Yoga is a health and wellness practice that unifies and balances the body, the breath, and the mind. Originating in ancient India over 5,000 years ago, yoga has developed into a popular intercultural phenomenon that is practiced throughout the world.
Are you looking for reasons to start practicing? Or are you already rolling out the mat a few times a week and looking for deeper understanding? Read on to discover the top benefits of regular yoga practice.
1. Increased Muscle Strength & Flexibility
Through lifting and supporting your own body weight, usually without any extra equipment, you can tone your muscles and become leaner. Simultaneously, yoga poses stretch and lengthen your muscles, making you more flexible. Here’s how yoga strengthens different parts of your body:
Arms: Poses like chaturanga dandasana (known as the yoga push up), plank, dolphin, and arm balances define your triceps and biceps as well as strengthen your wrists.
Legs: Standing postures like Warrior 1, 2, and 3, as well as backbends like the bridges and the full wheel pose work your hamstrings, quads, and glutes.
Core: Boat pose, plank, head and handstands, as well as arm balances and inversions tone and strengthen your abdominal and lower back muscles.
2. Improved Posture
The strength you build will aid in helping you sit and stand taller. The cues you receive from your yoga teachers in each asana (yoga pose) will create new habits that will lengthen your neck, relax your shoulders. Better posture reduces tension and stress on the body leading to an overall feeling of well-being.
3. A Powered-Up Immune System
A regular yoga practice — at least once a week for eight to ten weeks to begin with — supports the immune system by lowering stress, conditioning the lungs, and detoxifying the lymphatic system.
It is yoga’s holistic approach to fitness (breath work, wringing out the internal organs with twists and deep stretching, as well as muscle building) that sets it apart from other forms of exercise.
4. Enhanced Concentration and Focus
In yoga, there is a necessary emphasis placed on breathing and awareness of the present moment as you move through the asanas, or poses. This attention to the moment creates a kind of meditative state and allows you to cultivate deeper focus and concentration in all areas of your life.
After trying yoga regularly for some time, you will see how it enables you to work smarter, study more efficiently, drive better, compete harder in athletics — everything you do can benefit from the boost in attention and awareness that yoga gives you.
5. More Openness to Trying New Things
Yoga is a unique experience for first timers and new students. Oftentimes the movements and breathing practices are presented through the use of Sanskrit words, sacred chants, and other aspects of Indian culture.
In this way, yoga has the power to open your perspective in every area of your life — cultural, physical, mental and emotional. As you become more familiar with the practice and your strength and flexibility increase, you may even learn to stand on your head, fold into a deep forward bend, or sit silently without fidgeting. Acquiring new abilities like these can give you renewed confidence to try things you have never done before.
How Do I Get Started?
With all these benefits, yoga sounds great, right? Strength, patience, razor sharp focus… and there are even more benefits we didn’t get a chance to discuss.
Now that you’re ready to give yoga a try, the first thing you need to do is remove any doubt in your mind that yoga is not for you. Anyone can do it!
It’s common for newcomers to arrive at their first class worrying about being “good” at yoga. Many wonder if they will be flexible enough, if they will have the stamina to last the entire session, or what other students will think of them. Let all of that go. Yoga is for everyone. It will meet you where you are.
Your job is to train yourself to be in the moment, learn to recognize the limitations of your physical body, and choose to consciously and carefully push those boundaries to more about yourself and what you are capable of. Think of it as an experiment.
There are three main ways to start practicing yoga: online, in-person, and learning from a book.
Find Classes Online
Seemingly endless hours of yoga classes are available to you on the internet. You can search for free YouTube videos with amazing teachers like Yoga with Adrienne or invest in paid subscriptions to various online yoga channels like Gaia or OMstars or YogaGlo.
Online classes can be an affordable and convenient way to get started in yoga if there aren’t any yoga studios in your area. Additionally, some in-person classes are so large that it is rare to get personal instruction. A good online teacher takes plenty of time to demonstrate each pose, so that you can follow along in a safe way. Also, having the ability to pause, rewind, and replay certain segments allows you to learn at your own pace.
Visit a Yoga Studio Near You
There is nothing like the experience of being in a room full of people and practicing yoga in a group with a teacher. While you may be facing some fears or discomfort around showing up for an in-person class at a studio, it’s worth it. Having an experienced teacher who can see you and guide you safely through the poses will help you progress and go deeper into your practice.
Most studios offer discounted classes for members. This is the best way to develop a regular practice, which you can supplement with personal yoga sessions at home.
Get a Book on Yoga
There are some wonderful books on yoga which give in-depth descriptions of different poses, and recommend specific series of poses for various levels of practitioners.
Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health by B.K.S. Iyengar offers an amazing introduction to yoga with helpful photographs accompanying each pose. This book also tells you which asanas can be used to treat physical and mental illnesses, including back pain, arthritis, migraines, anxiety, and more.
Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews is another great book on yoga, especially for persons with a scientific background. This book goes into the physiological foundations for each pose.