12 Things I Learned Doing Daily Yoga

June 21 is officially the first day of summer, but it's also recognized as the International Day of Yoga — a day when people around the world welcome in the summer solstice with wholesome group yoga sessions. A few months ago, I decided to challenge myself to start doing yoga every day. I wasn't starting it as a form of exercise to change the way my body looked, or as a sneaky way to become Instagram famous for my yoga poses. I wanted to use yoga as a holistic medicine for my anxiety and chronic stomach pain, and I had heard that a daily practice could help with both. Surprisingly, I have learned a lot from doing yoga every day.

To be honest, before I started this, I had always felt a tiny bit skeptical of yoga. I realized it was an ancient practice that was much more than just a passing trend, but I wasn't 100 percent sold on the idea that yoga on its own could relax you and change the way you think. It wasn't until I took a class with Yoga Girl (Rachel Brathen) that I really felt the effects of yoga. I had taken random classes at the gym before this one, but none of them had ever really done anything for me. When I was done with a class with Yoga Girl after a particularly stressful Monday, I felt more relaxed and happy than I had felt in ages. I wanted that feeling to happen more.

So, I started my own daily practice feeling hopeful that maybe yoga could actually help me. I deal with a lot of general anxiety that weighs me down every single day, and also contributes to the chronic stomach issues I have that only seem to be getting worse. My therapist had already encouraged me to try yoga to help with my anxiety. I also learned that yoga can help with chronic pain by reducing stress, changing the way we breathe, and even, over time, changing the way we think.

Since I have an hour-long commute into the city for work every day and am generally a busy person, attending classes with a professional instructor every day was basically out of the question. So, I did what any 20-something does when they want home instruction: I turned to YouTube. I immediately found a channel called Yoga With Adrienne that offered a ton of free videos for everything I was looking for — even a "30 Days of Yoga" program. Success!

Although my daily yoga practice has required me to wake up about 45 minutes earlier every day, I cannot imagine stopping anytime soon. I'm really, really enjoying it, and I've also learned so much more than I thought I would. Thinking about starting your own practice? Here are 12 things I learned so far from doing this every single day.

1. Yoga can improve your mornings tremendously

I'm not going to lie: I don't do yoga in the morning and transform into a zen yogi who never gets annoyed and walks around saying "namaste" to everyone I see. But in the moments after doing yoga, for at least a few hours, I really do feel super zen, balanced, and relaxed. It has made my mornings so much better. I used to wake up late, run around like a maniac, and sit on the train already in a bad mood. But yoga keeps me calm while I get dressed and do my makeup, and I end up arriving to work relaxed and ready to take on the day.

2. When I go without yoga for a day or two, I definitely feel different

A week ago, I had to get a medical procedure done and wasn't feeling well, so I skipped yoga for three days. I found myself feeling more cranky and frustrated, and I also found myself craving my yoga practice. When I finally went back to it, I felt this huge sense of relief. I'm not someone who typically sticks to things like this, so this was pretty surprising for me.

3. My body actually can do some of the insane-looking poses I never thought it could do

OK, so I can't do THAT, and who knows if I'll ever be able to. I'm certainly not a yoga master. In fact, I would still consider myself a beginner. But I was surprised to find that when I really get into the practice, I'm able to hold my body in poses I never thought I could do. While my flexibility definitely still needs work, it is improving every day. It's rewarding to see your body doing things you didn't believe were possible.

4. Speaking of, yoga will change the way your body looks

Like I mentioned earlier, I didn't start yoga with "exercise" in mind. I didn't think that maybe yoga could help me tone up. But, uh, it has, completely on its own. I noticed that I often feel sore after a yoga session, and it's because the practice is helping to tone my arms, legs, and core. This is a great perk, just one I wasn't really expecting. I guess I've always thought that in order to do that, you need to put in a very sweaty workout.

5. It's incredibly hard to turn off your mind

I grew up doing dance and have been going to the gym for years, so the physical aspects of yoga aren't the difficult part for me. The most difficult part is learning to turn off my mind and just focus on the breathing and the practice. It is SO hard to close your eyes and not think about anything. My mind is constantly running, and I have to actively work to stop it.

6. Luckily, yoga does not involve pressure unless you force it to

The nice thing about yoga is that I've never found an instructor who makes you feel like you're not good enough, or you're not doing enough. If your mind is wandering, there are gentle reminders to breathe and focus. If you can't do a pose all the way, there are alterations offered. Unless you start to get competitive with yourself, yoga is not a competitive thing.

7. Daily yoga practice makes you healthier in other ways

When I interviewed Rachel Brathen, she told me that yoga makes you more connected to your body, and so it ends up making you healthier in other ways even if you don't realize it. I was skeptical of that, but as it turns out, it has proven true for me. Doing yoga has helped with my daily running — it keeps me flexible and stretched out, but also helps me feel more balanced while I run. I've also been eating healthier, because yoga makes me feel so good that I don't want to eat anything that will make me feel bad.

8. Quiet environments are the best places to go

This sounds obvious, but it's important. I try to do my yoga sessions in an open space in my house that has a lot of natural light, just because it makes me feel less closed in. But I live with other people, and they don't really care that I need quiet. So, if it's noisy around me, I feel off, and my practice doesn't go as smoothly. When I'm completely alone, it's so much better.

9. Yoga makes you feel better, but it is not a miracle worker

In the time since I started a daily practice, my anxiety has absolutely improved. But it is definitely not gone completely, and I still feel anxious quiet often. While yoga has relieved my stress and helped with my stomach problems, it definitely hasn't taken them away. That's OK. Yoga isn't something you start and then your whole life immediately changes. That's why it's called a practice. It takes time. It requires dedication, and it is certainly not for the very impatient.

10. Literally anyone can start a daily yoga practice

I'm sure you have a picture in your mind of the kind of person who does yoga every day: someone in Lululemon pants who is slim, fit, and happy, always with a green juice in hand, maybe wearing casually expensive clothes because they don't really worry about money, probably talking about their yoga instructor. Let me assure you that this is completely not me. I'm an average person who started doing yoga in her living room using YouTube videos while wearing pajama shorts. You don't have to have money or look a certain way to do yoga. You just have to be passionate about it.

11. Yoga really does work as a medicine for anxiety

I was skeptical about this at first, but it really is true. Yoga makes me feel more balanced and zen. Sure, there are still things that give me crazy anxiety. But since I've learned how to breathe, I can apply those techniques when I'm feeling particularly stressed out, and they calm me down. For me, it's better than any medication, and I've even been able to cut down on therapy without feeling stranded.

12. I have so, so much more to learn

Like I said, yoga is a practice, and if I think that I'm an expert after a few months of doing something people have been doing for hundreds of years, then I'm crazy. I know I have so much further to go, and I have to be patient because yoga is a slow process, but it's nice. I'm enjoying getting there.

Images: Mark Faviell/Flickr;