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Most people who practice yoga say that they started doing it for the physical benefits. Maybe it was a way to ease back into exercise after an injury, lose weight after a long period of inactivity, stretch out tight hamstrings, or learn to do a handstand.

Many of these stories continue in a similar fashion. With each practice, people begin to feel less pain, get physically stronger, and find a new level of flexibility. As each finds a rhythm on their yoga journey, they are surprised to actually experience mental and spiritual shifts rarely talked about in the lobby after class.

Savasana provides a brief opportunity to slow down and even find stillness in the midst of a busy day, to go inward and explore a seldom-accessed place of peace. They start feeling less stressed, have fewer anxious thoughts, and begin sleeping better. And then they crave that sense of calm they experience after their practice as they carry it off the mat and into their day.

Yoga and the Mind-Body Connection

Yoga turned out to be more than they had hoped for – in all the best ways. Through a regular yoga practice, they discovered the power of the mind-body connection. This connection refers to how our thoughts and beliefs affect how we feel and even how our bodies function.

You experience this powerful connection every day. The gut feeling you have after a job interview, the sweaty palms and racing heart before giving a speech, or the butterflies in your stomach when your secret crush walks toward you. All of these are examples of how your mind influences your physical body.

At its core, yoga is a mind-body practice. Yoga can be used to cultivate self-awareness by uniting the mind, body, and spirit through meditation, asana (physical postures), and pranayama (breath control).

The word ‘yoga’ means to yolk, unite, or join. By its very definition, yoga helps us make the mind-body connection. And through the coordination of breath and movement in even a 30-minute practice, yoga helps us discover how our changing thoughts and beliefs can affect how we feel and experience life in our bodies.

How the Mind-Body Connection Impacts Your Life

Our Western culture tends to view and treat the body as a collection of separate systems. Instead of trying to find the underlying issues, symptoms are treated individually. But when we try to “fix” one problem in isolation, we sometimes create another…side effects of taking medication, for example.

Yoga sees the body, mind, and spirit as one entity. Everything is interconnected. Each aspect affects the others. Every decision influences the next.

Experiencing Interconnectedness in Your Daily Life

Without even realizing it, you experience this interconnectedness every day. Think about how you move through your day after a good night’s sleep. You wake up feeling rested and refreshed. You move through your yoga practice with ease and in a state of flow.

Meditation and positive affirmations help you cultivate a positive mindset. And your outlook on the day is optomistic. Making healthy food choices is natural and easy. You feel a strong sense of connection and gratitude for your family, friends, and co-workers. The day’s demands and inevitable stressors are handled with ease and grace.

Now compare that to the day after a sleepless night. You start the day feeling tired and listless, with no energy or motivation to exercise. You sleep in and skip your yoga and meditation practice. Late for work, you grab a cup of coffee and run out the door feeling hurried and stressed. The fatigue has you feeling tired and hungry all day long, so you’re constantly reaching for anything that will give you a quick boost of energy. People irritate and drain you. Focusing on work seems impossible. Unable to concentrate, you feel overwhelmed by all the demands of the day.

In both scenarios, every action taken has a ripple effect. For better or for worse, each decision led to the next. The same is true with yoga. A consistent yoga practice can have a positive ripple effect on your mind, your body, and your life.

How Yoga Affects the Body

When you spend even 30 minutes on your mat, you can find a rhythm and flow that centers your mind in the present moment so you can focus on the physical aspects of your practice. With time, you’ll learn to adjust each asana to suit how tight or nimble your body may be feeling on a particular day or based on what mental and emotional pressures you may be dealing with.

Certain poses will challenge your body and mind to work together more than others by asking you to concentrate on how a certain part of your body is responding. Where do you feel tightness or constriction? What happens when you breathe into it? It’s all a journey of self-discovery.

Working on poses that increase stamina, improve flexibility, and strengthen muscles also help protect joints and cartilage and improve bone density, posture, balance, and coordination.

Practicing twists can help improve digestion, strengthen the spine, and relax the muscles to reduce back pain.
Doing inversions like shoulder or headstand helps stimulate the lymphatic system to clear out toxins and boost the immune system. At the same time, inversions also relax the nervous system, help reduce stress, and improve sleep.

Vinyasa yoga is a style that can help improve cardiovascular health by increasing blood flow and reducing blood pressure while increasing lung function and stamina.

Practicing breath control not only helps the respiratory system by increasing lung capacity and stamina but also quiets the nervous system to reduce stress and anxiety.

