5 Reasons to Try Yoga this Year

Whether you’re new to yoga or trying to get back into it, here are five reasons to get on the mat and start a yoga practice

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yoga prayer position

Yoga benefits your body and mind

Yoga may have been seen as just a trend in the '90s, but judging by the ever-growing number of studios in Canada, it's never been so popular-mostly due to the benefits it brings practitioners. "The great thing is you'll be a much better person to hang out with," says Vancouver-based yoga instructor Eoin Finn, creator of many popular yoga DVDs including The Pursuit of Happy Hips. Still haven't made it on the mat? Here, Finn shares his top reasons to bring a yoga practice into your life.

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yoga pose

1. Yoga makes you feel good

"Nothing makes you feel as good as a yoga practice," says Finn, citing benefits such as feeling more awake, aware and connected. While it's easy to get caught up in the idea that you have to keep up with a fitness class, it's more important is to follow a yoga practice at your own pace and in a way that feels good to you. That inward focus will have you feeling great after class, which will make you want to return again and again.

Tip: "Basically, we always tell people to have the intention to leave the room better than when they walked in," Finn says. It's a simple goal to start with, but an important one. Keep the intention in mind throughout your class.

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breathing

2. Yoga keeps you balanced

If, like many of us, you rush through much of your life, a yoga class will help you step back and find contentment. Even in an physically challenging practice, concentrating on maintaining calm, even breathing will help you cultivate a sense of ease. "The good thing is when your breath is in that [even] state, you're less likely to hurt yourself," says Finn.

Tip: Use your breath as a barometer for how hard you're working-if you're gasping for air or holding your breath, it's a sign to back off on the intensity of a pose or take a moment to rest. "People often feel pressured to keep up," says Finn. "Practise a state of mind called contentment and let that be with you the whole time."

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standing yoga pose

3. Yoga helps you focus

In our age of information overload, says Finn, yoga offers the opportunity to cultivate focus-which will have positive effects in your daily life outside the studio, too. "What yoga helps you do is to let go of all your distractions and find a nice clear state of mind," he adds. For instance, in balancing poses, "you need to be in the moment or you'll fall over."

Tip:
Pay attention to your breath and your body. Finn notes that during many fitness activities, such as using a cardio machine at the gym, we ignore our bodies in favour of TV screens, magazines or music. Yoga is different because awareness is part of the process. "Yoga tunes you right into your sensations and what you're experiencing," he says. "You develop the ability to become aware of what you're doing and it feels good."

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yoga pose

4. Yoga is good for your body

Yoga has multiple physical benefits. For one thing, says Finn, you're creating alignment in your joints, which helps them work better and last longer. A well-designed practice will also balance out the physical challenges of your daily life, whether you're sitting at a desk all day or working an eight-hour shift on your feet. And don't think it's just about stretching-yoga strengthens your body as well.

Tip: If you're new to yoga, make sure to identify yourself to the teacher and tell him/her about any physical problems you may have such as lower back pain or carpal tunnel syndrome. The instructor will be able to advise you on yoga moves that will help or harm your condition. And don't be afraid to back off from a pose if it doesn't feel right. Injuries can happen in yoga class as easily as anywhere else.

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yoga for energy

5. Yoga counteracts stress

We all know stress is bad for us-and hard to alleviate. Yoga can help. "Just by the way you move and breathe, something shifts, and you actually move from a place of stress to a place of contentment," says Finn. "When you can eliminate all traces of stress in the body, then suddenly you open up to how good life really is."

Tip:
Leave your workday at the door and approach your class with positive intentions. It can be hard to turn off your brain, but focusing on your breath and body rather than on your thoughts will help you feel like a better person than when you first walked into class.

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