11 Reasons To Start Doing Yoga Now
Yoga has been around for thousands of years, long before it was popularized (and commercialized) in the West. Originally conceived in India as a spiritual and meditative practice, Indian gurus brought yoga half way across the world to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 1980s it became a popular form of physical exercise, paralleling, perhaps not coincidentally, the rise of Spandex.
More recently, studies have been conducted to determine yoga’s effectiveness as a complementary treatment to chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and chronic pain. Regardless of what these studies have found, yoga appears to have outlasted it’s “fad” status (hanging around for several millenia will do that) and is here to stay; a search of yoga studios within 20 miles my small town in upstate New York returns nearly 40 options (including my go-to, Vitality Yoga Flow).
People have all different reasons for adopting a regular yoga practice. Here are eleven of them:
Yoga enables better joint mobility and flexibility by taking all your joints through their full range of motion, stretching and loosening the muscles and soft, connective tissue — tendons, ligaments, cartilage and fascia — that bind your skeleton together and enable movement. This is especially important if you live a sedentary lifestyle, which leads to the shortening and subsequent tightening of the soft tissues.
Yoga is an anti-gravity practice: yoga is as much about building strength as it is about flexibility and mobility, especially in those muscles that support the trunk (the anterior and posterior core muscles). These muscles are under constant siege by gravity, whether we’re sitting or standing (or slouching), and many of the yoga postures are designed to build strength in those muscles that help us sit and stand up tall.
Yoga enables better circulation: the poses, or asanas, that you cycle through in a typical 60 minute yoga session stimulate blood flow to all limbs and extremities, oxygenating the soft tissues and leading to better mobility and faster recovery. Twisting poses stimulate oxygenated blood flow to the organs, while inverted poses (headstands and shoulder-stands) stimulate blood flow from the lower body to the heart, where it can be circulated to the lungs to be re-oxygenated.
Yoga leads to stronger bones: the sustained muscle contractions required by weight-bearing yoga poses exerts constant force on the bones to which they attach. This, in turn, stimulates osteocytes, or bone-making cells, leading to increased bone density, which is important in warding off osteoporosis as we age.
Yoga boosts immunity by supporting the healthy functioning of the lymphatic system. Contracting and stretching muscles and massaging internal organs with twisting poses stimulates the flow of immune cell rich lymph fluid throughout the body, better preparing our bodies to fight infection and triggering the disposal of cell toxins.
Yoga reduces stress by lowering levels of cortisol, the so-called “flight or fight” hormone. Breathwork activates the parasympathetic nervous system, regulating the adrenal glands which control the secretion of cortisol. Excessive cortisol has been associated with depression, high blood pressure and insulin resistance. Where the breath goes the mind will follow.
Yoga is a moving meditation: coordinating your breath with your movements through a series of yoga asanas for 60 minutes is an exercise in pure awareness. And once you’ve learned how to tune into your breath while maintaining rigorous yoga poses you will be better able to find your breath outside the yoga studio, when you really need it.
Yoga can help with pain management: according to several studies, yoga can help people with many types of chronic pain conditions, including arthritis, fibromyalgia, lower back pain and migraines. In her book Yoga for Pain Relief, Kelly McGonigal writes that, “Yoga can teach you how to focus your mind to change your experience of physical pain.”
Yoga leads to a higher body IQ: if you’re doing it right, yoga is a journey inward, toward self-discovery. You will learn to listen to your breath, and will begin to understand how your body moves (or why it doesn’t and what you can do to regain unimpeded movement).
Yoga helps us transcend our perceived limitations: the more you practice the stronger and more flexible and more mindful you will become. It is inevitable (it’s why it’s called a “practice”). With steady, disciplined practice — maybe 3-4 times per week for several months — you will see significant progress and, I dare say, you will almost certainly see results that exceed your expectations.
Yoga can make you a better lover by rendering us more present, more open, more patient and more empathetic. And more skilled: yoga strengthens the pelvic floor (perineal) muscles, which are often neglected in our sedentary lifestyles. Strong perineal muscles (called the Mula Bandha in yoga) lead to stronger orgasms and more control over your orgasms. Yoga is for lovers!
There are many different styles of yoga. If you’re new to yoga and aren’t sure which style would best suit you then consider asking a friend who has some experience and who might be willing to point you in the right direction. Alternatively, you can shop around your local yoga studios and try different classes to see what might appeal to you.
Be careful though, especially if you have an injury or aren’t used to physical exertion. Yoga can be as gentle or as challenging as you want; figure out where along that spectrum you should be. You can always ramp it up as your body adapts to what you’re asking of it.
If you’re not sure your body is ready for yoga see your doctor or physical therapist.