If you are in love with yoga, then you’ve probably noticed a lot of the benefits that come along with this type of practice. Maybe you’re getting fewer colds, sleeping better, or just feel more at ease. But if you’ve ever found yourself explaining the benefits to a beginner or a curious friend, you may have noticed a blank stare when you start saying things like yoga brings energy up the spine or increases the flow of prana.
Thankfully, this may be a problem of the past. Scientists are starting to see the benefits that regular practice yoga provides like improved health, increased immunity, and a reduction in aches and pains. For instance:
Yoga keeps your bones healthy
A lot of yoga poses require that you shoulder your own weight. This is good news for those who are susceptible to ailments like osteoporosis because it’s been proven that weight bearing exercises strengthen the bones.
Yoga improves flexibility
Just about everyone knows that yoga improves flexibility. And, except that it comes in handy during naughty pastimes, very few understand what this truly means.
During your first class, you probably won’t be able to do a backbend or even touch your toes. But if you stick with it, you will soon notice a loosening of your joints that will bring poses that were once impossible into your wheelhouse.
You’ll probably notice that some of your aches and pains have begun to disappear as well. This is no coincidence. Tight hips are caused by the improper alignment of the shin and thigh bones. And inflexibility in your connective tissues and muscles (such as the ligaments and fasciae) can lead to poor posture.
Yoga increases blood flow
All the stretches that you do during the typical yoga session helps get your blood flowing. Even the relaxed poses increase the circulation in your hands and feet. Yoga poses also bring more oxygen to cells, which improves their function.
Yoga reduces blood sugar levels
If you or someone you know suffers from diabetes, you may want to check this one out. Yoga reduces blood sugar by lowering cortisol and cortisol levels, boosting insulin sensitivity, and encouraging the weight loss. When those who suffer from diabetes are able to lower their blood sugar levels, it reduces their risk of diabetic complications like blindness, kidney failure, and heart attack.
Yoga increases muscle strength
Not only do strong muscles look good, they also keep conditions like back pain and arthritis at bay. And when you do yoga, not only do you get stronger, you increase your flexibility as well. This is in contrast to going to the gym and lifting weights. That is, this type of exercise builds strength but probably at the expense of flexibility.
Yoga provides protection from digestive problems
Yoga is known for its stress reducing capabilities. And constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and ulcers are all worsened by stress. So, if your stress levels are reduced, chances are your digestive situation will improve.
Yoga boosts immunity
When you come in and out of your yoga postures, you are stretching and contracting muscles and moving your organs around. This helps encourage the drainage of lymph, a fluid-filled with immune cells. As a consequence, the lymphatic system becomes more efficient at destroying bad cells and fighting infections.
Yoga keeps your head on straight
Don’t take it the wrong way when we say this but, your head is heavy, round, big, and kind of hard to support. If you move it just a couple of inches forward, you can strain your neck and back muscles. This is especially true if you work at a desk job for 8-12 hours a day.
Doing yoga helps bring things back into alignment. And, when your head is balanced correctly (with an erect spine) your back and neck muscles don’t have to work as hard to support it.
Yoga increases your heart rate
Having a heart rate that’s always in the aerobic range is a good thing. Not only can this help relieve depression, it can reduce your risk of heart attack as well. And although not all yoga is aerobic, certain ones (like Ashtanga) can help boost your heart rate.
The gentler types of yoga are helpful as well – they can improve cardiovascular conditioning. In fact, there are some studies that show that yoga helps lower the resting heart rate and increases endurance. Both these factors indicate improved aerobic conditioning.
Yoga keeps the spine safe
Like those of us who can’t sit still, your spinal disks (aka the shock absorbers that prevent the wear and tear of your vertebrae) need to move. This is how they get the nutrients they need to remain supple. A well-balanced yoga practice filled with twists, forward bends, and backbends) will keep them cushiony soft.
Yoga regulates the adrenal glands
Yoga lowers the level of cortisol in the body. Trust us, this is a good thing. During times of crisis, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol to temporarily boost immune function. But, if this happens when there’s no crisis present, it can harm your immune system. Excessive levels of cortisol in the body have also been linked to osteoporosis, depression, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure.
And, that’s not all…
With all the health and body benefits that yoga can provide, it’s only natural that your interest in this practice has been piqued. But, before you embark on your yogic journey, there are some things you should consider:
- Not as flexible as you would like to be? Props like straps and bolsters will provide the support you need to take your practice to another level
- Prefer going barefoot? A yoga mat will help prevent slippage while doing poses
- Don’t like wedgies or bunched up clothing? Comfortable yoga wear will make sure that uncomfortable (too loose or too tight) clothing is the least of your worries when doing your poses
Yoga is so much more than leisurely stretching on a yoga mat for 60 minutes. In fact, the above list barely scratches the surface of the benefits that this type of practice provides. But, there’s only one way to know for sure – get in there and try it out. Namaste.
by Emily Adams