Yoga has been around for thousands of years, but in recent decades researchers have uncovered overwhelming amounts of scientific proof that support its benefits. The applications of yoga are far and wide and have caught the attention of professionals ranging from psychologists to athletes. Yoga affects our minds and bodies, and strengthens the connection between the two. Whether you have a specific health goal or you’re looking to benefit from better wellness overall, yoga can help you achieve it.
Yoga has become an integral part of modern life for so many people because of its ability to lower stress, help keep anxiety and depression at bay and provide an instant mood boost. Amazingly, science has uncovered many unexpected benefits of yoga as well, like its ability to lower your disease risk, improve sleep and help ward off colds and flus. Here are 25 benefits of yoga you should know about:
1. Improves Your Posture
Yoga is one of the best ways to improve your posture, and doing so actually benefits your entire body. It helps your musculoskeletal system maintain proper alignment so that your muscles are used correctly instead of causing imbalances. It also takes stress off your spine, improves joint health and reduces fatigue because your muscles work more efficiently. Of course, having good posture also adds height and improves your appearance. Plus, your body’s posture is shown to affect the way you feel. Being poised in an upright, straight posture stimulates feelings of confidence and personal power .
2. Boosts Circulation and Circulatory Health
The flow of blood in your body is as important as the breath in your lungs. Your circulatory system supplies oxygen and nutrients to your vital organs and brain while flushing out waste and toxins. Inadequate circulation leads to poorer functioning of virtually all bodily systems, from your muscular function to the regulation of your mood. Yoga boosts circulation by relaxing your muscles and nervous system, reducing inflammation and thinning your blood, while It also boosts your red blood cell count.
Additionally, yoga poses improves circulation by sending blood to the various nooks and crannies in your body. Twisting poses like triangle pose and side angle pose “wring out” of your body, allowing blood to enter the spaces between your spinal vertebrae. Inversions like downward dog and headstands send blood directly to your brain with the help of gravity. When you practice yoga on a consistent basis, your circulatory system pathways become stronger, allowing more blood to circulate your body even when it’s at rest.
3. Releases Stress and Mental Tension
Studies show that practicing yoga cultivates a sense of well-being and calmness. It works by interrupting the body’s fight-or-flight stress response and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system . This system slows the heart rate, relaxes muscles in your gastrointestinal tract and increases gland activity. By directing the mind’s attention to the body and breath, yoga can help you release mental tension associated with stress-inducing thoughts.
4. Treats Anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Other studies have linked yoga practice to a lower rate of anxiety . Yoga is recommended as an adjunctive therapy for PTSD because it’s been shown to improve emotional regulation and improve PTSD symptoms. Researchers are still learning about the ways in which yoga works to improve PTSD, but they do know it lowers levels of cortisol–a stress hormone found in PTSD patients in high levels .
5. Relieves Insomnia and Improves Sleep Quality
Because it promotes relaxation and regulates your nervous system, yoga has been studied to evaluate its effects on sleep. Sure enough, studies have found that regular yoga practice significantly reduces the amount of time required to fall asleep, which could help people suffering from insomnia. It’s also shown to increase the number of hours slept and improve feelings of restfulness upon waking .
6. Improves Athletic Performance
By enhancing several aspects of fitness, yoga is shown to improve athletic performance. With regular practice, yoga increases your range of motion, joint and muscle flexibility, balance, muscular strength and alignment . These factors can all contribute to better performance in athletes, which is why it’s often recommended to runners and professional athletes to include in their fitness training routines.
7. Lowers Your Risk for Injury
Another reason yoga is recommended to athletes is that regular practice reduces your injury risk. By strengthening connective tissue, it makes you less prone to sprains. Yoga promotes the proper alignment of your muscles, which is critical to injury prevention. Without it, certain muscles or muscle groups work harder than their opposing muscles to compensate for misalignment. This causes an imbalance of muscle strength adding greater risk of injury. Yoga engages all muscle groups and promotes a balance of strength, so it’s helpful for athletes like cyclists and runners who have certain muscle groups that are much stronger than lesser used muscle groups.
