Yoga is well known for its physical postures, called asanas. However, it is much more than just exercise.
Yogis experience a number of physical benefits, such as strengthening muscles and reducing stress. They may also benefit from decreased symptoms of chronic illnesses, such as ulcers and constipation. Yoga is a holistic practice that incorporates breathing techniques, meditation and lifestyle practices.
1. Increased Flexibility
Yoga is one of the few exercises that improves both strength and flexibility. Its slow, controlled movements allow you to stretch tight muscles, helping to prevent injuries in other workouts and activities.
Unlike other types of exercise, yoga stretches major muscle groups and deep-seated stealth muscles you might not know about (like the psoas and piriformis). Incorporating yoga into your fitness routine can help you increase flexibility and range of motion while strengthening other muscles in your body.
The benefits of yoga for flexibility include reduced pain from tense muscles, and improved posture and spinal mobility. Flexibility also leads to less stress, allowing you to sleep better at night.
2. Better Sleep
Sleeping well is a key factor in feeling energized for the day. While everyone has an occasional poor night’s sleep, getting too little sleep regularly can affect your physical and emotional health.
Studies indicate that practicing yoga improves sleep for many people. Yoga stretches and breathing practices can help you fall asleep more easily and sleep better through the night. It may also reduce stress levels, which can interfere with getting a good night’s rest.
A recent systematic review and meta-analysis showed that yoga was effective in improving sleep problems in women. However, the observed heterogeneity was partly explained by moderator analyses. The results of these analyses suggest that yoga is superior to non-active control conditions for reducing sleep problems in women. However, more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of yoga for reducing sleep problems in peri/postmenopausal women.
3. Reduced Stress
Yoga is often used as a holistic way to manage stress. Its focus on breathing practices and meditation help to calm the mind and body, which reduces the effects of stress.
This is especially helpful for people who have chronic anxiety or a nervous disposition. Yoga’s deep, slow breathing relaxes the body, helping to lower levels of cortisol, our bodies primary stress hormone. It also increases oxygen flow to the brain, which makes it easier to think clearly and solve problems when you’re under pressure.
Studies have shown that yoga can improve mental health by reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, the mechanisms behind this stress reduction are not fully understood. One theory is that it may be related to increased psychosocial resources (such as mindfulness, interoceptive awareness, spiritual well-being and self-compassion) associated with yoga interventions.
4. Increased Energy
Practicing yoga strengthens the body by increasing muscle endurance and strength. Poses such as Chair Pose (Utkatasana) and Half-Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana) build core strength to help improve balance and prevent injuries from falls or sprains.
Many people find that the physical and emotional stability they gain through yoga has a positive effect on other areas of their life as well. For example, some of the principles taught in yoga encourage people to practice self-love and acceptance, which can help them make healthier choices on and off the mat.
Fatigue is one of the most common health concerns, with a lack of energy contributing to both mental and physical stress. Practicing yoga can help boost energy levels naturally through breathing exercises such as Kapalbhati, which increases the rate at which oxygen is circulated in the bloodstream.
5. Increased Self-Awareness
A conscious awareness of body and mind is a hallmark of the yoga practice. Living with this awareness cultivates kindness, clarity and calmness of the mind and extends outward to how you treat others.
It is a powerful tool for self-regulation, which contributes to overall well-being and reduces risk factors for chronic diseases. In a recent study, yoga practices incorporating breathing techniques, postures and meditation were associated with short-term improvements in anxiety for participants who practiced regularly.
However, healthy introspection can sometimes be mistaken for rumination that can lead to negative self-talk and a feeling of being stuck in negativity. Developing mindful self-awareness requires time to reflect and identify emotions without judgement. This can be done by journaling or talking with trusted friends and family.