Being a derivative from India as an ancient practice, yoga has truly begun to explode in the West throughout the recent years. Due to a variety of teachings, interpretations, and translations, there are some trickling misconceptions about yoga and what it can truly achieve for an individual.
This practice extends much deeper than the physical and shouldn’t be mistaken for a typical workout. There are many benefits to this subtle, yet profound practice of mind and body alignment. With that said, here are seven benefits of yoga that quickly introduced themselves into my life within the first seven days of my practice.
Yes, just seven days. Tell me about it.
Since this is a long post, I don’t want to bore you.
So click below whichever one you’d be more interested in reading about:
- A brief overview of yoga
- A better understanding of your body
- A better understanding of mind and body connection
- Beneficial for trauma and depression
- How it improves day-to-day life
A brief overview of yoga
I know, I know. I promised the benefits of yoga right away! But stay with me, dear reader, because like I said, there are a lot of misconceptions floating around out there. It’s truly a simple concept that can be grasped by anybody, and with it comes a fascinating entangled history of enlightened origins. So quickly, let’s hop on the train of information and get to the land of knowledge. Toot, toot! (Do you hate me for that one?)
- Yoga is not a religion, it is a practice
- Yoga translated from Sanskrit (Yug) has a few meanings, some being, “union, join, concentrate”
- The beginnings of yoga aren’t truly known, but some historians believe for it to date as far back as 5,000-10,000 years
- The earliest documentation discovered on the yoga practice was found on frail palm leaves
- There are four different classifications of yoga grouped by its evolution over time: Pre-classical, classical, post-classical, modern
- Pre-classical: Developed over 5,000 years ago, this is the era where the word yoga was first found in the oldest sacred texts called the Vedas which contained mantras, rituals, and songs which were slowly developed over time by Brahmans into a huge work of 200 scriptures that contained their documented practice and beliefs. In this era, yoga went from outer ritual sacrifice to internalizing the sacrifice of the ego through self-knowledge with the practice.
- Classical: In the 2nd century, classical yoga had a lot of contradicting beliefs. It was then defined by yoga master, Patanjali, who organized the “eight limb path” which contained the steps to enlightenment. He is known as the father of yoga and has influenced most of modern yoga.
- Post-classical: Centuries after the ‘eight limb path’ was created, systems (poses) were created by yoga masters to strengthen the body and extend life. To embrace and cleanse the physical body with the mind was believed to be a way to achieve enlightenment. This body-mind practice formed into Tantra Yoga, or as known in the West, Hatha Yoga.
- In the 1800’s-1900’s, yoga masters came to America to share their profound practice, not becoming truly followed until the late 1940’s.
Alright, as you can see, this practice comes with a lot of depth. And it’s truly fascinating when you begin this practice because you begin to understand what the ancient ones were talking about. Onto the benefits of yoga!
This is truly a great benefit of yoga, let me explain. So as we all know, breathing is an essential part to life. Try not to breath, let me know how it goes. Har, har. Anyways, it’s a funny thing, there are so many internal benefits to deep, controlled, conscious breathing, and we tend to forget about taking advantage of this instant relief in the moments that could seriously use a deep breath.
Have you ever noticed what your breath was like when you were stressed? Probably short and shallow. Well, with a little awareness, you can control your stress levels to regain some mental clarity just by using the breath. Here are just a few scientific findings on what breathing does for those of you who need the facts:
- Natural painkiller- Deep breathing releases endorphins.
- Improves blood flow- The movement of the diaphragm helps with toxin removal which increases the flow.
- Detoxifies – Breathing releases carbon dioxide, however, if you’re a shallow breather, most of the carbon dioxide remains and other parts of the body have to work harder to get rid of it, resulting in less energy and becoming more prone to illnesses.
- Improves posture – Try it. Take a deep breath, I bet you’ll notice a little something.
- Stress- Stress increases heart rate, blood pressure, rapid breathing. With just deep breathing, it decreases these abnormal levels back to regularity.
(Click here for some breathing exercises)
How does yoga improve the breath?
Yoga is all about controlling movement alongside the breath. So it trains you to become more aware of your breathing. You’re holding a specific pose, you begin to lose balance, you’re instantly reminded to check your breath, and it’s usually being held. However, the moment you remember to control your breathing, you typically regain balance and control.
And there are other ways yoga shows you what a deep exhale versus a short exhale can do for the body and same for the inhales. It is a constant breathing exercise, and we tend to never exercise breath in our day-to-day’s.
So practicing yoga reminds us to take this breathing exercise into our lives.
