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The Benefits of Yoga: Not Just a Pretty Pose

When Did Yoga Class Become a Gymnastic Meet?

I first came to yoga about eight years ago. I remember relishing in Corpse Pose at the end of a yoga class wondering how this was the first time I came across the benefits of yoga. Never before had I spent so much time centered in the miraculous moment.

Yoga taught me to stand on my head, twist into a pretzel, and even put my foot behind my head. Admittedly, I felt prideful that poses which seemed out of bounds just a few years before were now a part of my daily practice. But these poses were only a small piece of the yoga pie.

Many of the most advanced yoga postures have a number of benefits. For example, inversions like handstand build upper body strength, increase your balance, reduce the production of the stress hormone cortisol, and help you face your fears. And intense back bends like full wheel open the heart, increase lung capacity, and open the hips and shoulders. But if you’re not careful these postures can take you away from the most important benefit of yoga: mindfulness.

Aligning with the Breath

Have you ever found yourself in a difficult posture and at the same time you’re holding your breath? Once you lose your breathe in a posture you know you’ve gone too far. Deep breathing throughout your yoga practice not only detoxing your mind and body of stagnant energy, it also keeps you grounded in the present moment. By following your breath throughout your practice, yoga becomes a moving meditation rather than just a series of gymnastic endeavors. Without the breath, you’ll never enjoy the benefits that make this practice so special.

Taming the Ego

While for some practitioners, a series of awe-inspiring inversions stringed together with backbends and chaturangas is just what the doctor ordered, for others it’s an extension of the ego. I’ll to be the first to admit I’ve thrust myself into shoulderstand before for no better reason than to prove I could. While the ego is important for human development, spiritually speaking, it can be limiting.

Yogini Leslie Schipper put it best when she said, “When we focus on what we look like, we start fanning our already firing egos, risking injury and losing connection with our breath. And while it’s great to be “inspired” by what your neighbor is doing on their mat, we have to remember that we all come to our mats for different reasons and at various levels.”

Yoga class is about so much more than just the poses. Ultimately, it’s about connecting the mind and body with the breath and using this connection to anchor yourself in the present moment. While your Facebook and Instagram feeds might be crammed with a line up of Yoga Journal worthy poses, remember why you came to your mat in the first place.

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Image of yoga from Shuttershock

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