Would you like to feel calm, relaxed, and confident in just a few minutes a day?
That's a big promise that yoga delivers on.
Trust me. I have first-hand experience with yoga transformation inside out. Check out my story here.
Plus, I read more than 100 research studies on yoga, looking for an explanation of all the benefits I've experienced through yoga practice (or whether I was simply crazy).
What I've found blew my mind!
From making you stronger and flexible to changing how you perceive the world, the benefits of yoga are countless.
The best part? Some of them can show up as soon as 5 minutes of yoga practice!
So get ready for a head-to-toe body and mind transformation with these 43 amazing health benefits of yoga.
Table of Contents
From relieving chronic pain and helping us sleep better to making us more productive and joyful, yoga has assumed the role of a prescription exercise for good health and life.
But why yoga and how does yoga help, anyway?
Sadly, science is still not sure about the exact mechanisms behind "the yoga effect" and how yoga benefits such an impressive range of health conditions.
What we do know is that it has something to do with regulating our nervous system, balancing our hormones, and changing brain structure.
While I've included as much as the whooping 43 health benefits of yoga (check out the entire yoga health benefits list below), there are four essential biological changes that happen in your body once you start doing yoga.
These changes account for most of the yoga effects and explain why you feel so good after just a few minutes on your mat.
Researchers believe that the answer to why yoga is so beneficial for stress-related diseases hides in its effect on the autonomic nervous system (ANS).
ANS regulates our unconscious bodily functions in response to stimuli from the external environment. It consists of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
These terms may sound scary, but don't worry. There's a simple way to understand how both SNS and PNS work.
Here's the deal.
SNS is responsible for switching on "fight or flight" response. It prepares you for dangerous and life-threatening situations so you could either flee and save your life or use maximum strength to fight.
You don't need to fight the tiger to see SNS in action. Simply running late to an important job meeting will probably make your heart beat faster, also causing sweating and disrupted breathing. That's a fight or flight response in all its beauty.
In normal conditions, our body goes back to normal pre-arousal state somewhere around half an hour after a trigger (e.g., when you realized you're running late).
But imagine that once you've managed to arrive in time, you see that your reports are all messed up. You have nothing to present to your boss!
Your body automatically throws you back into "fight or flight mode" so you could find fast solutions to the problem.
If all goes well, your PNS takes over. PNS is sometimes jokingly nicknamed as "feed and breed" or "rest and digest." It calms the body down and brings you into a balanced and energy-saving state when you're ready to digest food, think of reproduction, and relax.
When PNS switches on, your heart rate goes down, and blood pressure decreases.
Imagine yourself drinking a mocktail on a sunny terrace - when you're chill, it means your PNS is doing a great job.
While both SNS and PNS are vital for balanced living, it just so happens that more and more people nowadays never switch from SNS reactions to PNS.
As a result, the stress builds up, making you more susceptible to obesity, reduced immunity, impaired cognitive ability, and even shorter lifespan in the long term.
Yoga improves your health by encouraging your body to switch from an aroused state triggered by sympathetic activity into stillness and relaxation induced by parasympathetic activity.1)
And here's the best part: Yoga is more effective in reducing inflammation than other fitness activities.2)
Why is this important?
Well, here's the thing.
We usually view inflammation as the sign of disease or injury when the body is trying to fight pathogens, and heal itself. It's easy to diagnose this kind of inflammation - a simple blood test shows the level of inflammatory biomarkers in your blood.
But, there is also another type of inflammation – chronic, low-grade inflammation, often called "inflammaging."
And this is when things get tricky.
Inflammaging occurs when the body produces low concentrations of inflammatory factors. In fact, their level can be so low that it gets really challenging to detect this type of inflammation through a simple blood test.3)
It's hard to tell what exactly triggers inflammaging. It can be a bad diet, extra weight, sedentary lifestyle, chronic stress.
The worst part, low-grade inflammation causes long-term harm to our health. Think premature aging, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.4)
Good we have yoga, right?
So there you go - one more proof that yoga is good for you.
Our brains contain billions of neurons. They are communicating with each other using chemical messengers - neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters (sort of) decide how you function and feel every day. You can blame them for feeling so "bleh" today or credit them for making you feel great.
But what life would it be if we had zero control over our well-being, right?
So luckily, we can manipulate how neurotransmitters work and how we feel in the end. There are many ways to do that. Medicine, light exposure, food, alcohol, drugs, and, most important, exercise.
Yoga, for instance, increases GABA levels - a calming neurotransmitter.5) High levels of GABA promote focus and relaxation, whereas low levels cause anxiety.
One research from the University of Illinois found that yoga does a better job of increasing GABA than brisk walking.6)
Besides boosting GABA activity, yoga increases serotonin and dopamine.7)8)
Serotonin and dopamine are often called happiness hormones. They help us sleep better, digest food, and feel like bouncing off walls even when the sky is cloudy.
Yoga affects us on a biological level. Which explains why it offers so many mental health benefits.
The brain is a complex organ.
There are many ways to classify its structure, but let's focus on its two components: grey matter and white matter.
Both grey and white matter are vital for healthy cognitive functioning. They help interpret the world around us, produce thoughts, and coordinate movements.
We know that the thicker your grey matter is, the more neurons you have, and the better you are at cognitive tasks. For example, you're learning faster and memorizing things better.
As we age, our grey matter decreases, and we're not as sharp-thinking as we used to be.
Think about learning a new language when you're 50. That definitely won't be as easy as when you were 20.
Does it mean that we're all doomed?
Not at all. There is a way to keep the mind sharp longer.
(And I'll tell you - it's more fun than solving puzzles.)
Check this out:
Studies found that yogis have more gray matter volume than those who don't practice yoga.9)
In fact, the more yoga you do, the thicker grey matter gets. So the time you spend on the mat translates into better memory, attention, and problem-solving skills.
But there's more to yoga than its ability to increase grey matter.
Yoga also affects other brain areas.
A 2015 review on the effects of yoga on brain waves found that some portions of the brain get less blood flow after yoga.10)
And this is not a bad thing in this case.
Take the amygdala, for example. This pea-sized part of the brain helps us process emotions. What's more, it allows us to feel fear.
The above study found that 12 weeks of Iyengar yoga made the amygdala less reactive.
Researchers scanned the participants' brains while showing them negative images. What they revealed is that the amygdala got activated, but it didn't affect the mood of the participants who practiced yoga.
What does that mean?
Yoga can't stop bad things from happening. What yoga does is that it teaches you to regulate your emotional response when stuff goes wrong.
Yogis are thus better at handling negative experiences compared to non-yogis.11) Plus, they are more fearless.
How else can you explain yogis' compulsive desire to get upside down?
One day you wake up and notice that your muscles look more defined. And your friends keep asking if you have lost some weight.
What the heck is happening?
Congratulations! You're finally experiencing some visible physical benefits of yoga.
The problem is that these changes can take a long time to happen. And this is when moment where most people get discouraged from rolling out their mats.
"What's the point of me sweating every day if my posture still sucks?" you may ask.
