Practicing yoga is a fantastic way to take care of yourself - mentally, physically, and emotionally. Regardless of whether you practice yoga in a yoga class, roll out your mat at home or teach kids yoga, yoga helps reduce anxiety, support brain health, and makes you stronger and more flexible.
Yoga is a special form of exercise because it encourages you to breathe, slow down, and take care of yourself.
So, go ahead and get on your mat. While you're at it, remember that this is your time.
Here are four benefits to practicing yoga:
1. Yoga Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety is a normal part of life. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults every year.
Yet, while working and raising children can be stressful, yoga is here to help!
Yoga can help you cope with anxiety. It encourages you to slow things down. You can ground yourself in the current moment by focusing on your breathing.
In fact, pranayama (yogic breathing) can help reduce anxiety. In a study cited in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, 34 women who were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder participated in two 90-minute yoga classes per week for two months. These women practicing yoga had significantly lower levels of anxiety compared to the women in the study who did not do yoga. The conclusion stated that “yoga can be considered as a complementary therapy or an alternative method for medical therapy in the treatment of anxiety disorders.”
2. Yoga Helps You Get Better Sleep
Slowly guided yoga can prepare you for a full night of deep sleep.
Why? Doing yoga helps bring your attention to the present moment. This allows your nervous system to take a break.
In addition, the activities you engage in right before bed can also affect the way you sleep. So, it’s best to avoid looking at screens or making big plans or decisions in your head right before you go to sleep.
3. Yoga Encourages Healthy Eating Habits
When you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or just too busy, it’s easy to follow unhealthy eating habits. For example, perhaps you forget to eat meals regularly and then binge eat unhealthy things when you have a free moment. I am guilty of this sometimes.
Yet, mindful eating is a way to avoid binge eating. Practicing yoga often means slowing down and focusing on your breathing. In a similar way, mindfulness can help you get the most out of your meals. When you’re eating, really chew your food. Think about the texture, taste, and smell of what you’re eating. What are you feeling and sensing when you’re eating? Then, notice when you’re not hungry anymore.
These mindfulness tips make the experiences of eating ultimately more nourishing and enjoyable.
4. Yoga Makes You Stronger and Healthier
Practicing yoga can help you build flexibility, strength, and balance.
There are some yoga poses that are meant for building strength and muscle. For example, sun salutations are designed for this purpose. In a study, 79 adults did 24 cycles of sun salutations six days a week for 24 weeks. These adults had an increase in upper body strength, endurance, and weight loss after the 24 weeks. They also experienced a decrease in body fat percentage.
A great yoga pose for flexibility is the extended triangle pose. Here’s a “how-to” from Yoga Journal:
Stand in Tadasana. With an exhalation, step or lightly jump your feet 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart. Raise your arms parallel to the floor and reach them actively out to the sides, shoulder blades wide, palms down.
Turn your left foot in slightly to the right and your right foot out to the right 90 degrees. Align the right heel with the left heel. Firm your thighs and turn your right thigh outward, so that the center of the right knee cap is in line with the center of the right ankle.
Exhale and extend your torso to the right directly over the plane of the right leg, bending from the hip joint, not the waist. Anchor this movement by strengthening the left leg and pressing the outer heel firmly to the floor. Rotate the torso to the left, keeping the two sides equally long. Let the left hip come slightly forward and lengthen the tailbone toward the back heel.
Rest your right hand on your shin, ankle, or the floor outside your right foot, whatever is possible without distorting the sides of the torso. Stretch your left arm toward the ceiling, in line with the tops of your shoulders. Keep your head in a neutral position or turn it to the left, eyes gazing softly at the left thumb.
Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to one minute. Inhale to come up, strongly pressing the back heel into the floor and reaching the top arm toward the ceiling. Reverse the feet and repeat for the same length of time to the left.
Doing Yoga for All the Right Reasons
You should feel proud of yourself right now! You are that healthy person that fits in some yoga in the afternoon, in the morning, at night - whenever you can.
Hopefully you feel renewed pride after reading about the awesome health benefits that come from doing yoga.
Are you ready to get a handle on your stress and anxiety, get better sleep, eat healthier, and become stronger? It’s time to start practicing yoga on the regular!
About Ocean Noah: Ocean is a content writer at Pretzel Kids yoga. Originally from Los Angeles, Ocean moved to San Francisco to study creative writing at San Francisco State University. She writes fiction, blog posts, and op-eds. Ocean is thrilled to write for Pretzel Kids, as her mother is a yogi too!