There are in fact so many wonderful benefits of yoga that go far beyond the external physical benefits such as weight loss, defined muscle tone, increased flexibility and core strength. Of course, all these are results achieved from dedicated yoga practice too, but there are also the yoga benefits that touch our mind, our body (inside and out) and our souls. Sounds predictable but it really is true! Here are 25 direct benefits of yoga practice. If you practice yoga already you can probably think of a few of your own from personal experience.
Western science has started to support yoga as a valid means to protect and maintain health, heal aches and pains and reduce stress and illness.
The benefits of yoga are both immediate and lasting; after a yoga session you most likely will feel instantly energised, motivated and of clearer mind, whilst at the same time taking a step towards a healthier future.
Another beautiful benefit of yoga is that it welcomes everyone, whatever age, level, background, shape or size. Comparing this to other physical activities that tend to cater for specific groups of people, yoga is somewhat unique with open arms.
Yoga is all encompassing. Keeping physically fit and healthy is vital for a long and pain-free life, however, mental health is also of equal importance and if this is out-of-balance, for whatever reason, underlying issues will arise eventually.
20 health benefits of yoga:
(1) Yoga for weight loss
In a world with growing obesity problems, affecting people of all ages, keeping the body trim is important to avoid problems such as heart disease, strokes, diabetes and certain cancers.
High energy yogas such as Vinyasa yoga and Power yoga are excellent for burning calories, which, if practiced regularly, will ensure you can maintain an optimum, healthy weight.
(2) Increased flexibility
One of the best known benefits of yoga is improved flexibility. Of course, this takes time and dedication to loosen up the joints, but, after some practice, not being able to touch your toes will soon be a distant memory and subsequently your limbs should feel longer and looser, you will become more aware of your alignment, which in turn helps to eliminate the aches and pains caused from tight muscles and poor posture.
(3) Build strong muscles
Yoga practice builds strength both inside and out, providing added benefits for building strength than just lifting weights in the gym, which usually focuses on specific muscle groups, rather than the core of the body too.
Because there is a focus on strengthening the body’s core and yoga poses also reinforce the muscles around the spine, this allows your body to operate in-tune with itself, with a better posture and less neck, shoulder and back pain.
A strong body will result in looking good on the outside and feeling good on the inside, whilst protecting against conditions such as arthritis.
(4) Benefits of yoga to posture and spine
As our lifestyles has on the whole become more sedentary, and work and leisure time is often largely spent stooped over a computer, slowly but surely our postures are getting worse, which not only has an effect on our joints and spine but also our digestion and other internal processes.
Yoga practice encourages awareness of alignment, which improves posture both during the yoga sequence, and can be continued in everyday life. Yoga asanas help keep the spine discs supple too, preventing them squeezing on nerve cells and causing pain.
(5) Increases blood flow
Practicing yoga gets the blood flowing which has many benefits to the body and mind. First of all, circulation in general can be improved, that in turn means more oxygen moves around the body and enters the cells. There is also a boost in haemoglobin levels and red blood cells, that supply the tissues with oxygen. Thinning of the blood also reduces the risk of blood clotting, having a direct effect on reducing the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
As if that wasn’t enough health benefits of yoga right there! More specifically inverted poses, like headstands and shoulder stands, allows blood from the legs to flow back towards the heart, to be oxygenated and re-circulated. Poses involving twisting are believed to squeeze blood from internal organs during the pose, and oxygenated blood re-enters on release of the twist.
All-in-all the related health benefits are significant.
(6) Yoga helps the immune system
If you practice yoga you may have noticed being less prone to picking up flus and the like. This is because yoga directly helps immune system functionality by draining the lymphatic system. Stretching muscles and moving between poses generally contributes to draining lymph, which not only helps fight everyday infections but can also destroy cancerous cells.
Meditation has the strongest scientific evidence for helping support the immune system, by boosting it to fight off the early signs of an infection or illness.
(7) Increases happiness and eases depression
Studies show that yoga increases the production of serotonin, “the happy hormone” and that consistent yoga practice reduces the effects of depression.
Yoga also promotes a healthy lifestyle, by not only being active, but generally most yoga practitioners eat better, sleep better and have respect for their well-being.
It is not to say it is a cure for serious mental health disorders, but the benefits of yoga can certainly contribute to a more balanced and positive lifestyle.
(8) Helps improve focus and mental clarity
Yoga practice certainly requires focus. Even the less rigid types of yoga require attention on breathing, alignment, balance and just keeping up with the sequence.
Making yoga part of everyday life helps teach skills about living in the present moment, and focusing on the here and now, a difficulty for many people who’s focus is often puzzling over th past or fretting about the future.
Meditation based yogas particularly help to clear the “fog” and give more mental clarity.
(9) Improves balance
Many yoga postures practice balance, which in turn helps improve focus and determination, as it can be frustrating at first and takes a while to be able to sustain an awkward balancing pose for any length of time.
Dealing with the frustrations and finding the motivation to keep on going can be applied to life in general.
