Why do I practice yoga? It makes me feel good! The practice of yoga is about more than just the physical poses (asana) – there is self-reflection, the practice of kindness and compassion to yourself and others and the continued growth and awareness of both yourself and others.
The benefits of yoga are many and varied, below are just some of the benefits that are associated with a regular yoga practice.
I guess that this the one that most people think about when they think of yoga and it is true, a regular yoga practice will help to improve your range of motion. Yoga is unique in that it stretches so many muscles in ways that are atypical in everyday life and other activities and when the muscles are stretched in these ways they adapt by becoming more flexible and increasing range of movement.
Improved Muscle Strength
When you build strength through yoga you balance it with flexibility. Poses like plank simultaneously build strength through the arms, shoulders, legs and abs.
Regular yoga practice increases the ability to feel what the body is doing and where it is in space and improves balance. In the elderly better balance means less falls and greater independence.
Releases tension in the limbs
As you practice yoga you begin to notice where you hold tension. If you tune into these areas you may find yourself able to release some of that tension.
Relaxes the system/Reduces stress
Yoga encourages relaxation, slowing of the breath and focusing on the present which shifts the balance from the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) to the parasympathetic nervous system which is calming and restorative. It lowers breathing and heart rates and increases blood flow to the intestines and reproductive organs. Relaxing yoga poses like forward fold or legs up the wall can help to calm both body and mind. According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras yoga quells the fluctuations of the mind. It slows the feelings of frustration, regret, anger, fear and desire that can contribute to stress.
An important component of yoga is focusing on the present moment. Studies have found that regular yoga practice improves coordination, reaction time, memory and IQ scores.
If you practice regularly with an intention of self examination and improvement you can access a different side to yourself. You will experience feelings of gratitude, empathy and forgiveness as well as the sense that you are part of something bigger.
A recent study has shown that a regular yoga and meditation practice results in increased serotonin levels (the “happy hormone”). The same study showed that long time yoga practitioners have more mass in the areas of the brain associated with contentment.
Remember that yoga is a journey not a destination, we don’t call it a practice for nothing! The beauty of yoga is that the aim is not to meet an end-goal but to set an intention to show up, get on your mat and be there – present and aware.