7 Benefits of a Regular Yoga Practice
A couple times this week, I had moments where things went REALLY wrong. I’m talking like bathroom ant invasion at 4am when I need to get ready and leave the house by 5am (plus ice on my SoCal windshield that same morning) kinda wrong. Or, realizing I am unprepared for a special playlist class after thinking I was totally prepared. Moments you don’t anticipate, which throw a wrench into how you thought things would go.
You know, those moments when you want to crawl into a hole and hide from the world, when you’re so stressed you could throw up, or feeling like you’ll never get catch up with your crazy to-do list—those are the moments when this yoga practice really truly counts. Because all that stuff is just LIFE. It’s stuff you cannot control, unexpected circumstances that will always happen.
For some of us, we’ve been practicing so long—consistently or not—that we’ve forgotten what a yoga-free lifestyle is like! And for others, maybe this list will help them step onto the mat for the first time. Luckily, in those moments this week, I was able to side-step my initial response of horror and panic, and shift into an action plan I could be happy with in spite of the circumstances. I’m not perfect and I don’t always react that way, but I was super grateful for how I handled those obstacles this week, and that’s why this is a practice.
Below are 7 ways that your regular yoga practice benefits you:
Strength and flexibility. This is a no-brainer, especially if you are practicing yoga asana (the physical postures) regularly. Can you remember your first yoga class? It was probably a hot mess, which is expected. Can you look back and acknowledge how STRONG and open you are NOW? So many times we look forward to where we have yet to arrive, and though looking back all the time isn’t necessarily beneficial, it does serve to give you perspective of how far you have come.
You are stronger, you are more flexible than when you began (if you can bend over to tie your shoes without pain or get up and down from a chair with ease, it’s working—you don’t need to be circus-level flexible for this to be TRUE), and that is a beautiful thing. You’re taking care of your body and transformation is occurring even when you don’t see it or feel it daily. Be grateful for that!
Postural awareness and strength. I remember how hard just sitting was, in my early days of practice. How my back would burn and my hips would complain if I sat too long in cross-legged sukhasana (which is translated as “easy pose”—pfft!). Many years later, sitting actually does bring ease. And generally speaking, yoga asana strengthens the core and back muscles which in turn helps you sit up and stand taller, though it’s always practice.
Speaking of practice, just working the body to build awareness around your posture helps you feel better in your daily life AND energetically it really shifts your mood when you stand or sit up tall versus slumping through the day. The next time you access that expansive, spacious spine, thank your practice!
Sensitivity. Yoga practice, whether it’s asana-based or beyond the physical practice, helps us be more sensitive to how we’re feeling and what we’re experiencing. We become more attuned to our mental state, emotional state, and physical state of wellness. In some ways this can mean the complaints of the body and mind grow louder the longer we practice (or if we stop practicing suddenly).
On the other hand, we are open to receiving a treasure trove of information about ourselves, with the tools to address these ailments when they are observed. Our sensitivity can be empowering when we know what to do with it. This sensitivity is due to the self-study of our practice, and it can even go (hopefully) beyond our own body/mind/heart toward sensitivity to others and the world.
Stress relief. You’ve heard it before, and it’s one of the top reasons people start a yoga practice! There is something magical and special about moving with your breath and focusing all your attention to that process, and that’s where the stress relief comes from. We work our bodies, we inquire as we go, and we breathe more deeply than we do throughout our day—especially depending on the level of stress we are under regularly otherwise.
Just taking deep breaths helps regulate the central nervous system, which is the key part of why yoga works to relieve stress, whether you are practicing intensely or restoratively. Breath helps us release.
Adoption of a growth mindset. This is something I didn’t realize happens in our yoga practice until I sat down to write this blog, but I am firmly convicted in its truth. The easiest way to recognize this is in the asana practice on the mat. When we first start practicing, we don’t know what we’re doing, but slowly over time we start to understand how things feel and what you’re trying to do with your body. You might start to aim for “goal poses,” and essentially we adopt a growth mindset without even realizing it, with the acceptance that asana practice takes time to unfold.
We are growing as we go, learning as we go. In time, you might start to do things in the asana practice that you never thought possible in your body. When you notice this shift, what’s truly awesome is that you realize you can take this growth mindset—doing something you’ve never thought possible—OFF the mat into the rest of your life. In this way, yoga is a springboard toward transformation and growing into new possibilities.
Letting go of the small stuff or things you can’t control. Thanks to the magical breathing infused into the yoga practice, what we are really practicing is letting go of forcing our way through life and creating space for allowing. Curiosity and equanimity versus achieving. We shift into witness consciousness during the yoga practice (and when I say “practice” here, I’m talking asana or meditation, or daily life), and that perspective helps us see things differently.
Suddenly, as you keep practicing, the little things that grated on your nerves or really fired you up don’t seem to matter so much. You can witness what’s happening without reacting, thereby making better decisions about how to react, or whether it’s worth disrupting your peace in response to your present circumstances. This is related to the yogic principle of santosha, translated from Sanskrit as “contentment.” It’s not complacency—it’s acceptance of what you cannot control and claiming your power in not letting yourself get pulled into the drama of everything around you.
Greater empathy and connection with others. This benefit, I believe, takes the longest to really sink in, many years into the practice. It is definitely the greatest benefit, in my opinion. The deeper you go on the path of yoga, you will learn the philosophy behind it which states that we are all One. This can be a really abstract concept for some, so think of it this way: if you meet someone starting yoga for the first time in class, you can empathize with their experience. You have been a new student before. More broadly, we all seek happiness, ease, wellbeing, and success in our lives. We have all gotten angry when someone cuts us off in traffic. We have all mistakenly (or purposely—let’s be honest) cut someone off in traffic.
We all experience the gamut of human emotions, have loved and lost, and struggled somehow in life. In that basic human experience, we are the same. In the space of recognizing our sameness, we can connect, we can empathize, we can reach out and meet one another to offer support and loving kindness. There is a beautiful Yogi Bhajan quote I turn to often (regardless of my opinion about the man): “Recognize that the other person is you.”
Not only does this shift in consciousness benefit our community, but it benefits us. We feel good when we do good. Yoga helps us feel good and then prompts us to do good, and that’s the greatest benefit of this practice of all.
I hope this list helps you be grateful for your practice, and perhaps inspire you to return to a consistent practice or, just as good, share it with someone you care about to help them access more ease. Yoga practice is not about poses. They’re just the tool. It’s not even about improving ourselves. This practice is about clearing the grime of daily life off our souls to reveal what’s already shining deep within: our power, our goodness, our brilliant connected hearts expressing the divine love that permeates through all.
I would love to hear your thoughts if you feel inclined to comment below. Even better: share this post with someone who needs the reminder of what’s good in their practice!