I wanted to start this post out saying yoga was my passion, but I realized that it's such a common phrase that it has almost zero impact. We've heard it a thousand times from the same yoga and wellness influencers.
Instead of viewing that as a bad thing that it's so popular, as something oversaturated and cliché, our cultural shift towards celebrating yoga is an extremely beneficial thing. We can all learn from being mindful about ourselves, feeling connected with others and the world around us, and having an individual practice that grounds us when the world feels a little haywire.
The number of Americans doing yoga has grown by over 50% since 2012. When you think about it, that's a truly mind-boggling figure. 15% of Americans have practiced yoga in the past 12 months (stat from TheGoodBody.)
It's not something you only do in tiny, cramped studios that smell like patchouli; it's not something you only do on a retreat in Bali, in which you don't speak words aloud for 20 days. The stereotypes are endless, but there's something inarticulately universal about the practice.
Yoga is an ancient practice, one that's believed to have started with the very dawn of civilization. It's meant to align the body, mind, and spirit.
I'm going to break down the benefits of yoga in two ways: immediate benefits, and long-term benefits. Studies on habits show that we tend to stick with something if it shows us an immediate positive benefit, rather than long term.
You can channel that energy in good ways. Rather than saying I'm going to do yoga so that a year from now, I look like one of those girls I see on Instagram, instead think about it directly within the context of your day. I'm going to celebrate my body today for an hour, or I'm going to soften and relax my mind so that it's easier for me to sleep.
It might not feel easy for you at first, and that's okay. I think a lot of the reason why people give up on it is that they see Instagram yogis, people who have poured hours into certifications and mastery of complex poses, and compare themselves to that . It's called a practice because it's exactly that: something you have to put time and intention towards, and slowly get better every day.
SHORT TERM BENEFITS OF YOGA
- You may exercise new muscles that you don't normally use
- You will have challenged yourself to have tried an activity you don't normally do.
- You'll have participated in an ancient human practice that makes you feel connected to the world and time before you.
- You'll have a zen vibe during or after your practice, which may grow or expand with time, as you learn to shut your mind off during specific moments, moves, and sessions.
- You'll align your breathing with your movements in a slow, intentional way that makes your body feel in sync. (Pay attention to your breathing; it controls more than you think.)
- You'll sleep better.
LONG TERM BENEFITS OF YOGA
- Your breathing practice allows you to handle stress in a more productive, more sustainable way. You'll find yourself using the techniques in high-tension situations.
- Your core will strengthen.
- Your triceps will develop.
- You'll gain flexibility from the range of motion you've adopted, as opposed to using the same moves at the gym. (Additionally, trying new styles and instructors can help you develop this range.)
- You'll be performing a workout and meditation practice that actively listens to what your body wants, meaning that you can rest or adapt any pose to suit your own individual preferences and needs.
- Your balance improves!
- Some people have also noted their food cravings changing -- after all, yoga is all about getting in touch with your body -- and digestion improving.
There are very few opportunities we give ourselves to listen to our bodies. There are equally few opportunities we give ourselves to turn our heads off. Combining action with mental work is a balance that yoga strikes, one that's grown in appeal as people have realized the holistic effect that yoga practice has on their wellness and happiness.
Additionally, humans crave "flow states", which are defined by Headspace as:
...that sense of fluidity between your body and mind, where you are totally absorbed by and deeply focused on something, beyond the point of distraction. Time feels like it has slowed down. Your senses are heightened. You are at one with the task at hand, as action and awareness sync to create an effortless momentum.
Yoga is definitely one, in all ways. That mixture of past, present, and future -- that complete loss of time. You're working for improvement, but also honoring where you are, and accepting that the process is nonlinear. It's the ultimate form of forgiveness and gratitude to your body, while also exploring what its possibilities are.
Even better? Yoga is an activity you can do for the rest of your life, for as long as you're alive. Its inclusive, adaptive form allows you to honor this practice (and yourself) forever.
Are you a yoga addict like me, or are you just starting out? Leave a comment below!