Yoga has been around for thousands of years in Eastern cultures, and has more recently become established here in the West. Especially on Vancouver Island where we’re based, it’s hard to go more than a block without seeing a yoga studio! But there are several reasons yoga has become so popular. The benefits to strength, endurance and overall wellbeing are immense and are encouraging for any yoga practitioner to keep at it. Here are five reasons why you should consider incorporating this ancient practice into your life.
Strength and flexibility
Yoga is one of the few exercises that builds muscle strength while lengthening and stretching the muscles and fascia at the same time. Yoga is excellent for cross-training and supporting any other sport or fitness activity you engage in. There are several different forms of yoga. If you find any classes called ‘power flow’ or ‘vinyasa’ or ‘hot flow’, you can guarantee you’re in for a core building, dripping with sweat experience. Classes titled ‘gentle hatha’, ‘yin’, ‘restorative’ and ‘yoga nidra’, are much more gentle and focus on stretching more than strengthening.
Mental focus and clarity
Every yoga class and pose is centred around the breath. Focusing on your breath in the present moment allows you to hold the posture. There is a discipline and focus needed to stay in each posture (especially when balancing on one foot!) and the more you do yoga, the more this discipline and focus becomes readily available for you to use off the mat and in your daily life. With a regular yoga practice, the mental noise quiets and there’s a increased sense of clarity within. Decision making gets easier, task lists are effortlessly accomplished, and life in general becomes much more manageable. Beyond that, without the added stress of unnecessary mental chatter, it’s easier to see the beauty all around us and appreciate the small, joyous moments life has to offer.
Yoga increases prana, or “life force energy.” When you practice yoga and deepen your breathing, you are actually taking in more of this vital life force. More oxygen flows to the brain, the nervous system calms, it’s easier to fall and stay asleep, stress levels reduce, and mental and emotional health are boosted. The more you practice deep breathing on your yoga mat, the more your body will remember to engage in deep breathing to effectively cope in other stressful situations.
Exhaling and sweating throughout a yoga class helps eliminate waste and release toxins. In every yoga class the digestive, circulatory and lymphatic systems are all engaged to cleanse the body and return us to a state of optimal health. Especially in a hot yoga class, you can expect to sweat enough that you might as well have been in the sauna for 30 minutes. Pair a regular yoga practice with a healthy lifestyle including a balanced diet and getting to the supplement shop regularly to stock up on your essential nutrients, and you’ll be a detoxing machine!
Be part of a community
The best yoga studios offer an inclusive, non-judgemental space that welcomes people with open arms. Often studios will act as a grounding community centre that provides yoga classes of course, but also events supporting local artists, musicians, and speakers, and a portion of yoga classes and workshops where all funds raised are donated to a worthy cause. With such a vibrant community of yogis growing around the world, you’re bound to find some friends and allies by getting involved in this practice and lifestyle.
Most yoga studios offer discounted first week or month passes, but beyond that yoga memberships can be quite expensive. Just remember, all you need to practice yoga is a mat and a few square metres of space. Check out this list of the best free yoga classes online if you want to skip the membership and start up a home practice. However you decide to practice yoga, make sure it’s consistent. Like taking your one a day vitamins, yoga is most effective if practised daily. But practising yoga even once or twice a week will work wonders to improve your body and life.