Many of us come to yoga for the same reasons: flexibility, pain management, and stress relief. Yoga delivers on all accounts, which is likely why some 20 million Americans roll out their mat each year. What many don’t know, however, is that there are 5 more surprising yoga benefits.
5 Yoga Benefits For Improved Vitality
1. Yoga improves digestion
Unlike other forms of exercise, yoga has an amazing ability to fire up digestion. Sports like running and swimming more or less keep the torso in one line, but yoga moves the abdomen in every which way.
Postures like seated forward bend and Child’s Pose, for example, compress the abdomen. When released, fresh blood rushes in and rejuvenates the organs. Poses like Half Lord of the Fishes and Revolved Triangle twist the abdominal region for a similar effect. Backbends like Camel and Bridge stretch and tone the organs, while poses like Bow and Snake put a gentle pressure on the belly that massages the organs.
All this twisting, compressing, and stretching improves the body’s power of digestion. Given that digestion is the cornerstone of health, the entire physical being benefits.
As far as yoga benefits go, this is certainly one way yoga can help us everyday.
2. Yoga builds self-confidence
Most people find yoga to be surprisingly difficult — at least in the beginning. It demands a certain use of strength, flexibility, and balance that we’re not used to. But with practice, the body opens.
This unfolding of our physical ability gives such a strong sense of self-confidence. Nothing can quite compare to the first time we balance on our hands in Crow, for example. While we may have once considered it impossible, one day it becomes easy. We gain a newfound respect for our body and physical ability. We’re inspired to continue and to improve our strength, balance, and flexibility, all the while improving our overall self-confidence. Yoga benefits the body as well as the mind.
3. Yoga makes the toes strong
Yoga changes the body in ways we don’t expect. It even makes our toes strong. This isn’t as important for our overall health, but it’s a great example of the vast extent to which yoga benefits our physical form.
With regular practice, we start to see these changes elsewhere, too: in long and lean muscles that hug our bones, in a toned and perky booty, in strong fingers, in open hips, in better posture, in core definition, and in a spine that seems to get longer and longer.
4. Yoga improves focus
While some yoga poses seem like they’re made to impress (firefly, eight angle, peacock, and side crow, we’re looking at you!) they require more focus than they do muscle. Of course, some strength and a decent amount of flexibility are needed, but these poses are mostly about developing concentration.
We could say that all yoga poses are meant to improve concentration. Asana is one of the early steps of the spiritual path of yoga because it’s a way to train the mind. Staying in any yoga pose for a short amount of time takes focus. And focus is exactly what we need in the latter steps of the yogic path, all of which have to do with meditation.
Asana practice is a way to train the mind. The focus that it brings isn’t limited to time spent on the mat but permeates into all of our thought patterns whether in the yoga studio, in a conversation, or in the office.
5. Yoga gives a sense of purpose
If we stick with yoga long enough, we begin to realize that yoga is not just about our body; it’s about our life. Yogic philosophy offers much guidance for how to live as a more mindful, compassionate, and focused human being.
Yoga teaches that to be born in this human incarnation is truly a gift. It’s a chance to develop our spirit. Life is not random or futile, but an opportunity for growth. It gives us a method for walking on this path and gives a strong sense of purpose that many of us otherwise haven’t found.
Lack of purpose is the root of all unhappiness. Learning through yoga that we have a dharma, or place in the universe and cosmic order diminishes all sense of uselessness, futility, and aimlessness in life.
While our initial motivation to come to yoga may have been flexibility, pain management, or stress relief, we can get so much more from our practice. Yoga has the ability to heal all aspects of our being: from the strength and functioning of our physical body to the focus and determination of our mind, and even to the peace and purpose felt within the soul. It can carry us throughout life as a tool for our betterment in every way imaginable.
Learning to listen to the body and the breath is an important aspect of yoga. To truly understand how the breath can unlock our underlying potential, check out Zenward’s cofounder, Cecilia Sardeo and her talk at Mindvalley’s A-Fest:
What do you appreciate most about yoga? Which yoga benefits are you most enticed by? Tell us in the comments below!