5 UNEXPECTED Benefits of Yoga
The physical benefits of yoga may seem obvious, but there are also many unexpected benefits of yoga that prove to be quite transformational.
Over the last few years, yoga has gained much notoriety and popularity-and for good reason! First of all, this is a practice that is accessible to everyone. Krishnamacharya once said, “If you can breathe, you can do yoga.” Breath control is the cornerstone of any yoga practice.
Another reason yoga has captured so many passionate followers is due to the tremendous physical benefits one can experience through a consistent practice. Time and time again, my students approach me after class and joyfully share how their back pain has diminished or their joints feel less achy. Others proudly disclose how much weight they’ve lost, with their only complaint being that they’ve needed to buy new clothes due to their slimmer physiques!
Additional physical benefits may include:
- Increased flexibility
- Increased muscle strength and tone
- Improved posture
- Improved balance
- Weight loss
These benefits may seem obvious, but yoga can also be transformational in so many other unexpected ways.
1. Emotional Health Boost
Through a series of postures and attention to breath, yoga encourages energy to flow freely throughout our body, mind, and spirit and helps to release energetic blockages. This energy, called prana, is the essential life-force of all beings. When prana flows freely through the body, we feel alive and at peace; we tap into the true nature of who we are and are able to find inner stillness.
Many yoga poses also target a very specific muscle in the body, the psoas muscle, which is where we tend to manifest anxiety and stress. This muscle, also known as the muscle of the soul, is located near the front of our hips and tends to get tight throughout the day as we sit for hours on end in our cars, at our desks at work, or on our couch at home. When this muscle becomes tense, the entire body responds accordingly.
By releasing the psoas, one is able to enact the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is in charge of our steady state of being and feelings of relaxation and contentment. For the reasons listed above, yoga has proven to be highly effective in reducing anxiety and depression and promoting emotional stability and well-being.
2. Self love
Why do we sometimes lack patience, non-judgment and understanding for ourselves, when we can readily offer this to friends and loved ones? How does negative self talk and harsh criticism serve us? It doesn’t, and prolonged thinking such as this can be very detrimental to our emotional and physical health.
“The yoga pose is not the goal. Becoming flexible is not the goal. Standing on your hands is not the goal. The goal is to create space where you were once stuck. To unveil layers of protection you’ve built around your heart. To appreciate your body and become aware of the mind and the noise it creates. To make peace with who you are. The goal is to love, well…you.”-Rachel Brathen
Yoga encourages self-acceptance and shifts the focus from one’s shortcomings to one’s strengths. It glorifies what makes each and every one us unique and encourages us to tap into our own personal truth.
3. Improved concentration and focus
Most of us spend our days running from one appointment to the next, racing from one thought to another. Very rarely do we have the opportunity to sit and focus on one given task at a time. As a result, many of us find it difficult to concentrate and maintain our focus. One way we can build and maintain these skills is through yoga.
During a yoga class, I repeatedly encourage my students to concentrate on their breath, to steady their gaze to one point of focus. Thoughts of the past and future fall to the wayside as we draw our attention on the present moment before us, as we focus on our breath.
When we take the time to relax our bodies and minds, it becomes easier to retain thoughts and our thinking becomes more organized, more efficient. When we feel peaceful and calm, we are able to use our cognitive abilities more resourcefully.
4. Improved sleep
Research out of Harvard suggests that eight weeks of daily yoga can significantly improve the quality of sleep for those suffering with insomnia. Another study found that twice-weekly yoga sessions helped cancer survivors sleep more soundly and many reported feeling more rested upon awakening. More often than not, insomnia or trouble falling and staying asleep can be attributed to compulsive thinking. One thought leads to another and before we know it, our minds are off to the races.
Yoga helps us understand how to relax our bodies and let go of our thoughts. It enables us to release tension and most importantly quiet our minds. With a regular practice, our bodies and minds become primed for an optimal night of sleep.
5. Increased ability to deal with stressful situations
Today’s busy lifestyle leaves little room for peace and stillness. With a hurried, sometimes relentless schedule, we find ourselves face to face with stressful situations on a regular basis. The key here lies in how we chose to respond to the stresses of our daily lives. In yoga, it is encouraged to find the right combination of effort and ease. In poses, the student works to find the balance between holding on and letting go.
To do so, equanimity is encouraged. Equanimity is mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation. Equanimity is neither labeling things good or bad, it is accepting them as they are. It is present moment awareness and not anticipating or imagining what may or may not happen next. It is letting go of expectations and letting things unfold in a natural manner.
Before gaining a more comprehensive understanding of yoga, I assumed it was merely a physical, external practice. Having experienced the full range of benefits first hand, it has become a way of life for me, which feeds my emotional, physical and spiritual self. May you have the courage to step on to your mat and experience the transformation for yourself.
About the Author:
Lindsey Wrable is a 500 HR Registered Yoga Teacher and offers private yoga and meditation sessions at Richmond Natural Medicine. She is well versed in many different styles of yoga and can personalize each practice just for you. She specializes in mood management and is passionate about providing relief to anyone who suffers from compulsive thoughts, anxiety, depression, low self esteem, and a feeling of disconnect with self and others. To schedule an appointment with Lindsey Wrable, our Yoga and Meditation Teacher, please contact the office at 804-977-2634