You've probably heard by now that yoga is good for your health. Maybe you've even tried it for yourself and discovered that it makes you feel better. A consistent practice offers a plethora of mental and physical health benefits. Some, like improved flexibility, are clearly evident.
Others, including mental clarity and stress reduction, can be more subtle but are just as powerful. A fitness journal can help you keep track of your progress. When put together, these benefits of yoga contribute to increased feelings of well-being, which helps explain why so many people find yoga so addictive. Here are the top benefits of yoga and some poses to try to help you get the most out of your practice.
Benefits of Yoga
Supports joint health
Eases and prevents back pain
Teaches better breathing
Fosters mental calmness
Boosts heart health
Moving your body and stretching in new ways will help you become more flexible, bringing a greater range of motion to tight areas. Over time, you can expect to gain flexibility in your hamstrings, back, shoulders, and hips. For more strenuous poses, a yoga blanket can help provide stability.
A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Yoga evaluated the effects of a yoga practice on male college athletes. Over the course of the 10-week study, researchers observed significant gains in flexibility and balance in the group that practiced yoga compared to the group that did not. The study authors concluded that a yoga practice can potentially enhance athletic performance and increase flexibility in athletes.
As you get older, your flexibility usually decreases, especially if you spend a lot of time sitting, which leads to pain and immobility. Yoga can help reverse this process. A studies have found that 12 weeks of Hatha yoga improved flexibility in adults with a median age of 50. The practice also increased cardiorespiratory and muscular endurance as well as physical strength.
Many yoga poses require you to bear your body weight in new and often challenging ways, including balancing on one leg or supporting yourself with your arms. Holding these poses over the course of several breaths helps build muscular strength and endurance.
As a byproduct of getting stronger, you can expect to see increased muscle tone. Yoga helps shape long, lean muscles in your legs, arms, back, and abdomen.
Balance training is important at any age. Athletes find it can make them more powerful and those who are active find that it can boost their workouts and level of fitness. Balance training improves posture and functionality to help you move more efficiently through everyday life.
Exercises that strengthen and stabilize the core can promote agility and prevent accidents from stumbling or falling. Improved balance is one of the most important benefits of yoga, especially as you get older. Poses that require you to stand on one leg, and, for more advanced practitioners, turn you upside down in an inversion, can be a great way to build the core strength to hold you upright.
Supports Joint Health
The movements necessary for yoga are low-impact, allowing you to use your joints without injuring them. Yoga also helps strengthen the muscles around the joints, lessening their load. People with arthritis often see a marked improvement in their pain and mobility with regular gentle yoga practice.
Eases and Prevents Back Pain
Increased flexibility and strength can help prevent the causes of some types of back pain. Many people who have back pain spend a lot of time sitting at a computer or driving a car, which causes tightness throughout the body and spinal compression. Yoga counteracts these conditions, as studies show that the practice can help to ease common symptoms of back pain.
Teaches Better Breathing
Most of us take shallow breaths and don't give much thought to how we breathe. Yoga breathing exercises, called pranayama, focus our attention on breathing and teach us how to take deeper breaths, which benefits the entire body.
Breathwork in yoga can have physical and mental benefits both on and off the mat. Certain types of pranayama such as Skull Shining Breath (Kapalabhati Pranayama) can also help clear the nasal passages (helpful for people with allergies), and Ujjayi Breath can help calm the nervous system.
Fosters Mental Calmness
Yoga asana practice is intensely physical. Concentrating on what your body is doing has the effect of bringing calmness to your mind. Yoga also introduces you to meditation techniques, such as how to focus on your breath and disengage from your thoughts.10
The mental benefits of yoga are well-supported by scientific research. For instance, research published in 2018 in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine found that 12 weeks of Hatha yoga significantly reduced stress, anxiety, and depression in the 52 women who participated in the study.
In addition, a growing body of evidence shows the benefits of a yoga practice for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A 2014 study determined that yoga can help traumatized individuals tolerate any physical and sensory experiences that were associated with fear and helplessness. The researchers determined that yoga helped increase emotional awareness, which was associated with their ability to manage their symptoms.
Physical activity is good for relieving stress, and this is particularly true of yoga. Because of the concentration required, your daily troubles, both large and small, can seem to melt away during the time you are on the yoga mat. This provides a much-needed break from your stressors, as well as helping to put your problems into perspective.
The emphasis yoga places on being in the present moment can also help as you learn not to dwell on past events or anticipate the future. You will leave a yoga class feeling less stressed than when you started since yoga reduces cortisol levels.
Doing yoga improves your mind-body connection, giving you a better awareness of your own body. During yoga, you learn to make small, subtle movements to improve your alignment, putting you in better touch with your physical body. You also learn to accept your body as it is without judgment. Over time, this leads to feeling more comfortable in your own body, boosting your self-confidence.
Boosts Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and research shows that yoga can potentially help to prevent it.
Yoga is good for your heart, because it increases circulation and blood flow. For instance, a 2015 study found that a year of yoga improved cardiovascular risk factors like obesity and high blood pressure among older adults with metabolic syndrome. The study authors concluded that yoga can be a complementary treatment to managing this condition.
Many people who practice yoga report that it helps them to sleep better and a large body of scientific evidence supports this claim. In fact, a review of 49 studies involving more than 4,500 participants determined that mind-body practices like meditation or yoga can be beneficial to those with insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Additionally, a 2020 review of 19 studies involving more than 1,800 women determined that those who practiced yoga had fewer sleep disturbances than those who did not. The researchers noted that the more yoga the subjects practiced, the more benefits they experienced.
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