Every system is interconnected. And every pose in your practice will affect your entire body, not just the body part you’re stretching, balancing, or strengthening.

How a 30-Minute Yoga Practice Affects Your Mind

The mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of yoga are strongly intertwined with the physical and can have a powerful effect on mental health and wellbeing.

While yoga is a great way to strengthen your body, if you simply focus on the physical practice, you might miss out on the opportunity for spiritual growth and exploration.

The Bhagavad Gita says “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”

Meditation, breath control, chanting, and mantra allow you to slow down and go inward. The vibration created from these practices can also help reduce stress and anxiety and improve sleep, all of which affect how you think, feel, and react.

These mindfulness practices create space in your busy day for quiet contemplation and connection with the inner wisdom that resides in all of us. During these introspective moments, you have the opportunity for deep self-inquiry and to create a personal spiritual connection with your higher power – God, Mother Earth, the Universe – however you define it for yourself.

Peace of Mind and Clarity Through Yoga

As you continue to challenge yourself through your practice, you build confidence and resilience. You learn that you are not your thoughts and become better able to observe them without getting caught up in the stories that your mind creates.

Instead of reacting, you learn to respond with empathy and compassion.

Instead of grasping at a certain feeling or becoming attached to a particular outcome, you learn to let go, stay in gratitude, and accept what is, even when things feel uncomfortable.

Instead of ruminating about the past or worrying about the future, you learn to increase your ability to stay in the present moment.

You begin to cultivate a deeper spiritual connection with those around you. You’re reminded that we are all interconnected…everyone and everything. By taking the time to really understand and explore this concept, you’re able to experience more happiness, peace, deeper meaning in the present, a sense of purpose, and hopefulness for the future.

How to Start a Daily Yoga Practice

Beginning a yoga practice can seem overwhelming. If you’re new to yoga, find an introduction to yoga, gentle yoga, or a class geared toward beginners.

A traditional yoga class usually includes centering and setting an intention, warm-up, a series of asanas to build strength, flexibility and balance, cool down, and savasana.

If you can’t attend a live class, find a recorded class online or create your own home practice. If you don’t have time for a 30-minute yoga practice, start with 10 minutes or do a few minutes of stretching and deep breathing.
For anyone already practicing yoga who wants to deepen their practice, look for an intermediate or advanced class that goes into the history and philosophy of yoga — the yoga sutras and the eight limbs — taught by a teacher who aligns with your values. You can also find classes and workshops that focus on advanced balance poses or chanting and mantra.

The energy from practicing yoga with a group can be inspiring and uplifting, but find time to create your own personal practice. Developing a personal yoga practice builds confidence, allows you to more deeply explore concepts that interest you, and creates a practice that feels right to you depending on your mood and how your body feels on any particular day.

Allow Your Yoga Practice to Evolve in its Own Time

If you haven’t been physically active for a while, start slowly. Try a 10-minute class and eventually work your way up to a daily 30-minute practice or more.

While a lot of the yoga poses may be familiar to you, there will be some new and challenging ones to attempt. Breathe and allow yourself the time and grace to learn, grow stronger, and become more flexible.

Listen to your body and only do what feels safe for you. The instructor will show modifications to poses to suit different body types and fitness levels, but don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Use props like a folded blanket, a bolster, a strap, or yoga blocks. Props can help make certain poses more comfortable, help you safely ease into and out of a pose, or help you hold a posture longer. Sitting on the edge of a folded blanket can make it easier to sit in a forward fold. Using blocks under your hands during a low lunge “raises the floor” so that you can get into and out of the pose safely and hold it more comfortably.

Meditation, chanting, and breathing techniques may seem strange, silly, or make you feel self-conscious. Keep an open mind and give it a try.

Begin Your Transformational Journey with Yoga

“Yoga does not transform the way we see things; it transforms the person who sees.” —B.K.S. Iyengar

Everyone comes to yoga for different reasons. Whatever your motivation, a consistent, 30-minute yoga practice can help strengthen you physically, mentally, and spiritually.

While you need consistency to reap the physical and spiritual rewards of a yoga practice, show yourself some compassion and don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect.

Each day is an opportunity to begin again.

Yoga is a journey of self-discovery and a gateway to physical, emotional, and spiritual transformation. It can help build strength, resilience, and trust in yourself, all skills that can be used on and off the mat.

Use your yoga practice as a touchstone to remind yourself of the importance of self-care. A daily yoga practice will give you a chance to slow down, go inward and reconnect with your body, mind, and spirit.

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