8. Speeds Up Muscle Recovery and Reduces Muscle Soreness
Practicing yoga immediately after fitness training or athletic activity can speed up the recovery process for your muscles. Intense training leaves your muscles inflamed and flooded with lactic acid, resulting in sore muscles the next day. Yoga gently stimulates blood circulation and reduces inflammation, and it promotes the healing and rebuilding of muscle when you practice it immediately after a workout. The bending, stretching, compression and massaging of your muscles and organs during yoga squeezes out fluids that accumulate around broken down muscle fibers. This way, your muscles can quickly begin the rebuilding process and muscle soreness caused by lactic acid buildup can be prevented .
9. Helps with Weight Loss Efforts
Yoga can assist virtually anyone with their weight loss efforts. If you struggle with food addiction, yoga can help you gain mindful control of your habits and improve your body’s regulation of appetite. If you’re struggling to lose excess fat, yoga can help you burn more calories by boosting your metabolism. By improving your energy and mood, it can help curb cravings for sweets and unhealthy snacks.
Growing research has linked chronic stress to weight gain and a higher risk for obesity . By lowering stress hormone levels and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, yoga brings you out of “fight or flight” mode. Regular practice can help you beat chronic stress and prevent weight gain caused by high stress levels.
10. Lowers Blood Sugar and Reduces Your Risk for Diabetes
Insulin is a hormone that affects your body’s ability to utilize sugar as energy. Stress hormones like cortisol directly affect blood sugar levels by disrupting the balance of other hormones, which includes insulin . By bringing hormone levels into balance and fighting stress, yoga lowers high blood sugar levels. Regular practice of yoga can help prevent blood sugar spikes, which cause symptoms like feeling faint, irritable and nauseous, or having blurry vision. It also lowers your risk for diabetes when you stay consistent, by preventing chronically high blood sugar.
11. Lowers Blood Pressure
Yoga is shown in studies to effectively lower blood pressure, which is a marker of its ability to lower stress. Hypertension, or chronically high blood pressure, affects as many as a third of the American population and increases the risk for heart disease. Regular yoga practice is shown to reduce blood pressure in people with prehypertension, who are at a high risk of hypertension, as well as in people with hypertension .
12. Reduces Your Risk for Heart Disease
Several studies have been done to determine the effect of yoga practice on heart disease risk factors. In an analysis of multiple studies on both the general population and people with a high risk for heart disease, researchers determined yoga has clinically important effects. It lowers nearly all heart disease risk factors and can be considered an intervention method for high-risk groups. It works by reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels, blood pressure, breathing rate, waist circumference and insulin resistance, all of which raise your risk for heart attack and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) .
13. Improves Your Mood and Lowers Your Risk for Depression
Researchers have provided enough empirical evidence to determine that yoga enriches your quality of life. Measurably, by balancing hormone levels and even changing the way your brain is wired, it improves your mood and lowers your risk for depression. Of course, you need to practice yoga on a regular basis to get the full effects, and the more you practice, the better. However, each individual yoga session also uplifts your mood quite noticeably, which makes it perfect as a morning ritual or an afternoon pick-me-up .
14. Boosts Bone and Joint Health
Excessive cortisone levels rob the body of magnesium, calcium and other minerals required to lay down new bone. By bringing cortisone into balance, yoga can improve bone health and lower your risk for osteoporosis. Amazingly, 12 minutes a day of yoga practice has even been found to reverse osteoporotic bone loss .
The improvements in posture and alignment that come with consistent yoga practice also improve skeletal health and protect your joints from wear and tear. Practicing yoga takes your joints through their full range of motion and “squeezes” fluid out of cartilage so it can soak up fresh nutrients.
15. Supports a Health Immune System
Chronically high cortisol levels compromise your immune system, but yoga is shown to reverse this. It’s shown to stimulate immune function and boost antibody levels to protect your body against incoming threats like cold and flu viruses. Yoga poses also drain your lymph, which helps your immune system fight infection and even kill cancer cells.
16. Sharpens Your Focus and Promotes Better Concentration
Each yoga session leaves you with better mental clarity. It induces a state of strong focus and prolonged concentration, which is even shown to help children with attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) .
