Yoga: it looks strange and is hard to do at first. Nobody likes falling on their face, and carrying around a brightly colored mat doesn’t always feel like you’re to perform a rigorous or boast-worthy exercise. For that reason, some tend to shy away from the practice. Instead of actually trying to get good at it, they quietly pretend like it’s a passing fad or something that “just doesn’t suit them.”
For these people, they’re at a total loss.
Though yoga is so much more than just an exercise, here’s 4 evidence-backed reasons yoga is something YOU should be doing more of:
Reason 1: Mental Focus and Acuity
If yoga immediately directs the mind to thoughts of calm, serene monks deeply meditating, that actually isn’t a bad representation of the first real benefit of yoga: mental acuity. Acuity is sharpness of thought – the ability for the mind to focus on specific things, think about them critically, and reflect on what they mean for the self.
So how does yoga do this?
First off, in studies, yoga has shown to reduce the levels of cortisol in the body, which is the hormone that’s activated when we begin to “stress out.” The result: with reduced cortisol, we’re remain calm and are better able to handle stressors and anxiety. This helps keep the mind focused when it would otherwise be distracted by stress. An extreme example: yoga was shown to help reverse PTSD in a marine.
Yoga also improves concentration and memory, both of which are primary agents in mental focus and acuity. In fact, short yoga session can greatly improve brain function after practicing yoga, at a higher rate than when compared to simple aerobic exercise alone. Simply put, if you’re looking for a mental boost in your day, yoga might be the best go-to solution.
Reason 2: Flexibility, Joint Mobility and Balance
When it comes to building body coordination, flexibility, and balance, there aren’t many exercises better than yoga. Yoga helps to elongate muscle fibers, which, when considered in the context of many day jobs (sitting at a computer all day) greatly improves mobility. It improves what’s called ease of movement, which indicates movement that decreases stress on the joints and in turn helps reduce the risk of injury. Flexibility improves blood flow, helping ensure enough circulation to muscles during and after exercise.
Added bonus: practicing flexibility exercises like yoga have also show a relation to improved quality of life.
Reason 3: Core Strength and Lower Back Stability
Yoga also improves core strength and lower back stability. Many asanas (or poses) emphasize muscular control around the lumbar spine to maintain functional stability and improve motor control of this region of the body. Not only is this a preventative exercise, helping to improve health and prevent core and spine injuries, but it also has been shown to be an effective form of rehabilitation for various lumbar spine and musculoskeletal injuries.
Reason 4: Mindfulness
Okay, while performing the asanas of yoga doesn’t guarantee enlightenment on its own, you’ll still notice a change in your mentality, outside of the mental focus and acuity we talked about earlier. “Mindfulness” is the measure by which you focus your attention on what you are currently experiencing in the present moment, without judging yourself or the situation.
How? Yoga encourages you to be a passive observer of your world. In Western psychology, we might just call this is a lesson in metacognition, or thinking about the way you think. Sit back for a moment now, and think about the way you have perceived your bias, either good or bad, toward yoga. Don’t judge the bias for being inherently right or wrong, just acknowledge that it exists. Objectively, how do you feel?
But framing thoughts and emotions through this lens, practicing yoga has been shown to increase mindfulness, not only in yoga classes but also in other areas of life. As pointed out by Harvard authors, researchers have found one example existing in how we eat. That’s right – yoga can change the way you perceive and gain satisfaction from that thing you do everyday, several times a day.
Specifically, researchers found that people who practiced yoga were more “mindful eaters,” which was described as an awareness how their body feels. This change in awareness affect how practitioners savored each bite or sip and how scents, tastes and textures felt in the mouth.
Do More Yoga!
So there you have it – you no longer have a reason not to start doing more yoga. Not only does yoga help your body, but it also helps your mind, improving everything from flexibility to how much you can enjoy your meals. Best of all, yoga doesn’t need to be expensive or confusing – there are tons of resources online that are free. Chances are though, you’ll benefit from going to at least one or two group yoga sessions!