Stress, anguish, and frustration can cause us to have short, shallow breaths, typically causing us to lose control or balanced thought. Remember to become aware of the moments you’re off kilter, and take a deep breath to decrease your heart rate and blood pressure, release the endorphins and regain control.
This is one I personally experienced rather quickly, and I’m sure other yogis can vouch for it all the same.
Sometimes, we can feel like we have no control or say in our lives. Whether it’s with emotions, impulses, habits, circumstance; hell, it leaves us feeling like a controlled puppet rather than a confident puppeteer.
It can make us feel quite helpless.
However, yoga allows us to take this control back, allowing us to see that we can actually help ourselves.
Just like yoga is a great breathing exercise, it’s also an exercise for control, and it’s a very tangible one at that. When we’re just beginning yoga, at whatever stage of life we’re in, it provides insight to how much actual control we have of our body from observing it in our mind and feeling it throughout our bodies; we then know what we need to improve on, giving us the knowledge we need in order to practice and improve our ultimate control.
Your legs are shaking, you can’t really bend as far back as you’d like, you’re not as flexible as you wish to be, but this is nothing to be ashamed about. This is just the body’s way of communicating with you, and if you listen, you can take the steps to improve your flexibility and your strength, ultimately creating more control by engaging in open communication with our bodies, and our mind.
And this improves our overall confidence. You shortly realize, “I can control my thoughts, I can control my body.”
This practice gives us the recipe to cook up a confident person through learning that we are not helpless; that we are actually very much in control.
To put it simply, feeling out of control is just being unaware of our capabilities. Since yoga is essentially centered around raising awareness, it awakens us to our true potential.
This is one of my favorite benefits of yoga. My focus is absolute shit. If I try to sit down to do something, I’m thinking of twenty other things I could be doing. And since my focus is so, so scattered, I rarely get anything done.
Lo and behold, this blog post! Yoga and meditation has helped my focus drastically. I haven’t been able to focus enough to write in months due to being swept up in the current of life, however, I’ve begun to see that focus is a skill that needs to be gained through practice… you know where I’m going with this, don’t ya?
Yoga is another great exercise for focus! Since yoga can be a form of meditation, it helps you to see how bouncy your thoughts are.
In terms of meditation, you’re sitting there, eyes closed, trying to focus on the sensation of your breath. Perhaps you can hold this absolute focus for a couple of seconds, next thing you know your back in your thoughts. Which is absolutely normal! That’s one of the points of meditation and yoga. To be able to see just how good your focus is. And if you practice every day, you’ll gain a stronger, more concise focus. You can’t go to the gym for one day expecting a 6-pack, can you? Same idea.
With yoga, when you’re holding a certain pose, it requires a lot of focus on breath and relaxation. You’ll also notice your thoughts wandering here as well, but this usually causes you to lose control of the pose, which reminds you to bring your focus back.
So, it’s a great teacher to learn from.
4) A better understanding of your body
Let’s be honest here. Most of us don’t understand our bodies. I mean, has anybody ever taken a biology course? It is truly a complex organism, and it’s living beyond our scope of understanding! There’s an entire ecosystem in there. We tend to look towards magazines or nutritionists to learn how to take care of our own bodies. We look for outer-help for something that’s very much within. And yoga helps to take us within ourselves to be able to understand the needs of our bodies and repair communication with it.
We tend to be very bad listeners. Especially when it comes to our body. We tend to group it in as something that is our own, but it’s more like something that was given, that we’re borrowing, and we always feel guilty if we have to return a borrowed thing to a friend if it’s damaged, right?
It’s nature’s gift and in order for it to take care of us like it so wishes to do, we need to meet it halfway and take care of it.
If you eat too much or eat unhealthy food, the process you’re making your body undergo is so strenuous. It takes up a lot of energy to break it all down, which is why you typically feel tired after a hearty meal.
We’re supposed to feel energized after we eat.
It’s pretty miraculous if you think about it. Give that little guy the minerals, the vitamins, and the movement it needs, it’ll make you into an unstoppable machine. Abuse it, however, it’ll speak to you, making you feel sluggish, making you feel bad.
(However, a cheat day is always okay. The body rewards you with a fast metabolism if you treat it right, but I bet the more connected you get with it, the less junk you’d want.)
What you do to it, it does to you.
Yoga helps you understand the importance of nurturing your body. It makes you understand there is a relationship to be had with it. And it should be a loving relationship with open communication, not neglectful nor abusive, for your partner will speak up and let you know of your hurtful tendencies, only to let you know it wants to change things for the better that is.
