Updated: Mar 4, 2020
There are literally countless reasons to start practicing yoga. In the west, especially in this Instagram age, yoga is often seen as the domain of young, slim, attractive, and white people. Yoga - or at least one perception or version of it - has never been more popular. Yet at the same time, the way yoga is often portrayed in the west can be a huge turn-off for many people. Especially when they don't see their own body being represented.
In addition to this, there is a perception that you can only do yoga if you are flexible or are already able to move your body in a certain way, when actually this could not be further from the truth. Yoga is for everyone, it can certainly bring a greater range of movement to the body, and can even be done with no movement at all. We don't do yoga just so we can bend ourselves into pretzel like shapes, even though unfortunately that is what many people have come to understand yoga as, but for a myriad of beneficial reasons. I wanted to share some of these reasons with you.
1. To gain flexibility/mobility
One of the most spoken about reasons to do yoga - to gain flexibility. Yoga can certainly help you be more flexible and mobile, which can help our bodies in a myriad of ways and can compliment other forms of movement
2. To gain strength
Lots of physical activities can help us gain strength, but many of them are only targeted at certain muscle groups - leaving other muscles weak and vulnerable. Yoga can strengthen and condition muscles across the entire body, not just 'glamour muscles'
3. To help with balance
Lots of yoga asana challenge our balance, teaching us to engage our core. Good balance can help later in life, and protect us from falls
4. Improves proprioception
Proprioception is our perception of where our body is in space. Better awareness of this leads to greater body awareness overall, which can help with our balance, our posture, etc.
5. Improves posture
Something most of us suffer from in the 21st Century is poor posture. Poor posture is not just something which doesn't look good. Poor posture can lead to lots of different ailments, especially when built over time. Poor posture can lead to muscle tightness and weakness, vulnerability to injuries, back and shoulder problems, poor breathing, poor circulation, and more. Yoga not only helps us improve our posture but also brings better awareness so we can notice when we start to fall into old postural habits and can correct them.
6. Can help prevent and rehabilitate injury
The many physical benefits of yoga can help prevent injuries - not only do our muscles and joints become stronger, but we have better awareness which can mean we are less likely to injure ourselves in the first place. For some, yogic tools can be used as injury rehabilitation. This however will depend on the individual, the type of injury and the type of yoga. It is worth seeing a yoga therapist if you are injured and want to explore how yoga can help you with your injury.
7. Can prevent osteoporosis
Yoga has been shown to prevent lots of common ailments and diseases later in life - one being osteoporosis, which is especially common in post-menopausal women. Yoga places healthy stresses on the bones, which prevents them being unused and beginning to degenerate.
8. Improves awareness, and quality, of breath
In yoga, the breath is of utmost importance. It is our 'prana', aka our life force. In modern life we have very little awareness of our breath. In yoga we bring awareness to our breath through pranayama and through matching breath to movement. Bringing awareness to the breath can help us breathe deeper, longer breaths. Better breath awareness can help us manager other situations in life, such as moments of high stress, where we usually tend to breathe shorter, shallower breaths, which can lead us to be more stressed or anxious.
9. Helps with stress
We hear a lot that yoga can help with stress. But why? Yoga can help for many reasons. On an immediate level, moving the body in asana and utilising pranayama gives us a point of focus and helps calm the mind and immediately relieve stress and tension. Over the course of time, yoga can give us tools which help us manage stress better. Yoga encourages introspection and reflection, which can lead us to avoid stressful situations or question why we feel stressed out in the first place. Yoga also encourages a sense of calm, wellbeing and peace which over time allows us to deal with stressful situations much more positively.
10. Encourages self-study
As mentioned above, yoga encourages us to look within and self-study. This is not only of benefit for dealing with stress, but also helps us as we go through life in pretty much every situation. On a physical level, self-study means we understand our body better and listen to it. We know when to slow down, we know what is tight or weak or unbalanced. We know when we need to challenge ourselves physically or get outside. It can also help us with our meditation, helping us come to deep realisations quicker. On another level, self-study means we start to not just take everything for granted - we question what we want out of life, if we are on the right path. Self-study on it's most powerful, deepest level can lead to great life transformation.
