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The Perks of Being a Yogi
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The Perks of Being a Yogi

Yoga often gets written off as a hippie pursuit, rather than a legitimate aid for weight loss and general wellness. But if you think of yoga as nothing more than a series of stretches and breathing exercises, you'll miss out on the incredible health benefits that a regular yoga practice provides over almost any other workout plan.

What can yoga do for you? Here are four ways you'll benefit from this ancient tradition:

  1. Flexibility: Yoga poses run the gamut from simple and relaxing to arduous and exhausting. Some are easily accomplished, while others can take years to perfect. Consistently stretching to reach that next pose improves flexibility and circulation. One study found that, within weeks of adding yoga into their exercise program, participants improved their flexibility by more than 30 percent! Plus, you've never celebrated like you will when you finally land that yoga pose that's been eluding you for years.

  2. Balance: This is one of the most important ways yoga can benefit your health, especially as you get older. As you age, the more rigorous physical activity you did when you were younger may become difficult or impossible, meaning you'll miss out on many of the less-obvious but hugely important aspects of working out: maintaining balance and avoiding injury. Yoga is an ideal exercise program for people who can't work out rigorously but want to maintain their health. Yoga's focus on breathing, meditation, and maintaining poses for several breaths not only makes you more aware of your overall health, but it also does wonders for improving balance. And the less you stumble and bump into things, the less likely you are to seriously injure yourself.

  3. Strength: As you age, maintaining strength becomes more and more essential. Luckily, many yoga poses help build and maintain strength - without the use of dumbbells or other heavy exercise equipment. While most yoga poses help build upper- and/or lower-body strength, the part of your body that will benefit the most from a yoga practice is your core. Which is great, because a strong core is essential to...

  4. 4. Posture: If you're prone to slouching, you've probably noticed that when you try to sit or stand up straight, your lower back starts to ache. As I just mentioned, yoga strengthens the muscles in your core. That means that pretty soon, standing up straight not only won't hurt, but because of the increased attention you're paying to your body, your posture will begin to improve naturally.

And here's a bonus benefit: Because yoga makes you aware of your body in a way few other exercise programs can, that increased attention will almost certainly result in weight loss, since when you're in tune with your body's needs, you're less likely to feed it unhealthy things. Which makes hitting the mat a win-win!

Please keep in mind that, though yoga isn't a high-impact exercise program, it is a workout, so you need to plan accordingly. Make sure you warm up your muscles before beginning a yoga class, and drink plenty of water - especially if you're practicing hot yoga. Also, be sure you don't push yourself too hard. Yoga's leisurely pace - as opposed to a cardio class or treadmill machine - may trick you into pushing yourself too hard, increasing the likelihood you'll suffer an injury.