Lacking energy and #fitspiration as the year draws to a close? Yoga-aficionado Cathy Dario shows you exactly why that downward dog is worth it.

As the end of the year draws closer, you might not have that fresh #fitspiration to begin your yoga practice. To help spark that energy and motivation, I’ll be sharing my four benefits of yoga that I’ve personally experienced. That downward-facing dog will be worth it.

Improved muscle tone and strength

From the core strengthening plank to the challenging grasshopper pose, different yoga poses required me to lift my own weight and build inner strength.

Unique to the strength building function of yoga is muscle elongation. Weight training bulks up the muscles, whereas frequent yoga practice also stretches them out. Twists and folds exercise various muscle groups and improve their functionality.

Increased flexibility

It isn’t uncommon for beginner yogis to feel intimidated by backbends and hip-opening sequences – a year before I began my practice, I couldn’t even get past a half-split! Committing to a yoga practice eventually releases tension in your muscles (you won’t even need a massage anymore), and you’ll eventually find that touching your toes is totally possible.

But what’s so important about flexibility? Flexible muscles promote better blood and oxygen circulation, and also help prevent soreness, injuries, and joint problems. This is also why frequent yoga practice is recommended for athletes and those with high-intensity fitness regimens.  With long-term practice, you can also say goodbye to arthritis!

Better focus, concentration, and mindfulness

When I started my practice, I found controlling my breath really difficult. Contrary to popular belief, yoga can really get your heart racing. I practice Vinyasa (and this kind of yoga is widely available in all studios around the metro), and the challenge is to be able to inhale and exhale fully and completely even when moving through a dynamic sequence of poses.

As my breath cycle gradually improved, so did my ability to focus and concentrate. Yoga is a mental exercise as much as it is a physical exercise, and this is what I find so beautiful about the practice.

You become more aware of your body – its strengths and limitations, its capacity to surprise you as you slowly watch yourself progress. You become more attentive to detail (mostly because a pose entails proper alignment), and grow mindful of both your physical senses and internal thoughts. Yoga, then, is finding delicate balance between your outer with your inner self.

Enriched creativity

Throughout my journey with yoga (I still have a long way to go), I did not expect to feel more creative. The practice certainly has the capacity to renew and restore you – and this is precisely what I mean by yoga being a creative endeavor.

I’ve become focused, more attentive to what goes on within and without me.  Consequently, I’ve gotten to know myself better. And because I’ve become more aware of my personal strengths and shortcomings, I’ve sought healthy ways to care for and improve myself.

Perhaps this is why many yogis say that the practice helps manage stress and anxiety, and I definitely agree with this. But to extend that further, yoga also can make you a better person. And this is more than just becoming happier, because yoga has made me more mindful, more compassionate, more understanding, and more positive of my body and mind to change. Yoga, then, is a practice of hope.

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