I love yoga. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am obsessed with it. It is my absolute favorite workout. If I had to choose only one form of exercise, it would be yoga. It’s that good. Here’s why I think it’s the greatest thing ever:
1. It is an amazing wholebody workout.
Not every type of yoga is physically challenging – restorative and hatha styles are much more gentle and while they still have toning benefits, I wouldn’t go so far as to say they would substitute cardio and weights in terms of exertion.
However, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Power Yoga, Flow Yoga and the hot varieties like Bikram and Moksha, can definitely get you into great shape. You are using your own body weight to hold standing poses, arm balances and planks, and so you tone and strengthen all of your major muscle groups. In addition, the flow and/or hot aspects of these classes provide a great cardio workout. Oh, and don’t worry if you can’t actually do an arm balance – the work is in the prep, so just by getting into the right position you work to strengthen your muscle and core to eventually go all the way up.
Ashtanga and Vinyasa are my personal favs. I find that the flow components have more poses that really strengthen and tone the upper body, including all those areas most women want to target – arms, shoulders and upper back – and in general I find it to be the most intense and vigorous, which makes it easier to substitute for my regular gym workouts. I also found that Bikram and Moksha focus more on balancing and holding poses and less on moving from one to the other linking with flow – for me personally it was too slow and too hot.
Some people swear by the hot versions, but if you’ve tried the hot and it’s not working for you, try something else. That’s what I did. After trying to get myself to enjoy Moksha classes, I finally tried Vinyasa. I was hooked. It had the power and challenge of my traditional Ashtanga background, but with more creativity, flow and variety than a regular Ashtanga class. And the best part – Vinyasa can also be done in a hot room that is much more bearable! The rooms are a few degrees cooler than Bikram/Moksha due to the vigoruous nature of the poses. Now that’s a workout!!
2. It is very effective in weight loss and weight control.
Yoga is often recommended for weight loss. I believe that this is not only because of the physical benefits, but the way yoga teaches you to tune-into your body. When you become more aware of how you feel, you will really notice when you consume things that are not quality choices. You will be less likely to want to eat junk food that makes you feel lethargic, or overeat and feel bloated and full.
Over time, yoga can help you to become aware of your emotions rather than trying to avoid or numb them. This is a big reason for emotional eating and so over time, you may notice a gradual decline in emotional binges and food choices.
Furthermore, I personally found that after very intense exercise – like spinning or weight training, I was ravenous on those days. I’ve since read numerous articles on the topic about how people get frustrated when they exercise a lot and don’t see results. Often what happens is that we over-consume due to increased hunger and the idea that we need to “fuel up” due to heavy workouts. The truth is, unless you’re training 2-3 hours a day, you don’t need a lot of extra calories, nor is it a free pass to over-indulge.
I found that when I started doing more yoga and pulled back on the gym workouts, my appetite naturally changed. I ate less without really thinking about it. My body became more in tune with hunger sensations and knowing when to stop.
3. It has tremendous health benefits.
So weight loss and toning aside, let’s get down to the issue of health because at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.
The list of health benefits from yoga is quite extensive:
- reduces stresses
- improves mood
- decreases anxiety and depression
- improves sleep patterns
- improves mental clarity and focus
- improves energy levels
- reduces heart rate
- lowers blood pressure
- has been shown to be beneficial in improving fertility
What’s great to notice about this is that many of these health benefits have been traditionally linked to cardiovascular exercise. I’m not suggesting to stop cardio entirely if you currently have an exercise routine, but consider adding yoga to the rotation… without the guilt of feeling like you’ve “missed your workout”. Yoga is your workout. And if you have any doubts… take a hot power yoga class. You’ll see what I’m talking about.
4. The benefits go far beyond the physical.
Yoga can literally change your life. That’s a big statement to make, but it’s true. Thanks to today’s variety of yoga teachers and studios, yoga is no longer accessible only to the stereotypical image of a yogi. Even if you’re uncomfortable with meditation, chanting and spiritual references, you can find a class that suits your style.
That’s the beauty of yoga though. You start doing it for one reason and then you see all of these other changes you never expected. Each person’s journey is unique and so I don’t want to set expectations here. Some of these changes could be mental – more clear, focused, relaxed mind, or emotional – more open, patient, self-aware and conscious of your emotions and reactions.
Let go of expectations. Just get on the mat every day, every other day, or a few times a week. Show up. Be present. Move your body. Do it for yourself. You will begin to create changes that will improve everything about the way you look and feel, inside and out. It’s the best gift you can give yourself.
In my next post, I will give you some tips on how to build and sustain your practice. Often the most challenging part is figuring out how to schedule your life to make it to those favourite classes. I’ll share with you what has worked for me.
PS – I’d love to hear your experiences with yoga? Do you have any questions about the different styles? Share your thoughts below.