Well, yoga is not a quick fix. None of the exercises is. Sometimes it takes weeks and months for your body to display that it has received some yoga-love.
Be patient and consistent in your practice, and one day you'll love the results you see in the mirror!
Here are six visible changes to your body you can expect after taking up yoga.
Let me get one thing straight. Yoga doesn't help you grow taller. That's just biologically impossible.
Instead, yoga challenges your current posture.
How is that?
Well, first of all, yoga adds on to your overall level of physical activity throughout the day.
Second, it takes you through a range of unfamiliar movements.
Third, it strengthens your back and neck muscles.
If you're used to sitting at a desk all day, there's a high chance you often find yourself with tense and droopy shoulders. Lengthening your spine in yoga poses and boosting your body awareness can help you recognize the stress you're subjecting yourself to and cultivate healthier postural patterns.12)
It just so happens that often, it's the pattern of standing straighter and looking taller.
Here's a helpful explanation about how yoga benefits your posture from EkhartYoga.
The cool thing is that yoga does much more than just making you look taller.
Expansive and heart-opening yoga poses also benefit your confidence.
Don't get surprised if you find yourself feeling more powerful and worthy just by taking up yoga.
In fact, research shows that this feeling of self-assurance from standing taller is not just some fad self-improvement technique.
Just take a look at a study published in the journal Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology.13)
Based on results from six trials, researchers found that participants who took more open and expanded poses felt more powerful and were more willing to take a risk rather than those who took constricting and hunched poses. Interestingly, they also showed a rise in testosterone and a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol.
Benefits of yoga for posture in daily life:
When it comes to weight loss, exercise will always play a sidekick to diet.
Nonetheless, yoga still can become your secret weapon in burning more fat and shedding extra pounds.
It can be a bit tricky to calculate how many calories you burn during a yoga class because there are so many factors at play. Your age, weight, height, what yoga you practice and how long, to name a few.
Let's also not forget about how energetic you are when practicing and if you're pushing your limit - yes, this also counts.
This Calculator from the Health Status, for example, says that a 150-pound woman burns around 550 calories during 60 minutes of Vinyasa yoga.
I would suggest taking these numbers with a grain of salt. But even if it's around 300-350 calories, it's still impressive for a practice often called as "just stretching."
Anyway, let's move on to a second way yoga helps you lose weight.
And the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn even when you’re sleeping and doing nothing. Yay!
The less stressed you are, the less likely you're to experience binge-eating, and the less chance your body will store fat.
What does that mean?
Well, just think if this situation sounds familiar. You're out to watch a movie and buy a pack of crisps, a whole basket of popcorn, and maybe some chocolate cause you're famished. (And what kind of movie outing is it without some savory snacks, innit?)
So you devour a whole pack of crisps and treat yourself to popcorn. Plus, add some chocolate in the mix - it is the best finisher. When after half an hour you realize that you're so full your body is gonna crack open.
Your body probably signaled you that it's full after that initial bag of crisps. You just didn't listen to it cause you were too busy watching the movie.
And overeating is not the only problem you create when you ignore your body signals. Undereating is a big one too. Not drinking enough water. Pushing yourself through pain and causing injury. The list goes on...
Feeling the connection to your body is one of the biggest advantages of doing yoga. Weight loss is just a pleasant side effect.
But wait. There’s even more good news about how yoga promotes weight loss.
In 2012, researchers discovered a hormone that our bodies produce during exercise - irisin. Irisin, according to studies, supports bone health, improves the regulation of blood sugar, and suppresses the growth of fat cells in our bodies.14)
The best part about this new discovery?
Irisin keeps burning your fat even when you finish exercising.
Irisin doesn't link to any particular exercise, really. That's good news for those who want to lose weight and hate cardio.
Yoga, for example, is also an effective way to increase levels of irisin, according to the recent 2018 research.15)
In the study, 60 obese women from India were randomly chosen to do a 3-month yoga program or to engage in recreational activities and reading for the duration of the experiment.
The yoga group practiced for an hour 5 days/week. The yoga program included various yoga poses, including Seated Forward Bend, Cobra, Locust Pose, Shoulderstand, Plough, Wheel Pose, etc.
If the full pose was not accessible for the participants, modifications were offered. Yoga participants were also encouraged to listen to their bodies, avoid pain or any sort of discomfort at all costs, and generally don't compete with their fellow yogis.
The final blood samples after three months showed a notable change in the fat-burning hormone– the yoga group had 1.5 times higher levels of irisin than the recreational group.
Another research on Bikram yoga16), a style of yoga where people practice in a heated room, found that Bikram yoga meets the requirements for the exercise of light-to-moderate intensity. This means it can be beneficial for weight loss and fitness maintenance when practiced several times per week.
What's more, people who practiced Bikram yoga for 8 weeks showed an increase in “deadlift strength, substantially increased lower back/hamstring flexibility, increased shoulder flexibility, and modestly decreased body fat compared with control group,” according to research on the effect of Bikram on physical fitness.17)
So long to “yoga is just stretching” myth!
An important disclaimer, though.
Don't expect to lose weight while you’re practicing slow-paced and restorative types of yoga such as Kundalini or Yin Yoga. Instead, go for physically challenging, longer and more frequent yoga sessions, pair them a balanced diet and your chances of losing weight with yoga will skyrocket.
Benefits of yoga for weight loss in daily life:
If you're way past your teenage years, acne is not something you want to struggle with.
Sadly, most of us do.
Acne can cause lots of stress.
Stress, in its turn, makes your adrenal glands produce more cortisol. --> If your cortisol is high all the time, your body responds with inflammation. --> Inflammation makes your skin produce more sebum – an oil that lubricates the skin. (Do you see what I'm leading to?) --> Too much sebum clogs the pores, and guess what... it leads to breakout and acne.
One of the advantages of yoga is that it can help you break free from the vicious cycle of stress-acne-stress. Yoga helps regulate the function of your adrenal glands, reduce cortisol and inflammation.18)
Do yoga regularly, pamper yourself, and high chances are that you're gonna experience the well-known yoga glow in no time.
Benefits of yoga for acne in daily life:
We get more plastic and rigid with age. (Or with the amount of time we spend sitting at an office desk).
The lack of mobility easily snowballs into a whole host of nasties.
Just think about it.
Constant sitting tightens your hips, tight hips result in knee pain, pain makes your brain foggy, foggy brain makes you tired... All symptoms pile up into a never-ending vicious circle of stress.
Pretty sad sight, isn't it?
It doesn't have to be!
Yoga is one of the best things you can do to make your body more mobile and flexible.
The best part?
Age doesn't matter! Nor does the type of yoga you practice.
I probably don't have to tell you, but yoga benefits for flexibility are HUGE.
Studies confirm that yoga works wonders on your range of motion, especially in notoriously tight areas: hips, hamstrings, shoulders, and low back.19)20)21)
This full-body yoga routine for mobility will help you loosen up and take your flexibility to the moon.
Benefits of yoga for flexibility in daily life:
Being strong is an equivalent of winning at life.
