I’ve intermittently taken plenty of random yoga classes since my college years but I never truly walked out of a class and was like, “That was amazing, I need more.” However, within the past 11 months after joining a real yoga facility with trained teachers, my personal growth has exploded into a version of me I couldn’t be more excited about. It’s part of the reason I started this blog: I am in love with who I am now that I entered my thirties and yoga has helped me get there.
Lucky you, I’ll share with you right now why I feel that way.
A few things to note:
- There are many styles of yoga. I mostly practice Vinyasa, with the runner-up being Yin yoga. While I have tried others, the following is a list of benefits I can only contribute to these two styles because they are my cup of tea. But I highly recommend you try different styles so you know what works for you!
- Remember that each teacher has their own secret sauce that they bring to the table… It’s what makes it exciting. I always learn something different from a new teacher!
- Please know that I am in no way a trained yoga teacher. These words are purely from my experience.
- Yes, it can be damn expensive. I know. BUT my yoga “fund” is the best money I spend for myself every month. Truly.
1. Core Workout
I’ll start with the most obvious benefit: The physical. I’m not going to write “stretching” on here because the workout of yoga is SO much more than that. If you’re only getting stretching out of a class, especially Vinyasa (yin yoga is more passive surrender), then your teacher isn’t offering the guidance that you deserve.
The majority of the time you spend on your mat in a Vinyasa class you should be activating and re-activating your core.
Pull your navel to your spine in almost any active asana and feel the difference of the pose (lightbulb moment for me). Push through your hands more, root through your feet more, level out of your hips, engage your leg muscles, keep your spine long. Not only will these activate your muscles, make you sweat, and tone your body, but the benefits of being mindful in each position is HUGE (see below about mindfulness). You’re not going to bend as far but yoga is about LENGTHENING the areas of your body and you’ll know when you feel the real physical benefits.
If I look hard enough I’m sure I can find before and after pictures (you’ll have to take my word) of how much more toned my arms have gotten the past year. Much of the toning and chiseling I have to give credit to having a mindful practice (I’m gonna get there, see below).
Teachers have either physically adjusted me with ever so slightest movements (but a huge difference in the way it feels) or some have the incredible talent of giving the right verbal cues so you know how to adjust your body. So listen closely!
Sometimes you can’t even see the difference from a sloppy pose to an engaged and active one, but with the right instructions, you’ll feel your muscles wake up like they just chugged four energy drinks.
So next time someone tells you they don’t do yoga because they need more than a stretch, laugh one loud obnoxious laugh with all the same core muscles you just worked your ass off on the mat with.
2. Setting Intentions
What in Buddha’s name is that you ask? I was completely unaware of the concept of setting intentions until I started at an actual yoga studio last year. And woah, why did no one ever teach me this technique in my workouts growing up?!
Setting an intention is way different than having a goal. A goal is something you come up with and work your ass off to accomplish. With an intention, you’re bringing a thought to life that you need more of and then you’re letting it go. The thought is with you and then you’re sending it out to the universe. A great analogy is that of growing a plant. If you water it over and over, you’ll drown the darn thing. You need to let it soak in the sun and grow naturally without you hovering over it.
With an intention in yoga, you’re learning to bring forth that positive energy and plant the seed, but then allow the universe to do its thing.
And then when you’re in the middle of a pose that you want to cry over… you’re shaking and you’re wondering when the instructor is going to say you can come out of it, that is when you bring your intention back.
A good example is pigeon pose or any strong hip opener that you’re thinking, “Why the hell did I come here today?” You bring that intention back to life. That fuels me to stay in that Goddess pose and then when the teacher finally gets you out, there’s an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. Your intention came back without you having to hold its hand. Can you see how this applies to life?
That is how you bring your yoga practice to a higher level.
My intentions come easily to me at the beginning of each class when I close my eyes and think about what I need more of that day. Common intentions people use for yoga include:
- More patience
- Letting go of something/someone
- Forgiveness (so negative energy doesn’t tie you down)
Intentions are the reasons why you show up to the mat and they help get you through the process. Then, when you’re not paying attention to them, they blossom into all things beautiful, and the result is you become a more well-rounded person. (With a toned body. HELL-oh!)
Something similar to setting an intention is dedicating your practice to someone or something. I haven’t experimented too much with this option but when I have it’s equally as powerful for me. Maybe it’s a family member that’s sick. Maybe it’s people you don’t know affected by a tragedy. Occasionally I dedicate my practice to someone else and I come out feeling more balanced.
OMG. Guys. Mindfulness. Yoga is so much more than downward dogs and warriors and headstands.
Listen closely, puh-lease. If you practice yoga and your main goal is killing each pose to make it your bitch and how fast you can get there before everyone else, I ask you to answer this in the REALEST and most honest way possible… Is that flow similar to how you go through life off the mat? You know, get to the next thing. And the next thing. Then the thing after that. Repeat (for infinity).
I ask because I used to be like that too, and so has almost every person that starts yoga initially. Like, “hell yea, did you see how I just tore up that sun salutation, I must be getting the hang of this.” No, no, no, no, no. Back up. Back wayyyyy up.
In LIFE, I was rushing through things instead of living and breathing and appreciating my experiences for all that they are. I am SO LUCKY to have had instructors that teach how to MINDFULLY transition from one asana to the next.
It’s a lot harder to go from downward dog to a low lunge when you take four seconds doing it instead of two. You’ll feel your core light up like a fire alarm when you move from half-moon to warrior 2 slower than a turtle. Next time you’re on the mat, hold that chaturanga and feel your triceps come to life.
Not to mention the practice is sexier with this concentration. It’s not about turning into a human-pretzel that makes it sexy, it’s the movement. Move with mindfulness and watch your life become more about living in the present and living with gratitude when transitioning from one phase to the next.
One of my amazing teachers recently said that people first come to yoga for the physical benefits but stay because of the mental ones. (And I was like, “Omg get out of my head.”)
4. Hot yoga
Hot yoga is dreamy. Or sweaty… And slippery. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not an absolute must for me when I need a good yoga sesh, but given the choice, I’m in the 100-degree room.
For those who don’t mind putting in the extra sweat, it lets me feel a little more flexible and get just slightly deeper into the pose. Plus the sweat makes me feel like I’m working my ASS off and there’s a feeling of triumph with that.
If you’ve never done hot yoga, please be aware that you will sweat more so make sure you’re hydrated! Sometimes I cramp up in class so I know I’m depleted of electrolytes (I chug some coconut water after and cramps be gone). Also, the warmth allows your joints and muscles to go a little deeper than you normally would so please, please listen to your body to avoid injury. Don’t overdo anything, it’s all about the process!
I don’t have a picture of this one so enjoy my bitmoji doing yoga at a cute studio I found on Nusa Lembongan (a small island off of Bali):
In summary, the art and practice of yoga has allowed me to evolve into a person I love being in a life I love living. If there’s something special yoga does for you that I’m not thinking of I want to know. Share with me!
I’ll leave you today with a challenge: In your head, answer the following question with only one word. What is ONE THING that makes you smile a little wider? (Not your old braces.) Then, give thanks to that one thing that makes you feel good. Congratulations, you’re living in the present.