The benefits to yoga are hard to deny. The fact that yoga has been practiced for over 5,000 years speaks to that. Whole books can be written on the history of yoga and its evolution – from ancient sacred texts that originated in Northern India to the Yoga-Sutras, which describes yoga as an eight-limbed path, to the shift in yoga being more centered on a person’s physical body being the means to achieving enlightenment. While many Western yoga classes focus more on the physical aspects than the spiritual aspects of yoga, the benefits to yoga are still very much a part of those practices. Consider these 10 remarkable benefits to yoga that can improve your life.
What Are 10 Benefits of Doing Yoga?
1. Improves balance and flexibility
One of the more obvious benefits to yoga is that it improves your balance and flexibility. Once you start practicing yoga regularly, you will start to notice that you can stretch further. Certain poses get easier. You might find that you can balance on one leg easier during Tree Pose and hold other balance poses longer than when you started practicing yoga. You might even find that you can touch your toes after awhile.
Why is this the case? It is like the saying that practice makes perfect. The repetitive practice of stretching and holding different yoga poses opens up the range of motion in your joints. Balancing and flexibility get easier because your muscles start to relax and stretch over time. Yoga poses stretch your muscles just like running increases stamina and lifting weights increases muscle mass. So while you may feel like certain areas in your body are terribly inflexible when you start doing yoga, once you start practicing yoga regularly, you will start to see those areas opening up.
It does not take long to see these benefits to yoga either. If you practice yoga regularly, you are likely to see your balance and flexibility improve little by little within just a few months.
2. Teaches you to listen to your body
Yoga focuses on physical postures and breathing. Those two things combined contribute to one of the most remarkable benefits to yoga, which is an increased awareness of your body.
When you are trying to move into a yoga pose, and even once you are in a pose, you often have to make little adjustments until it feels right. Yoga teachers often ask the class to check certain things about your body or make certain adjustments to ensure you are properly in a pose to help prevent injuries and to guide you to your best practice. It could be that the teacher says to bend into your left knee more or to pull your knee to the left slightly during Warrior Pose. It may be reminding the class to drop your shoulders down away from your ears or to open up your chest more in any number of poses.
All of these subtle movements get you to start thinking about the way your body feels as you flow through different postures. You will find that after awhile you do not need the teacher to prompt the class before you notice that you need to make an adjustment. At the same time, you are also asked to focus on your breathing. Over time, focusing on your breath, especially during yoga will become like second nature. It is not uncommon to then find yourself taking a few deep breaths in times of stress or when you need to relax yourself.
Being more in tune with your body has far reaching benefits. It can help to prevent injury because you are quicker to notice when something does not quite feel right. It can help you manage stress and anxiety, again because you can feel when your body is starting to become tense and anxious. Plus, you have the tools of breathing and meditation to help you with those things.
3. Increases muscle strength
You might think to yourself, “how is muscle strength one of the benefits to yoga?” That is not an uncommon thought because when a lot of people think about yoga, they think about it being all about stretching and balancing on one leg (which, by the way, is not something every person who practices yoga does all that frequently unless that is something they enjoy or are more advanced). The truth is though that all those yoga poses take a decent amount of strength to hold for any period of time. It also takes a lot of strength to complete an entire 45 minute to an hour yoga class.
Yoga can be done by anyone at any fitness level. However, if you practice yoga regularly, you will find that over time you get stronger. Certain muscle groups are especially targeted by yoga like your core, arms, and legs. While yoga alone is not a good strength training regimen, it is a great addition to your routine if you want to strengthen and tone your body.
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4. Provides more energy
Practicing yoga regularly provides the benefit of having more energy, and even the feeling that you have more consistent energy. One of the interesting benefits to yoga is that it is more common to feel energized after a yoga class rather than feeling tired. Certain poses, especially back-bending poses are supposed to increase energy. They wake up your mind and body. They also release endorphins and help adjust the level of cortisol in your body, which contributes to feeling more energized.
5. Acts like therapy for your connective tissue
Your body is full of connective tissue like ligament, tendons, and fascia. One of the benefits to yoga is that it is so good for this connective tissue. The stretching and movements in yoga help to keep connective tissue both relaxed and hydrated, which makes it happy. Yoga classes that focus on slower movements where you hold the poses for longer periods of time are especially good for your connective tissue. It allows the tissue to slowly stretch and relax.
