For those who have dedicated themselves to the ancient practice of yoga such as yoga instructors, you know the benefits. You feel more relaxed, sleep better, and catch flus and cold way less than you once did. It’s challenging to sum up all the benefits to someone who hasn’t started their yogic journey yet.
To try to explain to someone about the increase of Prana, the moving around of energy or the inner peace usually falls on deaf ears. Studies from the Indian Journal, Harvard, and many others, have made it easier to explain the health and mental benefits that come from a regular yoga practice. If someone is a total newbie at yoga, these benefits should serve as motivation.
Flexibility will Increase
Everyone knows that yoga helps a person to become more flexible. It’s something you’ll notice quickly even in one class. You may feel really uncomfortable with every pose you do but by the end, there will be less resistance in your body.
As you attend more yoga classes, you will find that you become even more flexible. There is no way you can’t. It’s a slow and progressive benefit but yoga guarantees to make you more flexible. What does that mean though? Well, the benefits will often include a reduction in your aches and pains. Your body is connected so when you loosen your hips, you can alleviate knee pain, when you loosen your hamstrings you can alleviate lower back pain and so on.
Improves Your Posture
Your head sits heavily on the spine and when it’s not directly over the spine, the neck and back muscles work hard to support the head. Whenever your 9 lb head is a few inches over the spine, muscles begin to strain. If you do this for hours a day, you’re going to cause a lot of stress on the spine.
Slumping the body causes a flattening of the neck and lower back when there should be an inward curve. This causes chronic pain and can lead to long-term degenerative arthritis of the spine.
To avoid all this, yoga can help you build your posture up. Being more flexible can also improve your posture because you improve flexibility in muscles, connective tissue, and ligaments which support posture.
Yoga Helps Joint Health
Think of your cartilage as though it was a sponge. It stays fresh when fluid is squeezed out and a new supply is soaked up. When you leave it in the corner for years, it can actually start to deteriorate. Cartilage wears out if you don’t nourish it and that means the underlying bone is exposed. By working on your range of motion, you give the cartilage fresh nutrients so it stays healthy, protecting your bones.
As you practice yoga, you will utilize the joints by using their full range of motion. This is helpful in preventing some major health problems that could affect you later. You prevent degenerative arthritis and prevent other degenerative issue. By utilizing the full range of motion with the gentle practice of yoga, you squeeze and soak areas of cartilage that often sit dormant.
Yoga Protects the Spine
The spine has discs which protect every vertebrae. These discs are like shock absorbers but are susceptible to herniating or compressing nerves. They need movement in order to get the nutrients they need to properly do their job. In an asana yoga practice, backbends, twists, and forward bends support disc health which keeps the spine protected.
Yoga Increases Your Blood Flow
A part of any yoga routine include relaxation exercises that help circulation in the hands and feet. Yoga in general is going to bring more oxygen to your cells. This promotes them to function at their optimum. Twisting poses wring out blood from internal organs which allows oxygenated blood to flow through them when you release the twist. Inversions cause venous blood in the legs to flow back to the heart. That blood is pumps through the lungs where it become freshly oxygenated.
For those who have heart and kidney issues or swollen legs, yoga can offer some relief. Yoga improves how much oxygen makes it to tissues because it boosts levels of hemoglobin and red blood cells. It can also prevent blood clots as it thins the blood, making platelets less sticky.
Yoga Promotes Heart Health
Yoga gets the heart rate to an aerobic range even though it’s low impact. When you raise your heart rate through exercise, you lower the risk of heart attack and eases depression. Flow or Ashtanga are good yoga practices that raise your heart rate.
Even if a yoga class doesn’t boost your heart rate significantly, it does help improve the condition of the cardiovascular system. Yoga poses lower the resting heart rate and increase endurance. The breathing exercises you incorporate into yoga improves how much oxygen you can breathe in comfortably. This helps improve aerobic conditioning.
Yoga Regulates the Adrenal Gland
Cortisol has a bad rap for being the #1 health risk because it can be damaging to many bodily functions.The adrenal glands are responsible for secreting cortisol as a response to a perceived crisis. Simply put, it’s the fight or flight main control station that tells the body to boost immune functions. This boost of adrenaline allows us to run faster or become stronger than we normally would be. The problem is that if cortisol levels remain high after the situation, it compromises the immune system.
Chronically high cortisol levels can cause memory problems and can lead to brain damage. Cortisol is also connected to anxiety and depression. As it takes calcium and other minerals from bones, it can cause osteoporosis.
Researchers have found that rats with high cortisol levels would exhibit ‘food seeking behavior.’ This is what is responsible for emotional eating. The body takes these calories and distributes them as belly fat. This can cause the development of diabetes or a heart attack.
One of the reasons yoga has been deemed the wonder practice for health is because it has shown to lower cortisol levels.
Yoga Helps to Improve Your Mood
Yoga can help elevate your mood after one class. It also slowly helps you chip away at thoughts, feelings, or ideas that are blocking happiness. Yoga targets energy systems in the body, also known as the chakras. These areas are what govern your mood and behaviors.
Lotus pose helps to take tension out of your hips which is where you hold stress. Just one pose can put you into a more relaxed state of mind instantly. Imagine what a consistent practice could do?
Studies have found that consistent, daily yoga of any kind will improve depression. It leads to a significant increase of serotonin levels which is the happy brain chemical. It also works to decrease levels of monoamine oxidase which is an enzyme that breaks down happy chemicals.
The prefrontal cortex is responsible for our mood, memory, and problem solving capabilities. Richard Davidson, Ph.D from the University of Wisconsin found meditation (a part of yoga) could heighten activity in the prefrontal cortex.
Yoga helps calm the mind which sends messages throughout the body that it’s safe to ‘stand down’ and relax.
Your digestion will improve because of greater blood flow and less stress build up.
You lower the risk of major health problems like heart and kidney disease. You get better sleep and your brain functions more optimally. You have less pain in your back, necks, and joints.
If you continue on with the journey of yoga, you’ll get stronger and more limber. You’ll feel more emotionally grounded and overall happy and even when stress does occur, you will be able to manage it.
Yoga and ancient spiritual practice has taught us that you can't change what happens to you in life but how you cope with it.
Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, CureJoy, FunTimesGuide, OMtimes and others. She’s also the founder and owner of SiddhiYoga.com, a yoga teacher training school based in Singapore. Siddhi Yoga runs intensive, residential trainings in India (Rishikesh, Goa and Dharamshala), Indonesia (Bali)