12 Things You Need to Know about Yoga: Benefits, Common Myths, and How to Get Started
Yoga is a beginner friendly exercise that is scientifically proven to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Mental health is awesome, but yoga improves your physical fitness too. Practice yoga every day and you'll develop balance, core strength, flexibility, and more. You'll definitely want to take a yoga class after you read this list.
Note: A version of this article originally appeared at Lifehack.
Featured photo credit: Sunset Yoga/Pierce Martin via flickr.com
First, let's talk about some benefits of yoga that will might surprise you (#4 will make people with ADD want to try a yoga class as soon as humanly possible).
1. Yoga is a break from your stressful day.
We are surrounded by stressful things. Does any of this sound familiar...?
Your partner always wants more attention. Your parents never think you're good enough. Your manager treats you like crap. You might even feel inadequate because you don't measure up to society's standards.
No matter how upset you might feel at the moment, remember stress is a form of self-inflicted misery. Why get upset over a thing you can't control? Practicing yoga can help you become a less stressed, present-focused person.
2. Yoga is a remedy for anxiety and depression.
Have you ever felt so upset that you wanted to die? If so, don't feel bad. Life is hard sometimes (trust me, I know).
A devastating break-up that left you emotionally drained. A move to a new town where you don’t know a single soul. The sadness that follows losing a family member, friend, or pet.
No matter how crappy you might feel, remember you are worthy of love and happiness. Why dwell on a thought, feeling, or emotion that doesn't serve you? Practicing yoga can help you improve your mood and mental functioning.
3. Yoga improves your balance and breathing pattern.
Most people are so obsessed with work that they might as well be chained to a desk.
A constantly hunched over back from hours of sitting. A closed-off appearance that expresses a lack of confidence. The feeling of panic that follows short, rushed breathing.
4. Yoga boosts concentration and productivity.
We live in a distracting world (for fun, count how many ads and pop-ups you see online today... bet you'll lose count!).
A list of things to do that grows and grows. A feeling of dread that gets worse as an important deadline draws closer. The constant stream of texts and calls that interrupt you every ten seconds.
No matter how busy you might feel, remember you can always say NO. If you feel overwhelmed, that probably means you bit off more than you could chew. Practicing yoga can help you focus on what matters.
Next, let's correct some common myths and misconceptions about yoga (#5 will make beginners feel better).
5. Yoga requires you to stretch yourself into a pretzel.
You don’t have to be a gymnast to go to yoga class.
Heck, I couldn’t reach even past my knees in a forward fold the first time I tried.
My hips were so tight that I needed to use props like blocks, blankets, and straps to ease into deep stretches.
Please don't beat yourself up for needing to use props. They are not a crutch. They are a tool. Safety first. Tell your ego to hush.
6. Yoga is a religious practice that demands you to say “om.”
Yoga does have spiritual roots, but that doesn’t mean have to chant to spirit gods (unless you're into that).
Yoga classes at gyms like the Y focus on athletic poses. Yoga studios dive deeper into meditation and mindfulness.
Neither approach is better than the other. It all depends on your needs, goals, and preferences. If you want your yoga class to be more (or less) mindful, simply ask your gym or yoga studio for more information before you sign up.
7. Yoga classes are all created equally.
Hot yoga classes crank up the temperature, because you can get deeper into a stretch when you're sweaty.
There are yoga classes for every special population you can imagine: seniors, children, athletes, total beginners, and expecting mothers. If you can't find an enjoyable class, you aren't looking hard enough.
8. Yoga is the only exercise you need to do.
I know some devoted yogis might crucify me for saying this, but yoga isn't the be-all and end-all of fitness.
You should do cardio for a healthy heart. You could take your dog to the park, get up and walk around your office every hour, or admire the changing leaves during a hike.
You should also lift weights for strength and power. Bonus: lifting weights increases your metabolism (how quickly your body burns calories)... so basically that means you will lose weight on autopilot (but not literally).
Let's close with a few practical ways you can take action today (#9 is so simple but effective... it's how I started).
9. Perform the sun salutation every morning.
Sun salutations come from vinyasa (flow) yoga. You can start your day strong in 10 minutes or less with this speedy sequence.
Yoga Journal has a helpful how-to guide about the sun salutation. Also check out the video below for modifications which make this sequence 100% doable for people of all shapes and sizes.
10. Join a yoga class.
If you've never done yoga in your life, you should probably start with a yoga class.
A yoga teacher will provide advice about things like alignment to make sure you do the poses safely. You'll also meet like-minded friends who will encourage you to do your best.
Simply do an Internet search for “yoga in (insert your city/state)” to find out what’s available in your neighborhood. If you're from my hometown, I offer yoga lessons for small groups of friends (click here for more information).
11. Bring a blanket.
Remember how I mentioned props are not crutches (they are tools)? Right then! Let's go ahead and buy one.
If you can’t sit in a cross-legged position without rounding your back, plant your butt on a folded blanket during seated yoga poses.
Blankets can also help you ease into yoga poses for tight muscles. For example: cushion your hips with a blanket during pigeon pose to remove pressure from those joints (that means you won't squirm the whole time).
12. Notice the difference.
Be mindful of the little ways yoga improves your life to stay motivated (stick with your practice).
Yoga helped me be more calm and cool (read: I used to have anger management issues). Yoga also serves as a healthy substitute for poor habits like chain smoking and compulsive snacking.
All of that (plus the health + fitness benefits I already mentioned) for an hour or two on the mat? Yep! I highly encourage you to give yoga a fair chance. If you're patient, yoga could change your life in major ways.
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A new-and-improved edition of this blog appears in, "Do Yoga Every Damn Day." Click here to discover how to start a yoga practice by the end of this week.