8 Surprising Health Benefits Of Yoga
As an instructor, I am forever espousing the incredible health benefits of yoga. There’s a common misconception that yoga isn’t physically demanding, and that you can’t do it if you aren’t flexible. In fact, yoga is one of the best things you can do for your body, at any age. And flexibility comes with practice; just because you can’t twist yourself into a pretzel today, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to tomorrow. I’ve rounded up a few of the health benefits that I’ve experienced as a yoga practitioner to inspire you to get on the mat!
1. Promotes sleep
As someone who has trouble falling asleep, I’ve found yoga to be better than any other nightly routine for helping me catch z’s. It calms the mind, relaxes the body, and loosens tense muscles. Even after a morning session, I still feel the benefits hours later. So if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, I recommend doing some stretches that promote deep sleep and relaxation. It’ll change your entire sleep schedule!
2. Soothes stress
The practice of yoga is all about keeping your focus on the mat, and not on your daily struggles and stresses. For the length of the class, you breathe and move and forget about the world outside for just a little while. Anxiety melts away as your breathing deepens, tension leaves your muscles as you stretch, and a sense of calm envelopes you. With practice, you can bring this sense of calm off the mat and out of the class, and soon everything seems less hectic and stressful.
3. Encourages exercise
This may seem obvious, but the more you practice yoga, the more likely you are to enjoy other types of exercise. That’s because yoga makes you feel good about your body, boosts confidence, tones and strengthens muscles, and can actually help you lose weight. You’ll have more energy, and more endurance, after only a few sessions of yoga. Because I want to feel even stronger on the mat, hold poses longer and improve my balance, I’ve since added weight training to my exercise routine. Never mind “couch to 5k”, try yoga if you want to get active!
4. Helps you breathe
A lot of yoga classes put heavy emphasis on breathing. Deep breaths coordinated with your movements keep you present on the mat and on how your body feels as you flow and hold each pose. Focusing on your breathing also helps to alleviate anxiety, and when practiced over time, can increase your lung capacity and help keep you calm off the mat as well as on it. Try this: inhale for a count of five, hold the breath for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of eight. You’ll feel more relaxed after just a few breaths than if you’d spent the entire day at a spa!
5. Banishes aches and pains
We hold tension and stress in certain areas of our body, which can lead to back and neck pain, and even severe headaches and migraines. People who practice yoga regularly experience headaches less frequently, and report that chronic back and neck pain is significantly reduced. That’s because yoga not only loosens muscles but reduces tension and stress. So if you’ve tried everything to treat your chronic pain or migraines, you might try yoga next!
6. Positively impacts your mental health
You don’t need a prescription to practice yoga, but it’s definitely doctor recommended and approved. Yoga promotes a sense of wellbeing, produces endorphins, boosts confidence, calms the mind, reduces stress and anxious thoughts, and relieves tension, all of which are common struggles for people who suffer from anxiety, depression, and PTSD. But don’t just take my word for it, talk to your doctor about the benefits of yoga practice on your mental health!
7. Improves the effectiveness of meditation
The health benefits of mediation alone are astounding, but combined with yoga, you really can change the way your brain works. Stretching before or after meditating boosts the effectiveness of your practice, because you’re less tense when you start, and you’re more mindful and present when you finish. If yoga can boost your confidence in your body, meditating can boost your confidence and positive thoughts about life in general.
8. Strengthens muscles and improves balance
I’ve seen a lot of people in my classes wobble through a particularly tricky balance pose and not quite nail it, though their looks of fierce concentration and multiple attempts to stay perfectly still always have me silently cheering. Because in yoga there isn’t really a “practice makes perfect” mentality, but it’s true that the more you practice yoga, the more yoga you can practice. Every time you strike a pose, you’re working on strengthening, toning, and lengthening different muscle groups. So that balance pose that seemed impossible in your first class? By class three, you can lift your leg a little higher, wrap your arms a little tighter, or maybe reach a little closer to the floor. You may not be a pretzel, but you sure are getting there.
Don’t be intimidated by the people who can hold poses longer, or balance better, or touch their toes; yoga isn’t a competition. But if you never get on your mat, you’ll never know what you’re capable of. And where’s the fun in that? With free apps and videos tutorials available to download, there’s no excuse not to reap the serious health benefits of yoga!