When you practice yoga, your body becomes progressively more flexible. As your muscles and connective tissues loosen, seemingly impossible poses will become easier to do.
Find a class that works for your abilities and schedule. Ideally, find a yoga studio with well-trained instructors. Look for an instructor who understands the needs of beginners and encourages students to listen to their bodies.
Whether or not you can touch your toes or do a backbend, increased flexibility is one of the first benefits of yoga practice. In fact, most people are surprised to learn how flexible they can be once they start taking regular classes.
Tight muscles limit flexibility and can create a host of other problems, from shin splints to flattened lumbar spines. Tight hips, hamstrings, and calves are also common causes of pain and poor posture.
Studies have shown that regular yoga sessions can improve balance, flexibly, and muscle strength. Unlike other forms of exercise, which focus on increasing the elasticity of healthy muscle fibers, yoga addresses the elasticity of connective tissue and the stretch reflex. As a result, it can be beneficial for all ages and body types. The key is to listen to your body and never push yourself beyond what you can do safely. This will prevent injury. When you stretch, always breathe deeply and evenly to introduce oxygen to your muscles.
Stress is a natural part of life, but too much of it can cause gastrointestinal issues, sleep problems, high blood pressure and other physical ailments. Yoga can help ease the effects of stress by relaxing both body and mind.
The physical postures, controlled breathing and meditation of yoga help to relax the nervous system by shifting the balance from the sympathetic or “fight or flight” response into what Herbert Benson calls the parasympathetic or “rest and digest” response. This helps lower the heart and breath rates, reduces muscle tension and enables the immune system to function more effectively.
Some poses, like the legs-up-the-wall pose (Savasana) encourage lymph drainage and increase blood flow while allowing the heart rate to slow down. Other poses, such as the seated forward fold, promote relaxation and can help relieve back pain. When coupled with other therapeutic modalities, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, yoga can help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Yoga has been found to improve blood circulation, which means more oxygen and nutrients are being delivered to the body’s tissues. It also thins the blood by making platelets less sticky and cutting the level of proteins that promote clots, which decreases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
A regular yoga practice has been shown to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that boost mood. In addition, research suggests that a regular yoga practice decreases depression and anxiety.
Yoga also strengthens the muscles that support the cardiovascular system, which increases your endurance. In fact, any activity that raises the heart rate for an extended period of time can make you stronger. But the unique aspect of yoga is that it provides an opportunity to slow down and focus on each movement, giving you a sense of control and equanimity. This healthy sense of calm helps reduce stress and fatigue. This may explain why people who regularly practice yoga often feel more energetic.
Studies have shown that yoga can help you fall asleep faster, sleep better and feel more rested when you wake up. It’s thought that the improved sleep that comes from yoga is due to reduced stress and a greater focus on relaxation and calmness.
The physical practice of yoga, especially the poses and breathing, helps to calm the body’s physical stress response and switch it into parasympathetic mode, which is more conducive to restful, deep sleep. Other elements of yoga, such as mindfulness, can also promote better sleep by helping you to slow down and relax.
You can do yoga for sleep at home or in a studio. Just be sure to reserve your bedroom for sleeping and avoid doing any intense exercises right before you go to bed. A few gentle, relaxing yoga poses to try include reclined butterfly (supta baddha konasana), legs up the wall (viparita karani) and corpse pose (savasana). These poses can also be done in a chair if you aren’t comfortable lying down.