Yin yoga is especially good for connective tissue. In a Yin yoga class, you typically hold more passive poses, often on the ground, for anywhere from three to five minutes. This allows that connective tissue to relax, stretch, and produce hyaluronic acid, which lubricates your joints and muscles.
6. Promotes self-care
Yoga is a great form of self-care. It is a dedicated time when you are taking care of and focusing on your body. Part of yoga is honoring your body and thanking it for what it does for you. When you practice yoga, you are bringing good energy from the universe into your body.
At the beginning of a class or practice, there is usually a time when you close your eyes and start to focus on your breath. Many teachers will tell you to let go of anything else that is going on and to be present. With each exhale you let go of the stresses of the day and the things you have to do afterwards. This is also the time when some teachers will ask you to set an intention for yourself for the class. This might be to simply be present or to focus on nothing but yourself for the next hour.
Yoga is also a great tool for releasing stress and anxiety, which is another one of the remarkable benefits to yoga and an important aspect to self-care. The combination of breathing and flowing through the poses is an incredible release. There is also something magical about yoga. It always makes you feel happier and more positive afterward. Those two things alone are remarkable benefits to yoga.
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7. Boosts your immunity
Yoga benefits your health. One of the unexpected benefits of yoga is that it actually helps boost immunity. It does this in a number of ways. First, it lowers your stress levels. When you are stressed, you get sick more easily. So if you are less stressed, you are at a lower risk for getting sick. Second, the breathing component to yoga, specifically the controlled breathing practiced during yoga, conditions your lungs and increases their efficiency. It also helps reduce stress levels (seeing a reoccurring theme here yet?). Yoga also helps to stimulate the lymphatic system to get rid of toxins from the body. Finally, yoga improves blood flow. Muscles and organs get optimal blood flow, which promotes better performance.
The fact is that a body that is working efficiently and optimally is less likely to get sick. It is also likely that if you are practicing yoga, you are also taking care of your body in other ways, which are also likely to contribute to better health.
8. Leads to better sleep
Because of the gentle and restorative nature of yoga, it may not be surprising that better sleep is one of the benefits to yoga. A National Health Interview Survey found that 55% of people who practiced yoga reported that it helped them sleep better. Certain restorative poses are especially helpful in promoting better sleep when done before bedtime. They promote relaxed breathing and help release tension, which leads to an easier time falling asleep and even better, more restful sleep.
9. Aids in recovery
Another one of the awesome benefits to yoga is that it is a perfect active recovery workout. If you are not familiar with the term “active recovery” it is when you are recovering from an intense workout and rather than taking a rest day when you completely stay away from exercise you do a low-intensity exercise to promote blood flow to your muscles in order to help them recover. Active recovery keeps your muscles from getting stiff and sore because of the stretching and increased blood flow to those muscles.
While it might not feel great at first because your body is tired from the higher-intensity exercise a day or two before, you will feel less sore and more energized after an active recovery workout like yoga. This is especially true for yoga as opposed to some other low-intensity workout because yoga is meant to connect you to your body and make it feel better. You are bringing good, healing energy in and letting it flow through your body when you practice yoga. So next time you run a half marathon, take a boot camp class, or have a particularly difficult session in the gym, follow it up a day or two later by practicing yoga.
10. Fosters a mind-body connection
All of these benefits to yoga come together to create this amazing mind-body connection. Your mind has a strong influence on your body. Say, for instance, you are mad about something. Your body will react by shaking or maybe your heart rate increases. This happens with sadness, fear, happiness, anxiety, and every other feeling and emotion. One of the benefits to yoga is that by teaching your mind to relax, you are teaching your body to relax.
By practicing yoga, you become more in tune with your body. You are spending time listening to you breathing and how your body responds and feels in certain poses. You are spending time on self-care. You are promoting all sorts of wellness both physically and mentally. Without having to think about it, your mind and body will start to react more calmly after adding yoga to your regular routine. All of these things come together to foster a mind-body connection that makes you happier and healthier.
Whether you practice daily, weekly, or when you need some active recovery, yoga is so good for you. What happens when you do yoga everyday? These 10 benefits of yoga just deepen from better and better sleep and more consistent energy to a strong mind-body connection. Amazingly, all you need is a yoga mat to get started! Because there are so many great benefits to yoga, it easily becomes a regular part of your health and wellness routine and before you know it, you can not do without it.
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Sources: History of Yoga
Photo Credits: unsplash.com