The Countless Benefits of Yoga: More Than Flexibility

By UB Staff Therapist and Certified Yoga Instructor, Alyssa Yeo, LPC

Did you know that 36 million Americans practice yoga? 36 million! This ancient discipline is now one of the fastest growing industries in the world. Why? Because yoga is awesome!! Okay, I’ll try to contain my enthusiasm … I know it’s not the first time you’ve heard someone rave about the benefits of yoga.

My love of the practice began six years ago when a new studio opened next to my apartment. As an active person, it seemed like a good alternative to running and cycling – a way to stretch my tired muscles and get a good sweat. Little did I know that after one week of consistent practice, I would turn into a full-blown yogi and eventually become a certified yoga instructor.

My intention for this article is to go beyond the typical “yoga is good for you” spiel and provide useful information (from both personal experience and professional training) about the various benefits of this age-old practice.

So why is yoga so awesome?

Yoga provides individuals the opportunity to concentrate on their body and mind through their breath, which can help alleviate undesirable thoughts and emotions. Studies have shown that individuals who practice yoga regularly report improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and overall well being.

Yoga has also been shown to help modulate stress response by reducing perceived stress and anxiety. In this respect, yoga can be beneficial alongside other self-soothing techniques, such as meditation and relaxation, to help lower blood pressure and heart rate. When individuals are able to calm down their body and mind, they are better equipped to cope with feelings of overwhelm, stress, or anxiety. They are also better suited to handle stressful situations that arise because their emotions are regulated and they feel more internally balanced.

Additionally, studies show that yogis have better overall sleep quality (especially for those who practice more restorative forms of yoga). Like other forms of exercise, yoga can provide a relief from the stress of everyday life, and because some poses calm the central nervous system, your body can better relax into a good night’s sleep.

Whether you are working on mastering a specific pose, or simply trying to be more mindful in your practice, yoga also helps cultivate more positive self-image and self-acceptance. Yoga classes encourage individuals to be more patient and compassionate toward themselves by reminding students that the body may feel different every day, and yoga is something you practice, not perfect. Part of doing yoga is setting an intention for yourself and your practice, and then taking this intention “off the mat.” I regularly encourage my students to work with an intentions of compassion, self-love, acceptance or patience, with the hope that they will start to challenge their negative internal dialogue with more positive and healthy self-talk.

Yoga also has long-term health benefits.

Put simply, the biggest long-term benefit of yoga is a higher quality of life. The many tools of yoga including physical postures, yogic breathing, use of meditation, mantras, and affirmations, help balance the emotional and physical body. When the mind and body are in harmony with one another, individuals are able to feel more grounded and connected to themselves and their surroundings. For me, yoga is the first thing I do when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, especially during life transitions and changes. Carving out just one hour of the day to be present and focus on yourself is the best form of self-care.

Additionally, according to some studies, yoga has also been proven effective at improving memory and concentration. The practice encourages participants to find a point of focus and concentrate, which help yogis better recall information off the mat and stay attuned to the task at hand.

Yoga is a moving meditation. In physically moving the body, yoga helps individuals release stuck energy, emotions and thoughts to clear the way for space in the mind. Space to contemplate, space to reflect, and space to be completely and entirely present. I believe that being truly present in your body, your mind, and your surroundings is the purest form of living. Yoga is a tool by which the mind can tap into the energy of the body to reach a deeper level of inner peace and calm.

But you don’t have to practice every day to benefit from it. Just five minutes of sun salutations or stretching in the morning can help get your energy flowing and your blood pumping. The mindfulness/meditation component of yoga is also important to integrate into your everyday if possible. Taking a few minutes to sit in silence and tune into your breath is a simple way to refocus your mind and let go of unhelpful thoughts.

Remember: Yoga is a practice of personal growth and self-discovery; it cannot be perfected or completed.

If you can be patient with yourself – and if you are willing to be vulnerable enough to try something new – you can also be one of the millions of Americans enjoying the many benefits of yoga.

 

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