Yoga is everywhere. It’s beloved by everybody from popular social media influencers to probably even your own mom.
Chances are, you’ve probably considered getting into it yourself! If you’re interested in starting or you’re curious about why so many people swear by yoga, this is the article for you.
Yoga has immense benefits from the physical to the mental and everything in between. Read on to see how yoga can benefit you!
The Physical Benefits
- It helps you become more flexible. No, I don’t mean in decision making or in your schedule, I mean it makes your more physically flexible! I know what you’re thinking, “there’s no way these joints will bend that way!” But as long as you have no health conditions standing in your way of practicing yoga and you ease into it, you’ll be able to bend in ways that even your youngest self couldn’t do! Yoga helps to keep the connective tissue and muscles in our body soft and relaxed because it consistently stretches them from all directions. When our connective tissues are no longer tight and restricted, we can bend more, our bones become aligned properly, and we feel a lot better physically. Neat, huh?
- You’ll become stronger. Get ready to flex those guns because yoga can and will make your muscles a lot stronger! Yoga often gets a branding of being easy. But take a class and you’ll see that it’s not. One of the foundations of yoga is strength because you’re required to hold your body in positions for a period of time. Leave the weights in your rear-view mirror and drive to yoga class instead! Or you could ride a bike (or a magical unicorn) like most yogis do!
- Your posture will improve. Earlier I mentioned that yoga helps keep the soft connective tissue limber and soft because of stretching. Well, that connective tissue is what holds out skeleton together. When parts of that tissue get tight, it pulls bones out of their proper alignment. This causes joint pain, soreness, and discomfort. It can also lead to bigger problems if we don’t fix it. But one of the things that happens when you get those bones back in the right places and strengthen the muscles needed to keep them in place is your posture improves. Good posture reduces fatigue, pain, and prevents other problems down the line.
- You’ll have better balance. Obviously a lot of yoga poses require balance. Luckily, those poses are often more advanced and with enough practice you’ll get there. But doing yoga makes you better at yoga, of course! That’s because yoga helps us increase what is called our proprioception. In layman’s terms, that’s our ability to be more in-tune with our body by feeling what it’s doing and where our different body parts are. When we improve our proprioception, we’re better able to balance.
- Your limbs will finally relax. Many people, myself included before yoga, don’t remember what it’s like to truly relax their bodies. Often our limbs and other body parts are tense without even realizing it. We grip things too hard, our faces are scrunched up, we squeeze our butts in when we stand. These are just some examples, and these examples lead to a lot of tension, headaches, tiredness, soreness, and can lead to injury and… well, a real bad mood. Yoga helps us to relax all those muscles. You may not have realized they were tense in the first place, but you’ll definitely feel the difference when they finally do relax.
- You’ll be able to take a bigger breath of air. Yoga helps us use our lung space more efficiently. This means that we have to breathe less because our body is doing more with each breath. That also helps keep us calm, too!
The Health Benefits
- Your bones get healthier. This is true for all strength exercises. Strength exercise = strong bones = long lasting, healthy bones = no osteoporosis for you! That’s math so simple anybody can do it! (Just like yoga)
- Blood will flow better in your body. Part of yoga includes relaxation techniques. That relaxation, especially when focused on your outer extremities (hands and feet), when done properly results in better overall blood flow. It’s also thought that certain poses that involve the twisting of the spine help to move deoxygenated blood out from your organs and speeds up the replenishing of them with fresh oxygen-full blood. Yum. But this improvement in circulation has some pretty far reaching benefits. The number one killer is heart disease. Well, improved circulation makes for a healthier heart. ( I have not even mentioned the benefit for your sex life with the increased stamina in bed haha as the blood flow is also better down there )
- It boosts your immune system. All the movement that yoga requires results in the moving around of your body’s liquids. One of those liquids is lymph. Lymph is a powerhouse of the immune system. With more mobile lymph, your body is better prepared to ward off infection, starve off cancer cells, and keep your body clean of its waste at a cellular level. I don’t know about you, but this makes me want to get on my yoga mat and start doing some Downward Dog!
- It’s… exercise. I mean, this one is obvious. We know by now that exercise is good for the heart. Well, yoga IS exercise. Don’t let the critics tell you otherwise. Yoga gets the heart pumping and the blood flowing. If you don’t believe me, stand outside of a yoga class and wait for it to end. Tell me how many sweaty Betty’s you see walk out of it! Beyond that, scientists have found that yoga also has numerous benefits on the heart including: a lower resting heart rate, a higher level of endurance, and a more efficient use of oxygen in the muscles. What does this all mean? Your body becomes able to do more with less. That’s what it means.
