When I decided to take my first yoga class, I knew it would help me to stretch and reduce stress. I even knew that there were a slew of supposed health benefits, too. (Of course, it's hard to believe that all of these things can be true until you experience it yourself.)
But after just a few months of practicing, I noticed benefits I never even realized were a possibility from doing a few guided stretches and breathing exercises on a piece of PVC.
Here are the 5 benefits of yoga I found most surprising:
1. Compassion. Who would have thought that a physical practice could help me feel compassion and understanding for myself and those around me? Yoga philosophy tells us that we're all one, but it's the experience of many bodies moving and breathing simultaneously that I think really created that understanding for me. I realized that we're all just doing the best we can in life. There's something very liberating about that mind-set that can melt away ill-will, competition, and petty disagreements like nothing else.
2. Mindful eating. I am not a health-food yogi. In fact, at one point in my life, my daily diet consisted of little more than chicken fingers, French fries, and soda. But after a just a few months of yoga, I found myself craving leafy greens. Yoga changed the way I ate because I started to pay more attention to how the food I took into my body affected me. I still eat my share of junk food (I do love a good cupcake!), but thanks to my yoga practice, it's an occasional treat instead of a daily habit.
3. Strength! I was shocked when I realized how much strength it took to get through a yoga class. I was even more surprised by how quickly how strength-building poses that were once incredibly difficult for me got a little easier. I wasn't just getting more flexible--I was becoming stronger, too!
4. Confidence. It's one thing for someone to tell you that you can do anything you set your mind to. It's another thing to actually experience it for yourself. It takes a lot of time and determination to stand on your head, hold the weight of your body on your hands, or even just to consistently unroll your mat to practice. But once you've experienced it, you really start to believe you can do anything! You also start to see a beauty in yourself that you never knew was there. For me, this translated into a boost of confidence that I really needed.
5. Better relationships. What do you get when you mix a little heightened awareness, a dash of compassion, a pinch of self-confidence, and a smidge of positivity? The ability to relate to people in a more meaningful way. And that means you get a stronger network of friends, confidants, and supporters. Of all the benefits I've reaped from my yoga practice, perhaps this is the most valuable of all.
What benefits have you noticed from the practice that would have surprised you when you first started out?