Many people choose to be physically active as a component of a healthy lifestyle. They may want to lose weight, strengthen their cardiovascular system or develop better muscle tone. The beauty of yoga is that it’s a complete lifestyle on its own. With regular practice you reap a wealth of physical and mental benefits that pay dividends after class and beyond.
Even students who have taken their first class report feeling relaxed and calm afterwards. This is partly due to yoga’s physiological effects. It reduces production of hormones and neurotransmitters such as epinephrine that result in the body’s tense “fight-or-flight” response to stress. Yoga also increases the oxygen supply that reaches the brain which serves as a natural mood elevator. It’s not only your mood that improves after yoga.
Cognitive brain function is significantly boosted as well. Researchers at the University of Illinois conducted a study comparing subjects who completed a 20-minute session of either yoga or aerobics. Immediately afterwards they were given tests involving the ability to focus as well as take in and use new information. The yoga students showed marked improvement while the aerobics students demonstrated no appreciable difference.
The centeredness that yoga provides forms the basis for an even greater overall benefit. Its deliberate movements and focused breathing enable you to live in the present moment. We often become stuck because our thoughts are either regrets about the past or fears of the future. When regular practice frees your mind of this distracting “chatter” you’re better able to recognize your true self and shape your life with a clear point of view.
As these mental blocks fall you may also notice your creativity coming to the forefront. Stress is a major inhibitor of creativity, so once it’s gone your lighter side can come out to play. In addition, yoga teaches you to observe thoughts neutrally as opposed to good or bad. With these value judgements removed you’re better able to let creativity flow to its fullest extent.
Yoga honors the connection between body and mind, so of course you’ll also enjoy a variety of physical benefits. Weight loss and improved flexibility are the most noticeable, but they’re far from the only ones. You’ll find that your joints are less painful, your cardiovascular system is stronger and you have loads of energy. Your doctor will be happy when he finds that your cholesterol and blood sugar levels are lower as well.
A small but consistent investment of your time is a minor price to pay for these immeasurable benefits. As with any other physical or mental activity, the more we practice the easier it gets and the results will become integrated into your daily life. Practicing with an instructor gives you the added advantage of an experienced guide who can help you realize the maximum effects.