- It lowers your blood pressure I can’t explain this one. But The Lancet, a British medical journal, has published multiple studies associated with high blood pressure and yoga practice and found that even just doing Savasana (laying on your back) on the couch regularly was enough to drop the blood pressure as much as 26 points on top and 15 points on bottom. That’s… significant.
- It keeps your adrenal glands regulated. You know how like humans used to have to worry about being attacked by lions and whatnot, and as such we developed the “fight or flight response”? Well, the fight or flight response is caused by an hormone called cortisol. When our cortisol levels go up during what we perceive as a crisis, our body temporarily goes into a hyperactive mode where things work better. The problem is that we’re not being chased by lions anymore… okay, well, that’s actually a good thing… but still, our cortisol levels are often really high because we’re stressed. This has negative effects that cause permanent damage in the brain if we let ourselves stay stressed too often. Yoga comes in and saves the day with this by helping to keep cortisol levels low. Bonus point: high cortisol levels cause us to over-eat, so yoga helps you lose weight and stay fit in numerous ways that reach beyond just doing physical exercise!
- It lowers your blood sugar/cholesterol. Speaking of losing weight by means beyond just getting more active, there’s another way in which yoga actually helps you lose weight and get healthier. It has to do with cholesterol and blood sugar. Studies have found that yoga helps improve the effects of our body’s insulin ( hormone that regulate our blood sugar level) and helps keep cortisol levels low. These both work to help the body lose weight and keep us from wanting to eat more. This is great news for people with cardiac conditions and/or diabetes! But please check with your doctor first before partaking in any new exercise!
- It improves your digestion. Better blood, better breathing, and better bowels. That’s what I’m talking about! Numerous digestive conditions like IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome), constipation, ulcers, and other really fun conditions (sarcasm, as these conditions are awful) are relieved by yoga. It’s theorized that it’s the twisting motion and the reduction of stress that helps keep things downstairs regular and pain-free. ( Yep that is why we love yoga twist positions ).
- You’ll have better control over your nervous system. Did you know that some yogis can raise the temperature of their hands on command? And some of them can raise it by as much as 15 degrees Fahrenheit! That’s crazy! This kind of control gives you the ability to induce relaxation and makes you more able to direct your blood flow to certain areas of your body. Now that is a cool party trick! ( That is also what I told my boyfriend to convince him to do yoga. Yep, blood flow to any areas of your body haha)
The Mental Benefits
- You’ll be happier. There’s something about yoga that helps us feel a lot happier. No, really. There is something, and scientists have found it. When we do yoga regularly, we make our prefrontal cortex ( the front part of our brain) more active. A more active prefrontal cortex has been positively correlated with happiness and lower rates of depression, stress, and anxiety. For those who practice yoga long-term, scientists have even found that the left side of the brain becomes dramatically more active as well. The left-side of the brain is considered to perform tasks that involve logic, language, and analytical thinking while the right side of the brain is said to control emotion and creativity. Do with that information what you will.
- It relaxes you. Yoga is relaxing for the mind and the body. The whole premise of it is to help you focus more on the moment and allowing yourself to just exist in it. This focus takes our brains and flips the switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic nervous systems which is associated with more calming and restorative feelings and physical signs. The sympathetic nervous system is our fight or flight response. Leaving that on too long causes some serious damage in the mind and body.
- You’ll sleep better. Yoga teaches us that it’s okay to do nothing. In fact, it teaches us to love and appreciate the time where we can do nothing. This makes it easier to fall asleep and makes us sleep deeper. As a result of better sleep, our moods are improved, our health is better, and we have more energy throughout the day. That’s more than enough reason alone to invest in a mat or a class!
- It makes you better at focusing. Like I mentioned above, yoga is about being in the moment and focusing on that and only that. When you train yourself do this, you become better at focusing on other single tasks. So, as a result you become better at coordination, you remember things better, your reaction time improves, and studies have also found that you may even score higher on an IQ test!
