Yoga has become increasingly popular in recent years. This is likely due to our fast paced and often hectic lives. With long work days and the never ending to do list, it can be difficult for us to find a moment of peace and quiet. This is where yoga can help. What is yoga? Yoga is a mind and body practice that has been practiced for over 5,000 thousands years. Its origins are traced back to the Indus-Sarasvati civilization that lived in Northern India. The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means “to unite or integrate”.
Practicing yoga allows one to retreat from their busy life and reconnect to the inner self. It is a great way to energize the body, mind and spirit. Yoga does not adhere to any particular religion, belief system or community. Yoga is a way of harmonizing the mind and body through the breath and various poses or asanas. According to Yogic scriptures the practice of Yoga leads to the union of a person’s individual consciousness with that of the Universal Consciousness. Yogic practice is a preparatory process so that the body can sustain higher levels of energy. There are numerous variations of yogic practice. The four most commonly practiced yoga types are Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga and Bikram Yoga. Each of these yoga practices can bring profound health benefits. Below we cover 10 incredible health benefits one can expect from practicing yoga.
1. Improves Flexibility
This one probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Practicing yoga can dramatically improve flexibility. A lot of people are hesitant to try yoga because they think they’re not flexible enough. As it turns out, that is the perfect reason to start yoga! Doing yoga regularly is a sure way to become more flexible. Almost all yoga poses or asanas will help to improve flexibility. When it comes to feeling comfortable in your body, strength and flexibility are essential. Practicing yoga will lengthen and stretch your muscles and will help to prevent injuries, back pain, and balance problems. Increasing your flexibility will also improve other areas of your life. With better flexibility you naturally become more active and energetic which can lead to improvements in health and wellbeing.
2. Builds Strength
Many are surprised to hear that yoga will actually make you stronger. This is due to the various poses or asanas. An asana is a physical posture or position that is designed to help master the body and mind. Each asana is essentially an exercise that builds strength and endurance. Yoga increases muscle endurance because you typically hold each pose for a period of time and repeat it several times during each session. Yoga can help you to increase muscle tone, definition and even muscle size.
Furthermore, Building muscle and strength is important for keeping your body’s metabolism elevated and maintaining good balance. Even experienced weight lifters can struggle their first time with yoga. This is because yoga trains muscles all over your body. Weight training often isolates one muscle group at a time. Practicing yoga will help you achieve a strong, toned body that will enable you to live a healthy and active life.
3. Improves Bone Health
Yes, practicing yoga may help to improve bone health! Many people believe that only weight bearing exercises like weight lifting, jogging, walking and lifting can increase bone density. Well, now you can add yoga to that mix. A 2005 study showed that eleven yoga practitioners had increased their bone density in their spine and hips when compared to the non-yoga practicing control group.
Furthermore, yoga could be a great adjunctive therapy for those who suffer from osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disorder that thins and weakens bones, making them more porous and weak. Considering that there are more than 700,000 spinal fractures and more than 300,000 hip fractures that occur annually in the United States, this could really be a game changer. Yoga’s ability to improve one’s balance also plays a role in reducing fall related bone fractures. While there is still more research to be done, it doesn’t hurt to get started and witness the benefits first hand.
4. Increases Blood Flow
If you have poor blood circulation, yoga can be an effective way to increase blood flow. Proper blood flow is essential for good health as it delivers oxygen and glucose to your body and brain. Good health is dependent on optimum functioning of the body’s cells which are dependent on adequate blood supply. Poor circulation may cause numbness, dizziness, nerve damage, tissue damage, muscle cramps, blood clots and varicose veins. Blood flow is in continuous motion, it is never stagnant. As blood circulates throughout the body the blood pressure gradually decreases. Yoga can help to regulate blood pressure. A study conducted by the University of Texas, Austin measured positive results from participants who practiced Bikram and Hatha yoga. This showed that while holding a yoga pose, you can increase circulation through your spine, glands and organs.