Balance also teaches about spacial awareness and grace and can help beat those clumsy habits resulting in less injuries, particularly for more elderly people or those accident prone amongst us!
(10) It’s relaxing
Living in a hectic world, it becomes even more important to find some quiet time to still the mind, recharge and reconnect. Yoga offers peace and tranquility and the opportunity to “switch off” from everyday stresses and concerns.
Most types of yoga incorporate some relaxation techniques, but even the more energetic styles will focus on slowing breathing to engage with the present moment, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This helps to lower heart rate and decrease blood pressure, which calms and restores.
(11) Yoga and breathing benefits
Breathing is one of the fundamentals of yoga and it’s benefits are powerful.
Most people don’t breathe properly, in everyday life. They take shallow inhalations just from the top of the lungs, and with so many people being constantly “on-the-go”, this hurried breathing technique is magnified.
Taking long, deep breaths is practiced in all types of yoga, and by inhaling through the nose, air is filtered from pollen and toxins before entering the lungs.
Learning the correct way to breathe can improve lung performance, oxygen circulation and more generally, focus, mental clarity and increased energy levels.
(12) Yoga promotes deep sleep
Most physical exercise helps promote a good night’s sleep. However, yoga has unique properties that also help with gaining deep, good quality sleep.
It’s hopeless trying to get to sleep with a full mind – I am sure everyone has experienced this. By learning to focus on de-cluttering the mind, helps to be able to do the same when needing to rest. Meditation techniques practiced as part of yoga generally help to clear the thoughts that rattle around on “loop” and it gives the nervous system some down time.
(13) Digestive functionality
Many digestive issues are caused from stress so with yoga being a preventative method for stress, this has a knock-on effect with the digestive system function.
Movement alone can ease constipation by shifting food and waste through the body quickly, and particularly some twisting yoga poses are believed to enhance this further, keeping your system cleansed and healthy, which contributes to the prevention of colon cancer.
(14) Boosts self-esteem and confidence
Many of us battle with self-esteem and there are unfortunately plenty of things that prompt a negative self-image including the media, social expectations and unresolved issues from the past.
However, yoga has a way of finding positiveness in life and in yourself, by subtly promoting awareness of situations, forgiveness, empathy and gratitude, which invariably spills into everyday life.
Apart from having a leaner, more toned body from a regular practice, which will add to building confidence, a sense of achievement and growth is felt by yogis, for the dedication of practice, and a sense of being part of something bigger than the everyday issues we face.
(15) Yoga promotes inner strength
Yoga is based around discipline. Discipline to practice regularly for starters, but also to learn the poses and sequences and commit to improving performance, holding poses for longer and stretching further.
Often, naturally, inner strength builds alongside regular yoga practice, which can help to break bad habits, kill inertia and make the changes in life you need to make to grow and develop.
(16) Builds awareness
Yoga has a key focus on awareness, involving everything from breathing, posture, alignment and, the focus of the mind.
By nurturing this awareness, it will be strengthened in all aspects of life, and yoga helps many people to curb angry emotions and feelings of anxiety, instead replacing this with consciousness to take a step back and read the situation before acting.
Other key benefits of yoga are therefore, that it brings more peace and harmony to all relationships through awareness and discernment.
(17) Helps you to give and receive love
It may sound a little crazy but yoga and meditation can help open your heart to give and receive love. Yoga teaches compassion, friendliness, equality, helping others, honesty and sharing, amongst many other values.
Practicing and learning about the foundations of yoga can help to embrace loving relationships.
(18) Encourages serving others
Yoga philosophy has roots based in helping others. It may not be part of your daily life now, but by introducing small acts of kindness to others, can help not only create a more unified society, but also help you to be grateful when seeing what others struggle with.
Helping people less fortunate than ourselves can be infinitely rewarding.
(19) Gives peace of mind
Regret, anger, frustration, fear and desire are all emotions that crop up in life, for some to a higher degree than others.
An unhealthy dose of any of these can cause stress on the body and mind that can even lead to health problems such as headaches and migraines, high blood pressure, insomnia and heart attacks.
Yoga practice gives peace to the mind, initially temporarily during a yoga class, but this skill can be replicated in life to promote a healthy outlook.
Yoga can be extremely detoxifying for both the body and mind.
Particularly types of yoga like Bikram and Power, where sweating profusely is part of the deal, will help rid your body of toxins and aid the detoxification process. This can slow the signs of ageing, prevent illness and give a renewed energy for life.
Mentally, yoga can help to “detox” your mind from negative thoughts too.
The benefits of yoga span physical, mental and spiritual and help maintain both short and long term health.
These days mental health issues are prevalent in the western world, caused largely by stress, anxiety and an “on-the-go” lifestyle plus, living in urbanised, noisy homes, far from nature.
It therefore, becomes even more important to introduce and maintain balance in life and yoga can be a key part of that process.
And remember, yoga is a lifestyle. The deeper you go into exploring it’s realms the greater the benefits of yoga become.