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10 Benefits of Doing Yoga

I began doing yoga in 2000, after spending many hours and many hundreds of dollars with chiropractors. I was plagued by headaches, and after a big move halfway across the country, I could barely walk.

Spinal X-rays indicated someone who’d suffered whiplash — there were no curves in my spine — though I’d never been in a car accident. I was in constant pain.

After one doctor suggested I visit him four times a week or prepare myself for surgery, I sought alternatives. If I was going anywhere four times a week, it was going to be yoga. A steady yoga practice not only healed my body, it changed my life. I did not anticipate the benefits of forward folds and downward dogs beyond feeling better (and hopefully fixing my back), but there have been many.

Now, as a certified yoga teacher, I love telling people about the power of yoga. Almost daily I hear people say that they’ve thought about trying but have never made it to a class. If you’re one of those people, here are 10 reasons to grab a mat.

It feels good

Animals wake up and stretch because the physical sensation of doing so is delightful. We’re animals, and the effects of stretching are the same for us. Creating space between our bones, lengthening and contracting our muscles, and sending more blood to our brains feels amazing.

It will calm your mind

All day long our brains chatter. They’re observing, evaluating, assessing, and choosing. They’re making lists and checking them twice. They’re recalling the past and imagining the future. It’s totally normal — and it can wear a person out. Yoga is a physical practice designed to focus the mind, and it can help quiet all that noise.

It will relax your body

Originally yoga was a preparation for meditation. By burning off physical energy, a person stood a greater chance of sitting still for a long meditation. Though meditation is today often taught separately from the poses that we typically call yoga, the effects are the same. Yoga students often report a feeling of blissful relaxation at the end of class.

You’ll breathe easier

Think about how you feel when you are stressed and you stop to take a couple of deep breaths. Better, right? A big part of yoga is breath control. Most of the time, our breathing is short and shallow. Inhaling and exhaling deeply and slowly calms the nervous system, reducing anxiety and depression and improving energy.

You’ll get stronger

You will not bulk up with yoga, but you can build tone and functional strength. Yoga recruits many tiny supporting muscles that other exercise regimens do not, and it relies on your working with your own body weight against gravity. Poses like chair and plank use nearly every muscle in the body.

You’ll be more flexible

Flexibility is what many people think about when they hear the word “yoga.” And it’s true: Yoga will make you bendier. Many people are tight in their hamstrings, hips, and shoulders. And a regular yoga practice can counter the negative physical effects of modern office life — sitting all day at a computer does the body no favors.

You might get leaner

Yoga alone is unlikely to bring about significant weight loss, but being attuned to your body’s needs and becoming more mindful on the whole is likely to lead to behavioral changes that could cause you to shed pounds. In other words, when you are really living in your body, the chances of your feeding it well and exercising it more go up.

Your balance will improve

As we age, changes in the inner ear and eyes, fluctuations in blood pressure, and loss of muscle can cause our balance to decline. Yoga creates body awareness, improves posture, and builds strength — all of which can keep you from tipping over when you’re feeling wobbly.

Your sleep will be dreamier

Sleep is crucial to health, and poor sleep affects women more profoundly than men. Better sleep flows naturally from a quieter mind, calmer nervous system, and fewer aches and pains.

All the other stuff in your life gets easier

With greater mental clarity and physical strength, everything from dealing with a difficult boss to hauling the laundry to the third floor becomes a little more manageable. And if you’re a runner, tennis player, weightlifter, or other type of athlete, your newfound flexibility will loosen your tight spots and make you less prone to injury.

Photos: Marcus Lindstrom, Christian Wheatley, Remains

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