- You’ll love yourself. Low self-esteem is extremely common. Worse yet, it’s a hard problem to fix in ourselves. We often go about it the wrong way. We try to compensate for it instead of actually addressing it. We drink, we do drugs, we overeat, we work ourselves to death, we have sex, we consume easy distractions like hours and hours of TV and movies. These aren’t healthy when we go overboard and only serve to perpetuate the problem. Instead, yoga helps you address your self-esteem, so you can work through your problems and examine them with a more honest and deep lens. Many people cry in some yoga sessions and some people have emotional breakthroughs because of it. There’s just something about it that makes you feel more connected to yourself and to something bigger. That has a tendency to make us love ourselves a whole lot more.
- You’ll be in less pain. There are two fronts to this. On one hand, it does help relieve physical pain. Most pain is due to inflammation, and since yoga keeps lymph moving, blood flowing, and fascia ( tissue around our body organs) tender, we experience less inflammation. It’s known to help a lot with chronic back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and just general chronic pain and discomfort. But beyond that, yoga helps with mental pain as well. It helps you address your problems and face them head-on. It makes you more honest with yourself, so you can see your role in your own issues in life. You’ll learn to forgive yourself and others.
The Spiritual Benefits
- You’ll find your inner strength. One of the greatest powers of yoga is the discovery of your inner strength. It teaches you mental fortitude and shows you that you can even when you think you can. This kind of enlightenment works throughout your life, and definitely outside of class. You’ll be able to change the things you want to change, you’ll have more conviction, and you’ll be better equipped to go after what you want in life.
- It makes you feel connected. Some yoga teachers and yogis are in it for the physical and emotional benefits, but there’s something to be said for the kind of teachers and yogis that are seeking a little bit more from their practice. That’s where a good teacher comes in. A good teacher will guide you towards what you’re looking for. Kind of like a therapist but in a much more indirect manner. They’ll help you physically get your poses right and will help you to find your own truth in your practice. They become somebody that you wholeheartedly trust.
- It creates more self-awareness. Yoga can be a time for reflection and awareness. Over time, you’ll begin to understand yourself better. You’ll see the connection to your experiences and your behavior, you’ll notice your triggers, you’ll understand the patterns that you create and experience in everyday life. Being self-aware is a major step towards making life-changing alterations in your behavior on the day-to-day. It can be the difference between finally kicking a smoking habit to the curb, fixing a relationship with somebody you cherish, and improving your friendships. There’s nothing that it can’t help. You get to know yourself better, and that’s something immensely beautiful.
- It guides you to your mind’s eye. It’s thought that if you envision something in your mind, you can create change. For example, when I get headaches, I imagine that the air that I inhale is cool air that swirls around my brain. When I exhale, I’m exhaling the hot air that is causing my headache. This actually makes my headache dissipate or lessen, and it’s a powerful tool that we can use to help ourselves heal and feel better. It’s a mind over matter thing.
- You’ll be better equipped to serve others. There’s a yoga practice that is called karma yoga, and it’s all about serving others. Serving others and yoga are connected because service has a positive correlation with improved health. Those who volunteer find more meaning in life and help you to keep things in perspective, and this kind of yoga can do the same and even lead you on a path to becoming a more compassionate and giving person.
- It teaches you to treat yourself as a temple. We’ve all heard this saying a million times, that our bodies are our temples, but in yoga we take this personally. We learn to treat ourselves with love, respect, and care. We prioritize ourselves so that we make sure we’re taken care of and our needs are met. Yoga inspires you to do this, and conversely it also fulfills some of our needs and our care. Think of it like a “put your mask on yourself first” kind of situation. When you take care of yourself first, you’re better able to take care of others (and other things) in your life.
- It puts more power into the placebo effect. When most people hear “placebo” they think “fake”, as in “no benefit”. But that’s not quite how that works. In some studies, patients have recovered even though they took the placebo drug. This is because of the placebo effect, and it proves that when you think positive and envision healing or envision a palpable goal of yours, your body responds to that. Yoga uses this effect in the form of mantras. A mantra is a sacred word, sound or phrase, usually in Sanskrit, which is believed to have a spiritual and psychological power. You can always come up with your own mantra and chant it to yourself during your practice. You never know what those wishes might grant you!
I don’t know about you, but after writing out all these amazing benefits, it’s about time for a session with my mat.
If you’re interested in trying yoga or dedicating yourself more to your practice, I leave you with one word of advice: yoga is what you make it.
If you go into it thinking that all of this is baloney, then it is baloney. But for your sake, I hope you forgot to bring some bread and cheese with you because there’s a lot more to be gained from yoga than a sandwich!
The yoganum family