Benefits of Yoga: The Unexpected Edition
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I first started with the aim of gaining the strength and flexibility benefits of Yoga. I never expected to have these wonderful bonuses that came along with it. Yoga is more than just an exercise; it is a method for controlling the mind and an outlook on how to live life.
My Yoga practice has transformed my life in so many ways than I can adequately explain here right now, but these are the first that come to mind. If you are a beginner Yogi, you have these yoga benefits to look forward to. Keep practicing, have patience, and enjoy the journey.
Expected Benefits of Yoga
Before we dive into the unexpected, let’s take a quick look at the expected. After all, each of us different, and what I was hoping to get when I first started practicing Yoga may be completely different from your expectations.
- Increased flexibility
- Strength building
- Weight loss
- Toned muscles
- Better cardiovascular fitness
- Improved circulation
- Reduction in aches and pains
Now for the Unexpected Benefits of Yoga
Notice that all my expected benefits of Yoga were physical? I’m happy to say that it has delivered me all these things, but there is also so much more. The benefits Yoga has on the mind are arguably more powerful. After all, Yoga philosophy is based around controlling the mind through breath-body connections to reach self-realization and enlightenment.
1. Feeling Clear-Headed and More Grounded
Feeling clearer is a commonly reported benefit of regularly practicing Yoga. Yoga is a form of meditation that you use to connect to your breath and disconnect from the endless thoughts in your head. Classically, Yoga is practiced before meditation to help rid excess energy from the body so that one can sit in peaceful meditation with ease.
What does feeling grounded mean?
Feeling grounded means that you are confident with where you are in your life, you feel at home, stable, and connected to yourself. You feel in tune with your purpose and the Earth. Some people describe it as feeling anchored or centered in themselves, in their lives, and values.
When you’re not grounded, you feel lost, confused, floaty, and lacking purpose or direction. You will often feel drained, easily distracted, and struggle to concentrate. Not living in the now is a common symptom of being ungrounded.
How does Yoga help you become grounded?
Physically, yoga helps you feel grounded by bringing your awareness to your connection with the Earth. Reminding you that you always have a solid base beneath your feet you can rely on. Yoga helps you to find a grounded feeling spiritually. Repeating affirmations such as “I am grounded” throughout your practice also helps to re-condition your mind to a more positive place.
Grounding and the root chakra (Muladhara)
In Yoga, we also associate feelings of being grounded with the Root Chakra (Muladhara). The color of your root chakra is red. It is located at the bottom of your tailbone and represents the fundamental right to have. The root chakra focuses on those essential aspects of life, such as your home, finances, health, body, survival, and comfort. When balanced, you have trust and satisfaction that you are self-sufficient. When unbalanced, you may feel fears of being abandoned or being unstable.
Performing Yoga postures won’t release blocks in your chakras, but you can use your practice to set time aside to focus on this aspect of your life. Think of your root chakra as a ball of red spinning energy or a lotus flower with four red petals spreading open within your pelvis region. During your practice, keep this image in focus and repeat mantras such as “I am safe,” “All my needs are provided for,” or “I am secure.”
2. Handle Stress With Greater Ease
Yoga teaches you to connect your mind and body through your breath. Breathing exercises are a handy tool when working through stress or anxiety. With your breath, you have the power to activate your autonomic nervous system, which can lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
Stress is also able to manifest in the body with strange pains or tight muscles. Moving your body helps energy (Prana) to flow throughout the body more efficiently. Yogic stretches can help release taut muscles, which in some people releases stuck emotions.
Incorporating Yoga philosophies, such as the chakra system and the eight limbs of Yoga into your practice, brings greater awareness of emotional obstacles and how to move past them.
My Yoga Stress-Reducer Experiences:
Personally, I find an overall greater sense of calm throughout my day when I practice Yoga. I feel more resilient to life’s challenges. Over the years, I have also developed a greater understanding that everything is only temporary. In this way, my Yoga practice has helped and continues to help me get through some tough and stressful things life has thrown my way.
