Yoga has been growing in popularity over the last decade. It seems like you can’t throw a rock in any city without hitting a yoga studio these days.
You might be wondering why yoga is so popular lately. Well, there are several reasons why. Yoga provides physical and mental benefits that are hard to find through traditional exercise.
Ahead, we’ll take a look at some of the mental and physical benefits of yoga that you can experience after only a few sessions.
What is Yoga?
If you’re learning about yoga for the first time, you might be wondering: what is yoga?
Well, no one is 100% sure when the practice started, but most people believe that it was created in India nearly 2,000 years ago. Back then, yoga had multiple elements to it and helped to connect the body and mind with the world around it.
Now, most people focus on the physical element of yoga. They put themselves in positions designed to fortify the body, increase endurance, and improve flexibility. These positions put the body and mind in a better state for long-form meditations.
While you don’t have to meditate to experience the benefits yoga brings, the two go hand-in-hand. You might find yourself becoming more mindful, which will inevitably lead to a budding interest in meditation as well.
Physical Benefits of Yoga
There’s a reason yoga is catching on across the country and the world. There are numerous health benefits of yoga that people experience every day. It can bring your body and mind together, providing you with energy, flexibility, and a whole-body workout.
The most obvious benefit of yoga is increased flexibility throughout your body. Yoga positions are uncomfortable at first, but they eventually become second-nature. As you become more experienced with yoga, you’ll start to notice that you can complete more of the positions in your class.
You might enter the class for the first time without stretching since you played sports in high school. Once you complete a few week’s worth of sessions, your legs, back, arms – everything – will start to loosen up.
Eventually, those muscle cramps and back pain you may have experienced will start to disappear. Much of this pain comes from tight muscles and ligaments, and yoga forces them to move, contract, and expand.
You might not realize it, but poor posture is the root of a lot of problems. Carrying your head slightly forward causes strain on your back and neck muscles. This will eventually lead to pain in those areas, as well as overall fatigue on a regular basis.
If you sit in a computer chair all day, you likely don’t have the best posture. Our heads begin to fall forward, and our back and neck take on added pressure. Yoga helps reverse some of the damage a daily work grid has on our bodies.
Yoga stretches you out, relieving some of the pressure your sagging head puts on your muscles and spine. After a few weeks of practice, you should notice your neck and back are straighter than they ever have been before.
Better Physical Fitness
Balancing flexibility with muscle development is essential. Being overly flexible without any muscle mass to support your spine isn’t healthy, and neither is having too much muscle mass without any flexibility.
Yoga is one of the ways you can work on both muscle growth and flexibility at the same time. You won’t look like a bodybuilder after a year of yoga, but you’ll gain lean muscles that will help support your spine.
If you take your first “Yoga for Beginners” class, you’ll undoubtedly feel some muscle burn in places you haven’t before. Yoga will hit some of the underrepresented muscles that you might neglect – even if you regularly exercise.
Yoga is one of the best overall exercises you can complete because of the way it mixes enhanced flexibility with improving your muscle activation.
One of the elements of yoga is breathing, focusing on your breath, and taking deep breaths. Not only will taking a deep breath calm your nerves, it helps expand your lung capacity and enables you to breathe more easily.
Most yoga classes will tell you to breathe through your nose. Breathing this way helps to filter the air that enters your lungs. If you have asthma or other breathing problems, breathing through your nose will do wonders for you. It also helps to regulate the temperature of the air, which puts you at a lower risk for an asthma attack.
Mental Benefits of Yoga
Yoga doesn’t work on your body alone. There are several mental benefits that yoga provides its participants.
Yoga is the cure for many of life’s ailments. The daily work and family grind can take its toll on your mind. Even those of us with the happiest lives become stressed, depressed and anxious over time.
Yoga provides us with an escape from all of that. Whether you practice once or twice a week or every day, yoga helps us cope with some of the weight daily life puts on us.
One of the most notable effects yoga has on our minds comes in the form of stress relief. Stress compounds on our bodies and minds, making us tired, anxious, and irritable.
If you go to work for eight hours, go to the gym, then come home to make dinner and deal with some shouting kids, all of that stress takes its toll. The net result is probably an anxious mess, or at least a stress hangover the next day.
You can break the routine of feeling stressed and groggy with a yoga session. Clearing your mind and remaining calm are two of the cornerstones of practicing yoga. After some practice, you’ll even start to be able to channel these new skills into your daily life when you’re feeling stressed and anxious.
Improves Your Mood
Yoga improves the mood of virtually anyone who tries it, and there’s no secret as to why. First of all, most people already know that exercise improves people’s mood. You might not feel it right away, but you’ll start to feel better about yourself once you exercise.
If you don’t think yoga is a workout, then you’ve obviously never tried it. On top of that, yoga brings harmony to the body and the mind. You’ll start to feel your body’s movements more fluidly, and begin to forget the problems that were weighing on your mind.
Meditation and yoga can both help sharpen your mind and improve your focus. If you’re having a hard time concentrating at work, you might be suffering from a host of conditions. Things like lack of sleep, anxiety, and mood all affect how well you can focus.
Yoga is like a reset button for your brain. You’ll feel sharp and focused after a session, and this usually lasts through the next day. Even more, practicing yoga will help you harness your new skill when you’re off the mat.
Regularly practicing yoga gives your senses a break from the constant stimulus of modern life. Our senses often work overtime, and our sleep cycle suffers as a result.
Yoga gives your senses a break while working your muscles at the same time. You might not feel tired right away, but you’ll have an easier time falling asleep, and your sleep cycle will dramatically improve. You’ll start to get more REM sleep and wake feeling more rested than you usually do.
Enhanced sleep is a physical benefit, but you’ll feel the mental benefits of better sleep when you wake up in the morning.
Mindfulness is a buzzword you’ll hear whenever you investigate yoga or meditation. Mindfulness means living in the moment without judgment. It’s about being present, with hardly any distractions to take you out of the present.
You might not notice how cluttered our minds become throughout the day. We’re constantly planning our next move, overthinking things, and wondering what other people are thinking.
Being mindful can help you break this cycle, and enter a state that allows you to cherish life truly. After you learn how to quiet your internal monologue through yoga and meditation, you’ll start to be able to do it when you’re off the mat.
How Often Should You Practice?
A lot of people want to get into yoga, but don’t think they have the time. Not having enough time is merely an excuse. It doesn’t matter how much you practice yoga in a week, as long as you get a few good sessions in.
You don’t have to stay on the mat for an hour or more. A half-hour session before or after work will be enough for you to experience the benefits. Once you see your body and mind changing, you might find more time to dedicate to the practice.
Practicing yoga once or twice a week is a realistic expectation to start with. You can expand from there, but you’ll probably notice the benefits after only a few sessions. Once you get more skilled at the positions, you’ll undoubtedly grow to love yoga as millions have before you.