I’ve been practicing meditation for about four years now. Over that time, I have occasionally practiced some yoga, but never really got into it until this fall. I’ve been doing an amazing at-home yoga practice through a youtube channel Yoga with Adriene. She has so many amazing yoga sequences and 30-day challenges. Today marks day 61 of my yoga journey, and I can honestly say I now understand what all the fuss is about. It’s an amazing feeling when you can actually get good exercise but feel relaxed at the same time. That’s the best part about yoga for me – it’s something I genuinely look forward to each day.
A little bit of background…
Yoga is something that has been practiced for thousands of years and originated in ancient India. The word “yoga” can be roughly translated as the practice of joining the mind, body, and spirit in order to achieve freedom. Consisting of physical stretching exercises to build flexibility and relax the muscles, it can serve many therapeutic benefits both physically and mentally. There are various forms and variations of yoga practice, some more meditation-based, other more active. It has been proven to have numerous health benefits and even assist with some serious conditions. Here are just a few of the incredible benefits that I’ve personally experienced from doing yoga.
- Synching the Mind and the Body:
Yoga focuses a lot on combining stretching exercises with controlled breathing. It’s so interesting because with most exercise we think of rapid movements and fast-paced intervals, where we find ourselves constantly getting out of breath. But the cool thing about yoga is that you are breathing at a slow and controlled pace along with your movements. Instead of doing many intervals of one particular stretch or movement, you are staying in one stretch longer to create a deeper stretch and more mindful experience. It’s been really cool to see how much yoga benefits me in other types of exercise as well. After regularly practicing yoga, I noticed my breathing was more controlled in my running.
- Increasing Strength
One of the more obvious benefits of yoga is that it increases your strength. Since yoga is based on practicing various stretching postures, it allows you to gradually develop and strengthen these various postures and poses. In working on these poses and expanding into new poses, you are building strength each and every day in various muscles throughout the body. Yoga also tests your stamina – as (unlike with many high-intensity workouts) you learn to stay in one posture for long periods of time and really deepen your stretches. The fun part is you’re constantly testing your limits and surprising yourself!
- Improving Flexibility
Another amazing benefit of yoga is how it really works to loosen up your muscles and increase your overall flexibility. It’s kind of amazing to see how the poses which once seemed absolutely impossible, over time, become possible, and even enjoyable! There are always more opportunities to challenge yourself and explore new territories and new ways of stretching your body. But there’s no rush – you can work at your own pace, but gradually you’ll start finding yourself loosening up and struggling a little less to do those poses!
- Building Balance
Yoga is also amazing for your balance. There are so many specific poses which allow you to really work on gaining control of your balance. This is an area which I find amazing to see that mind-body connection. I notice some days when I feel more focused and clear-headed, I find it easier to maintain those balance postures. On days when I’m struggling a little bit more with stress, anxiety, or frustration, I find it a little more challenging to reach that balance. The important thing is to accept that it is going to vary day to day, and just be aware of your current energy level.
- Energize & Help You Wake Up
When I first started doing yoga this past fall, I would do it in the morning before work. I was pleasantly surprised at how much it helped me feel more awake and focus my mind. I’ve always noticed the benefits of stretching especially early in the morning. Yoga is particularly good for this purpose, because, in addition to getting those deep stretches, it also functions as a practice of meditation and mindfulness. It’s definitely an amazing way to start your day!
- Aid Headaches and Stomach Aches
Another benefit of yoga which I have personally experienced is its ability to aid with stomach issues. Of course, if you’ve got the stomach flu or a serious stomach disorder, yoga is not going to heal you. However, if you find yourself getting mild stomach aches, nausea, or digestive discomfort, particular yoga poses can be very beneficial. Deep breathing is really good for promoting healthy digestion, and doing these stretches in particular postures can really help the natural flow of our body systems. I’ve also noticed that yoga has been very beneficial to me in relieving mild headaches. This practice is so amazing because it just further proves how strong the mind-body connection truly is.
- Stress/Anxiety Relief
I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression for years, and it was one of the main reasons why I became interested in meditation in the first place. Meditation really opened me up to accepting who I am and accepting my feelings, rather than running from them. Yoga has continued to help me deal with both anxiety and daily stress. Mindful breathing and stretching really help me to slow down and take control. Being able to really focus on different poses and maintain controlled breathing really allows me to focus on the present moment and clear my mind of all the other stresses in my life.
- Positive Thinking & Empowerment
In my opinion, one of the best parts of practicing yoga is the way it makes you feel. Not just physically, but mentally, yoga is incredibly powerful in facilitating the flow of positive energy. Each practice you can really make your own, and you can choose to focus or channel energy on a particular subject which may be relevant to you. It’s also fun because each time you practice you are improving your poses and surprising yourself at what you are able to do and the ways in which you are able to move. It’s always empowering when you learn new poses and strengthen your postures.
All in all, I’ve found so many incredible benefits from yoga both mentally and physically. I’m still somewhat new at it, and I’m not an expert yogi quite yet, but these are some amazing things that I have experienced thus far. I can honestly say that I look forward to it each day. Even on days when I may not be completely feeling it, I generally always come out of it feeling better than I did when I started. It’s something that is going to be different for everyone and is going to benefit everyone in their own ways. It can’t be forced, and if you go into it with expectations to be able to do every pose perfectly right away, you will be disappointed. Most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself and go at your own pace. The practice should be for you, not for anyone else. It’s all about knowing and learning your body and bringing your attention and breath to the practice.
So, be mindful. Be patient. Be aware. Be you.
Focus. Breathe. Open up to the practice.