According to the latest Yoga in America study conducted by Sports Marketing Surveys USA on behalf of Yoga Journal in 2012, there are 20.4 million Americans who practice yoga, and 44.8 percent of them consider themselves to be begin-ners. When asked in the survey why people are doing yoga, the top five reasons for starting were as follows:
- Flexibility (78.3 percent)
- General conditioning (62.2 percent)
- Stress relief (59.6 percent)
- To improve overall health (58.5 percent)
- Physical fitness (55.1 percent)
I can tell you from my own experience that all five of these reasons are excellent and valid reasons to come to yoga. However, there is far more to be gained from yoga than strength, flexibility, good health, and less stress.
As one of the few forms of exercise that also focuses on the mental aspect of health, yoga’s list of benefits is quite long. The following sections offer you a small sampling of
what you can expect when you start to practice, but don’t be surprised if you notice other changes happening as well.
Increasing Your Sense of Space
Proprioception is the ability to understand how your body moves in space. It’s me standing at the front of the room asking you to step your right foot forward and point your toes straight ahead. You do this without having to look down. By focusing on alignment in the poses, yogis’ proprioception increases.
Supporting Weight Loss
As a system of exercise that can increase your heart rate and build muscle, yoga inevitably makes weight loss possible. But one of the other benefits of yoga is that many people begin to eat more mindfully. Because they start to feel better over-all, they start to make healthier choices for their bodies.
Adding to Your Strength
The poses require you to hold your own body weight in a variety of ways. This stresses your muscles in a manner that encourages them to get stronger, much like lifting weights.
This is the obvious benefit that comes to mind when you think of yoga. Stick with the practice. You’ll find that your joints become more mobile and you wake with less stiffness.
Many poses in the practice work on balance, but one of the major components of every pose is engaging the core mus-cles. Doing so teaches you to center your body and achieve physical balance with ease. This balance sometimes starts to transfer into our daily lives as well. So, you might also create a better work-life balance, too.
Yoga gives you the tools to relax, either through asana, breath work, or meditation. Breathing in a deep mindful manner calms the nervous system. The physical practice produces endorphins, and meditation brings clarity. (Endor-phins are hormones that produce a feeling of well-being.)
Perfecting Your Posture
Yoga strengthens the muscles of the core (generally, the abdomen and lower back), which causes your body to seek out a more proper upright position. It also keeps the spine supple and its surrounding muscles flexible.
Yoga has many proven benefits for the heart, including lowering blood pressure and lowering heart rate. Also, the movement associated with yoga encourages the body’s lymph fluid to drain more properly. Lymph contains the white blood cells in the human immune system.
One of the goals of yoga is to concentrate on the breath and the alignment of the postures. Doing so clears the mind of extraneous thoughts. By training the brain to focus like this on the mat, you are able to focus in your daily life.
Assisting with Sleep
Clearly, you expend energy when you move your body and are therefore more tired at the end of the day. But because yoga also works on easing stress and creating focus, it becomes easier to slip off into slumber at night.
Adding to Your Inner Strength
As your body gets stronger and more flexible, you tend to gain a confidence that you might not have had previously. Through tapas (the heat you create to initiate change), you might find that experiences in your life improve without you having made a conscious effort.
Protecting Yourself from Injury
Because the asana practice of yoga focuses on strength and flexibility, many people will find that their bodies become stronger and more resistant to injury than they were prior to beginning yoga.
Improving Athletic Performance
Yoga strengthens the body and makes athletes agile and strong. It also brings a new sense of clarity or focus to athletes that they can use to improve their performances.
If you name a sport, I guarantee you can find someone who has created a system of yoga poses that will produce sport-specific results and prevent common injuries.
Managing Chronic Conditions
Many different types of yoga have sprung up to help people deal with specific needs. There is pre-and post-natal yoga that helps expectant and new mothers adapt to the changes in their bodies. Yoga for the aging can help keep seniors active and free from injury. Yoga practice can also benefit those managing diseases such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis.
Regardless of your physical capabilities, if you have a desire to practice yoga, there is a way to do it. It’s simply a matter of sorting through your options and finding a practice that works best for you to create the greatest array of benefits.