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Alleviate back problems? Check.
Release anxiety? Yep.
Rebuild strength after cancer? Been there, done that.
Yoga's benefits have been increasingly recognized by the medical community, and more insurance companies now cover yoga classes... But what about yoga's not-so-mainstream benefits, the ones that creep off our mat and into our heart? Not as measurable but just as profound, these benefits are the ones that many yoga teachers celebrate. Sometimes the best benefits of a regular practice are the ones we weren’t even looking for.
Here are a few of my personal favorites:
1. Yoga enhances creativity.
Before I was a writer, I practiced yoga. I can't tell you the day that I realized unrolling my yoga mat improved my clarity and focus, but at some point I did understand that a dose of yogic head-clearing opened up some great space in my brain for creative expression. It didn’t have to be an article I was writing or even an art project per se, but the inspiration I felt while centered sometimes translated into making a mundane task a little more interesting. Artists who practice will tell you that there is a definite similarity between expression in a pose and expression with an art medium.
2. Yoga cultivates intuition.
This in with the body awareness that a yoga practitioner develops. We also learn to listen to and trust our gut. I tune in pretty quickly to that voice in my head, or that feeling in my stomach which asks me to step back and re-think.
3. It's instantaneous (and free) therapy.
Yoga's so much cheaper than traditional therapy. All of those cues you hear from your teacher, relax your jaw, ease the tension from your shoulders, breath from your diaphragm, become ingrained in our brain and serve us as we move more mindfully even in moments of stress.
4. Yoga relieves Type A tendencies.
Even as I work on writing this piece, I am guaranteed several interruptions from my four kids. Yoga has taught me that taking time for the practice and relieving some of my type A tendencies to find clarity actually makes me a better person for the tasks at hand.
5. Yoga helps us deal with pain.
I knew that this is one of the reasons why yoga is recommended to cancer patients but I experienced it first hand after my own mastectomy. I was home within two days with more than a hearty dosage of painkillers. I remember sitting on my back porch realizing at one point that I wasn’t responding to someone who was asking me questions. The painkillers had completely numbed me. I decided then that I would rather deal with the pain and immediately stopped taking the drugs. That was a personal choice and although I remember the tears from the pain and discomfort, I also knew it was significantly important for me to really feel what I was feeling. I incorporated breath work that I learned from yoga and although there was still pain there was healing power in my own personal strength.
6. Yoga teaches acceptance of life's harshest realities.
This doesn’t seem like such a big deal until you have a life experience that you cannot wrap your brain around. For me that was cancer and why it chose me. My body had long healed from the treatment experience before my brain would accept it. And if I was to guess why I would have to say it had something to do with finally surrendering my ego. Instead of lamenting the unfairness of why cancer chose me I began to understand it wasn’t something I had any control over. Finally letting go was an awesome way to heal my heart.
7. Yoga teaches us to face stress.
Stress is inevitable and while experiencing it, we clench our jaws, grit our teeth and shorten our breath. Understanding the direct link between stress and disease, setting aside 20 to 30 minutes on the mat a day warms up the body and frees our minds to deal with the new stresses we will face. It's the best way to start your day. I saw a pin the other day with a picture of a women doing child’s pose. The caption was drop and give me zen and just seeing the visual made me take a deep breath. As I realized how much that small picture altered my current (frazzled!) state of mind, I was reminded of one of the most significant benefits of all, the training of the mind to sometimes just let it go.
8. Yoga gives you a great community.
Call them your posse, your tribe, or your peeps, one on my favorite benefits of the practice is the company I keep. Through my training, building my yoga businesses, and collaborating with others on a yoga non-profit, I am consistently recharged by the positive energy that surrounds me. Instinctively drawn to people who practice, I’m always amazed at their profound level of kindness. There is mutual respect for the interconnection of all living things. I can’t scientifically explain this one but I feel it on a daily basis.
9. Yoga is an all-encompassing reinforcement on living the best life.
Surrounded by good teachers, yoga writings, and examples of so many who live their best life is a powerful motivator. I am human and do things I wish I hadn’t. Gratefully, there is a restart button. After pushing it, in this world I live I am consistently reminded to walk the best path.