As yoga gains in popularity, the claims of its benefits are numerous, ranging from the technically medical to the wildly metaphysical. At times it seems like a cure-all, which can also make it appear over-rated and perhaps bogus.
Yoga is a both a weight-bearing and stretching exercise so it is expected that it will improve your strength and flexibility. From my own practice and the comments from my colleagues and students, I’ve decided that there are three simple yet wonderful things that are particular to yoga and can be widely achieved.
No other exercise program has the same emphasis on structural alignment, both standing and sitting. Students are continually prompted on how to position themselves with suggestions like: spine elongated, head centered directly over it, chest open, shoulders away from the ears, tailbone pulling toward the floor. Over time, the feeling of standing and sitting in alignment is brought into your muscle memory and into your everyday lives. You’ll find yourself noticing when you are slumping and correct it. Your body will thank you!
Overall body awareness
Do you remember the song Dem Bones? “The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone,
the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone, etc.” Some version of this is always going on in yoga class. Because you move in and out of yoga poses with attention and hold them for several breaths, you become aware of how your body connects and operates. You might notice which side is stronger, where a muscle is tight, or which joint has less flexibility. Yoga is not measured by speed or repetitions like other exercise regimes. It is about exploring your body and its range of motion. Understanding how YOUR body functions is the first step toward improving it or living in it gracefully.
Enhanced mental focus
Yoga is the antidote to our overly busy lives rife with multi-tasking. It works to bring you away from everything else that is going in the world to the present moment— to what you are doing with your body, on your mat, right now. Some people call it mindfulness. By using your breath as a focal point, you can learn to minimize distraction from habitual or random thoughts and cultivate a clear and steady mind. This practice might come with a sense of calm. It’s a handy tool to have in all the hours your spend off your yoga mat.
Yoga is not the only exercise program people should do. Aerobic and other weight training programs are commonly recommended. Hopefully, yoga will help with your posture, body awareness, and mental focus while you are doing these, as well!