To understand the benefits of yoga, we first need to look at what yoga is. Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning union, and yoga is the union of body, mind and spirit. Yoga is not just exercises, that is actually just one component of yoga practice. The benefit of yoga is that it leads to profound changes in your whole life. That might sound a bit scary to start with, but it really isn't bad! The changes that yoga will make in your life are all great benefits, leading to a more relaxed way of life, better health, better sleep and being better able to deal with everyday stresses.
No-one is going to push you towards anything you aren't ready for. There is a wonderful saying "when you are ready the teacher will come". When you're not ready the teacher won't appear, or you won't notice them or what they have to offer!
It is difficult to convey just how much yoga can benefit you and lead you to a more satisfying life - and hard to believe until you experience these changes for yourself. All you need is to be ready to learn with an open mind and a willingness to follow your teachers instructions. The first and most important of those instructions is to take time for yourself on your yoga mat, leave your worries and busy life behind and be fully present in your yoga class.
The changes and benefits brought about by yoga are not hocus-pocus, magic, or some kind of religious sect. The changes happen through allowing your body, mind and breath to work together in harmony. Busy people have forgotten how to breathe fully, allowing the breath to reach into the spaces between your joints and soothe aches and pains. Most people have no idea how to relax each area of their body and allow the universe to support them.
Yoga Benefit 1 - Flexibility
The yoga exercises (or asanas, the Sanskrit word for postures) you will do in a yoga class will help your body to become and remain flexible. I am sure you have seen pictures of yogis twisting their bodies into interesting and exotic postures - this may be the end result for some, but for most people the starting point is to release their tense and inflexible joints that have resulted from spending too much time sitting at a desk or behind the wheel of a car. Achieving this flexibility will reduce your risk of injury, lead to a more graceful way of moving and better posture.
While your joints are benefiting from gentle stretching, you will also be lubricating your joints, ligaments and tendons. That lubrication will then assist you to become more flexible. How's that for synergy?
Yoga Benefit 2 - Reduce Flab and Increase Bone Strength
Muscles that have become weak and flabby become toned through yoga, leading to increased strength. This also helps to lose excess flab from your body. While you will be encouraged to practice yoga at your own level, as you increase in flexibility you will perform more weight bearing exercise. This is important in keeping your bones strong to protect against osteoporosis.
Yoga Benefit 3 - Detoxify Your Body
While performing the asanas you will be massaging your internal organs, helping to clean out accumulated toxins and also giving them a soothing workout. This helps to keep disease away.
Yoga Benefit 4 - Learn to Relax, Handle Stress and Sleep well
The final pose in every yoga class is known as Savasana, or corpse pose. This doesn't mean that you have overdone your yoga class! It is a relaxation pose that is used to allow you to accept all the changes that your body has undergone during the class. It is also incredibly relaxing. It is the beginning of meditation. When you do this in your yoga class you will get the benefit of relaxation and also you will learn a skill that can be called upon at moments of stress, or at times when you cannot sleep.
Yoga Benefit 5 - Look and Feel Younger
Gently stretching muscles and massaging your organs brings a supply of fresh blood to your organs, flushing out toxins and bringing a supply of fresh blood to nourish every part of your body, helping to keep you looking and feeling younger.
Yoga Benefit 6 - Increase Your Lung Capacity
As you learn to breath deeply in your yoga class, your lung capacity will increase. Most people do not realise that they have forgotten how to breathe completely and fully, and find great benefit in the simple practice of breathing fully. Complete breathing is also wonderfully relaxing.
Yoga Benefit 7 - Patient and Understanding Teachers
Yoga teachers are professionally trained and much of their training involves participating in yoga classes, learning from yoga masters and studying yogic philosophy. This leads to a pool of great teachers who are understanding, patient, professional and just wonderful people!
Your yoga teacher will lead you gently through the steps to learn yoga postures, yogic breathing and relaxation. Each teacher is different and has a slightly different style, so if the first class you go to does not suit you, just try a different class. I have been to a few classes that didn't suit me, but I have never felt judged or out of place in a yoga class. All the yoga teachers I have met are very understanding and approachable.
When you go to your first yoga classes make sure you tell the teacher about any concerns, health issues or injuries you have. He or she will make sure the poses are adjusted to suit you. It is always advisable to arrive a few minutes early to get yourself set up, pick a spot where you feel comfortable and spend a little time relaxing and winding down from your day before starting the class.
You may find some things in a yoga class a bit confronting to start with. Some teachers lead the class in an "Om" chant at the beginning or end of the class. If you aren't comfortable to do this, it is ok to just sit quietly and listen.
At the end of a class the teacher will usually say "Namaste". This has various translations, all similar, my favourite is "the divine light in me salutes the divine light in you".
Plus a Surprise Personal Yoga Benefit - Courage to Experience Something Different!
After attending yoga classes for several years, I found that I was going to be spending New Year's eve and day alone. I had been to a yoga retreat at an Ashram in Mangrove Mountain and I saw that they had an evening of chanting planned to bring in the New Year. I went along, alone, and spent the evening chanting with a room full of wonderful spiritual souls. It was a wonderful and magical way to bring in the New Year. If someone had told me six years previously that I would be doing something like that, I would have thought they were mad! Since then chanting and kirtan have become a favourite way to spend my time.