect change. Plus, going to a yoga class gives students the chance to meet new people who might share the same interests and values as them. It’s a great opportunity to get to know other people, make new friends, and build community. What better way is there to improve quality of life than knowing you’re not alone and that there are people out there who care about you?
“It was great getting to know you and meeting new students.” --Carol Lewis
7. You get to know you.
This might sound silly since you’re with yourself all the time, but it really happens. Not only do the students get to re-discover their body and how it works, they get to re-discover themselves. At the beginning of most classes, students have the opportunity to set an intention. It is in setting this intention, that students have the opportunity to become more in tune with what they want or value. Plus, once you step onto the mat, it’s not like the thoughts stop happening. Thoughts happen all the time. It’s when we’re allowed to hear them in the relative silence of our practice that we can begin to examine them and ourselves.
“[I got] more in touch with my inner self through breathing with intention” --Sharon Lucey
Have you experienced any benefits from yoga? Please feel free to share your experience in the comments below.