From a sense of increased general well being to better sleep or fewer colds, if you’re a passionate yoga practitioner it’s likely you’ve already noticed some benefits to yoga practice. But if you’re new to the world of yoga, it’s probably a little more challenging to pin down the actual benefits, as lines like “It brings energy up your spine” or “It increases the flow of prana” are as clear as mud to the uninitiated.
Yoga does have some very real benefits, though, so let’s explore them!
1. Yoga Can Decrease Stress
Your ability to relax can really be improved through yoga, which is known for its ability to ease stress. The body’s primary stress hormone, cortisol, actually appears to be secreted in lower quantities in those that practise yoga. In one study, 24 women who perceived themselves as emotionally distressed were followed to track the impact yoga would have on their lives. The women were found to have significantly lower levels of cortisol after a yoga program lasting just three months. Depression, stress, anxiety and fatigue levels were also lowered.
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2. Yoga Can Improve Your Flexibility
One of the most obvious benefits of yoga is the improvements it can make to your flexibility. It’s likely you won’t be able to touch your toes, let alone do a backbend, during your first class. Seemingly impossible poses will become possible if you stick with it, however, and you’ll notice a gradual loosening in your joints and muscles. You may also notice that the aches and pains that have been bothering you become less of an issue.
3. Yoga Can Relieve Anxiety
Feelings of anxiety are one of the things that prompt many people to begin practicing yoga. The idea that yoga can help reduce anxiety is actually something that’s supported by a fair amount of research. Two months of yoga classes taken twice per week were offered in once study involving 34 women diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Those who practiced yoga had significantly lower levels at the end of the study than those who didn’t.
4. Yoga Can Help You Protect Your Body from Injury
Your breathing, your movement and your own body will become your primary focus when you practise yoga, in contrast to other sports and fitness practices which involve focusing on teammates, goalposts, balls or squat racks. This element of mindfulness and focus on breathing can make a big difference to your body. You are enabled to work on protecting or strengthening areas of weakness as you become stronger, because you’ll be listening to your body.
5. Yoga Can Build Muscle Strength
Having strong muscles is about more than just looking good. Strong muscles can help prevent falls in elderly people, and protect us from conditions like arthritis and back pain. What’s more, the flexibility you build balances the strength you build through yoga. This balanced combination of strength and flexibility is something you can’t get if you just go to the gym and lift weights.
6. Yoga May Reduce Inflammation
Some studies suggest that practicing yoga may reduce inflammation as well as improving your mental health. The development of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other pro-inflammatory diseases can be contributed to by chronic inflammation (though some inflammation is a perfectly normal immune response). People who didn’t practise yoga and those who practised regularly were compared in a 2015 study involving 218 participants. Stress was then induced when both groups were asked to perform moderate and strenuous exercises. Those who didn’t practise yoga were found at the end of the study to have higher levels of inflammatory markers than those who did.
7. Yoga May Make You Less Likely to Make an Old Injury Worse
If you suspect an hour of headstands and bending won’t be of benefit to an old strain or injury you have, don’t stress! Your abilities and your body are unique to you, but the wonderful thing about yoga is that each pose can be modified to work for you.
You can strengthen your body and protect any weak areas you may have if you work with a good yoga teacher and learn to use modifications, as well as handy props like blocks.
8. Yoga Can Improve Your All-Round Fitness
Many of us will think of huffing and puffing away at the gym when thinking about improving our fitness. Working out doesn’t have to include weights, though! In a more holistic, calm and safe setting, yoga can give you everything that a gym can. In one session, you can combine aspects of cardio, functional and strength training. What more do you need? And as an added bonus, you can do it all in your own home, at your own pace.
9. Yoga Perfects Your Posture
Heavy, unwieldy and round, your head is sort of like a bowling ball. Supporting it is much easier for your neck and back muscles when it’s balanced directly over an erect spine. You
start to strain those muscles, however, if you move it just a few inches forward. It’s no wonder your body gets tired when it’s holding up a forward-leaning bowling ball for eight-to-twelve hours each day.
With yoga, you can strengthen the muscles around your spine and improve your posture, which will also relieve any number of different posture-related aches and pains.
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