Whether you’re a seasoned yogi, only popped into a few classes here or there, or haven’t tried it out just yet, there is no denying that yoga has picked up a lot of steam in Western culture. Most people are drawn to the physical fitness aspect of yoga, but are hooked by the mental, emotional, and spiritual elements they discover. That was my story, at least. I began practicing yoga regularly in 2013. A few months in, I was hooked. While the benefits of yoga are truly countless, here are five major ones.
1. Strength and Flexibility
No two yoga practices look the same and can be tailored to meet anybody where they stand. With consistent practice, the body is continuously challenged and over time grows stronger and less resistant. Muscle tone improves, capacity to support one’s body weight increases, endurance improves, joints move better, and muscles become more flexible.
2. Spine Health
Yoga helps increase range of motion throughout the body, and the spine, which extends from the very base of the tail to the back of the skull, is no exception. Certain postures and sequences are designed to lengthen the spine and make it more flexible, while others are designed to create twist and rotation along the vertebral column. Furthermore, the tissues that surround the backbone grow stronger and provide more support. Consistency over time ensures stronger, healthier backs.
Yoga offers many postures which create different types of twist or compression against the organs. These serve to help detoxify. Imagine ringing out a damp, dirty towel over the sink, rinsing it off, and wringing it out again. This is what we are doing for our bodies in yoga. We twist and compress to release lingering gunk and buildup in the form of toxins, and each breath of fresh oxygen is like the rinse of clean water.
4. Breath Control
Control of the breath is one of the most transferrable skills that yoga helps a person cultivate. Learning to focus and manipulate the breath in the midst of physical discomfort trains us to remain calm and grounded even when our environment is provoking stress or anxiety. Also, the breath work practice in yoga (pranayama) increases our breath capacity and CO2 tolerance. This gives us more efficient inhalations and exhalations, which allows our bodies to function at a higher level.
We all want to feel balanced on our own two feet (or, if you develop a very advanced practice, even your head or your hands!). Yoga is wonderful for developing a better sense of stability, strength, and control. There are a variety of postures that train balance, from simply standing with the feet closer together than is natural, to standing on one foot while the other leg plays in different positions. With each repetition, the brain learns to communicate more effectively with our base of support. This leads to more comfort and ease as we stand, walk, jog, or dance!
Whitney Renfroe is a certified yoga instructor who teaches at U4iC, Yoga Lab and Earth Keeper Yoga. She is also is the founder and director of Formations Dance Company.