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Eight years ago, when I tried yoga for the first time, I had one goal in mind: weight loss.
I thought all that sweating and stretching would make me skinny. Hundreds of yoga classes later, I’m sorry to say that I actually weigh a couple more pounds now than when I started, but I now care a lot less about how svelte I am.
That’s because yoga has so many other surprising benefits, most of which never even occurred to me when I first began my practice.
Most of us are already aware that yoga is great for our joint health, and that it’s been proven to reduce stress, but here are eight other more unexpected ways that yoga improves my life:
1. Yoga makes me drink more water.
I always joke that I don’t drink enough water, but I definitely drink enough coffee. I’ve just never been one of those people who remember to carry a water bottle wherever I go, and I rarely feel thirsty. I end up dehydrated, and the symptoms of not drinking enough water are pure misery—headaches, nausea, and body aches, to name a few.
Not drinking water was a bad habit that I always struggled to break. Yoga fixed that. After practicing hot yoga, I’m always thirsty, but I also notice that when I’m not well hydrated before class, I can’t perform as well. The poses hurt and I have less stamina. It turns out that yoga was the motivation I needed to make sure I mindfully consumed water throughout the day. Now it’s automatic.
2. It helps me visualize and manifest my dreams.
During my practice, I am super focused and free from outside distractions, so I use yoga as a tool for reflection. At the beginning of each class we set an intention, and I usually make my intention about something I wish to manifest in my life like a goal I’ve set or an idea for something I want to create.
Throughout the practice, I visualize and focus on that intention. Often, I am able to envision different pathways to the goal. Because my mind is clear, I can imagine so many new ideas and perspectives that usually lead to new art I want to make or subjects I can write about.
3. Yoga provides a break from technology.
In today’s world, few of us can manage to live successfully off the grid. I use my smartphone for a myriad of tasks throughout the day, and I actually need social media for my career, so giving it up isn’t an option. This is troubling because our society’s use of technology, the distractions of the internet, and the way social media can trigger feelings of inadequacy have been proven to cause anxiety and depression.
Most of us rely on technology, while at the same time it makes us miserable. The solution is that we need to take breaks. Unfortunately, technology’s addictive allure makes it difficult to separate ourselves from our devices. Yoga forces me to take a 75-minute break from screen time each day, and I am grateful. It’s not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it’s something, and the time adds up. Eventually, I hope to wean myself even further.
4. Yoga makes me prettier.
I realize this is highly subjective, but I think I look better after an hour and 15 minutes in a hot yoga class than I do with a full face of makeup and a salon-styled coif. The heat makes my hair full and wavy. My skin glistens. I’m more relaxed, yet also more alert.
All that movement brings a rosy glow to my face that lasts for hours. I’m bright-eyed. Others may think I look a mess, but I think I look fantastic after yoga and that confidence is sure to show. It really is true that when we look better we feel better, and vice versa!
5. Yoga adds structure to my day.
My default state is a bit scattered and disorganized. I’ve often eschewed too much planning, but this hasn’t always been the most productive way to go about my life. A consistent yoga practice causes me to manage my time more intentionally. If I want to go to class at a certain time I must plan the rest of my day around it, getting my work done, making sure important tasks are completed. I even have to time my meals around class times. This much structure might not be desirable for everyone, but I’ve found that it helps me to be more efficient and it cuts my anxiety levels way back.
6. When I practice consistently, I crave healthier foods.
I mean well when it comes to nutrition, but I have a weakness for tacos and pasta. I like salty chips and gooey cookies, but these foods aren’t the best for my body (or anyone’s). Yoga helps me treasure my body and naturally want to show it respect, and it happens subtly, almost subconsciously.
The more I practice, the more I find myself naturally gravitating to fruits and vegetables. The junk food becomes less appealing and the temptation disappears. I need greens, legumes, nuts, and plant-based fats to fuel my practice. That’s what makes me the strongest—not cheese doodles and doughnuts.
7. It gives me a sense of accomplishment.
Yoga is hard work. It takes focus, dedication, and commitment to see any kind of results. Sometimes it can be frustrating or painful, and part of the process is that yoga brings trauma and negative emotions to the surface so that we can work through them and heal. It’s tempting to run away from this, to give up rather than face our pain and fears.
It’s easy to say that yoga is just too hard or that it isn’t working, and quit. Believe me, I’ve been through this many times, but I’ve stuck with it even when it wasn’t fun and when it seemed like I was getting nowhere. I have days where I do nothing but crouch in Child’s pose and cry and feel sorry for myself, but I didn’t give up and because of that, I feel like I accomplished something major.
When we feel like we’ve achieved something that we can be proud of, our sense of confidence and well-being grows and this positivity overflows off our mats into all the other parts of our lives.
8. Yoga helps me to love my body as it is, instead of wishing it was different.
I came to yoga from a place of utter self-hatred. I couldn’t stand how I looked and wanted yoga to make me finally able to conform to a mainstream standard of female beauty. For years, I was resentful that it didn’t do that, until I realized how much yoga actually had changed my body. I may have been the same size, but I was undeniably stronger and more flexible.
My balance was improved, and now I could do things with my body that I’d never have believed when I first started. I’m really proud of my body for what it’s capable of, and no matter what size I am, I can finally see how beautiful my body really is as it moves through the difficult poses. I appreciate its imperfections now rather than seeing myself as ugly.
A consistent yoga practice is more than an exercise class, and it encompasses so much more than physical fitness. The benefits of yoga are experienced in many aspects of our lives, and can be surprising, unexpected, and often quite enlightening.