Yoga is the only exercise, alongside swimming, that I genuinely enjoy and look forward to. I don’t just do for the health benefits or because I feel I should.
Since taking up yoga, I feel better both physically and mentally. I find that it allows me to relax, unwind, take time for myself and makes me feel like I’m doing something good for my mind and body.
The health benefits are obvious: I’ve definitely gained more strength, flexibility, balance and my posture has improved leaps and bounds, I don’t feel so tight in my body, my breathing is fuller and I generally feel more positive about myself.
It’s also great for people of all fitness levels and ages. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be flexible to do yoga. You can make it your own as you build yourself up.
There are many different types of yoga, such as Vinyasa, Bikram, Hatha and Iyengar. You can try the different styles out and see which ones work for you. I’m definitely a fan of Vinyasa but would love to check out Bikram yoga in the future. Here is a really handy, simple guide about the different types of yoga available so you can read about what sort of style might suit you the most.
But, anyway, I’m going to give my top 6 reasons why yoga is so awesome and hope that inspires you to try it out too.
1. It’s a workout
When I first started doing yoga, I honestly thought it would be a breeze. I knew I’d struggle with any movement which stretched the hamstrings because mine were (and still are) inflexible but, other than that, I thought I’d nail it.
At the time I started, I was going to the gym four times a week and was probably the fittest I’d ever been. Someone mentioned to me that I should practice yoga and I thought to myself ha, this will be a piece of cake.
My first time trying out yoga was an hour session at my gym. I turned up and took a glance around the room and saw a mixture of ages and genders. I foolishly thought that if people a lot older than me could do it then I’d come out of the session a pro.
Even more wrong.
I copied the instructor every time she said to do a move and even in the first few minutes I was finding it tough. I’d get into one of the shapes and think I’d got the hang of it, but then the instructor would tell me to adjust my stance by shifting my weight or pulling something in or aligning my centre in a certain way and I realised I was waaay off being able to hold these poses. It was so hard.
Some of the poses the instructor or people in the class would get into baffled me. I couldn’t even get half as deep into the stretch as them and I was really feeling the pull or would wobble around. Crow pose I couldn’t even attempt.
By the end of the hour, I felt knackered and felt I’d stretched parts of my body that I didn’t know existed. Some of the poses required so much inner strength or balance that I didn’t know I was lacking until I tried. When we were laying down in Shavasana for the final 5 minutes I was relieved. Finally, it was over and I could relax.
The next day though, genuinely, I’d never ached like that all over. Even after weight training or conditioning, I did not ache in the same way that I did after that yoga class. I burned. It seriously was an effective workout! It isn’t intense in the same way that a spin class or BodyPump is, but it pushes your body to its limits and stretches places that need it the most.
Damn, I’d underestimated it.
2. You can do it from home
You don’t need to spend lots on a class if you don’t want to, yoga is so easy to do from home. All you need is a yoga mat (which you can get really cheaply from Amazon) and some space to move around in and you’re good to go.
My favourite channel to follow at home is Yoga with Adriene on YouTube. She does a whole host of videos and playlists to follow for free! She’s very easy to follow, explains the moves and their benefits, is a helpful instructor and does a great range of videos for all levels to help people get into yoga.
My personal favourites are her 30-day playlists, where you do a yoga practice every day for 30 days to build strength and integrity. She does a variety of these such as ’30 Days of Yoga,’ ‘Yoga Camp,’ and ‘TRUE.’
The difference I felt from the first day to the last day was phenomenal and very unanticipated. Adriene does it in a way where you build up different parts of your practice every day so by the last day, it has all very neatly tied in together and you can see the progress you’ve made.
I would thoroughly recommend her channel to anyone looking to get into yoga. She has so many videos, so you can choose what appeals to you and what you feel will benefit you the most.
3. Time for yourself
So many of us lead chaotic, busy and full lives, from having children, to working full time, to trying to accomplish personal goals, to looking after a house etc. A lot of us find it hard to hit the off button and get away from the stress of it all.
However, because yoga is a meditative practice, it forces you to take time for yourself and escape ‘to do’ lists or chores. The moves on the mat aren’t geared towards being high in intensity but rather a release of tight places and letting go of any stress you’re holding on to.
I find it a really good way to unwind after a day at work and even look forward to it because I know it’s a time where I listen to my mind and body and don’t try and pre-occupy myself with lots of other tasks.
It’s really important to take a step back from everything, even for an hour a day, just to have a bit of ‘me’ time.
