While pounding on a treadmill, lifting free weights and swimming a few laps are all well and good, yoga exercises the mind and body in a completely unique way. In fact,yoga changes both your body and brain starting the day you begin.
To celebrate its many positives — both big and small — we thought we’d highlight just a few of our favorite reasons to practice yoga:
1. To live in the present. Most of us spend the majority of our time with our phones in our hands, pockets or purses. We rush to and from the office, checking emails and texting as we go. Research shows that we spend almost half of our time thinking about things aside from what we’re actually doing — even though there is happiness to be found when we live in the moment. Yoga offers the opportunity to completely unplug and focus on exactly what’s right in front of you.
2. To sweat. You don’t have to practice Bikram in a 100-degree room to break a sweat. Depending on the type you’re doing, just one hour of yoga can burn nearly 500 calories.
3. For gratitude. Many yogis begin and end their practices by dedicating their time on the mat to someone or something important to them. Can’t we all agree that the world could use a little more gratitude?
4. Because it’s convenient. The $27 billion industry has grown rapidly in recent years — meaning yoga studios are popping up in cities across the country. No matterwhere you live, you’re probably not far from a yoga studio. And even if you live in a super-remote area, you can get your yoga on in the comfort of your living room. All you need is a mat — and even that’s optional.
5. For your brain. Hit the mat to clear your mind. Yoga has been shown to increase brain function right after a practice as short as 20 minutes. It can improve memory and help you maintain focus, too.
6. Two words: yoga pants. Seriously, is there anything more comfortable?
7. For strength’s sake. Holding poses and moving through sun salutations is a fast track to stronger muscles. Yoga has been linked with greater dead-lift strength, for instance. So ditch the weights for a quick yoga session every once in a while.
8. To make new friends. With over 20 million American yogis, you’re bound to buddy up with some mat mates at your local studio.
9. To spend some time solo. Even though you may make friends before and after class, yoga itself is generally an individual practice. Spending time alone allows us a moment to reflect, evaluate and observe. What better place to do it than in Child’s Pose?
10. For your bones. Research shows that yoga can help increase bone density in older adults.
11. Because we all need a little quiet time. Ever get tired of the buzz of treadmills, clank of weights and music blaring from your headphones? Soak up some silence in a traditional yoga class.
12. To stress less. Yoga’s a top-notch stress-buster. Those who practice deep yoga breathing report feeling less stressed. Plus, exercise itself is a known stress-reducer.
13. To spice things up. Want a practice that breaks a sweat and keeps you on your toes? Try Vinyasa. More into the idea of relaxing and stretching? Go for Yin. Love routine? Ashtanga may be your jam. With such a wide variety of yoga styles, there’s something out there for everyone and plenty of opportunities to explore new types.
14. To overcome challenges. The great thing about yoga is that you don’t have to be “good” to start. Each practice is your own, and you’re only competing against yourself to hold poses longer, stretch deeper or increase concentration.
15. It does the heart good. Yoga may help lower cholesterol and blood sugar, in turn lowering risk of heart disease.
16. To gain some flexibility (on and off the mat). Just six weeks of regular yoga practice can significantly increase flexibility, according to research published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. Plus, for many, yoga increases flexibility in perspective by prompting us to master new poses, breathing styles and meditative thoughts.
17. To smile more. Just 12 weeks of yoga can reduce anxiety levels. The less you stress, the more you smile. Plus, exercise boosts happy chemicals in your brain and improves overall mood. It works so well that some doctors recommend exercise to those who suffer from depression.
18. To rejuvenate. There’s nothing quite like coming out of Savasana. You feel stronger, taller, stretched and relaxed. It’s like hitting the refresh button on both your body and brain. Namaste to that.