11. helps with sleep
Yoga can help with poor sleep in so many ways - movement can of course help tire the body and also move stagnant energy. However unlike other forms of movement, yoga asana always ends with winding down through slower postures before ending in Savasana. Savasana activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is our 'rest and restore' mode, allowing ourselves to truly relax and the benefits of the postures to sink in.
Yoga can also help with sleep through certain pranayama, through meditation, and through practices such as yoga nidra and restorative yoga, which is extremely calming and nourishing for both the body and mind.
12. Improves voice
This is something of a surprising one, but I discovered on my yoga teacher training that chanting every day dramatically improved the strength of my voice and the length of which I could chant for. This is a great benefit for those who use their voice regularly, like singers or actors, however I believe it's also a great benefit for anyone, especially those who may sometimes feel they don't have the opportunity to speak up in life.
13. Aids digestion
Many people today suffer with digestion problems. Certain pranayama such as 'breath of fire' as well as a myriad of asana - particularly twists - can help stimulate the digestive system and aid in digestion.
14. Helps us be present
One of the biggest benefits of yoga - for me - is how it helps us be mindful of the present moment. Yoga takes us away from worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. Yoga brings us right into the here and now, into our own bodies and the space we take up within that. Every single tool within yoga has the capacity to do this - from the asana and pranayama, to when we sit down to meditate and reflect. Of course, this doesn't stop thoughts from sometimes coming in, but the more we practice yoga, the easier it is to allow these thoughts to pass and to come back to the present moment and to the expansiveness within. A lot of the problems we have in the modern age are not the things themselves, but how much time we spend agonising and worrying. Yoga gives us the space to just be, without this anxiety.
15. Encourages Growth
When we just look at it from a physical perspective - there are so many activities that eventually we get bored of, because they can no longer provide us variety. Resistance training, running, swimming laps... all these things can be great for the body, but for a lot of us, we end up giving up. It can get repetitive, and often there is a lack of some deeper fulfilment. Of course this won't be the case for everyone, but for many people, it is. Yoga on the other hand, is the gift that keeps on giving. It is constantly encouraging us to go deeper inward. There is so much growth to be had both on a physical as well as an emotional and spiritual level.
16. It's non-competitive.
You can not be 'good' at yoga. Nor can you be 'bad' at yoga. There is no such thing as the best yoga-practitioner. Sure, you might be able to get up into a handstand easily, or touch your heels to the mat in downward dog, but these things don't really constitute what yoga is. So many other things we pursue in life are on some level competitive. Whilst some competition and goals to aim for and improve on can be healthy, the non-competitive nature of yoga can bring a nice counter-balance to these other activities. We live so much of our lives in competition with ourselves and others. Yoga gives us the opportunity to just be with ourselves and to practice compassion towards others, rather than comparing ourselves towards others.
17. Encourages compassion
Tying into the above, one of the most important principles of yogic philosophy is compassion, or non-violence. In a world so full of violence, this is a beautiful thing to honour and uphold. Yoga encourages compassion and empathy towards others, compassion to other living beings on the planet and to the planet itself, and also compassion and understanding towards ourselves.
18. Helps us connect with our energetic body
In yoga, we not only have our physical body but also our energetic or subtle body. By understanding our physical body more, we can begin to connect with the subtle body. The subtle body is composed of our chakra system, the Nadis (through which energy flows), and our Koshas - or sheaths - which surround the body. This may sound a bit woo to a lot of people, but as you deepen your yoga practise, you begin to understand the subtle energies of the body in a more tangible way.
19. Yoga can release old traumas and thought patterns
We store old and unresolved traumas, emotions, harmful thought patterns and ancestral wounds within our bodies. The repeat dynamic movements, deep openings within certain parts of the body, movements of energy and meditation and reflection, can allow for these traumas to release. Whilst this can be quite intense for many people, the benefits are profound. Yoga allows us to quite literally release what is no longer serving us.
20. Yoga can lead to self-actualisation
When we practice yoga, we can learn to know ourselves. And I mean, really know ourselves. Beyond the labels we put upon ourselves. We learn who we are on a deep, often spiritual level. We can know our place in the world and our connection to everything within it. Yoga is one of the most complete and perfect tools for self-discovery. Man has spent centuries pushing the boundaries of science to explore the world around us, both to benefit and detriment. However, many do not realise there is an entire world within ourselves, which can take lifetimes to explore. One of my favourite quotes by Deepak Chopra is 'you are not in the world, the world is in you'.