Yoga is a word believed to be derived from an ancient Sanskrit word, “yuji,” meaning union. Yoga is the practice of bringing together the mind and body in a way that we are typically too busy in our daily lives to allow. The development of yoga practices are traced back at least 5,000 years, but some historians believe it to be a 10,000-year-old practice, rich in history and tradition.
How Practicing Yoga Benefits Your Health
The main purpose of yoga is to gain strength, awareness, and harmony between the human mind and body. It blends breathing exercises, stretches, poses, and meditation. A more comprehensive form of exercise than most exercise regimens, yoga is designed to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve overall physical and mental health.
When people ask about the health benefits of yoga, a yoga instructor may talk about increasing prana flow, and about the seven chakras from the base of the spine to the crown of the head, and how understanding them can keep us healthy. However, as mysterious as this sounds, the health benefits of yoga are indisputable—and now backed by much research. So how does yoga benefit the health of both the mind and bodies of those who practice it regularly?
- Reduce Stress and Find Serenity
Stress has always been a part of the human experience. We’ve gone from the stress of hunting and gathering food in order to have enough stores to get us through the winter in our caves, to the stress of working and still managing to take care of our children and our homes—all while our phones are beeping and ringing, and the dog is whining to be walked. This chronic, daily stress can result in physical symptoms such as head and stomach problems, body tension, and emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
The practice of yoga brings together both mental and physical disciplines that can effectively reduce stress and promote a serene mind and spirit. While this has long been known and experienced by those who learn to practice yoga, it’s now backed by numerous studies. One study traced the cortisol (stress hormone levels) of 24 women who considered themselves to be under emotional stress. Their cortisol levels were significantly reduced after a three-month yoga program. They all reported lower levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
Ask anyone who does yoga, and you will hear that they find themselves driving home from the gym at a much slower speed than that in which they drove there, with their best gym bag beside them and their yoga mat ready to go. The peacefulness found in yoga works as a natural tranquilizer of both mind and body.
2.Find Your Flexibility
One of the first and most noticeable health benefits of yoga is increased muscle flexibility. During your early yoga sessions, you may find it difficult to even bend and touch your toes, but before you know it you are doing backbends you never imagined possible, and you can lift your legs over your own head. Your body will naturally loosen, and your muscles will feel much more relaxed at the same time that they appear toned and tightened. In daily life, you will feel less stiff and tired. One study showed improved flexibility of 35 percent after only eight weeks of yoga.
Not only does yoga increase muscle flexibility, but it also increases the range of motion and helps to keep joints flexible.
The popularity of the best yoga pants has surged in the past two decades, partly because of the flexibility of movement they allow along with comfort and support. Putting those yoga pants to work on the mat will offer multiple benefits to your body’s own flexibility, balance, and support.
Yoga increases strength, stamina, and endurance. Plank pose, downward dog, upward dog, and many other poses increase upper body strength. Sustained standing poses increase strength in hamstrings, quadriceps, and abs. Many poses also strengthen the lower back and can significantly reduce pain levels for those with back problems. Nearly all poses increase essential core body strength, which can benefit all of the other muscles in the body and provide balance. As strength and flexibility increase, body posture is also improved, preventing many problems that are linked to long-term poor posture.
Holding your body in a balanced pose requires strength in multiple muscle groups and will significantly increase muscle strength over time. Studies show that increased muscle strength does more than make our bodies look better; it can also prevent conditions such as arthritis and back pain.
Chronic inflammation is the root cause of many health issues, including pro-inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. A study of 218 participants showed that half of the group who participated in yoga had lower levels of inflammatory markers after strenuous exercise than the group that didn’t practice yoga. Another study showed reduced inflammation in breast cancer survivors who practiced yoga. In fact, yoga is now a commonly prescribed adjunct therapy for cancer survivors.
5.Improves Essential Heart Health
Multiple studies have shown that practicing yoga can increase heart health, and decrease factors leading to heart disease. Regular practice of yoga reduces blood pressure and pulse rates in those over age 40. Studies have shown that beginning yoga practice after being diagnosed with heart disease can significantly lower cholesterol, and slow, or even stop the progression of, heart disease. According to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, yoga can be as beneficial for preventing heart disease than more aerobic-type exercise. The combination of breathing exercises, stretches, and balance poses can help to prevent and manage heart disease.
6.Better Your Bone Health
Yoga can greatly improve bone health and prevent osteoporosis. Many yoga poses require weight-bearing exercise. The body must hold its own weight during these poses, which over time can increase bone strength. One study showed increased bone density in the vertebrae after practicing yoga for a period of six months.
Because the stress hormone, cortisol, can deplete calcium reserves, reducing stress through yoga can help to keep calcium in the bones.
7.Improves Overall Quality of Life
Thanks to the results of many studies, yoga is now being more frequently prescribed as an adjunct therapy for many conditions including cancer, heart disease, anxiety, and depression. Studies have also found that yoga improves quality of sleep and social functioning, and it enhances emotional and spiritual well-being, contributing to overall better quality of life. In other words, these studies have proven what humans have known for 10,000 years.
How Practicing Yoga Benefits Your Health