There are many benefits to the practice of asana (physical postures on the mat), such as better sleep, increased flexibility, improved strength, and the opportunity to experiment with the science of yoga. If you practice at a gym or a large conference room in your office building, then you may not reap all the rewards of yoga.
“Yoga” means “yoke”, or to bring into alignment the body, mind, and spirit. There are many tools and techniques that yoga offers to help us live a more artful life. I don’t mean creating art, though that could be a side benefit. I’m talking about a life where the ups and downs aren’t so far apart, and the buttons we all have that seem to get pushed by family members, the media, or drivers on the road don’t create the knee-jerk reaction we’ve experienced in the past.
If you practice at a studio, then you’ve heard of “taking yoga off the mat”. The purpose of a yoga instructor isn’t only to call out postures in a round of Simon Says. Their purpose is to push those bottoms and give you the opportunity to look at your own reactions when you can’t touch your toes or balance on one foot or the person in front of you could be on the cover of Yoga Journal while you’re bemoaning the belief that your arms are too short, your legs too long, or your age isn’t conducive to the class you’re in.
The big benefit of practicing yoga is to learn to be okay with not touching your toes or balancing, and foregoing the comparison between your body and the one in front of or next to you in class. If you can breathe while in a physically challenging pose for you (as “challenging” is different for everyone), then you can breathe while stuck in traffic, or when someone cuts you off, or when you have to share a meal with your least favorite family member.
Once we can do that, then the invitation is to utilize those tools and techniques when big life changes happen, such as the loss of a job, moving across the country, the passing of someone dear, and circumstances brought on by different phases of life. But it’s a practice, and it begins by breathing and accepting when hamstrings are tight and the floor seems so very far away.