Alt-text: Four women who know that practicing yoga benefits your health practicing together.
Yoga, the ancient Indian form of exercise, has long crossed India’s borders and spread worldwide. Its vast popularity has a lot to do with its numerous mental and physical health benefits for people of all ages. There are many yoga schools and practices. Some types of yoga promote relaxation, others promote movement, but most of them focus on poses called asanas. You probably know that practicing yoga benefits your health, but you may be surprised to hear how great its benefits are.
The beauty of this ancient practice is that just about anyone can do it. You don’t have to be young, super athletic, or pay for expensive equipment. You can do it anytime, anywhere. Whether you exercise in the comfort of your home or in a yoga studio, whether you’re an expert or a beginner, you’ll feel better from head to toe, inside and out, as long as you practice regularly. Here are some of the most significant health benefits of practicing yoga.
Better flexibility and mobility
It is a common misconception that one has to be very flexible to practice yoga. One of the best things about yoga is that it is doable at all levels of flexibility. Even if you’re not bendy at all, your flexibility and mobility will gradually improve. If you practice on a regular basis, you will notice a gradual loosening. Eventually, you’ll be able to hold the poses that seemed impossible or caused pain during your first classes.
Strong muscles prevent conditions such as back pain and arthritis. Building muscle strength also prevents falls in older age. Building strength does not necessarily involve lifting heavy weights at the gym. Some yoga styles (ashtanga, power yoga) are designed to help you improve muscle tone and increase strength. However, even less physically demanding styles, such as Iyengar or Hatha, can increase strength and endurance.
Nearly all poses improve core strength in the deep abdominal muscles. Poses such as upward dog, downward dog, and the plank pose improve upper-body strength. The standing poses, especially when maintained for several long breaths, strengthen your quadriceps, hamstrings, and abs. The chair pose and the upward dog increase lower back strength.
Bone health benefits of practicing yoga
Practicing yoga also benefits your health by strengthening your bones. With regular practice, various health problems such as osteoporosis (an illness that weakens the bones and increases the risk of fractures) can be prevented. Bodyweight exercises increase bone strength, and many yoga postures require lifting your own weight. Poses like upward and downward dog strengthen the arm bones, which are particularly susceptible to osteoporosis.
Yoga helps improve your posture, too. With increased strength and flexibility, your posture becomes better. You can strengthen your core with most standing and sitting poses since you need your core muscles to hold them. After some time, you will notice that you stand, sit, and walk straighter or “taller”. Additionally, you’ll become more aware of your posture, and you’ll notice sooner if you start slouching or slumping.
Alt: Woman doing yoga at home with her dog.
Cardiovascular benefits of practicing yoga
Regular yoga practice prevents various types of disease and helps you recover from it. One of them is heart disease. Yoga can help eliminate several factors contributing to this type of illness, such as excess weight and high blood pressure. According to studies, it lowers blood pressure in patients who suffer from hypertension and improves lipid profiles in healthy patients as well as those with diagnosed coronary artery disease. Thanks to its health benefits, yoga is now part of many cardiac rehabilitation programs.
Lower blood sugar
Yoga can help you manage type 2 diabetes and reduce the need for medications. High blood sugar levels increase the risk of diabetic complications such as kidney failure, heart attack, and blindness. Practicing yoga benefits your health by lowering blood sugar in several ways. It regulates cortisol and adrenaline levels, improves sensitivity to the effects of insulin, and helps weight loss.
Yoga boosts immunity
By using your muscles, moving your organs around, and changing yoga postures, you increase the drainage of lymph (a fluid containing white blood cells that flows through the lymphatic system). The lymphatic system fights infection, destroys cancerous cells, and eliminates toxins, waste, and other unwanted substances from your body.
Excess weight is the cause of numerous health problems. Even gentle yoga can encourage weight loss. Daily yoga practice can help you burn fat and restore your hormonal balance, thus normalizing your body weight. In addition, practicing yoga makes you more sensitive to hunger and fullness cues. People who do yoga regularly are less prone to overeating, which means your excess weight is less likely to come back after you shed it.
Yoga reduces stress and promotes relaxation
Speaking of overeating, people tend to overeat when they are stressed. Yoga helps balance the levels of cortisol, the hormone linked with anxiety. Instead of seeking comfort in food, you will be able to deal with your negative feelings in a healthier way. Yoga calms the nervous system and helps you stay calm and think clearly in stressful situations, and it even helps with depression.
Better concentration and memory
The three key elements of yoga are poses, breathing, and meditation. As you concentrate on your breathing, you relax your mind and restore mental stability. Clearing and calming your mind helps you use it more efficiently. Studies show that yoga improves memory, coordination, and even your IQ. Having better organized thoughts enables you to retain and recall information more easily. Just a few minutes of meditation in the morning can help you concentrate better all day.
Practicing yoga benefits your health by improving sleep quality. Doing gentle evening yoga before bedtime is good for everyone, especially people who suffer from insomnia. Proper breathing and relaxing postures can help you calm your body and mind shortly before going to bed. One of the recommended poses is lying on your back with your feet up against the wall.