Have you ever entered a yoga class after a long day of work feeling distracted, anxious, and tight? However, during the 60-minute practice your worries melt away and you leave the session feeling focused, calm, and light? Yeah, us too—it’s crazy how the benefits of yoga can sometimes feel magical. From improved brain function to lower blood pressure to increased flexibility, yoga positively affects your mind and body in countless ways—both long term and instantaneously. What exactly changes in real time? Grace Ling Yu, Bay Club Marin yoga instructor extraordinaire, breaks it down for us. Here are four ways your brain and body will feel better from that bridge pose.
1. It provides stress relief.
When in situations that are beyond our control, where one may experience panic, say, during airplane turbulence or childbirth, the first thing a professional will tell you to do? Breath. In a yoga class, breath is a crucial component to reducing stress. After taking a few deep breaths, you’ll begin to feel less anxiety. Most yogis practice ujjayi breathing—sometimes called the ocean breath—a technique in which the lower belly is filled first, then the lower rib cage, and finally, the upper chest and throat. Inhalation and exhalation are done through the nose which causes the ocean sound. According to Yu, this type of slow and controlled breathing naturally calms the body and mind, especially in stressful situations.
2. It quiets the mind.
We live in a world that never shuts down and we’re often expected to answer emails and be on call 24-hours a day—except for that one hour during yoga. This is the time to quiet your mind. Yoga brings mindfulness—the practice of being aware of what we see, feel, smell, and hear—into our lives. It grounds us and reminds us to be present in the moment rather than be carried away by the distractions happening in our thoughts. Even if you spend only a couple of minutes in each class being truly mindful, you’ll benefit from being in the here and now.
3. It improves posture.
Throughout the day, when you’re sitting at work or standing in line at the grocery store, you might not notice your posture. However, the second you get into a yoga class, you pay attention to what is going on with your back, shoulders, chest, and stomach. Posture is immediately improved during yoga. Yu recommends being aware of what is going on. Do you dominate on one side versus the other? Are you carrying a child on your right hip or picking up your purse with your left arm? Pay attention to the subtle differences in your posture and during the rest of your week, try to even things out by putting your child on your left hip and picking up your purse with your right arm.
4. It makes you feel better.
Any aches or pains you may be feeling will generally melt away during a yoga class. Yoga physically makes you feel better. Tightness in hips or hamstrings, neck and shoulder pain—all this fades away after a couple of sun salutations. Yoga allows the body to stretch, lengthen, and flow. Flexibility will increase and you’ll leave the practice feeling lighter on your feet.