Have you been thinking about trying yoga, or if you already have, incorporating it into your regular routine? Maybe you’re hesitant because you believe a common yoga myth (like that it’s not really exercise; read about common yoga myths here!), or maybe you feel intimidated to walk into a studio for a class. Or maybe your hesitation is because you simply want to know why you should do yoga in the first place; what are some specific results one can expect from taking up a regular yoga practice?
In this post we’ll learn about five common benefits of a regular yoga practice, things that come naturally but gradually with consistent effort. This can be tough for those of us who crave instant gratification, and often throw in the towel when something doesn’t change our lives after two weeks. Occasional effort is beneficial, but consistent practice is what improves lives. As you’ll see in this post however, the benefits of yoga are more than worth the effort!
Yoga Practice Benefit #1: Increased Strength and Flexibility
A common misconception for people who have never tried yoga is that it is not really exercise. Although it is true that there are styles of yoga that are more about stretching and relaxation, there are plenty of styles that are more physically involved. A class that involves standing and balancing poses, and flows from one pose to the next, will be a major physical workout. Styles like yin and restorative yoga will be less physical, while styles like vinyasa and hatha yoga will involve more movement and difficult holds.
Yoga provides a perfect combination of strength training and stretching that leaves your muscles fluid, stretchy, and healthy. A lot of poses involve holding up your own weight, and that is not an easy task to do. Yoga uses the built-in weights of our body to build muscle strength while simultaneously stretching them to increase flexibility and range of motion. In yoga you will utilize nearly every muscle group. Ask anyone about their first class; they’ll likely tell you it was harder than they thought!
Yoga Practice Benefit #2: Calmer Mind
This is the #1 reason I kept returning to yoga and ultimately, made it part of my daily life. A regular practice will quiet the mental chatter in your mind and leave you feeling more peaceful and content. Our minds are often preoccupied, thinking about the past or envisioning the future.
Yoga encourages us to pay attention. In class, we need to listen to the instructor so we know which pose to do next, get ourselves into the pose, adjust for comfortability, find our balance, and focus on our breath simultaneously. This is a lot for the brain to do, and it leaves little room for thinking about what we should make for dinner or worrying about an upcoming deadline. Yoga helps retrain our minds to come back to the present.
Yoga Practice Benefit #3: Less Physical Pain
This benefit of yoga goes hand in hand with increased strength and flexibility, but it is so meaningful and so prevalent once you take up a regular yoga practice that it deserves a section of its own. Yoga reduces stress and inflammation, as well as anxiety in the body. Yin yoga, for example, is known to reduce chronic pain caused by arthritis. Yoga is often used to aid people in recovering from injury or surgery, or a major illness.
I have shoulder and neck tension from previously untreated scoliosis. The muscles around my shoulders contract and become tense and rigid. If I do nothing, I get painful knots that significantly decrease my quality of life. I see a chiropractor and get regular massages, but it is yoga that gives me daily relief. Yoga warms our muscles and stretches them gently. This releases tension in the muscles and strain on the joints and surrounding tissues.
Yoga Practice Benefit #4: Greater Tolerance/Compassion
When we are less consumed with our own suffering as a result of a regular yoga practice, we are better able to consider the needs of others. A regular yoga practice will free up mental space normally spent thinking about our own challenges and pains. As our body starts to feel healthier and our mind less chaotic, we become more sensitive to the ways in which other people suffer.
Yoga helps us realize our connection with not only every other human being on the planet, but every animal, every blade of grass, and every raindrop. We realize that our suffering is not unique, and that every person we cross paths with in our lives is experiencing their own problems, confusion, and pain. Being aware of this shared human experience will soften our judgements of others, and motivate us to do what we can to make life a little easier for the people we encounter.
Yoga Practice Benefit #5: Improved Circulation and Digestion
I grouped these together because the way yoga improves our circulation and digestion is the same. Simply put, yoga gets things moving in our bodies. Other forms of exercise do this too, but yoga is unique because of its incorporation of stretching, twisting, and holding our bodies in different positions. This gets our blood moving, and to areas of the body that need replenishing. Yoga poses also massage our internal organs, stimulating circulation and increased oxygen to our cells.
(Click here for great information about yoga’s effect on the circulatory system!)
This internal massage benefit is also how yoga helps our digestion. Most styles of yoga involve a lot of twisting and stretching and utilize our core in some way. This squeezes the abdominal organs which releases toxins and restores proper flow of energy. A regular yoga practice will help balance the bacteria in the gut, which can help with things like IBS and Crohn’s. Gut health is also important for our mental health (read more about that here!).
Come experience the benefits of a regular yoga practice with us at Inspiring Actions! Our studios in Hudson and River Falls, Wisconsin, over a variety of classes for all levels of experience, including our Yoga 101 series for the complete newbie. Check out our full schedule here for a list and description of our classes. Consistency is key, so find a class (or two!) that you like and take it often!