Written by Todd Cline
Advancing your asana (physical) practice has a mountain-sized list of benefits and the pursuit of finding the fullest expression of one’s body is a noble one. But the benefits expand far beyond the physical. In fact, the physical aspect is just one part of a larger whole.The important thing to note here is that practice is relative to each person and what might be a beginner posture for one person can be an advanced posture for another. So, instead of getting caught up in the minutiae of what constitutes ‘advanced’ yoga, rather, I’m going to illustrate the benefits you can experience when you intend to level up beyond your current abilities.
Benefit #1: (Physical Level) Improvement in strength, flexibility, balance, skills and overall body awareness
These are the benefits that can be objectively seen and felt within your physical body. When you practice a wide range of postures and movements regularly, you access a wide range of positive benefits for yourself. You’ll see yourself becoming stronger in how you hold and move yourself, you’ll access more range of motion, you’ll have a better feeling for how to keep yourself in balance and so much more. Not to mention, if you’re taking a ‘hot’ yoga class, you’ll be sweating out any toxins that might have made their way into your body. This list is by no means an exhaustive one but the benefits mentioned above are some of the most noticeable. As you feel more able in your body during practice, the natural progression is for you to, well…progress! And while the physical benefits are great and plenty, they are simply one part of the equation.
Benefit #2: (Mental Level) Increase in focus, awareness, and peace of mind
As you become more acclimated to yoga class and have familiarity with common postures and see yourself progressing physically, you are thereby challenged to grow on the mental level as well. Just as when you continually exercise a muscle and it grows stronger, so too does the mind grow healthier and sharper when being intentionally used. And in Yoga class, when you’re attempting to go deeper into a stretch, get into an unfamiliar arm balance or try a new breathing technique, you’re essentially required to exert more mental focus and energy. And this is a good thing. Because the more we can flex those mental muscles in practice, the less mental energy we have to exert in our everyday lives. And this leads to, if you haven’t guessed it, reduced stress! When you’ve physically and mentally exhausted yourself through practice (the good kind of stress), the small things that seemed to vex us before (bad stress) seem to dissipate away, if not dissolve away completely. And now you’re really starting to get somewhere in your practice 😉
Benefit #3: (Emotional Level) Builds confidence, resilience and fosters a sense of accomplishment
“I’m in a glass case of emotion!” – Ron Burgundy
Okay, joking aside, progressing your physical asana has astounding positive implications for your emotional health. So, you’ve been practicing for a while now and you’re feeling stronger and more flexible than ever! Not to mention, you’re feeling mentally sharp as a tack and you’re walking around with a mixed aura of zen and swagger. You’re feeling pretty good and you’re feeling this on an intrinsic level. You’ve poured blood, sweat, tears and energy into this practice and you’re seeing the fruits of your labors bore before your very eyes. How does this make you feel? It should make you feel like 88 kinds of awesome! Seriously though, by committing yourself to a practice that challenges you on literally every level of your being, you have no choice but to grow on every level of your being. And this builds a wealth of confidence! Not to mention a host of other positive feelings. When you notice these good feelings start to show up, it’s a great time to build off of that momentum and to keep going deeper! And maybe you’re saying, ‘but what if it’s my very first time and I’m not feeling so confident? How do I experience growth and success on an emotional level during class then?’ and to that I would say, just by showing up, you show yourself an advancement on the emotional level. It’s difficult for us as humans to try new things and showing up in a hot room full of sweaty people, and doing unfamiliar movements for the first time takes a huge leap and for that, you should feel accomplished. And really, for anyone showing up on their mat, regardless of level (it’s all relative anyway), simply seek to do your best and the results will follow.
Benefit #4: (Energetic Level) Increases overall vitality and energy levels
Welcome to the energetic level! When talking about the energetic body, it’s important to highlight the breath. And while this is the first time we’re really discussing breath, that doesn’t mean that you should wait to get the first 3 previous bodies in order before you start giving attention to your breath. No, rather, all of your bodies are working in harmony at all times. Breaking each level down like I am though, just illustrates what’s happening on each level of being and the implications that yoga practice has on each individual part. *Lets out a long-winded breath* What were we talking about again? Ah yes, the breath! Bringing focus and attention to your breath is such an important part of the practice as a whole. There is so much benefit to be gained from slowing your breath down and taking deeper breaths. There are countless scientific articles that demonstrate the benefits of breath so I won’t go into it at length here. Suffice it to say though that breath has a lot of power behind it and it can be harnessed to help on the physical level (breathing in and out to get deeper into postures), mental level (requires further attention and awareness), and the emotional level (keeps you calm and poised during uncomfortable moments).You can think of utilizing the energetic body, or breath body, as a way to elevate and optimize all of your other bodies!
Benefit #5: (Spiritual Level) Leads to a greater expression of Self
Congratulations! We have moved to the plane of spirit! Are you still with me? I hope so because this is truly a wondrous dimension of your being. The word ‘spirit’ may carry some connotations along with it but in this case, we’ll refer to spirit as the embodiment of the physical, mental, emotional and energetic bodies put together. And the more in harmony all of the above mentioned bodies are, the greater expression of spirit will show through you. This can manifest itself as feeling like you’re living out of your higher realm or, above the realm of the ego, and living in greater accordance with your highest vision and values. When you work to elevate yourself on any level of being, your spirit will correspond. And the more you show up and simply put in the work (do your best), the more the spirit plane moves to meet you and help you along the way. And no, you do not need to be able to do Bakasana (crow pose) in order to reach enlightenment. Just a willingness and intention to show up, do your best and most importantly, have fun along the way.