I’ve recently included a yoga practice into my routine. I’ve done yoga off and on for a couple years, but got serious about making it habitual when I started seeing benefits from it. Here are five benefits that I’ve experienced since routinely practicing yoga.

Yoga improves mental health

We all have those rough days where nothing seems to go right and we feel frustrated or overwhelmed or just exhausted. When the day ends, we might want to come home, prop our feet up, crack open a pint of ice cream and watch some tv to take our minds off how crappy the day was. But is a numbing distraction really what we need long term? Probably not.

So on my crappy days, I’ve been forcing myself to get on my yoga mat. Maybe just to do a short Youtube video to keep me on track. I personally love doing Yoga with Adrienne. Or maybe I drag myself to a yoga studio and practice alongside other people. It doesn’t matter where I go, but what does matter is that I am spending time breathing, moving, and being inside of my body, feeling all the things, instead of numbing myself.

Yoga has given me an outlet to physically move my body while emotionally stilling my mind. It’s the best of both worlds and I always feel better afterwards.

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Yoga is good for muscles and joints

I’m pretty tough on my body. I’m often tight and sore from working on my feet all day, playing rugby, and doing Crossfit. Yoga helps me to unwind, to stretch out and breathe oxygen into my muscles. Yoga forces my body to release tension that it tends to hold onto. Whether we know it or not our bodies carry a ton of tension and stress around inside of our muscles and joints. It’s important to take the time to release the stress that lives inside of bodies.

Since there are many forms of yoga, you can focus on specific areas of the body that need a little bit more attention.

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Yoga increases levels of oxygen & promotes strategic breathing

Breathing is one of those things that we could potentially go our entire lives without really thinking about. We don’t necessarily have to. Our bodies, thankfully, make sure that we’re always inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. But taking the time to slow down and focus on inhaling through your nose, feeling your belly expand as it fills with oxygen, and then exhaling through your mouth, contracting your belly and letting everything go is really beneficial.

Not only are you taking in adequate oxygen, but you’re also spending time inside your body, acknowledging the beautiful rhythm of you. Breathing deeply forces us to relax – which is beneficial during yoga and also every other part of our lives.

And the strategic breathing doesn’t have to stop when you leave the mat. Taking deep, intentional breathes has been found to have lots of benefits on our bodies and minds throughout our day to day lives.

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Yoga is good exercise

I’ve always been a very active person. I’ve been involved on many sports teams and I’ve went through phases of my life where I did Crossfit religiously, so I can say with confidence that yoga is good exercise. Not only are you stretching your muscles, but you’re also putting them under tension and strain. Some classes, known as hot yoga, will even crank the heat up into the 90’s to ensure you get a good sweat.

Yoga, like most other things, is how you make it, and if you want to turn your practice into a form of good exercise then that is totally possible.

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Yoga studios are a community

As an “adult” in the “real word” living in a new city alone during most of the pandemic, I will shamelessly say that making friends is difficult. Where am I supposed to meet new people? How do I get past the initial hangout? Where do we hangout? What do we do? How do I make time during the workweek for friends? How do I prioritize plans during the weekends?

Nobody really prepares you for this part of life after you’re done with school. But it’s something that we all face – to some extent. I’ve always been an outgoing person, I can make a connection with anyone and become best friends with a stranger. Joining gyms, sports teams, and yoga studios are some of the ways I’ve met some of my best friends.

During a class at my new studio, I was beside this girl who complimented one of my tattoos at the end of our practice. I thanked her and dove into the origin story of this tattoo and we chatted for a few minutes before realizing we know mutual people : my childhood orthodontist who is also great friends with my dad. She is friends with one of his daughters and we talked about that family for a few minutes. It’s a small world, after all.

Maybe this girl and I won’t ever become great friends, maybe we’ll only occasionally chat if we attend the same classes, but building a community is a process, and many small steps are involved.

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If you’re interested in trying yoga there are tons of free resources online and most yoga studios have a drop in rate so you could try out a class with no commitments. Your body will likely thank you after your practice.