Some mornings, I awake at a reasonable hour with the rest of the working world. Two or three times a week, however, I find myself begrudgingly leaving a warm cocoon of blankets at the crack of dawn and braving the morning cold to arrive at a quiet, dimly lit yoga studio. Still, without fail, the way I feel when I leave that studio vastly outweighs the struggle of having to get up before 6AM.
The practice of yoga in the broadest sense of the term is thought to have originated about 5,000 years ago in India. Different historical eras have witnessed varying manifestations of this somewhat ambiguous practice. The yoga that we know in the Western world today dates back to 1893, after Swami (“master”) Vivekananda first presented his practice at the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago. This wave of yoga, which focuses on the dynamic connection between mind and body, continued to spread across North America in varying forms throughout the first half of the twentieth century.
This conscientious and mindful form of exercise undoubtedly provides numerous benefits for dedicated participants. Long term yoga practice has been linked with decreased anxiety for women with anxiety disorders, and can be helpful as supplemental treatment for people with hypothyroidism, hypertension, etc. While I have always been a lover of yoga, until recently, I have been unwilling to discipline myself into becoming a persistent and committed yogi. Over the past month, I finally decided to stop making excuses and to show up to the mat at least 2-3 times a week. I am already noticing marked improvements in various aspects of my life. Here are some of the reasons that yoga proves to be so beneficial:
1) Discipline is rewarding.
Planning to show up and complete something at regular intervals of time breeds productivity in other areas of your life. In my case, the only way I can realistically commit to exercising regularly is by waking up before the sun is out, before my mind has awoken, and before I can begin to talk myself out of it. As much as I cherish precious sleep, realizing that I’ve accomplished something before the clock has struck 8AM is a rewarding experience in itself. Having a nice chunk of time to ease into the day before work is an added bonus. Find a consistent time to devote to yoga that works for you, and as time goes on, you will begin to reap the benefits that a routine inevitably brings.
2) You can cater your practice to your own needs.
Yoga practices come in all sorts of paces and forms. If you are a hesitant beginner, or are looking for a slower paced, more restorative experience, Hatha Yoga is for you. For those looking to strengthen and raise the heart rate, Vinyasa or Ashtanga Yoga could be the right fit. For those seeking more intensity in their practice, Power Yoga is worth a try. No matter what level you are at, or at what pace you’d like to go, all forms of yoga center around the integration of mind and body, and all will provide similar benefits. Even within each type of yoga, instructors are trained to recommend variations in all areas of the practice. Everyone’s body is different, and everyone’s progress unique. The emphasis is always on your personal journey.
3) Your progress is tangible.
Those first few downward facing dogs can often be confusing, uncomfortable, and awkward. Fortunately, most yoga practices center around the repetition of a few key poses. If your first downward dog isn’t the prettiest, you’ll have ten or fifteen more opportunities to improve it. During the next session, you’ll move through another ten or fifteen iterations. Every time you show up to the mat, you will feel yourself struggle less and less. The beauty of yoga is in the subtleties of each pose, in the micro-improvements of each breath, and in the way a simple shift in position might transform your entire experience. With every single class, you will become ever-so-slightly stronger, until one day, you find yourself in the heat of a rewarding crow pose that 5 months ago you could not even fathom achieving.
4) Built in time for yourself.
How often are you able to stash your phone and sit in a room with just yourself and a mat? Where else does an instructor force you to sit in silence and breathe deeply as part of your workout? Where else is it allowed, albeit, required to lie down, close your eyes, and relax? Yoga is all about clearing the mind, letting go of all of the things you need to get done that day, and focusing on the present moment. It’s just you and your mat, (and, of course, your lovely yogi guide). Everything else can be set aside for that one hour of your day.
5) You can do it at home!
Thanks to the infinite resources readily available on the internet, you don’t need to shell out a hefty monthly fee to begin reaping the benefits of yoga. Adriene Mishler, one of the best yogis I’ve encountered, has dedicated an entire youtube channel of free videos to build a strong, accessible, and enjoyable home yoga practice. Her ‘30 days of yoga’ series is perfect for the beginner who isn’t sure where to start. Plus, she’s quirky and charming, making it an fun experience all around.
6) You form a community.
Of course, making your way to a studio is always a fantastic way of maintaining your practice (especially if you’re like me, and need a real person to hold you accountable for showing up). An in-person instructor can help ensure that you’re landing the poses correctly, and can help fine-tune your alignment to prevent serious injuries. The enticing thing about yoga is, once you get into it, you really get into it. Soon, those in your surroundings become familiar faces. Friendly yoga instructors start to become friends. Even virtually, the community’s presence is strongly felt.
7) It’s enjoyable!
Resisting the temptation to become a drone who simply eats, sleeps, works, and watches Netflix is a very real struggle (at least for me!). Yoga is an activity that, while requiring a decent amount of effort, ultimately begins to feel like a hobby rather than a workout. You become addicted to the practice. There’s a whole culture around it, an entirely different language, and an enormous community to meet. It’s not just a workout routine. It’s a way of life. And, boy, does it feel good.