17. Heals Aches and Pains
Yoga can provide natural relief for various types of chronic pain. Researchers have looked at the effects of yoga practice on people with rheumatoid arthritis and found that it drastically improved symptoms and reduced pain within 3 months of practice just twice a week . If you suffer from chronic back pain, yoga can strengthen and stretch your back to prevent and release the pain. By stretching tight muscles, releasing tension and improving alignment, it can ease chronic pain in your neck, shoulders, hips and more.
18. Enhances Cognitive Function and Slows Age-Related Cognitive Decline
Yoga is known for bringing your body and mind into balance, and its effects on hormone levels, circulation and more can even improve your brain’s functioning. Chronic high cortisol levels are associated with neurodegeneration, so by keeping these levels under control, yoga may prevent or slow age-related cognitive decline. Yoga also keeps your brain healthy as you age by bringing better blood flow to the brain, delivering oxygen to brain cells. Data shows that yoga practice improves working memory and mental accuracy in healthy people . However, it suggests yoga may also help people struggling with cognitive decline or neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
19. Boosts Libido and Improves Your Sex Life
By increasing blood flow and helping you get in tune with your body, yoga can improve your sexual desire and satisfaction. In a study on women in India, researchers determined that yoga has the potential to treat sexual disorders in women and improve sexual function factors like desire, lubrication, arousal and orgasm, including women over 45 .
20. Improves Your Balance
Yoga challenges your balance through poses like tree pose, eagle pose and half moon pose. Many people lose their sense of balance over time simply by not using it. It’s important to preserve your balance as you age to prevent falls—the leading cause of injury-related fatalities in Americans over 65. Regular yoga practice develops proprioception, or your ability to feel what your body is doing and where it is in space. This can help you stay agile and improve your physical performance in sports and in daily life .
21. Increases Your Flexibility
Yoga is one of the fastest ways to increase your flexibility and range of motion. It stretches and loosens tight, contracted muscles, which can reduce aches and pains. Muscles that are flexible are able to stay healthy and work more effectively as you build up their strength. Good flexibility of your muscles and ligaments also enable you to have proper alignment and prevent injuries .
22. Cultivates Mental Strength and Willpower
Yoga poses and sequences have been practiced alongside meditation for thousands of years in order to build self-awareness and cultivate feelings of personal power over emotions that cause suffering. Practicing yoga could potentially help you overcome addictive patterns such as smoking and binge eating. It’s recommended by American Addiction Centers as an adjunctive therapy for addiction recovery. Yoga reduces feelings of anger and stimulates compassion, interconnection and calmness that can help you self-regulate and stabilize your emotions in the face of unsettling events .
23. Reduces Inflammation
Chronic inflammation has been linked to numerous conditions, from depression and anxiety to diseases like diabetes and heart disease. If you suffer from an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus or celiac disease, you can help keep inflammation under control by practicing yoga. Many people have low-grade but chronic inflammation as they age as a response to increased oxidative stress. A regular yoga practice can reduce this inflammation down and help prevent diseases associated with inflammation .
24. Prevents Spinal Problems
The disks in your spine serve as “shock absorbers” for the daily compression put on your spine. Without enough movement and circulation of blood, your spinal disks can herniate and compress your nerves. Yoga gets your spine bending forward, backward and sideways, and twisting in either direction, to send blood flow in between your vertebrae and keep your spinal disks healthy. This does wonders in preventing spinal injuries and improving your range of motion, especially as you age.
25. Helps Improve Allergies and Sinus Problems
Deep breathing is involved throughout the practice of yoga, and stimulating your circulatory and respiratory systems can help resolve sinus problems and facilitate drainage. Additionally, yoga exercises that involve specific breathing patterns and humming or chanting can also stimulate sinus draining and clear up mucus from your lungs .
The Bottom Line
While the reasons for practicing yoga can vary for everyone, almost anyone can discover the benefits it provides them by getting started with a simple but consistent practice. Plenty of evidence suggests that making time for yoga a few times a week is enough to see a noticeable transformation in your health and sense of well-being.
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