Six of the benefits Yoga
- Reclaiming control of your own happiness.
One of the basic tenets of cognitive therapy is that our interpretation of events—and not the events themselves—determines our happiness. A popular philosopher said in his famous quote, “People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them.”
I’m sure you’ve experienced this principle in your own life. For example, you might have been feeling down about something, maybe feeling like you’ve gotten a raw deal, and then you learn about someone who’s suffering much more than you are. Suddenly you notice what’s right in your life, and feel gratitude for your situation even though it’s exactly the same as it was before.
Action Step: Look for times today when you’re outsourcing your happiness; is it possible to reclaim the final say in how you feel and act?
- Supporting other positive life changes
These habits are not only beneficial themselves, but help other healthy behaviors fall in place.
For example, when I was training for triathlons a few years ago, I was more conscientious about my sleep, alcohol consumption, and the foods I ate, because I wanted those behaviors to support my training. Other examples could include a consistent sleep schedule or spending time outdoors.
Yoga can be a keystone habit in the same way, as Tim describes in his origin story. “I noticed that when I participated in drinking or getting high, I didn’t feel the same connection and relief that I felt at the end of my first yoga class,” he said. “Pretty soon I was practicing yoga every day, so there was no more time to eat junk or stay out late drinking as I knew I wouldn’t like how I felt the next morning on the mat. Yoga slowly changed my life, one day at a time.”
Action Step: Identify your own keystone habit—one positive behavior that catalyzes others.
- Fostering mindfulness practice
Yoga is inherently a mindful practice. Some of the mindfulness elements come from traditional meditation, such as spending a few minutes focusing on the breath at the beginning of a class.
But all of yoga can be an exercise in mindful action—bringing one’s full awareness to the practice and opening to what happens on the mat. Instructors like Tim often remind their students to stay present and focused during their class, rather than allowing the mind to fixate on the future or the past.
Action Step: When you wash your hands today, be aware of the full experience—the sound of the faucet, the feel of the water, the scent and slipperiness of the soap, the movements of your hands against each other, and the sensations of drying your hands.
- Reducing anxiety
Yoga has long been recognized for its ability to decrease anxiety. When I’m providing psychotherapy for someone with high anxiety, I often recommend yoga as part of their treatment. This is not to say that yoga “solves” anxiety, but it can be an important component of dealing with it.
“There’s definitely an element of anxiety that comes from a lack of bodily awareness,” Tim said. That idea certainly resonates with my clinical work, and my own personal experience. I often hear people describe feeling anxious and “stuck in their head.” Tim continued, “When we’re more in tune with our body, then that affects the mind.”
Action Step: Try Tim’s brief guided Mindfulness Meditation for Stress and Anxiety.
- Managing stress
Yoga can be a great way to manage routine stress, even for those who don’t experience high levels of anxiety. Not surprisingly, the highly effective Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program includes slow, deliberate yoga postures, with a focus on connecting to the movement and the breath.
In contrast, consistently practicing slowing the breath, as you do in yoga practice, trains you to “breathe fully into your lungs,” which “has a direct effect on your mental serenity.” That positive effect likely comes from the connection between the breath and the vagus nerve, which is crucial for allowing our parasympathetic nervous system to balance the fight-or-flight mode of the sympathetic nervous system.
With consistent practice, we can change our habitual response to stress. Lowering our baseline level of stress and tension puts us in a better place to respond when we encounter a challenge. “If I can slow down and be with my breath a little more instead of reacting, I can process and act a little better.”
Action Step: Schedule a time in your calendar to do something relaxing and enjoyable, whether a yoga class, a walk outside, time in your garden, or anything else.
- Promoting physical health
Finally, the benefits of yoga aren’t limited to mental, emotional, and spiritual. Consistent yoga practice can increase strength, flexibility, and balance. It can dramatically improve core strength, too, which is crucial for preventing injuries, including to the back. As Tim mentions in some of his videos, yoga practice was instrumental in helping him to heal from his own serious injuries.
As we age, injuries can have a tremendous effect on our mental and emotional well-being, and our basic ability to do the activities we enjoy. I’ve treated many people in my clinical practice who were dealing with the fallout of debilitating injuries, and have seen the ripple effects in my own life when I’m struggling physically.