The summer after my senior year in high school I started going to yoga classes at a small studio by my house. I'm from a suburb of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, so I was very surprised when it turned out that there was a studio about ten minutes away from my house rather than in the city.

In my first yoga class, I broke into a serious sweat. I was very surprised at this. I also had a hard time holding my downwards dog. I wasn't expecting that, either. Keep in mind, this was a basic beginners yoga class. I was extremely sore the next day. I have always been fit, in some kind of shape due to playing soccer basically year round. Here are some reasons why I think everyone should try yoga!

1. Yoga is a workout!

I'm not saying yoga is like cardio, but it's not easy. I was expecting it to be easy. Now, almost two years into practicing yoga, I am less sore the day after yoga, but I still break out into a serious sweat. Getting a workout in doesn't even begin to address the benefits of yoga. Sure, it's good to break out into a sweat while being active. However, it is also very good to stretch out your muscles and move your body in new ways. I think that people often overlook that or don't think of it. If you let it, the benefits of yoga can extend beyond your body.

2. Yoga brings awareness to your body

While in yoga there is an emphasis on breathing. You breathe in and out as you move through the poses. You're encouraged to focus on the feeling of your lungs, chest, and stomach expanding as you breathe in, and then what it feels to slowly let that breath out. That awareness is something that you can carry without outside of yoga classes that is very helpful to everyday life.

Yoga also helps bring awareness to different, individual parts of your body as well as your body as a whole. If some area feels tight while in a pose, you are often directed to imagine sending your breath to that area. While focusing on that, it is almost impossible to not realize that your body is yours and that it is made up of different components that are all a part of a whole.

3. Yoga is good for your body and mind

In addition to a focus on having an awareness of your body and your breathing, yoga encourages a new kind of mental awareness. Often in yoga, I have been told by the instructor to have compassion for myself. If a pose is hard, the instructor often says to have compassion for yourself and to have acceptance for your body the way it is in the moment. Yoga instructors also often say that some days are just not good days and that some days will be better for yoga than others.

This body acceptance goes farther than being able to achieve a pose or not. I find that yoga enforces the idea that all bodies are good bodies, which is something that is nice to hear when I am frustrated with my body for being the way it is, which comes up a lot while in yoga because it often feels like there's something in the way.

When meditating, having acceptance for your thoughts is something else that is encouraged. Often it is said to acknowledge your thoughts and then let them go, to not try and control or stop the thoughts from happening. In doing this, I have found that I am able to let go of some of the control that I try and have over myself.

4. Yoga helped me in high school and yoga has continued to help me in college

I can control how I move my body in yoga even if I can't do every pose. Realizing this and not focusing on my thoughts allows for a kind of mental freedom. Practicing yoga helps me to feel at peace with my mind and body, and because of this I encourage everyone to try it. Yoga and mindfulness are very closely linked, and I think that committing to practicing one or the other or both can be key to unlocking anything, from better mental health (as it has done for me, although it is definitely a work in progress) to just being more in touch with yourself. Yoga truly is a gift that you can give to yourself, from yourself.