Not only because muscles look great on every body but because they make you healthier on the inside.
Bigger muscles mean stronger bones, greater metabolism, and added energy for daily tasks.
After 30, we naturally start losing as much as 3% to 5% of muscle mass every ten years, according to Harvard Medical School.22)
That's a hell of a number!
But here's the deal.
Yoga can help.
Those naysayers who think yoga is just stretching probably never held Warrior II for 2 minutes, am I right?
And how about Chair, Locust, Crow?
If you still find the poses too easy, there's always a chance to add weights (Iron Yoga, anyone?).
Taking weights off the equation, studies show that simple no-added weight yoga helps improve deadlift strength, build leg muscles, and improve shoulder press.23)24)25)
Benefits of yoga for endurance and strength in daily life:
When we're young, we take our balance skills for granted. Staying upright seems somewhat natural, isn't it?
I hate to disappoint you, but it's a rather complicated process.
And as we age, there comes a time when a simple act of getting out of the chair and into the yoga studio is fraught with falls and bone fractures.
Luckily, the benefits of doing yoga reach far more beyond lengthening your muscles and building strength.
With its multiple balancing poses, yoga is an excellent practice to decrease your "wobbliness" and reduce the risk of tumbling and falling.
Research shows that regular practice of standing yoga postures such as Tree pose may improve static balance.26)
One study27) found that 90% of yoga participants increased their balancing time by more than 3x times after 8 weeks of Bikram yoga compared to the control group.
Benefits of yoga for balance in daily life:
Most of us start doing yoga to get visible results: flexible hamstrings, stronger arms, or leaner waist. But there's more to yoga than meets the eye.
Keep scrolling for the amazing invisible physical benefits of yoga.
Stress is the number one disease of modern times.
It is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.28)
Just take a look at this excellent interactive map created by the American Psychological Association.
It illustrates how stress can permeate every area of our life and leave its harmful traces all over our bodies.
Luckily, there’s a full-proof method to chill the #*&% out. No-no. It’s not smoking or drinking that makes things worse in the long term.
The full-proof method is called yoga.
Science is finally catching up with all the fantastic health benefits of yoga.
Multiple studies have shown that yoga decreases the levels of cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormones – stress hormones that affect blood pressure, immunity, and metabolic functions29) and prove again and again that mind-body practices are surprisingly effective at busting stress and maintaining overall health.
How much time do you think you spend in front of a screen?
I bet the results will surprise you.
Research by Nielsen company gives a shocking number - 12 hours!
(Did you also suddenly felt like a character from dystopian Black Mirror series after hearing that number?)
Computers, TVs, phones, and tablets – technology is all around us. There's no way to beat it.
So if you feel like your eyes are dry, strained, or you have blurred vision from looking at a screen for too long, it's time to do some eye and body yoga.
Research shows that we can add "sharper eyesight" into the extensive yoga health benefits list.
Research from Bangalore, India30) invited employees of a software company to either practice yoga or take part in recreational activities: talking to friends, training in the gym, or watching TV. The participants did the assigned activity for an hour, 5 days/week, and two months in total.
At the end of the experiment, researchers found that the yoga group used eye drops less frequently and experienced less visual discomfort.
The group who didn't practice yoga complained of more severe eye dryness when compared to the start of the experiment.
Benefits of yoga for eyesight in daily life:
Raise your hand if you ever clenched your jaw or wrung your hands without even noticing it?
The truth is that most of us do. That's how our bodies react to pressure and stress.
Muscle tension can lead to all sorts of nasty things. Pain is the most common one.
You know how sore your neck and whole body feels after sleeping on a bus or plane? Something similar is happening when you're unconsciously holding tension in your body during the day.
But instead of sleeping in an awkward position that causes muscle strain, you're tensing up because of stress.
(Now you know the reason why stress-related headaches are called tension headaches).
Apart from tension headaches, you can get a sore face, back, have trouble falling asleep (and staying asleep).
I would also suspect you won't be a pleasant person to be around when all these things are happening.
Thanks to yoga's
magical well-researched power to reduce stress and lower cortisol levels, you can learn to manage body tension. Plus, yoga prevents muscle tension from building up and turning into pain.31)
Benefits of yoga for relieving tension in daily life:
Yoga philosophy says that we all have an allotted number of breaths during our lifetime.
The faster our breaths are, the more stressed we are, and the shorter our life span is. On the other hand, long and calm breathing brings balance and contributes to overall wellness and longevity.
While this sounds like a beautiful story, there might be some truth to it.
Studies, for example, show that people who take up yoga start breathing slower and deeper. Yogis also use oxygen more efficiently while exercising. They can hold their breath longer as well as display better lung capacity.32)
Now, this is actually very important for good health and life.
Because the better we breathe, the more oxygen our body takes in, and the more efficiently it functions.
One study shows that as short as one month of yogic breathing training improved the lung function in competitive swimmers. While another research found that slow breathing at 6 breaths per minute has immediate benefits by increasing vital capacity and forced vital capacity after just 2 minutes.33)
To translate in simple words: as short as 2 minutes of yoga benefits your total health by increasing oxygen supply to your brain. So you're healing better, thinking faster, and function more efficiently.
If you do yoga regularly for at least a month, you train your lungs to deliver more air to your body and reduce the risk of diseases, such as pneumonia.
Thanks to the ability to reduce acute stress, yoga also helps with dyspnea or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Research also shows that yogis with asthma experience less frequent bouts of coughing, wheezing, chest tightness.34) They also use medication to manage their symptoms less often compared to patients who don't do yoga.
If there was one benefit of yoga that people were willing to read about, that's probably it.
There's promising evidence that yoga can be a free and non-pharmacological way to improve sexual function in both men and women.
This study 35), for example, invited 40 women to see how yoga might influence their sex lives.
After 12 weeks of regular yoga sessions, the participants self-reported improvements in such areas as desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, and pain.
Women over 45 showed higher positive results after doing yoga. Still, 75% of all women who participated in the study said their sexual life improved after yoga.
It's tricky to say if it was yoga that improved sexual satisfaction since there was no control group.
So in this recent study36), researchers examined whether yoga can help with sex life by dividing participants into two groups: the yoga group and the control group.
As expected, women who practiced yoga for 12 weeks reported higher levels of arousal and lubrication compared to those who didn't participate in the yoga program.
So what's the secret here? How does yoga improve sex life exactly?
It's hard to say.
It might be that people feel more relaxed after yoga. As I've mentioned before, yoga balances your nervous system and boosts the calming effect of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Yoga poses also use Moola bandha (sort of like Kegel exercises) and work pelvic floor muscles, which can lead to longer and better sex.
Another reason for this surprising benefit of yoga on sex is that yogis have a more positive self-image37), which translates into confidence under the sheets.
Do you still think of your bones as rigid unchangeable structures? Well, you shouldn't.
Your bones grow and change throughout your entire life. Like any tissue in your body, they need some special love and care to stay healthy.
