Every year, you hear more people start doing yoga. Maybe it’s your friend, a coworker, or a family member. There’s something magnetic about the practice, that makes everyone instantly attracted to it.
Although it’s getting more and more popular, yoga is much more than just a trend. Even if people go to their first class because they’ve seen others do it - that’s not why they stay.
When you go for your first yoga practice, you might think it will improve only one aspect of your life. Perhaps you do it for its physical benefits, or because you want to incorporate some type of spiritual practice into your life. But soon you realize it seems to affect every aspect of your being - and that’s exactly what it is intended to do.
The True Importance Of Yoga
Old yogis understood that humans are physical, mental, and spiritual beings. They developed yoga in an effort to help harmonize all three levels of our beings. True yoga in India didn’t develop only around physical exercise. It was primarily a spiritual practice focused on the development of virtues that help us reach our highest potential, and find purpose in our life.
Still, even if you only practice the physical postures or asanas, you will see a change in all three levels of your being. That’s not only a promise coming from subjective experiences of practitioners, it is also something that we can and have proven by science today.
Physical yoga practice is a form of education about living a better life. On the mat, we become aware of our body and our movement. We connect to our breath and learn to control it. The breath serves as a sort of bridge between our physical body, our mind, and our spiritual self. You can experience that as soon as you start controlling your breath. And you don’t have to believe us to our word - you can try it right now.
Start deepening your breath. That means your inhales and exhales get longer, and you activate all the organs involved in the breathing action. As you inhale, lift both your belly and chest and try to make your exhalation longer than your inhale. Only after a couple of moments, you will experience a sense of calm, your thoughts will be quieter, and you will enter a state of meditation. Try closing your eyes, and breathe for a minute or two.
Now, in only a few moments of conscious breathing, you have experienced the true importance of yoga. Without any preparation - you have managed to connect your body, your mind, and your spiritual presence.
When we start practicing yoga regularly, we learn of this control over our bodies. We learn we are able to calm ourselves down, heal our pains, and become aware of the present moment. This happens even if we’re not aware of it, but it does become more significant when we are conscious of what we're doing.
After you learn to connect your breath, movement, thoughts, and emotions during a one-hour yoga class, you can begin to take that skill and incorporate it into life off the mat.
That’s the true importance of yoga. When you learn this important knowledge, you will see the benefits in your everyday life, and your well-being will improve.
We will now talk about all the specific benefits of yoga - but we wanted to make sure you understand that you are creating those benefits. You are healing yourself, you are building your spiritual practice, you are improving your mental health. With yoga, you gain back control of your own being. That empowerment is what makes it so important, especially in this fast-paced time in which we are living today.
Physical Benefits Of Doing Yoga
Some people wonder if they’ll lose weight when doing yoga. Some want to improve their performance, whether it is greater flexibility or strength. The third want to heal their chronic pain or improve their posture. The truth is - yoga does all that.
The reason why yoga improves every aspect of your body is that it uses primal movements. When you observe yoga poses, you will notice you’ve done many of them since you were a child. We squat before we walk, nearly every child tries rolling on the floor, stretching, and doing the candle pose. With yoga, we’re not focusing only on one aspect of our body. We’re doing natural movements that simultaneously improve our strength and range of motion.
Still, there are different styles of yoga you can do, if you want to focus on a certain physical benefit. All styles will still improve every aspect of your body, but some do some things a bit better than others.
For example, if your main goal is to build strength and to lose weight, a more dynamic style of yoga would be appropriate. There are many styles of dynamic yoga, including Ashtanga, Iyengar yoga, Hot yoga, and more, but they can all be described as Vinyasa Yoga. Vinyasa yoga is every type of practice where you spend a lot of time in standing poses and move through them at a fast pace.
On the other hand, those who want to combat back pain and other chronic issues, or want to improve their flexibility, will be attracted to more gentle yoga styles. Although Hatha yoga meant something else in the past, today we relate this word to a slow and gentle yoga style. Other variations are Restorative and Yin yoga. In these styles of yoga, we spend most of our time in sitting and lying positions, and we hold them for longer.
Most yogis are attracted to one style of yoga the most. Still, with time, you will realize you don’t have to decide. Simply choose the style of yoga that gives you the physical benefit you need at this day, this season, or this period of your life.
Mental Benefits Of Doing Yoga
Even if your main motivation for doing yoga is physical benefits, you will notice the mental benefits of the practice from your first class.
By being aware of our body, and connecting breath with movement, we have something to focus on. At that moment, our thoughts slow down, and we begin to relax. Science has proven time and time again that yoga improves mental health. A single class can remove the stress from that day, and regular yoga practice can relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental illnesses.
Whenever you feel stressed, anxious, or have negative thoughts about yourself and the world - try doing yoga. At least for that hour, and an hour after the practice, you’ll get back to a calmer and more positive state of mind. With time, you will see the benefits last longer, and you will be able to use yoga as a type of self-therapy whenever you want to improve your mental well-being.
All styles of yoga will give you this feeling, whether you’re sweating through a challenging Vinyasa sequence or relaxing your body through a gentle Hatha practice.
Spiritual Benefits Of Doing Yoga
Regardless of our religion or view of spirituality, most of us feel there’s something else, beyond our body and our thoughts. The spiritual aspect of our lives is what gives us purpose, a greater meaning. Only when we can feel our greater purpose, can we combat our daily struggles long-term.
Yoga can give you that. The focus on the movement and breath allows you to calm your thoughts. When your thoughts and emotions are calm, you are able to return to the present moment. The present moment is when spirituality happens.
Every person can experience something different in spirituality. It can be that you simply feel a state of love and bliss. Some get physical sensations, others have visions. That’s why it’s hard to explain what spiritual benefit you can expect from yoga. Yoga is very individual - and the best things happen when you don’t expect them.
Still, what we can promise is that you can expect to gain spiritual experience, knowledge, and understanding. When this begins to happen, yoga stops being merely a physical practice, and it becomes a part of your life. You start using the practice to improve yourself, to treat yourself and others better, and to finally find meaning, love, and true joy in this beautiful life you were given.
That was exactly why old Indian yogis created this practice in the first place. The goal was to reach a higher state of being and to live spirituality both on and off the mat.
Many will say yoga today moved away from this initial idea, but that’s far from the truth. Yes, it did change - but humanity changed as well. It’s only natural we adapted the practice to make sense to this day and age. We need a different approach, we practice more physical poses, but the goal is the same.
And whether that goal is why you started doing yoga, or it’s only somewhere in the back of your mind, with regular practice, you will achieve it.
Keep doing the type of practice you enjoy, incorporate what you learned into your everyday life, and see for yourself how you and your surroundings change for the better.
Bring more joy, peace, love, and meaning into your life, and enjoy the process of improving your life little by little, every day with yoga.