In the last two years, I have gone through what feels like enough stressful situations for a lifetime. While I wish I had learned some of those lessons in a less traumatic way, I am grateful to have had an established Yoga practice throughout this time. As someone who has long struggled with depression, I honestly don’t know where I would be right now without Yoga; wherever it is, it wouldn’t be pretty. Due to this, I know it will forever be the most useful tool I have in my life to serve both my mind and my body.
3. Boosted Confidence
Yoga makes your mind and body simply feel great. When you feel great, you feel like you can achieve anything! When you live at a higher vibration, you naturally find that confidence boost you need to try new and exciting things. You also meet new and interesting people. People pick up on your energy when you feel amazing. Positive people are drawn to other positive people. In this way, Yoga can help you activate the law of attraction.
My Yoga Confidence Story:
There’s something magical about being told by a 10-year-old that “You are the most flexible adult I know.” While I am no Instagram-worthy Yogi by any means, I often “Wow” friends on my flexibility and strength when we are playing around, or I am teaching them some moves. While I have to be careful not to let this feed into my ego, for someone with generally low self-esteem, it is an unexpected confidence booster.
On top of that, my body feels more limber and toned. Pains I struggle with ease when I practice Yoga. I feel more confident when trying on clothes, going to the beach in a bikini, and taking photos.
While some of this may sound superficial to the ultimate goal of shedding all desires and finding your True Self, but it is about the journey and shedding layers. Finding more confidence is a step forward to developing a positive mindset toward yourself and your body. When I fail to practice for a few days, I just feel overall worse about myself, and my productivity drops.
4. Improved Body Image and Awareness
Like many women, body image has been a struggle for me for a long time. While I won’t sit here and claim to have a 100% positive body image now, Yoga has helped me improve in this area a lot. The thing about body image is that it’s all in your head. Sure, you might not be the ‘perfect’ weight, size, or shape, whatever that even is, but how you perceive yourself is typically A LOT different from how other people see you.
For example, as I said, this has long been a struggle for me, but several people have told me that they think I have the ‘perfect’ body shape. They are of coarse comparing me to their insecurities. But while they are telling me that, I am thinking the same thing about them.
The grass is always greener on the other side, right! The girl with big boobs wants them to be smaller. The girl with smaller boobs wants to be curvier. People with curly hair want it straight, people with straight want it curly. The list goes on and on. We always want something we don’t have.
How a Yoga Practice Benefits Body Image
Yoga teaches you to look inward, not to compare yourself with others. To appreciate what you have here and now. A good teacher will regularly remind you not to compare yourself with others.
In Yoga, it is healthy to have goals, but not strain yourself to reach those goals. You learn to enjoy each movement, each breath, each moment in time. This mindset comes in very helpful when you catch yourself being judgmental, as it reminds you that everything is temporary.
Through the Yamas & Niyamas (guidelines for life and inner observances), you learn to be kinder to your body.
Yamas and Positive Body Image
- Ahimsa, the first Yama means non-harming. By learning this principle, you begin to understand how harmful having a negative body image is to your overall life.
- Satya, truthfulness teaches you that being dishonest and delusional will hinder you from finding your true self. Do you really look (insert negative comment here) the way you tell yourself you do?
- With Asteya (non-stealing), you learn to understand that having a negative body image is a form of stealing. Under this mindset, you are living in a void. You do not feel like you are enough, and you seek satisfaction externally rather than within yourself.
- By embracing Brahmacharya, you discover how, by being kinder to yourself, you become more creative and open to exploring sexual energy positively.
- With Aparigraha, you learn to release obsessive thoughts to find confidence and contentment in yourself.
Niyamas and Positive Body Image
- By practicing Saucha, purity, you cleanse yourself to feel beautiful. Saucha is about self-care on the inside and out to strip your body and mind of toxins and create positive energy around you.
- With Santosha, you learn to be content with what you have (and don’t have) here and now. You do not judge your body for what it could be because you are already happy in the now.
- Through Tapas, you develop a positive body image with self-discipline. When you work to cultivate a positive mindset and healthy habits, you help yourself to shed negativity.
