Yoga is one of the most holistic exercises around. So much so that many consider the exercise part of it to be a supplemental benefit rather than the main event. For me, that’s been completely true. I began my yoga practice in college after attending a liberal, hippie-dippy university in Northern Arizona. I’m dating myself here, but yoga wasn’t yet widely practiced in western culture and didn’t quite have the cult status it does today. That being said, practicing was unavoidable there especially for anyone who, like me, was involved in the fitness community. I’d finish teaching kickboxing and in would come a peaceful yogi to teach the next class and you couldn’t help but stay and see what made him or her so zen and so perfectly toned.
What I quickly found out is that it strengthens, tones, and heals. Working out my mind, body, and soul, I got leaner, saw improvements in my complexion (hey, dewy skin!) and it even helped me find myself again after bad breakups and the loss of my parents. Summing up how yoga has impacted my life, body, and mind is nearly impossible, but here are the 15 ways I feel it the most:
Of course yoga has helped me build a relationship with myself, but it has also given me so many wonderful friends and teachers that have touched my life in many ways. My husband and I went to yoga on our second date and it’s actually kind of an ingenious test on a potential partner to see how they handle being uncomfortable and challenged which I didn’t consider when I invited him, but he passed!
Speaking of overcoming challenges, you totally fuel self-confidence when you finally nail a difficult pose.
3. Core strength
Want a 6-pack, but hate doing crunches? Me too. Enter Paripurna Navasana or ‘boat pose.’ Hello, abs!
4. Mediation in movement
Before all of these meditation apps, there was meditation on your mat. It’s nearly impossible to ruminate on your bosses last-minute request or [insert arduous problem du jour] when you’re in triangle pose, focused on reaching your arm to the sky.
5. Ability to find your calm
Once you have that zen-like feeling on the mat, you learn to revisit it when you’re off the mat too—and that’s where it really counts!
6. Skill doesn’t matter
You know how we all have that friend who is basically an Instagram yoga model, so we don’t want to go to class with her? Just go. I was once in a class in San Francisco feeling really confident about my flow that day, then the teacher said, “don’t worry about how good the person next to you might be, they may be suffering inside.” Wow, that hit me so hard. I was working at a start-up and was miserable at my job. It was probably my inflated ego, but I knew he was talking about me, so I never let my futile over-confidence interrupt my time for growth again. Lesson learned: you reap the benefits of yoga no matter where your physical practice is.
7. Age doesn’t matter
Yoga is one of the few things you can do just as well at 60 as you could at 18.
Have you heard the saying “a sweat a day keeps the doctor away?” It’s not just for shopping totes—yoga flushes out toxins, helping you stay healthy.
9. Improved energy
Yoga gives you more vitality and energy, especially poses like ‘bridge pose’ or ‘full-wheel’ that are known to help reduce anxiety and fatigue.
10. Community building
In-studio yoga is a totally effortless way to meet new friends, strengthen existing bonds (see #1) and inspire impromptu post-practice wine gatherings.
11. Do it anywhere
Sure you can practice at your favorite studio, but work trips and long days don’t have to stop you from getting in some mat time. Use a towel at a hotel, a mat at home, or just go outside to get in some practice wherever life may take you.
12. Protection from injury
I’m a huge fan of mixing yoga into my running program when I’m prepping for half-marathons because the added flexibility and strength training totally helps prevent running injuries and increases agility.
13. Increased balance
You’ll find balance in your strength (because you work every muscle) but also get crazy good at balancing poses, aka the covetable “Instagram-worthy” poses like ‘scorpion’—and then handstand scorpion. (I’m still working on that one.)
14. Glowing skin
Yoga encourages proper blood circulation,—which means more oxygen and fewer free radicals—so you have a post-yoga glow that I’ve found lasts longer and longer the more you practice.
15. Faster running time
If you’re like me and have tightness in your hips from sitting most of the day then running long distances, do some yoga to open them up. Opening your hips can help with lower back pain and other mild pains/injuries. It can even help you lengthen your strides, so if you’re a runner, hip openers are a must!