Is Yoga Really Worth Doing?
It’s a valid question: is yoga worth it? Embarking on a yoga journey typically requires a couple of hours of your time each week and a monthly membership fee to the studio. In a culture where free time and budgets tend to be getting narrower and narrower, it’s important to ask yourself about the value of something before taking on something new.
Speaking from personal experience, I asked myself this question on a few occasions early on in my yoga journey with Your Yoga Louisville. I knew that I was having fun with the 30 days for $30 introductory offer, but wondered what my next step would be. I had to decide whether or not a yoga practice was something I wanted to invest in.
Thankfully, I decided that it was.
Now that I’m over a year into my yoga journey, I am incredibly grateful that I made the decision to invest in my practice. Along the way, I’ve come to understand yoga’s multi-faceted benefits, and truly believe that anybody could gain something wonderful from having a practice.
The advantages of yoga extend beyond the studio, and have cultivated my personal growth both on and off the mat. By starting where you are and beginning to invest in your own yoga practice, you’ll start to see changes and improvements across multiple areas in your life.
Yoga teaches you to listen to your body. As you learn to become more mindful with your movements and postures, you’ll be able to intuitively recognize when you’re engaging different muscle groups and connective tissues. More importantly, perhaps, you’ll also recognize when you’re straining or over-exerting these parts of your body.
It’s a skill that you begin to develop in the studio on your yoga mat, but it’s one in which the benefits are most evident when you’re out and about, going through your daily routine.
You become more aware of the ways that you might be doing more harm than good to your body, and can fix them quickly and easily. In my own experience, I started to notice when I was slouching at my desk or hyper-extending my knees while waiting in line at the grocery store. These were habits that I had developed by doing what felt instinctive; I hadn’t thought about they way that these things could be causing me to hold onto unnecessary tension in the parts of my body that were already achy.
Having a good sense of bodily awareness also helps to prevent more serious injuries. Many yoga postures and sequences engage multiple muscle groups. These asanas teach you want it feels like when different muscle groups work together, and you learn how to utilize them without putting unnecessary strain on those parts of your body. This awareness can completely change the way you approach other exercises, such as lifting weights. As you hone your bodily awareness, you learn what proper form feels like, and can tell when a movement isn’t right. On top of that, when something does feel wrong, you have a better sense of how to correct it.
As someone who previously suffered a significant weight-lifting injury, I can attest to the fact that yoga has given me the confidence to lift again. Now, as I lift, I’m able to think through the way my joints feel. I can now tell when my elbows flare out, my pelvis tilts, or my shoulder rolls forward, and I now have the muscle control to correct these issues before I hurt myself (again). This means better form, more confidence, and the self-compassion to be patient with myself as I go.
Your body has the ability to tell you when something is wrong. Yoga can teach you how to listen to it.
Chronic Aches and Pains
The same asanas that teach you to listen to your body also teach you new ways to move and stretch your body. For people who deal with chronic aches and pains, learning these movements can be an invaluable tool for feeling better.
Many yoga poses– in both Yin and Hatha practices– seek to open and elongate the body, especially the areas that many of us unintentionally keep restricted, such as the hips and the heartspace. Engaging and opening these areas helps restore alignment to them while it simultaneously strengthens those muscles. Alignment and gentle strengthening are phenomenal for both preventing injury and minimizing discomfort. This way, you’re able to head off aches and pains before they start.
That’s not to say that aches and pains will never arise if you do yoga. Instead, they’ll likely become less intense with time, and when they do arise, you’ll have a new toolset to manage them.
For example, I have replaced Tylenol with a sequence of Square Pose (Agnistambhasana), supported bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), and Child’s Pose (Balasana) as my primary treatment for inflammation and pain in my hips and lower back. These postures not only provide more immediate pain relief, but they also give me the opportunity to slow down and enjoy several minutes of calmness amidst my otherwise hectic schedule. It’s an opportunity to turn my focus inward, refreshing the sense of comfort in both my mind and body.
Dealing with Stress
Speaking of comfort that is both mental and physical, perhaps the greatest benefits of my yoga practice has been developing my ability to cope with stress and anxiety.
In modern American culture, stress has become a new norm. As a whole, our society puts exceptional emphasis on embracing hard work and hustling, no matter how much it strains us.
While there may be some benefits to staying busy, it also lends itself to the buildup of stress. Letting stress into our lives is like inflating a balloon; you can’t keep blowing a balloon up indefinitely without it eventually bursting. If we stay busy and frantic, we don’t allow ourselves time to relieve stress in a healthy way. For temporary relief, some may indulge in stress eating, drinking, or other behaviors that can prove to be unhealthy in excess. Worse than forming bad habits, stress has a very real effect on one’s health. Some sources suggest that 75% of doctor’s visits are for stress-related ailments, and stress can increase your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
This makes the time investment of yoga one of its key benefits, not a disadvantage. By committing yourself to practicing yoga regularly, you’re scheduling a few hours each week where you can be calm and meditative. Focusing solely on your breath and your movements gives your mind space to relax. It’s like you’re taking the knot out of your stress balloon and letting it deflate.
Working stress relief into your schedule helps to prevent the medical complications associated with stress. The calming aspects of yoga and meditation have been recognized for centuries, and these benefits are as relevant today as they’ve ever been. Additionally, it’s going to make you a more relaxed, happier person and, once again, give you the tools to cope with problems as they arise.
For example, yoga invites you to think about the way you breathe. Despite being perhaps the most instinctive of human actions, many people never consciously control their breathing or force themselves to slow down and breathe deeply. And yet, something as simple as breathing deeply– such as when performing the three-part breath (Deergha Swasam pranayama)– can slow your heart rate, release muscular tension, and oxygenate your blood.
By pairing restorative postures with the breathing exercises learned in yoga, you can confront virtually any source of stress with confidence.
Everybody Can Benefit from Investing in Yoga
Regardless of where you start, stepping into a yoga practice allows you to meet yourself where you are and improve from there. There are no minimum requirements for what one must be able to do within their own mind or body in order to start investing time in the transformative powers of having a yoga practice.
In short, the first steps on the path to a happier, healthier life can simply be picking a class that already works with your schedule. Allow yourself to stick with it and keep coming back week after week, and before you know it your mind, body, and spirit will be celebrating the return on your investment in a yoga practice.