5. Lowers Stress
In our modern hectic lives, it seems that we are constantly surrounded by stress. Fortunately, practicing yoga can reduce stress. When we are stressed our bodies tend to get tight and our muscles constrict. It is also common to hold tension and stress in our neck, shoulders, back and jaw. Practicing yoga is a great way to loosen and stretch the muscles which can result in released tension.
Additionally, yoga has been shown to be effective in lowering the stress hormone cortisol. A 2007 study showed that participants who practiced just 10 sessions of Hatha Yoga had reduced stress, anxiety and enhanced well-being. Yoga is also effective at interrupting negative thought loops. When we practice yoga it is a very mindful exercise. You need to be present and in the moment to properly execute each pose. This mindfulness approach is what gives us a reprieve from our thoughts and worries.
6. Increases Self Compassion
Like meditation, practicing yoga has been shown to increase self-compassion. In our modern age we tend to get caught up in our busy lives and forget to take time out for ourselves. This is where yoga can help. Practicing yoga is like taking a mini personal day. It’s a chance to turn your smart phone off and connect to your body and breath. Yoga allows us to connect to ourselves through mindful movement. When you take time out of your day to do something good for yourself, this is practicing self-compassion. Yoga allows us to connect to our inner being and remove unconscious patterns that block our innate compassion. Practicing yoga forces us to confront our inner insecurities and self-doubts and move through them. This naturally strengthens our self-awareness, which leads to more self-compassion.
7. Increases Happiness
Feeling a little down in the dumps? Do some downward facing dog! That’s right, yoga can increase happiness. One study showed that practicing one hour of yoga can significantly elevate brain GABA levels. GABA is the brain’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. Depression and anxiety are both associated with low levels of GABA. The researchers compared the GABA levels of eight subjects prior to and after one hour of yoga. After their session, the researchers found a 27% increase in GABA levels in the yoga practitioner group!
Furthermore, yoga can help us to become more present. Happiness only exists in this very moment. When we ruminate about negative events from our past or try and project into the future, we are seldom happy. Practicing yoga helps to develop a mindful awareness of the present moment. With a consistent yoga practice this mindfulness will grow stronger and you will carry it with you throughout the day.
8. Improves Sleep
Let’s face it; everyone could use more sleep, or at least better sleep. Most people’s lives are busy and stressful. Yoga can provide relief from the hustle and bustle of modern life. A national survey showed that over 55% of people who did yoga found that it helped them get better sleep. This is likely due to reduced stress. In fact, 85% of participants said that it reduced their stress. Furthermore, a 2013 study found that yoga improved sleep quality and sleep efficiency in cancer survivors. Yoga can be a great tool for reducing stress and improving sleep. At the end of a stressful day, yoga can be a gentle and restorative way to wind down.
9. Boost Immune System
We are all bombarded with stress on a daily basis. Stress can impact many systems in the body, including weakening the immune system and increasing chronic inflammation. Research published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine suggests that yoga can be a helpful way to boost your immune system and decrease inflammation in the body. Another study looked at the immunity effects of yoga on a group of 60 students who practiced yoga over the course of a 12-week period. The research showed that the students, who practiced yoga, helped their bodies resist the autonomic changes and impairment of cellular immunity associated with stress compared to the control group. When combined with adequate sleep and a healthy diet, yoga can help boost your immune system and prepare it for anything that gets thrown your way.
10. Increases Self-Esteem
Many people suffer with low self-esteem. This has become a growing trend thanks to social media. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others, especially in the perfect world of social media. Fortunately, practicing yoga can help to increase your self-esteem. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that doing yoga poses even for a few minutes could boost energy and self-esteem. The researchers found that standing yoga poses like Mountain Pose, Upward Salute, and Eagle Pose improved self-esteem, energy, sense of power and control. This shows that just doing a few minutes of yoga daily can boost confidence and self-esteem.
Do you practice yoga? What benefits have you experienced?