Are you considering starting a yoga practice? There are so many good reasons why you shouldn’t put it off any longer. The Mayo Clinic website highlights stress reduction, improved fitness and management of chronic conditions as health benefits of yoga.
It was stress that brought me to the mat 10 years ago. I was working in a high pressure career and, my work/life balance was non-existent. I would start each morning obsessing about my to-do list and would lie awake each night panicking about the things I hadn’t gotten done that day. I didn’t know enough to say it then but, I know now that I was in trouble.
A friend of mine mentioned to me that he had recently started yoga and that even though he couldn’t exactly pin point why, it seemed to help him relieve his anxiety.
After that conversation, I signed up for a beginner’s class and immediately, I was hooked.
I also quickly figured out one of the ways that the practice helps students feel less anxious. It all starts with the breath.
We spend our days holding our breath. We suck in our bellies for pictures. When we are tense or worried we tighten our abdomens. Our breath becomes short and spotty when we think about something sad or anticipate danger.
But when you can close your eyes, sit for a few moments and observe your breath, you are giving yourself permission to hang out in the present moment. With your awareness on each inhalation and exhalation, you are not focusing on all that you believe is wrong with you or worrying about something that hasn’t happened or remembering past hurts. You are simply sitting quietly, listening to your breath.
This is the way we begin each yoga class and, it can provide much needed relief from the endless to-do lists of our work obsessed lives.
Working through yoga movement and poses helps to elongate tight muscles, improve balance and to create more flexibility in the body. These benefits become even more valuable as we age, allowing us to be mobile and active at a time when slowing down could cost us our independence.
As a yoga teacher, I encourage students to keep that awareness of breath through the physical aspects of a yoga class as well. After all, so much of who we are in our regular lives shows up on the yoga mat. And when we become frustrated with a posture and envious of the classmate next to us who seems to curl into a pretzel so effortlessly, that irritation reveals itself in ragged breath. When that happens we lose a major benefit of the yogic experience altogether.
The intense physicality of the practice requires concentration that allows you to disengage from negative thoughts as you focus on your body. This translates to a mental calmness that has many benefits off the mat as well. This improved body awareness also helps with alignment and posture which relieves pain and can inspire greater self confidence.
The list of advantages is indeed long and discovering the reasons that yoga makes sense for you can be an exciting part of the journey as well.
Take your time to decide, and do some research. Sign up for a beginner’s class and see how practice suits you.
But most importantly, remember to Breathe.