It will tell you when it truly needs sustenance. It will tell you if something is wrong. It will tell you if it feels weak or strong. The body shows the mind what it needs, the mind doesn’t tell the body what it needs.
Don’t think you’re hungry, feel you’re hungry. You know I’m saying?
Yoga tends to the relationship with our body and improves it into a loving partnership.
5) How are the mind and body are connected?
Just like we may not be aware of the full potential of the body, we may also be underestimating just how beneficial it is if to have a strong connection between the mind and body, and vice versa.
It can be extremely debilitating if they have very little connection with each other.
I’ve experienced this myself, and it’s terrible. I give mad props to this practice for it has begun to spare such a lost girl.
In the past, I’ve struggled with bad eating disorders, and I felt horrible. At the time, I wasn’t fully aware that this was my little buddy, my body, pleading for me to treat it better. I didn’t think of it as a friend. It was mine. And I didn’t give a shit about what was mine, so I didn’t take care of it. But this is nature’s property, and yoga showed me I shouldn’t pollute it any longer.
Anyways, you can only take how bad mistreating your body feels for so long, so two things can happen here:
A) You get tired of it so you change things for the better
B) You mentally disconnect from your body and continue to do what you to do.
I stuck with option B for a while. Not really purposely, but I was unaware, and this led me to having little control over my bad choices.
Anyway, this disconnection made me feel like I had no power, no strength, no energy, no creativity, and no health, really.
I didn’t know when, what, or how to eat, and you would think it’s such a straight-forward, primitive concept, how to eat, but I struggled, I struggled hard. Like some people do, unfortunately.
And this lack of knowing is usually caused by having no guidance from the body.
The mind is left alone to take care of you, so it just uses the hard programming of your previous choices to do so, now you’re left in a hurtful cycle.
So the more familiar you get with yoga, put the intention into your mind that you want to be more open to the body, and you’ll find yourself back on the right track.
6)Beneficial for depression and trauma
This is actually a pretty recent scientific study proving it an actual benefit of yoga; from a collaboration of clinical professionals, yoga teachers and trauma patients, they found amazing results. Perhaps you’ve never experienced anything traumatic, or really dealt with depression, but this can still apply to you. And if you have, I’d strongly recommend trying it out.
In 1999, they discovered they could measure the brain’s arousal systems, through a system called Heart Rate Variability (HRV), which is located in the brainstem.
They noticed people with a high HRV had more control over impulses and emotions, which was mirrored in their inhalations/exhalations, producing a rhythmical fluctuation in HRV. A balance.
Somebody who experienced trauma, or people who are easily thrown off-balance, have a low HRV, causing them to be more susceptible to illnesses, like depression.
Yoga increases HRV and allows a person to manifest more stability.
They found trauma, whether it was from war, abuse, sexual assault; these experiences, if repressed and neglected, hold themselves in the body, waiting to be triggered and experienced all over again.
This causes trauma victims to feel unsafe in their body. The outer enemy is now the inner-tormentor, leading them to self-harm, fall into addictions, criminal behavior.
Different trials of therapy have proven rather than neglecting the traumatic experience, but to confront it, allows for a better clarity.
Even though a part of you knows the trauma is over, bodily sensations and triggers keep it in the present.
So, I’m sure you can guess how yoga could benefit those with depression or trauma residing in their bodies and mind.
You come to face the triggers, the experience and release the panic. Ultimately raising HRV in the brainstem, causing you to have more emotional stability.
From personal experience, before researching to see if there were any studies done in this area, from day one of my practice, it has been an emotional process. Sometimes I leave class crying, or singing and jumping around in the car. It’s releasing these tight kinks in the body, exerting it out emotionally and cleansing me. And the body ultimately forgives your bad decisions, and I found myself apologizing to my body when I was on the mat, and I always feel forgiveness within myself.
For trauma victims or those struggling with depression, this is the ultimate benefit of yoga.
7) Improves day-to-day life
Well, I’m sure you guys can come to your own conclusion as to how the benefits of yoga improve day-to-day life. Everything is applicable. However, I’ll do a quick recap:
- Improves your conscious breathing, allowing you to maintain calm in stressful situations
- Gives you more control of impulses and bad behavior
- strengthens your focus to become more productive
- Repairs the relationship with body and mind, ultimately giving you more guidance in life
- Makes you more aware
- Creates a happy being!
Anyway, this is just my personal list. Don’t take my word for it, roll out your mat and have a go!