Thinking about taking up yoga? According to a 2012 survey from the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, more than 22 million people over the age of 6 practice yoga in the United States, and with good reason. The mental and physical rewards of yoga are well worth it — relaxation, better sleep, increased concentration and more. If you’ve been trying to muster up the motivation to begin practicing yoga but need a bit more inspiration, read on for 13 reasons to get on your mat.
1 YOGA CLEARS OUT MIND CLUTTER
In today’s always-on-the-run world, your mind may be constantly spinning — thinking about what happened previously, what’s currently going on and what’s next on your to-do list. Yoga can help you stay in the present moment and clear your head. “Things can cause us stress because we hold on to them and let them create stories in our mind, which takes up our precious time,” says Jessica Ray, yoga teacher at Back Bay Yoga Studio in Boston. She feels the practice “helps clear it all out.”
2 YOGA IMPROVES YOUR MOOD
If you’re feeling blue, yoga can provide a natural pick-me-up. A 2011 study from Boston University School of Medicine found that yoga improved the moods and decreased the anxiety of 19 yogis over a 12-week period. This is attributed to the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which increase when you practice yoga. Other studies have found links between low GABA levels and depression. So pull out that yoga mat and improve your health and happiness.
3 YOGA IS EFFECTIVE CROSS-TRAINING
Yoga complements a ton sports and fitness activities that don’t incorporate stretching or emphasize balance training, such as golf or baseball. “Many professional sports teams now include yoga as part of their practice,” says Laura Burkhart, yoga teacher and founder of Yoga Reach International in San Francisco. “It helps them with the sporting activity in areas like balance, focus and endurance.” If you’re already a fitness buff — be it a runner, cyclist, tennis player or weightlifter — try taking a page from the pros and add some yoga to the mix.
4 YOGA HELPS YOU SLEEP
If you find yourself tossing and turning at night, yoga may help you sleep more soundly. A 2004 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback found that yoga reduced awakenings that contributes to insomnia. Participants reported better sleep efficiency, sleeping longer and waking less frequently during the night, among other improvements. Add some OMs to your routine and you may find it easier to catch some ZZZs.
5 YOGA IS EXERCISE NEARLY EVERYONE CAN DO
Yoga is accessible to most individuals. It’s an activity that allows you to move at your own pace and push yourself as little or as much as you’d like. Most poses have several variations, from basic to advanced, and modifications for a wide range of injuries. “No matter your age, weight, strength or flexibility level, yoga is for anyone and everyone,” says yoga teacher Laura Burkhart. “It’s an activity you can do even into old age.”
6 YOGA HELPS WITH FLEXIBILITY
For those who struggle to touch their toes, yoga may gradually ease stiff muscles and increase flexibility. Yoga teacher Jessica Ray says the key to enhanced flexibility is practicing regularly. “Flexibility is something I have to consistently work on. It isn’t something that comes naturally to me, so I fully understand the difficulty people have with this,” she says. Ray recommends thinking about yoga as an investment in your body. If you put in the work, you’ll see results.
7 YOGA IS A GOOD WAY TO MEET PEOPLE
Any group workout can be a good way to meet others who share your interests. Yoga teacher Laura Burkhart has discovered yoga to be a healthy way to build community. “I’ve met my current best friends through yoga,” she says. “Also, going to class is healthier than going to a bar. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go out, but it’s nice having friends who are into healthy activities.”
8 YOGA RESPECTS YOUR LIMITATIONS
Unlike many sports or fitness activities, in which the focus is on going farther or doing better, yoga respects — and celebrates — your physical strengths and limitations, so there’s no need to be intimidated by anyone else in the class. “Yoga focuses on respecting your body and its limitations rather than pushing the body like other physical activities,” says yoga teacher Laura Burkhart. “It’s a lot more kind to the body in that way.” Yoga allows you to move at your own pace, increasing or limiting the difficulty of poses as your body needs.
9 YOGA INSPIRES CONFIDENCE
Mastering new poses expands your confidence in your physical dexterity and ability to learn something new. “As the practice builds strength in our bodies and minds, we start to become more confident in ourselves and our decisions,” says yoga teacher Jessica Ray. “The practice is a great reminder of how we are stronger than we think, both physically and mentally.” You get a self-esteem boost while engaging in an activity that benefits your body and mind.
10 YOGA RELIEVES STRESS
If you feel stressed from work or other demands, yoga teacher Jessica Ray recommends releasing your worries through yoga. “Just the simple act of taking a few deep breaths can help ease the mind and reduce stress as your body moves through poses,” she says. “As you incorporate breath into each movement, the muscles in the body begin to relax and the places we hold our stress and tension start to release.” Have a big presentation coming up? Roll out the yoga mat and run through a few sun salutations or simply sit quietly and meditate, focusing on the in and out of each breath.
11 YOGA TEACHES YOU TO BREATHE AGAIN
Deep breathing can relax you and help you deal with stress better. And a large part of yoga centers on the breath. “Yoga teaches you to breathe not only when it’s easy, but also when things are difficult,” says yoga teacher Laura Burkhart. It may sound silly, but when you are constantly on the go or in stressful situations, you sometimes forget to breathe — at least productively. The slow, deep-breathing techniques you learn in yoga can help in tense circumstances when you might find yourself taking quick, shallow breaths.
12 YOGA CAN HELP WITH JOINT PAIN
Those with arthritis might find themselves especially inspired to take up yoga. A 2011 review published in Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America found that practicing yoga twice a week helped alleviate swollen and tender joints in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Yoga’s gentle, slow movements are an ideal activity for those suffering from these conditions and can also provide relief from painful symptoms for a more comfortable life. If you have either of these conditions — or any other joint issues — ask your doctor or yoga teacher for pose modifications.
13 YOGA NEVER GETS BORING
The practice of yoga provides endless options in difficulty level and type. From Bikram to Ashtanga and everything in between, there are many different yoga styles to explore. And even within each kind there are endless possibilities to master increasingly difficult poses, and every yoga teacher brings his or her own style to the class. For example, with Vinyasa yoga, there are hundreds of poses and variations that can be combined into a 60- or 90-minute class, so you’re never doing the same flow twice. Tired of the treadmill? Feeling “blah” about bodybuilding? It might be time to give yoga a go.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Why do you do yoga? What are some of the benefits you’ve noticed as your practice has progressed? What do you find is the biggest roadblock keeping you from practicing yoga? What might inspire you to overcome it? Share your thoughts and goals with the LIVESTRONG.COM community in the comments.