Yoga studios. You see them everyday. They’re basically like McDonald’s now, having one on every corner of every busy street. It’s undoubtedly clear that yoga, an ancient and beautiful Eastern practice, has now become a mainstream trend in Western society.

The modern studios, with mahogany wood floors, are embellished with statues of Krishna and Buddha. The complementary coconut water and cute pink towels that match the Himalayan salt lamps sit in the corner. They offer $5000 retreats to Bali that promise inner peace, enlightenment and a great tan. All of these popular “amenities” that seem to be found in Westernized practices of yoga distract and take away from the true benefits that yoga can provide. Yoga provides a multitude of health benefits that have nothing to do with materialism or trendiness.

  • It improves flexibility.

Obviously, yoga involves stretching. As you breathe deeply in and out, you extend your body in ways that open and reawaken your muscles. Stretching is a benefit often overlooked as we age. It helps to maintain one’s youthful movement by maintaining one’s range of movement in the joints and enhancing muscular coordination. It also increases the circulation of blood in the body, leading to an increase in energy levels. Simply waking up, bending to meet the earth and then elongating your body through a sun salutation can help to awaken you naturally, maybe even allowing you to skip your morning coffee.  

  • It can help with weight loss.

Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not easy. It consists of much more than just stretching and sitting criss cross applesauce while you close your eyes and daydream. In fact, yoga can tone the body in ways that I’ve never even seen cardio do. Some poses require your body to literally become inverted, meaning you must have the ability to carry your entire body weight on nothing more than your arms. While these poses are obviously more advanced, they can all be accomplished through continued and dedicated practice.

Yoga helps to tone your body into a lean physique, and it defines muscles that may be hidden. Bikram yoga, or hot yoga, is a personal favorite of mine. Essentially, it is just the practice of yoga in a room that is heated. The temperature can range depending on the studio and your personal advancement. I have practiced hot yoga in rooms that have ranged from 80 degrees all the way up to 104 degrees. True Bikram is usually practiced at about 104-105 degrees, and there is controversy over the risks and benefits of this. However, even at lower temperatures you will sweat immensely. Saunas don’t detoxify one as much as hot yoga does. Then, once you take that first step out of the studio and into the fresh air, you will feel as though you have been reborn.

  • It improves posture.

Growing up, I constantly heard, “Don’t slouch,” and, “Sit up straight.” I always felt that it took constant effort to maintain good posture. How was I supposed to remember to remind myself every single second that I need to keep my spine straight? It stressed me out so much to the point of thinking that I was going to eventually look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. However, after I started practicing yoga, maintaining proper posture seemed to come a lot more naturally.

Now, it often feels uncomfortable for me to slouch or sit with my shoulders forward. According to Yoga Journal, poor posture can cause serious fatigue due to extra effort on your body toward upholding your head when it is constantly leaning forward. On top of that, “slumping” can also cause severe back, neck and joint problems, and in extreme cases it can even lead to degenerative arthritis. The spine is one of the body’s most important structures; therefore it is important that we take care of it as our bones age.

  • It helps improve happiness and relaxation.

The most significant gain that I have received from yoga is not one of physical health but rather one of mental. Yoga is such a peaceful and tranquil practice that it assists you in manifesting positivity in your life. While you stretch and open your body, you are also opening your mind and your heart.

Your breath guides you, helping you get through the exercise, and it reminds you that simple breathing can help you get through trials. Maintaining a positive perspective is easier when you have something to look forward to and something to feel hopeful about. The serene nature of yoga can give you that hope and much more. It allows you to connect back to your true self and leave all worldly problems at the door before stepping onto your mat.  

Allie Lebos hopes you discover the many upsides of yoga for yourself.