This is what happens to your body when you start doing yoga. We all kind of know that yoga will change your body and have a good impact on your mind. You come out of yoga feeling all light and fluffy and centered. But not many of us understand how yoga really benefits you physiologically and mentally and it's hard to know how many pretzels and sun salutations one needs to do in order for the benefits to manifest. So here's a good break down:
Yoga can offer incredible benefits—from increased strength and flexibility to stress reduction—and is a great antidote to our hectic lifestyles that often overtax our nervous system. Though the benefits vary per individual and yoga style (kundalini, yin, vinyasa), there are certain positive changes that every yoga practitioner can expect to notice a day, week, month, or several years into their practice.
Once you get through the first class, your emotions might be all over the place, "from overwhelmed (How will I ever do this? I'm so not flexible) to relaxed and at peace (deep breathing will do that) to empowered (like I did it—I got through something I wanted to do and feel strong and capable). Physically, you'll probably feel a little sore. But even after just one class, your shoulders will feel stronger, your hamstrings looser, and you will move your body in ways you probably don't every day.
After a week
You will most likely be hooked on how your mind takes a break in class, how your body opens up in Down Dog, and the zen vibe you feel after each session, you'll start to experience a sense of openness in your body. Perhaps it feels more spacious and flexible in areas that are usually tight and tense.
By your third or fourth class, you'll feel yourself getting the hang of breathing and moving. You'll probably start sleeping better and may notice glowing skin, as well.
After a month
Doing yoga a few times a week, you might notice some shifts in how you handle stress —now you find yourself breathing more deeply through tense situations (bad traffic, stressful meeting with your boss). You are not a Buddha—you still get pissed off—but you notice that your shoulders are no longer up by your ears, and your jaw is less tight. You might also feel some bottled-up emotions finally come out. Yoga forces us to be present, and sometimes when moving into more heart-opening poses, some not-so-fun feelings will come up. Let the feelings come up. Look at them. And let them go. It does not matter what type of yoga class you choose to take, you will still be able to notice an emotional shift.
A month into yoga, you'll definitely notice some positive changes in your body. Your core is stronger and you've noticed your triceps building from all those chaturangas.
After a year
A year into regular yoga, your practice shifts from structured classes to "yoga off the mat." it becomes a way of life. How you breathe. How you focus your mind. How you move. How you treat others. How you move with peace and presence and maybe become less attached to things. At this point in your yoga journey, your focus has improved, along with your stress levels and ability to handle confrontation.
Physically, your core and upper body strength have increased, your body looks longer and leaner, your balance is fantastic, and you're sleeping better than ever. All this added together, your confidence has probably experienced a boost, too.
If you've managed to stick to twice-weekly yoga for two years, you can expect to look and feel more vibrant than you were even 15 years ago—the clock seems to be ticking backward, meeting everyday challenges with grace has become more natural to you. You've got this calm breath superpower and you also notice that the difficult poses you used to avoid have finally become doable.
Your body is stronger than most people your age, you have amazing joint mobility, and your metabolism is strong and you realise you will never skip yoga, a healthy meal or time for yourself ever again!