And by love and care. I don't mean a glass of milk. I mean stress.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, our bones grow thicker and stronger when we stress them.
For example, did you know that astronauts lose about 1-2% of bone every month? All because of the lack of gravity and stress.
That's a massive number when compared to the elderly who tend to lose 1–1.5% of bone mass per year.
When we're young, gravity does most of the work for us. Just walking and doing daily things is enough stress for the bones to stay healthy. When you suddenly trip over a yoga block and fall, you'd probably get up as if nothing happened.
But aging is a tricky thing. Our bones grow thinner and less dense. And when we fall, we're stuck with a gammy leg forever.
So if you're not planning to end up sitting in a rocking chair for the rest of your life, working on your bone health is as important as growing nice-looking muscles.
Any common weight-bearing exercise, such as running, lifting, and jumping is a great place to start. Yoga is no exception, according to research.
Take this 2016 study, for example.38) When joining the research, 83% of participants had osteoporosis or osteopenia - lower than normal bone density. After following the daily yoga routine of 12 poses for 2 years, they not only managed to maintain their bone density, but their hip and spine bone density actually improved.
In fact, yoga kills two birds with one stone. Or even three birds.
In addition to increasing bone health, yoga also builds strength and balance, thus preventing you from falling and breaking any part of your body in the first place.
Benefits of yoga for strong bones in daily life:
Joint is a place where two bones meet. Healthy and well-oiled joints let you move freely, pain-free, and help you do everyday tasks with ease.
Sadly, this doesn't last forever.
Years of moving, jumping and running damages our cartilage - a soft connective tissue that cushions the joint and causes osteoarthritis. Joint injury, weight gain, and type of work you do also affect your risk of developing osteoarthritis.
But don't worry. There's good news too!
We can trick the aging by doing yoga. Research shows that yoga is a viable way to reduce joint injury, ward off osteoarthritis as well as manage its symptoms.39)
How does yoga do that?
Well, here's the deal.
That's exactly why we have the saying "Motion is Lotion."
If you already suffer from osteoarthritis, yoga can benefit your life by reducing the symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and tightness.
If you think that you have a good deal of years in your life before you start worrying about high blood pressure (a.k.a. hypertension), a study from UT Southwestern Medical Center will prove you wrong.40)
Researchers found that the number of young Americans aged 18-39 with isolated systolic hypertension has doubled over the last twenty years.
These results sound pretty scary. Mainly because hypertension is still perceived as a health condition reserved for old years, doctors often ignore the signs of high blood pressure in teens and young adults.
Just to give you some context here.
High blood pressure is one of the main reasons for heart failure, heart attack, and sudden cardiac death.
Hypertension slowly and steadily damages your arteries, cutting healthy blood flow throughout your body and causing dangerous aneurysms to form. Without you even suspecting…
In fact, the symptoms of high blood pressure often become noticeable after your body is already pretty damaged.
Sounds like a story for Halloween, innit? Wait until you hear the rest.
Besides affecting your heart, high blood pressure can damage your brain, kidneys, bones, eyes, and even negatively influence your sexual function.
Sadly, we can't prevent stress from happening and affecting our blood pressure. But we can practice yoga to fight the stress back and lower our risk of developing life-threatening conditions.
Numerous studies show that yoga reduces both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with hypertension.41)
The cool part? Yoga offers instant benefits. All you have to do is breathe.
For example, this study of yogic breath42) found that only 10 minutes of left-nostril breathing reduces blood pressure and increases motor skills.
Benefits of yoga for hypertension in daily life:
Poor blood flow means that your cells are not getting enough oxygen and nutrients to function normally. It can cause numbness in your limbs, tingling, dry skin, cellulite, and even erectile dysfunction.
Poor blood circulation is not a disease in itself. Instead, it's often a result of some other conditions such as:
In fact, even though you're lucky to not suffer from any of the conditions above, you can still be a victim of poor blood flow. Sitting for long periods doesn't do your blood circulation any good and was even proven to decrease blood flow to the brain.43)
Yoga benefits your blood circulation by getting your heart pumping and blood flowing. When you twist, you're bringing oxygenated blood to your organs. When you're upside down, you're moving ve-nous blood from the lower body to your heart and lungs, where it's freshly oxygenated.
Additionally, studies show that yoga increases hemoglobin and red blood cells, which means your cells get more oxygen and function better.44)
Pain is part of life. It can creep up on us suddenly or live with us for years.
While there's little we can do about preventing pain, especially chronic one, yoga can help us deal with pain better.
There's strong evidence that yoga alleviates certain types of pain, such as lower back or neck pain, and reduce the painful sensations for people with carpal tunnel syndrome.
A 2018 report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality45) examined eight trials to study the benefits of yoga on lower back pain. Based on the data from 1,466 participants, they concluded that yoga relieves back pain and improves function both in the short and long term.
What's more, mindful exercises such as yoga are more effective for people with chronic pain compared to conventional strengthening or stretching exercises or even physical therapy programs.46)
A rather old but high quality 1998 study on yoga for carpal tunnel syndrome 47) randomly divided participants into a group who practiced yoga or to a control group who got a wrist splint in addition to their current treatment. Yoga classes were more beneficial for alleviating pain and increasing grip strength than wrist splinting or no treatment. Participants also noted improved symptoms even 4 weeks after the yoga program.
Yoga doesn't only help relieve the pain. Yogis are also more resistant to pain, according to a small study from the University of Utah.48)
Researchers measured the sensitivity of yoga practitioners, people with fibromyalgia (hypersensitivity to pain), and healthy volunteers to thumbnail pressure. Yoga practitioners showed "the highest pain tolerance and lowest pain-related brain activity during the MRI." The study suggests that those who practice yoga may be more skillful in regulating their pain responses.
Yoga is probably the last thing on your mind when the migraine is striking hard.
It's hard to move with sudden bouts of throbbing pain, nausea, and fatigue, but research says that yoga can balance your nervous system and make you feel better.
In a 2014 study49), researchers selected 60 migraine patients who were either put into the conventional care group or conventional care and yoga.
During 6 weeks, participants from both groups maintained a headache diary that helped them monitor the frequency of headaches and identify the triggers.
The yoga group additionally practiced breathing and gentle exercises 5 times a week.
The self-reported results and laboratory tests after 6 weeks showed that both groups improved their migraine symptoms. Yet, the group who practiced yoga regularly and maintained a diary suffered from headaches far less often and experienced less pain and other migraine-related symptoms.
Additionally, participants from the yoga group improved their resting heart rate – meaning their heart function was better than before the experiment.
A more recent study from 2018 50) found even more exciting results. Patients with migraine were selected for yoga and Ayurveda therapy or for the medicinal group treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Both groups also maintained a diary to log in symptoms and their intensity.
After 90 days, the yoga and Ayurveda group showed impressive results compared to the group who took conventional pain killers. The yoga group experienced fewer migraine symptoms, less pain, and found that they're ready to recover faster.
As you can see from the table below, the medicinal group didn't show much improvement after 90 days of treatment.