- Svadhyaya, self-study teaches you to discover who you really are. You think for yourself instead of the perfectionist body-image ideals instilled in us by others from a young age.
- Finally, through Ishvara Pranidhana, you learn to surrender to the self. You understand that there is more to life than worrying about trivial things like your weight or hair color. Life is a journey ready to be embraced.
Improved Body Awareness With Yoga
Body awareness is developing an understanding of how your body feels and moves. Yoga teaches you to tune into your body and connect to your breath. You often find yourself moving in unexpected ways, and sometimes successfully getting into positions you didn’t think were possible.
I’ve always been a somewhat clumsy individual, so developing better body awareness has been highly beneficial (though I still bump into stuff more than I probably should). For me, one of the exciting benefits of Yoga has been getting curious about how my body moves and how I can make it move in new and strange ways. Moving frequently is vital for our overall health and helping to maintain vitality as we age. I was never a sporty child, and going to the gym is not my idea of a good time, so finding something that makes me want to move my body is highly valuable.
5. I No Longer Need Help Zipping Up My Dresses
I know this is random, but this is, after all, a list of the unexpected benefits of Yoga. You know the beautiful dresses or playsuits I am talking about that zip all the way up the back. They look gorgeous, but getting them on is a… let’s say not-so-sexy circus act! Especially when you’re single or have no-one at home to give you a hand. You then end up trying to get out of them again after a night out, ultimately falling asleep half-clothed, sigh. You know what I’m talking about.
Well, Yoga saves the day once again. Regularly practicing Yoga helps increase the range of motion in your joints. Especially beneficial when you need to reach the middle of your back and pull a zipper all the way to your neck.
One of the tricky things with the range of motion is that it isn’t just about how much your muscles can lengthen, it’s also highly dependent on how much your nervous system believes you can move. In a nutshell, your nervous system sends signals from your brain to your muscles to tell them when to move, how much is safe and when to stop. It bases this on your daily movement habits.
To increase your range of motion, you need to lengthen muscles and teach your nervous system that bigger or longer movements are safe. You can do this by repeating actions regularly and slowly increasing how far you move. Precisely what you do in Yoga when you practice postures regularly. The more you practice, the deeper you get, the larger your range of motion.
To help with zipping and unzipping your beautiful dresses from the back work on this arms-only Cow Face Pose variation (Gomukhasana). Due to a hip injury, I don’t currently practice the full expression of Gomukhasana. The easiest way I can think to explain the full version is; being in a seated position, but instead of crossing your legs, you stack your knees on top of each other in the center and have each foot next to the opposite legs glute.
How to practice Cow Face Pose Arms (Gomukhasana):
- Start either in a comfortable seated position with your sit-bones evenly touching the ground or standing with your sides’ feet hip-width apart and arms relaxed.
- Reach your right arm straight up above your head with palm facing in.
- Bend your elbow to place your palm flat down on your upper back.
- Start with your left arm down by your side.
- Then bend your left elbow up behind your back with your left palm facing up.
- Move your hands as close together as you can, then clasp your hands.
- If you can’t reach your hands to hold one another, use a scarf or strap to hold onto and gradually move your hands closer together along the strap.
- Straighten your back and lift your chest up slightly, like it is reaching for the sky.
- Keep your head straight to elongate your neck and gaze forward.
- You will feel your shoulder blades moving together.
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose for at least three rounds of breath.
- Switch your arms around and switch to the other side.
- Observe, without judgment, any differences between each side. Is one tighter? Maybe you need to hold one side longer than the other to help even it up.
More Benefits of Yoga
The more I ponder the benefits of Yoga, the more I think of! Here’s a little bonus list that you may also discover in your practice.
- A new passion and hobby (or career!)
- Play & enjoying physical exercise
- Meeting new people
- A different way to look at the world through Yoga philosophy
- A different way to live life
- More compassion towards yourself and others
- Self-Realization and Enlightenment (Ultimately)
I’m sure I am missing a few Yoga benefits. What benefits have you discovered from practicing Yoga? What benefits are you looking forward to seeing incorporate themselves into your life through your Yoga practice? Please share with our community and comment below 🙂