Other exercises can be very intense or feel like a bit of a hassle to get involved with. But with yoga, I genuinely feel like it’s the right balance of exercise, well-being and relaxation. There’s a reason yoga is described as a restorative practice.
4. It connects the physical self with the mental self
Before starting yoga, that whole concept of connecting the mind and the body just seemed alien to me. I didn’t get it. I couldn’t really grasp how my mind and body could feel more connected than they already did. To be honest, I’d even say it sounded lame.
However, because the movements in yoga are connected with breathing, it means you have to think about doing movements as one fluid part rather than trying to force them out because you’re told to. I find that doing this and thinking about my timing, which parts to grow tall and which parts to ground, allows me to concentrate on how my mind and body feel as one.
It sounds pretty cringey but it does feel good because it gives you something to focus on as the movements in yoga are generally slow and you concentrate on holding positions rather than moving hastily from one to the next.
Basically, you just think about how your body feels and integrate that with your breathing, which I find very soothing.
5. There are a surplus of health benefits
Flexibility and balance are perhaps two of the words people jump to when they think about what yoga does for the body.
It’s true, yoga definitely focuses on flexibility because a lot of the poses are very deep stretches and your muscles stay in a stretched position for quite a long time. Sometimes even minutes. So, this repeated stretching leads to greater flexibility over time. And I wouldn’t even say a long time either.
Balance is another important component of yoga because some of the poses require you to stay in, sometimes very challenging, positions for long periods of time.
For instance, poses such as ‘tree pose’ and ‘king of the dance’ require you to find balance, put your centre of gravity in a certain position, draw strength from a certain area and find length in different parts to enable you to hold that pose. If you don’t concentrate, you’ll wobble, which is where the balance part comes in.
But there are also other benefits. My strength has definitely improved a lot since starting yoga, particularly my core strength. When I’ve had to do poses like ‘yogi plank,’ ‘side plank’ or ‘warrior 1,’ I’ve really had to cultivate strength from somewhere within to allow me to hold those poses. At the beginning, I found some of these poses near impossible or after a while, I’d give up. However, over time I’ve really seen my strength develop, but I’ve still got a long way to go!
I’d also say yoga has massively helped my posture. It’s very easy to slump down in an office chair or walk around with hunched shoulders.
Now, I’m not saying my posture is great because it really isn’t. I sometimes catch myself slouching or not sitting up straight and have to correct it. But, on the whole, because I focus on my posture on the mat, it transfers off the mat.
Breathing and timing of breathing are also massive benefits from starting yoga. I feel like I can inhale and exhale for much longer now because yoga focuses on synchronising movement with breath. Even when I do other types of exercise, I’m able to take fuller breaths and not feel like I hold onto my breath in the same way, which leads to a more effective workout.
6. You can make it your own
So many times before in other exercise classes I’ve decided to try out before, I’ve felt like I’m not very good at it, it’s too hard, I’m not fit enough or have other negative thoughts that put me off wanting to go. Especially when some people are really good, it can feel pretty intimidating.
However, with yoga, you can make the practice your own. You can’t go down as deep as someone else, that’s fine, you can modify the practice to suit your abilities, rather than feeling you have to do it because everyone else is.
For instance, I really struggle with my hamstring flexibility, so the ‘forward fold’ in yoga can be really tough for me. Yet some people can get their body flat to their legs which just seems impossible for me. However, rather than feeling defeated, I can push my body as much as I can and pull my body as close to my legs as possible.
On the flip side, my hips are very open and flexible so I find the ‘lizard pose’ pretty easy comparatively. But I’ve had people say they can’t get anywhere near as deep into the stretch as I can. People vary a lot in their strengths and weaknesses, and that’s fine.
You can play yoga to your strengths and weaknesses and no set way is ‘right.’ You can push yourself as much as you need to and build on that, rather than some preconceived standard of where your body needs to be at.
That’s why I think yoga is popular across a range of ages and levels because the practice you can do it at your own pace rather than having an instructor shout at you telling you that you’re not doing enough or to work harder. I mean, some people are fine with that encouragement, but to me, one of yoga’s main strengths is that you can make it what you want.
To summarise, yoga is incredible.
Honestly, you’d think with the amount that I ramble on about yoga that I get paid or I’m part of a yoga sales team. I truly just think yoga is a great exercise and believe everyone can and should get involved. Maybe it won’t be for you, but it’s definitely worth a shot.
For me, it’s an effective workout, allows you to take time for yourself, is accessible at all levels, you can do it from home, it connects the mind and body, and there are plenty of health benefits from doing it.
Now go do some yoga!