25% of U.S. adults suffer from insomnia every year.51)
Just think about it - that's double the population of California.
If you're among the unlucky number, don't reach for those sleeping pills just yet.
Instead, try adding yoga to your daily routine.
There's promising research that yoga can help you sleep better and save your money spent on sleep medications.
For instance, this small study52) examined the effect of long-term yoga practice on sleep. After regularly doing yoga for 2 years, older adult participants slept better, fell asleep faster, used sleep medication less often, and felt more refreshed in the morning. The control group who didn't engage in yoga practice didn't show any of the improvements.
Another research from 201353) also confirmed the benefits of yoga for health and overall life quality. After 6 months of yoga training, 120 elderly participants showed better physical and psychological health as well as improved sleep quality compared to the control group.
Results from several other individual studies54) showed that yoga helps manage sleep disorders in pregnant women, women with menopause symptoms, and people with arthritis. Bonus: studies found that yoga was more effective than passive stretching exercises.
P.S. In case you're thinking of taking up yoga to fight back insomnia, you might want to employ 'additional tools,' such as a weighted blanket, for example.
If you're living with diabetes, keeping your stress under control is critical.
Yoga surely helps. But it can do much more than reduce stress.
Yoga improves blood sugar levels, reduces cortisol and total cholesterol, and shows promise in decreasing body mass index according to a 2017 meta-analysis.55)
A small randomized research in India56) compared the effects of yoga with those of walking for people with elevated fasting blood glucose. The study found that after 8 weeks, participants who were practicing yoga lost significantly more weight and waist fat compared to the control group. Which means that yoga can help you fight weight-related type 2 diabetes risk factors and make you feel better about yourself.
Daily stress, excess weight, bad eating habits, smoking, and alcohol takes a toll on our immunity, meaning it's much easier for us to pick up infections.
Your boss is getting tired of you asking for sick days?
I've got god news then. A few tweaks to your lifestyle can make fighting off colds and diseases easier.
Adjusting your diet and starting yoga is a great place to start.
Mind-body therapies such as yoga, meditation, and Thai Chi benefit our immune system by reducing inflammation, boosting our mood, and reducing stress.
A 2014 meta-analysis 57) found that as short as 7 weeks of yoga, meditation, or Thai Chi practice significantly reduced levels of C-reactive protein – an inflammation marker produced by the liver.
Plus, regular exercises helped regulate the immune response: boosting immunity in response to vaccines and lowering it when the person suffers from auto-immune disorders.
Our lymphatic system is fascinating. It works hand in hand with our immune system, helping it fight off infections and get rid of toxins and malignant cells from our bodies.
One of the main tasks of the lymphatic system is to transport the lymph throughout the body, filter it through lymph nodes, and get rid of the unwanted materials. To put it simply, it's a waste removal mechanism.
So what the heck is lymph, anyway?
Lymph is a body liquid consisting mostly of white blood cells that fight off all the nasty bacteria and dead cells. It circulates in our body similar to how blood does. But instead of veins and capillaries, lymph travels through lymphatic vessels.
You probably heard phrases such as clogged lymph system or stagnant lymph flow.
It's because, unlike blood, lymph doesn't have a main organ that pumps it throughout your body.
And this is very important.
The lymph needs movement and muscle contraction to maintain its normal function.
So that's exactly what yoga does. Gentle yoga poses along with relaxed breathing keep the lymph fluid circulating and your natural body detoxification efficient.
What's more, new research on the benefit of yoga on lymphedema (swelling as a result of post-cancer treatment) found that yoga can be a promising self-help tool for reducing swelling and improving range of motion.58)
The mind-body connection is real and reciprocal.
Our digestive system contains tons of neurons that communicate with the brain. It also receives inputs prom our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
This explains why we feel butterflies in our stomach during moments of excitement or anxiety.
According to recent research, what we eat can affect how we feel and how we feel can affect how we digest food.59)
Stress, depression, and anxiety have an enormous impact on gastrointestinal (GI) function, and can lead to bloating, nausea, and even how fast the food moves through our bodies.60)
The yoga benefits, in this case, are obvious, really.
Yoga, along with breathing practices and meditation, busts the daily stress. Less stress puts less strain on your GI system, meaning your gut and bowel work more efficiently at transporting food and waste.
Research also shows that yoga can be a useful management therapy for people with chronic issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology61) looked at how yoga treatment compares to usual care, pharmacological treatment, and other types of exercise. The results are exciting.
When compared to no treatment, the yoga group reported less fatigue, pain, nausea, and constipation after yoga. The participants also slept better and felt less distress.
Yoga turned out to be as effective as a walking program for decreasing IBS symptoms.
And when compared to medical treatment, 60% of participants found yoga as effective as pills.
If you've never experienced a bout of seasonal allergy, consider yourself one happy fellow!
Sneezing, running nose, dizziness, and constant head pressure are just some of the symptoms the people with allergies have to suffer from.
If you're stressed, expect your allergic reaction to become even worse. According to Harvard Medical School, stress can ramp up your immune response to the allergens and provoke inflammation.62)
Yoga balances your nervous system, eliciting relaxation, and improving allergy symptoms and your overall quality of life.
What's more, yoga breathing and cleansing techniques (think, nasal irrigation with a neti pot) help thin mucus, reduce pressure in the nasal cavity, and let more oxygen into paranasal sinuses.63)
Statistics show that by 2030, 1.2 billion women worldwide will be menopausal or postmenopausal.64)
That's a huge number of frustrated people!
Just think about it. Hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, pain, and fatigue are just some of the things women have to go through during late-age hormonal changes.
Hormone therapy might look like the only viable option to relieve the symptoms. But studies show that this method carries some risks, including a higher chance of breast cancer, stroke, and blood clot formation.65)
Up-to-date research shows that you should consider putting off hormonal treatment since there are effective non-medical solutions. Such as yoga.
A 2018 report 66) found that yoga is as effective as other forms of exercise in relieving menopause symptoms. Yoga is also more effective than exercise or stretching in improving sleep, mood, and anxiety. Added bonus: yoga helps your body fight hot flashes and sweats.
High levels of stress switch on fight or flight response. Your body focuses on the most important thing – to flee or protect itself from the enemy. Other "ancillary" processes, such as reproduction or digestion, pale into insignificance.
That's why acute and chronic stress can lead to irregular menstruations or even the absence of menstruations in the first place.
Studies confirm that yoga balances the nervous system and switches it from "fight or flight" mode to "rest and digest" (a.k.a. "breed and feed").67)
This means that if you experience irregular menstrual cycle because of too much pressure lately, yoga has all the chances to bring your regular cycle back.
One study68) compared the effects of yoga (physical postures, chanting, and breathing) to a general fitness program (brisk walking, leg raises, bended knee crunches, and nonyogic breathing). Participants were mainly teenage girls with the polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Researchers found that yoga was significantly more effective in balancing hormone levels and de-creasing symptoms of PCOS. After 12 weeks of yoga, the teenage girls had less absent menstruation months as well as showed a reduced score for hirsutism responsible for excessive facial hair growth.
