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Shot of an athletic young woman practicing yoga on the beach

Yoga. Glorified stretching? Something spiritual? Both?

According the yoga sutra, there are eight limbs of yoga: restraints, observances, postures, breathing, withdrawal of senses, concentration, meditation, and absorption. Most times the yoga practiced in gyms and yoga studios is asana yoga (posture-based), focused on stretching, strength and stamina, but while physical, it’s about more than just moving from one position into another. It’s about connecting the flow of movement in your body to the way your mind moves and the patterns of your breathing, and thus is more about cultivating a sense of awareness than simply stretching.

Depending on how you choose to practice yoga; embracing all the various limbs or simply practicing the physical-mental element, it can be spiritual, but it doesn’t have to be, and although it is part of many world-religions, most notably Hinduism and Buddhism, it isn’t in and of itself a religion.

So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what are the benefits?

What does doing yoga do for you?

Shot of woman doing the downward-facing dog pose on the beach

It makes you more flexible – you are stretching, lengthening your muscles so that they’re capable of more
It makes you stronger – you increase muscle tone and size as you put your body in different positions and move from one posture into another
It improves balance and body alignment – as yoga helps you understand movement in your body you learn to sense where and how your body should be and leads to better positioning of muscles, it also helps to open up your spine.
It can help you lose weight – not the answer you were looking for I know, but it’s dependent on a number of factors:

1) How long your session is: shorter sessions obviously mean you burn less calories,

2) How often you do yoga: if you’re doing it a couple of times a week, you’ll see changes in your shape (not necessarily weight loss) as you become more toned,

3) What kind of yoga you’re doing: Ashtanga, Vinyasa and Power yoga are more intense and vigorous than the average yoga session, get your heart rate up, help tone and stretch your muscles, and include body weight exercises.

There are claims that the mind-body interaction and the connecting of your thoughts, your breathing and your body help to make you more mindful about your body and more compassionate toward yourself so that you are naturally more inclined to do right by your body. This means you eat more of what makes your body feel good, and when you eat something that doesn’t make your body feel good, you aren’t too hard on yourself about it.

There’s no harm in trying right? Has yoga helped you? Let us know in the comments below!

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Femi A-Williams is a health and fitness convert trying to reconcile a healthy lifestyle and a happy food life. She is 80% whole grain and 20% donut.

All posts by Femi A-Williams