We all have a vague idea that yoga is good for your body and mind. You get out of class feeling all loosey-goosey and centered. But not many of us understand exactly how yoga benefits us physiologically and mentally—and it's hard to know how many sun salutations we have to do in order for those benefits to manifest. If you're new to all the poses and spiritual zen, the practice can feel intimidating, but good news: Our experts agree that the benefits of yoga can show up as soon as your first class.
According to Kerri Axelrod, "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.
Kerri Axelrod is a certified holistic health coach and yoga instructor. She is the owner of her eponymous wellness brand and a leading expert in a holistic approach to mental health.
To show you a timeline of how yoga benefits your body and mind, we consulted a group of trusted yogis.
Keep scrolling to see the amazing things that can happen after you start doing yoga!
Our yogis agree that after your first yoga class (or after the first one you've had in a while), you'll likely experience a variety of sensations. Emily Morwen, the co-founder of Modo Yoga LA, says that your first yoga class can feel like "an awkward, sweaty first date" where you're noticing muscles you never realized you had and are perspiring in places you never knew you could perspire. "The first hot yoga class is so much about quite literally staying in the room," she says.
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)," says Claire Fountain, celebrity yoga instructor. Physically, you'll probably feel a little sore. But Fountain says that 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."
Let's say a week into your practice, you've had two yoga classes. Morwen calls this "honeymoon time," and our other yogis agree. Just a week in, "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," says Mary Beth LaRue, yoga teacher and co-founder of Rock Your Bliss. "Physically 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, Morwen says you'll feel yourself getting the hang of breathing and moving. "You love that your Tree Pose now actually feels like a tree instead of a flag in the wind, and you're loving watching new muscles starting to make their appearance," she says. You'll probably start sleeping better and may notice glowier skin, as well.
After a month of 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," says LaRue. Fountain says 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," she says. "I encourage anyone to sit with that. 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," says LaRue.
Now that you're getting stronger, you might also start actively craving yoga. "Don't be surprised if you find yourself ditching that happy hour for a sweat because you can now finally stay solid in toppling tree," Morwen says. Your food cravings could also change. "Don't be alarmed if you find yourself bypassing the French fries for a quinoa salad because that's what your body is craving," Morwen adds. "With all of those twists and wind poses, your digestion is on point."
A year into regular yoga, Fountain says that your practice shifts from structured classes to "yoga off the mat." "It becomes a way of life," she says. "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," Morwen says. Meeting everyday challenges with grace has become more natural to you. ("You've got this calm breath superpower," as Morwen calls it.) You also notice that the difficult poses you used to avoid have finally become doable.
After a lifetime of yoga, you're guaranteed to be "badass, wise, and mighty," Morwen says. (We've all seen those incredible yoga seniors—those gurus who can nail a dancer pose with grace even at the age of 70.) At this juncture, you understand that approaching each pose with a "beginner's mind"—with intention and presence—is the way to keep your love of yoga live. Your body is stronger than most people your age, you have amazing joint mobility, and your metabolism is strong. "So strong that you can eat whatever," Morwen says. "Though you'll probably reach for water because you'll want to feel good and ready for class tomorrow!"