Doing yoga can literally delay aging.
And I'm not talking about stronger muscles and body suppleness. Any exercise will do that.
Yoga can actually keep you younger on a cellular level, according to research.
Take this 2017 exploratory study, for example.69)
About a hundred healthy participants practiced yoga for 12 weeks. The yoga program included asanas (physical postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), and dhyana (meditation). After 3 months, researchers found the participants had significantly lower inflammation levels, reduced cortisol, and increased level of endorphins.
Nothing new here. But researchers found another interesting thing. Participants who did yoga showed an increased telomere length – one of the indicators of cellular age.
Here's the skinny on telomeres.
Telomeres are bits of our DNA located at the tips of chromosomes. As we grow older, our telomeres get shorter and our cells age. Think of telomeres as the plastic tips of shoelaces. As the plastic tip wears off, the shoelace frays and can't do its job probably. Cells that lose their telomeres can't divide and eventually die.
Another research 70) shows that 8 weeks of Kundalini yoga and Kirtan Kriya meditation increased telomerase activity (telomerase is an enzyme that helps preserve telomere length) by 40%. That said, those who participated in passive relaxation while listening to music during the same period showed only a 3.7% increase.
Napping is super healthy unless it turns into a 1-h afternoon snooze.
But let's be real for a moment. Who actually has time and a chance to nap during the day? Only the lucky ones.
The rest of us fight off the afternoon energy slump with coffee or walk like zombies for the rest of the day.
Both options sound neither healthy nor productive.
"Is there some other way?" There is!
Just don't roll your eyes over when I tell you that this way goes under the code name yoga.
Research shows that yoga is an effective cure for fighting off your afternoon fatigue (or laziness) and boost your energy levels.
This recent study, 71) for example, examined whether yoga benefits cancer fatigue - a common side effect of cancer treatment. Patients with cancer fatigue often feel excessively sleepy during the day and have low mental and physical energy.
After only 4 weeks of Hatha and restorative yoga 2-3 times a week, participants said they felt more energized and active during the day. That said, women who received a standard survivorship care plan and didn't do yoga didn't report significant changes in their sleep and energy levels.
Another study 72) has found that just 25 minutes of practicing hatha yoga every day can increase energy and improve cognitive performance. Experts are still not sure about the mechanism behind these benefits of yoga. But it's probably because yoga promotes the release of happiness hormones and increases blood flow to the brain.
Benefits of yoga for productivity in daily life:
In simple words, yoga makes your brain work better. It also keeps you sane as you age, delaying Alzheimer's.
Researchers found that yogis tend to display significant changes in the structure and function of the brain. Namely, the areas that are responsible for better memory, planning, logical thinking, and sensory processing are thicker in yogis than in those people who don't do yoga.73)
One research from the University of Illinois found that after only 20-minutes of hatha yoga, participants were faster and more successful at solving cognitive tasks than after a walk or a short aerobic exercise.74)
Another study explored the benefits of yogic breath on post-stroke symptoms.75) Researchers found that that 10 weeks of uninostril breathing improved the symptoms of aphasia (impaired ability to read, write, and formulate language). Post-stroke patients also increased their ability to find the right words.
Do any of these statements sound familiar?
If you answered "yes" at least one, it's time to work on your focus and attention.
That's right. Just like your muscles, attention needs work.
Except for this time, you need to work with your mind instead of your muscles.
As silly as it sounds, the best way to improve focus is to focus.
Breath focus and attention on the present moment are the main pillars of yoga and meditation practice.
Science shows that just 10 minutes of mindful meditation every day can help you fix the anxious and wandering mind. It also keeps negative thoughts at bay so that you could focus on the task.76)
Another study found that after 3 months of meditation, participants were able to sustain attention for longer periods and increase reaction time.77)
By training your mind and brain to work as a single, efficient, cohesive unit, yoga and meditation can make you more productive in your daily life.
With an increased ability to focus, you'll be able to do more in less time, make better decisions, solve problems more efficiently. More importantly, you'll avoid the stress of putting off work until the deadline.
Whether you have a medical condition, or just tend to get jittery feelings from time to time, anxiety should be taken lightly.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 31.1% of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives.78)
It means that if you haven't suffered from anxiety yet - just wait for it.
Luckily, there have been lots of studies on the benefits of yoga for anxiety.
Now, the quality of some research is pretty bad. Like one study on the effect of yoga on people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, for example.79) The study involved only three participants, which is definitely not enough to send off every person with the disorder to take yoga classes.
But there's a light at the end of the tunnel.
For example, a recent 2018 review looked at 8 studies on the effects of yoga on anxiety.80)
There's one interesting fact in the review: Individuals with anxiety and other emotional disorders generally have a low level of mindfulness. Hence yoga, with its strong ability to increase mindfulness and impact hormonal response, can be a viable coping option for those with mild levels of anxiety.
If, for some reason, you can't or don't want to engage in a physical yoga practice – asana, no fret. Research says that relaxation from simple yogic breathing techniques can save you from the bouts of anxiety no worse than a full-length class of yoga poses.
A 2013 study, for example, tested whether yogic breath Pranayama helps with test anxiety.81)
Researchers divided 107 postgraduate students into two groups. The first group practiced several minutes of breathing and positive affirmations for the whole semester. In the meantime, the second group continued their regular study routine. When the examination time arrived, the results showed that among those who practiced yogic breathing and affirmations, only 33% experienced high test anxiety. In the group who didn't practice breathing at all, the number was twice higher - 66%. Fun fact: students from the Pranayama group also scored higher on tests compared to the control group.
Benefits of yoga for anxiety in daily life:
And makes you fun to be around. Because everyone likes a jolly good fellow! 🙂
Exercise has been linked to a good mood and mental well-being for a long time. Research on yoga and mood just confirms the connection.
A 2010 study examined the effects of yoga on mood, anxiety, and brain GABA levels.82)
'GABA is a neurotransmitter that controls behavior and stress; low levels of GABA are linked to depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Researchers randomly assigned healthy participants either to 12 weeks of Iyengar yoga or to metabolically matched walking activity.
The MR scans before and after the experiment showed that yoga spikes thalamic GABA levels, leading to better mood and less anxiety. What's more, researchers found that yoga is more beneficial for mood and anxiety than treadmill walking.
There is also evidence that yoga is as effective as or superior to exercise in supporting good health, both physical and mental.83)
As to teens and young adults, yoga also seems to produce a positive and immediate effect on mood and psychosocial well-being. Plus, the yoga benefits are greater than after a standard physical education session.84)
If you're suffering from clinical or severe depression, reaching out for professional help should be on the top of your list.
But if you're simply feeling down or your long face is getting longer, you might as well start doing some yoga.
At least, the available research on the health benefits of yoga says that you should.
For example, a 2016 meta-analysis studied how yoga can benefit people with clinical depression.85) The results found that "yoga was significantly better than usual care, relaxation exercises, or aerobic exercise in decreasing depressive symptoms" as far as unipolar depression was concerned.
