Before I started practicing yoga, I did not know how or why it would be good for me. So, given that, I wanted to write a post on the benefits of yoga for beginners.
I had heard a lot just in general that yoga is good for you. I did not really know why. It was not until a conversation with my chiropractor, who helped me get back to the upright position after a back injury that I really started to understand.
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Check out one of my posts about my yoga experience, simple yoga for beginners. This will give you some perspective as to where I am coming from.
Yoga has been around for thousands of years, although I have somewhat recently taken up the practice. I have dealt with back problems most of my adult life and yoga is a great way to help strengthen and stretch the muscle groups that protect my spine.
Yoga is a low impact activity that can help to improve both physical and mental health. Breathing is a very important component, something I have not quite mastered yet. Okay, that sounded really bad. I, of course, know how to breathe, just not in tune with my yoga practice. We breathe at a certain pace and let the movements follow our breath. For me, this helps to calm me down and gives me something to focus on. As if it is not already hard enough to focus on holding poses just right.
There are many different types of yoga, which I will not get into here. Just know that there are different forms of yoga with different levels of intensity, depending on the needs of the individual. The point of this post is to discuss benefits of yoga.
Mental hurdles overcome with yoga
For me, the mental part is about moving out of my comfort zone doing things I don’t do every day or things I am not always comfortable doing in front of others because I am not good at them. When you step out of your comfort zone, you become more aware of what your limitations are, and you can work on those areas. I enjoy exploring my limits. This is not only applicable to yoga but life. We will just stick to yoga in this post.
Physical benefits of yoga
Physical benefits of yoga come from the areas that are targeted during a session. You will work all the major muscle groups. Now, you are not going to become a bodybuilder by performing yoga poses, but you will work arms, legs, glutes, back, shoulders, etc. and become stronger as a result.
Yoga will challenge your muscles using your own body weight. You will get stronger by holding poses since yoga requires the use of muscles throughout your body to do this. Many of the poses will work your abs and your back, what most people consider the core. The muscles that support the spine are vital to maintaining a healthy back.
As I just mentioned, one of the biggest benefits of practicing yoga is improved core strength. I am shocked at how much core strength I am lacking. I can do planks, crunches on an exercise ball, ab roller wheel, etc. without a problem, but some of these yoga poses just show me how far I have to go. So, core strength will improve as a result.
The core strengthening alone, by holding poses will help you in your everyday life. Whether it’s picking up your child, putting your shoes on, or hauling buckets of laundry around the house, yoga and the core benefits alone are a good reason to do it.
Moving from down dog to runners lunge is really challenging, something I am working toward. Its’ really the whole practice, improving strength and flexibility are what allows you to move seamlessly from one pose to the next. If you are super strong but lack flexibility, these poses will provide a challenge. On the other side, if you are really flexible, but lack strength, yoga will help with that as well. Again, not body builder strength, but I think you get the point. Body weight strength is great.
Another physical benefit of yoga, especially for people like me, with back problems is it really helps me with proper posture and alignment. This helps to keep my spine healthy, which is really important to avoid low back pain. Working the muscles around the spine are so critical to managing back problems. You want to keep those muscles strong and flexible.
Yoga burns a lot of calories
Yoga does burn calories and is a great core workout. I sweat more in my yoga class than I do during a typical workout. My usual workouts are not lame either, so I am usually shocked by how much more I sweat during a yoga session.
I do not really consider yoga to be an aerobic exercise for people who do a lot of cardio, but certain types of yoga will really make you sweat. I sweat a lot in my Root yoga class as we are in constant motion and the room temperature is slightly elevated. When I take a surrender class, there is very little sweating as this is literally more stretching than anything else. I struggle with some of the poses, therefore I have to work harder and I do sweat some. But back to the point, if you want a high-intensity workout to get your lung capacity up, this isn’t necessarily designed for that.
Improve flexibility with yoga
Flexibility is another key area that yoga really helps with. This is kind of where I am at right now. Having been through a lot of back problems in my life, I have developed a lot of tightness, really throughout my body. I know this is also something that happens with age, so I have two strikes against me. I have never been one to stretch as a part of my workout routine. In addition, I have at times been injured and unable to stretch critical areas like my hamstrings. There have been times when I couldn’t bend forward so I couldn’t stretch my hammy’s, and times where I couldn’t stand upright, so I wasn’t able to stretch hip flexors. So, this combination of tight hips, glutes, and hamstrings is really a recipe for back pain. Yoga is helping me to unwind some of these problem areas and improve my range of motion.
Strengthening and stretching both sides of the body
Another great benefit for me is working both sides of my body equally. Now I do have to say it does not always work that way. I am a lot tighter on my right side than on my left, so this does give me some trouble, but that is part of the reason I have added yoga to my routine. I hope that I can move to the point where I am mostly equal on both sides of my body.
Point in case, I have trouble on my right side moving, in one motion, from down dog to a runners lunge, without carrying my foot there. This is something I work on outside of my class as well. I am competitive by nature and if I cannot do something, I really want to work at it until I can. Moreover, I think it is cool to be able to do that. I have challenged myself to get there. I know it will come with time, and this will be a major breakthrough for me. This is a combination of strength and flexibility will help with balance, our next topic.
Improve balance with yoga
I have definitely noticed my balance has improved since I have been practicing yoga. Holding poses makes me engage more muscle groups for a longer period of time, and I have noticed an overall improvement in my balance.
Strength and flexibility from performing and holding poses definitely plays a role in balance, but so does your mind. I think in the beginning, I focused more on balance with the physical aspect. As I progress, I am engaging more mental aspects, like keeping my eyes focused on a spot. I really try not to let my mind wander; I focus on my pose and not watch my neighbor fall out of their pose.
Anyone can do it
Whether you are a couch potato or a professional athlete, yoga can really benefit anyone and everyone. There are modifications you can make if you are not quite there yet. There are more advanced poses if you need to stretch the limits even more. I think everyone, no matter your age or fitness level can practice yoga and benefit from doing so.
Additional benefits of practicing yoga
Aside from the obvious physical benefits of strength and flexibility, practicing yoga can have other health benefits as well. A friend of mine is experiencing high blood pressure; his doctor told him yoga is a good way to manage that. If you have serious medical issues, check with your doctor before you start any physical exercise program. Some poses will not be good for certain medical conditions, so be safe and check with your doctor.
I do know of people in my yoga class who practice as a way to combat certain medical conditions. For many people after a yoga practice, they sleep better, since they come out of a class feeling more relaxed. It has to do with the whole mind-body experience.
After a yoga session, I feel more relaxed. Some of that has to do with Savasana (corpse pose). This comes at the very end, and it is well deserved. I usually end up falling asleep for a few seconds. I do not know how laying on the floor can feel so awesome, but it does.
Therefore, to summarize, I think there are some takeaways from this post. There are many benefits of practicing yoga, but for me, the biggest areas are:
- Core strength
I have noticed an improvement in all of these areas. As I mentioned several times in this post, after reading it through a few times, strength and stretching are the biggest factors for me right now. As I progress, I am sure the mental part, and breathing will improve as well. See this post for more information about the benefits of yoga.
This is something that I have taken on later in life and I am really glad I did. Strong and supple muscles are going to benefit me in the long run. Adding yoga to my regular workout routine has already proven beneficial and I have only scratched the surface.
If you are interested in getting started with yoga, you will need a mat. Thankfully, I’ve got you covered, check out my post about best yoga mats for 2018.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to use the comment section below, or shoot me an email. I would love to hear from you.