Another 2018 study on the effect of yoga on stress, anxiety, and depression invited 52 female participants who practiced regular Hatha yoga 3 times a week. After four weeks, the participants reported significantly lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.86)
What can't be denied here is that yoga does modulate our hormone activity, specifically dopamine and serotonin – chemicals that make us feel happy and satisfied.87)
So if next time you feel too gloomy to come to a yoga class, just remember that you'll probably walk out bouncing off the walls.
Whether you're prone to binge-eating or undereating, there's a high chance that there's something with your hormones.
Neuroscientists recently noticed that those who suffer or have recovered from eating disorders (e.g., anorexia or bulimia) have dysfunctional levels of serotonin and dopamine. The abnormal levels of these hormones can, in their turn, trigger dysphoric mood.88)
Yoga, on the other hand, has been repeatedly shown to regulate plasma serotonin and dopamine, leading to reduced anxiety and improved life satisfaction.
This one is a no brainer. Healthy levels of happiness hormones = less chance to develop an eating disorder.
What's more, yoga develops interoception – a fancy term for body awareness.
Interoception is essential for body self-regulation. With an increased sense of body awareness, we're more likely to listen to what our body is telling us: when it's hungry, when it's full, or when it's thirsty.
Learn to interpret your body signals, and you'll build a healthier relationship with food and learn to eat intuitively.
Yoga can also affect how we eat daily, according to a national Survey from 2012. 43% of participants said that yoga encouraged them to develop healthier dietary patterns.89)
Whether you're trying to cut down on smoking, alcohol, or sugar, yoga can be used as a powerful tool to cope with withdrawal.
A new study from 2019, for example, confirmed that yoga is beneficial for those who're trying to quit or cut down on smoking.90)
To get these results, researchers divided participants into two groups. One received Iyengar yoga classes while the control group took part in wellness classes. After 8 weeks, researchers found that yoga participants were smoking significantly fewer cigarettes a day. What's more, yogis had 37% higher odds of quitting compared to the control group.
This was the first large randomized control study on the impact of yoga on smoking in the US. But the results were not new.
Previous research shows that 10 minutes of yogic breathing reduced cravings and desire to smoke.91)
What the heck is emotional reactivity?
Emotional reactivity is how you respond to the negative stimuli.
Have you ever found yourself having a temper tantrum because they didn't have your favorite food in the restaurant?
Have you ever lost your marbles because you got stuck in a traffic jam?
Yes? That means you probably have high emotional reactivity.
And also that you could do with some yoga.
In this study published in the Journal of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, researchers selected people with a social anxiety disorder to participate in either yoga training or in gym-based aerobic exercise.92)
After 8 weeks of the experiment, scientists scanned participants' brains while they reacted to or simply observed different situations. One situation was neutral and featured an act of washing a car. The other four situations were based on the biographies of the participants. They contained negative social anxiety events in which participants felt shame.
The results showed that participants with social anxiety who did yoga displayed less negative emotions compared to people from the aerobic group.
There's a beautiful quote from Swami Satchitananda: "You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf."
We can't eliminate the stressors in our life. But we can change how we perceive them.
Recognizing and taming such destructive emotions as anger, fear, anxiety, and crying fits not only benefit our physical health but make us better decision-makers, better friends, better spouses, and better parents.
We all suffer from confidence issues from time to time. But if you've noticed your self-esteem is shrinking every day, yoga can come to the rescue.
Research shows that yoga practice can remind you of how amazing you and your body are by increasing confidence and self-worth.
One study, for example, examined how yoga benefits the quality of life and impacts stress levels of sedentary adults.93) After 16 weeks of Bikram yoga training, researchers found that the yoga group not only decreased their stress levels but improved their self-esteem. That changes didn't happen for the control group.
We still don't know how yoga did it. Researchers assume that repeatedly doing yoga in a challenging environment (Bikram yoga takes place in a room with up to 105 degrees F and 40% humidity) pro-moted a sense of accomplishment. Hence, it resulted in increased self-confidence.
Another trial from 2018 produced even more exciting results.94) In the study, researchers compared the effect of yoga poses and so-called "power poses" on how participants feel about themselves.
If you've never heard of it, power-posing is a popular lifehack technique in which you take an expansive and dominant body position to influence your feelings and mindset.
And there is something to power posing.
Remember the last time you felt vulnerable or shy? You probably wanted to curl into a little ball with your shoulders hunched over and your arms crossed at your chest. What about feeling at-ease and relaxed? – Totally different story, isn't it?
Well, no matter how powerful power posing is, research shows that yoga still wins over.
So what the researchers did in the study is that they took 80 students and asked them to perform 8 poses for 1 minute. These 8 poses included 2 expansive power poses, 2 constricted power poses, 2 open yoga poses, and 2 closed yoga poses.
After each pose, the participants filled out questionnaires which asked how tiring the poses were, how comfortable they felt, and the like.
The results showed that yoga increases self-esteem, a sense of empowerment, and energy levels much greater compared to power poses. What’s more, the positive benefits of yoga can be seen in as short as 2 minutes.
No pain – no gain is not about yoga.
Instead of grinding your teeth to do "one rep max," yoga promotes healing self-care and makes sure you honor the body you live in.
It doesn't mean that yoga is easy. Yoga challenges you on different levels, physical included. The difference is that yoga prioritizes your mind and breath over how deep you go into the pose, helping you cultivate a healthier relationship with your body.
Studies show that yoga practice increases body satisfaction and self-acceptance in women with eating disorders. 95)
Plus, it teaches you to be grateful for the body you have.96)
There's also a sexy term to describe body awareness – interoception.
Interoceptive awareness means that you can monitor your subtle bodily cues. From a simple ability to feel when you're hungry or full, body awareness can help you recognize disease symptoms and stress before they affect you negatively.
Science confirms that the sense of body awareness may be useful in managing various chronic diseases, including low back pain, congestive heart failure, chronic renal failure, irritable bowel syndrome.97)
What's more, increased body awareness gives you the ability to focus on your inner emotions and sensations, such as pain, for example, thus successfully regulating them.
Take a look at this study on the health benefit of yoga for chronic neck pain, for example.98)5 After 9 weeks of Iyengar yoga classes, most participants reported increased body awareness during their practice and in their daily lives. They also felt like they had more control over their health thanks to the yoga practice.
When compared to other forms of exercise, namely kung fu, ballroom dance, and aerobics, yogis with at least 6 months of experience showed the highest levels of body awareness, according to a 2016 study.99) There were no significant differences found in beginners, meaning the longer you practice, the more benefits you'll gain.
This yoga benefit one is a no-brainer.
Research has repeatedly shown that yoga benefits a handful of health conditions: type II diabetes, chronic back pain, high blood pressure, asthma… The list goes on.
While there are pills for almost everything now, they are not always affordable. Plus, drugs tend to have side effects – sometimes so nasty that they override the benefits.
Studies have shown that people who take up yoga use less medication to manage their symptoms or sometimes no medication at all. If you walk around bottled up with stress, it won't take you long to feel the yoga effect.
Besides, yoga now is more than accessible than ever. With thousands of books, free videos, and printable yoga routines, you can make your way out of stress and into a better life from the comfort of your living room.
Empathy is an essential human emotion that helps us understand the feelings and suffering of others. The better we can relate to someone, the more desire we have to help a friend in need, and the stronger social bonds we can build.
Just to be clear here. Doing yoga doesn't automatically make you a good person. Take at least all the scandalous yogi gurus who abused their students for years before being exposed.
Instead, yoga gives you clarity and a big push to recognize your destructive behaviors so that you could transform for the better.
Studies show that a single session of Hatha yoga increases c-aminobutyric acid, brain's major inhibitory neurotransmitter, by 27%. In simple words, it means you're more likely to keep a cool head in the situations when the poop hits the fan.100)
Yoga also increases levels of oxytocin in patients with mental illness. This hormone is linked to pro-social behavior and social bonding, which means that yoga also benefits your people's skills.101)
Yoga philosophy includes a wonderful notion of Ahimsa. It's often interpreted as non-violence, non-harming, and compassion.
While Ahimsa clearly encourages us to be kinder to each other and all living beings, it also cues us to respect our home planet.
According to the 2016 Yoga in America study, over 50% of yogis are trying to live green and buy sustainable or local foods. Yogis are twice as likely to be vegetarians.102)
So you taking up yoga can potentially help us save our planet in the long term.
Do you remember the good old movie called "Pay It Forward?"
A 12-year old kid Trevor decides on changing the world. His plan was to do someone a favor without waiting for anything in return. Instead, he asked the person to "pay it forward" and do three good deeds for other people.
Trevor probably didn't realize that he was practicing Karma yoga. Also called the yoga of action, Karma yoga encourages selfless service to others as a way to develop spirituality and reach enlightenment.
As a bonus, you'll live longer and merrier.103)
How will yoga make you live merrier? That's a fair question.
You see, studies show that generosity is closely linked to happiness.
When people decide to spend money on their loved ones instead of themselves, the areas of the brain that are responsible for altruistic behavior fire up and leave them more satisfied and happier in the end.104)
So next time you need a spark of joy in your life, consider Karma yoga.
Chronic stress and anxiety make the world and people around seem unwelcoming.
I can understand how someone with social anxiety can feel reluctant to join studio yoga classes. People without anxiety can have a hard time enrolling in a group class, too. Trust me, I've been through the pain and shame.
But when you continuously repeat awful scenarios of what might go wrong in your head, you're making yourself even more stressed, perpetuating the destructive behavior.
If you find the above behavior painfully similar, there's good news.
Researchers from Queen's University found that exercise and relaxation activities like yoga can help us change how we see the environment. Namely, they make us perceive things and people around us as less threatening.105)
To test how exercise can influence perception, researchers showed the participants the projection of a stick figure walker. These projections could be interpreted as the ones facing/walking towards the viewer or as facing away. People who are anxious and who view their environment as more antagonistic generally interpret these figures as facing them.
Researchers found that those people who jogged or walked on a treadmill more often interpreted the figures as facing away (less threatening way) compared to participants who didn't engage in the exercise.
You can often hear people saying that yoga does this or yoga does that.
Nursing a hangover? Detox with a twist.
Have a long car drive? Stretch out in pigeon.
Craving for sugar? Well, that's a no-brainer. Meditate!
Sometimes science catches up and confirms the yoga benefit. Sometimes it doesn't.
My point here is that if a study hasn't confirmed that yoga brings mental clarity, but you've been using yoga techniques to do exactly that, it doesn't mean you're a fraud. It doesn't mean that your experience is invalid.
As unscientific as it sounds, simply believing that yoga can do something can make it happen. It's called a placebo effect – and its existence is approved by science!
Now let me be clear here. If you're suffering from a physical issue that clearly manifests itself – obesity or tumor – placebo won't work, no matter how much you want it to.
Instead, "placebos work on symptoms modulated by the brain, like the perception of pain," according to Harvard Medical School.106) These can include the symptoms of fibromyalgia, insomnia, and side-effects of cancer treatment.
Are you just starting out your yoga journey?
You're probably wondering how often to practice to reap all the health benefits of yoga.
That's a fair question. But it's also a tough one.
First and foremost, you need to consider your objectives.
Do you want to lose weight? Gain flexibility? Or maybe yoga is your last resort to get over insomnia every night?
Second, match your objectives with the current physical level and medical history.
For example, people with excess weight are more likely to see the fat-burning benefits of yoga sooner than those who are slightly overweight.
Third, think about how much time you can do yoga during the day/week.
Short and sweet yoga every single day will help you relieve stress and increase flexibility faster. Whereas if you do yoga for strength or weight loss, consider cutting out at least 60 minutes three times a week.
Here's a helpful article on how often to do yoga to see the benefits: This Is How Often You Should Do Yoga Based On Your Goals
Yoga is an amazing practice with a huge list of health benefits for the body and mind. But as the list of yoga health benefits grows, so does the number of yoga styles.
Currently, there are more than 20 different styles of postural yoga.
Some are fast, others are slow; some use weights, others add challenge by heating their rooms; some including chanting, others are more like motivational gym session.
So claiming that each of the styles can do everything for your body would be a lie. Relaxing Yin Yoga won't build your muscle strength, but it will benefit your joints. Yoga with weight will boost your en-durance but probably won't do much in terms of mindfulness and relaxation.
Here are three tips on how you can maximize yoga benefits:
By different, I mean opposite to each other. If on Monday you walk into energy-boosting Vinyasa class, take it slow on Tuesday and treat yourself to some Yin Yoga for stress relief. On Wednesday, take a strength-building yoga with weights. Balance it out with meditative Kundalini yoga on Thurs-day.
And hey, no excuses. Yoga is probably the most affordable exercise now. Just take your yoga mat out, switch on Youtube (here are my 15 favorite Youtube channels) or print out a yoga printable (like the ones from YogaKali freebie Library) and get going.
Yoga is not a quick fix. Your stress might be the only thing melting after the first yoga class. (But definitely not your fat).
Don't be surprised if you find it hard to tune in with your breath – it can take months of regular yoga practice to learn to manipulate it.
Yoga does make you flexible, but it can take a year to get into splits (took 9 months for me!). Yoga does lower your blood sugar, but it takes months. Yoga does build muscle, but it can take years.
I understand how discouraging it is to start practicing and don't see any changes within a few weeks. But just wait for it.
Start a journal and explore how you feel after each class. The mental journey you're gonna go through will end up being much more valuable than shedding a few pounds, trust me.
Sometimes we can get too comfortable doing the same thing over and over again. You feel good about yourself; you're still moving your body, so it's a win-win, right?
Well, not really.
Once your body gets used to the stress, it stops improving. Without added challenges, your muscles are not growing anymore, your bones are not getting stronger, and your mind starts wandering.
So dare to confront yourself. Progress in the poses, and try meditating for a minute longer.
Why do you practice yoga?
Share your story in the comments!
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