7 Surprising Benefits of Yoga
Have you ever been so busy that you felt you almost didn’t have time to breathe?
When our lives involve hectic schedules and juggling multiple responsibilities, it’s easy to get lost in the rush and forget to take care of ourselves. Our minds become so full of to-do lists and deadlines that anxiety and stress start to creep in and take over, resulting in restless nights, poor health, and mental decline. We give so much to our jobs, our families, and our relationships that when it comes time to practice self-care, we’re simply too exhausted to do it.
If this describes your life, you’re not alone. The important thing to remember is that there is always a retreat from the chaos. And unlike solutions such as drugs and alcohol, this retreat will build your body and focus your mind to make you stronger, healthier, and better able to face hectic days while staying calm, cool, and collected.
Retreat into Yoga
In 2016, Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance teamed up to conduct a national study of people who have practiced yoga within the past six months. According to their findings, 36 million Americans actively practiced yoga, while some 28% of had been to at least one yoga class.
The more interesting discovery they made is that one in three Americans had tried yoga on their own. That one fact shows the appeal of yoga and its many benefits, and why a growing number of people are turning to it as a practice to heal their mind, body, and overall wellness.
What people learned from the practice over 5,000 years ago still applies in a modern world, as a steadily growing number are discovering the benefits yoga can bring.
Yoga improves balance
The very core of yoga is based in building the body’s balance. Many practitioners insist that yoga also balances their minds, as well.
It’s true, the Tree Pose will certainly teach you how to balance on one leg, but there’s more to it than that. You need balance in your daily life, as well, from walking downstairs to reaching for an object, and these simple tasks become increasingly difficult as we age.
The great thing about yoga is that it’s a practice that will meet you were you are, at any stage of your life, even if you’re older or not in the best shape There are simple poses that allow anyone – regardless of their age, weight, or muscle strength – to work their way into deeper, more complicated exercises.
Yoga improves flexibility
You might think that you have to turn yourself into a human pretzel to do yoga correctly and this is far from the truth. Yoga, like any activity, starts with basics that offer beginners a way to learn at their own pace without needing to bend in ways that seem almost inhuman.
Some of the most basic yoga poses, such as Cat and Cow, are simply balancing on your hands and knees while rounding your back and then lifting your head. These are physical skills we learn as babies and can be done by almost any able-bodied person, regardless of their age, shape, or overall health.
Also, while reduced flexibility is part of the aging process, studies have shown that yoga significantly improves lost flexibility for older adults. Even better, people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s can slow the onset of aging through yoga practice to maintain greater flexibility as they age.
Yoga improves strength
Although most associate yoga with improved flexibility, the practice also works to make you stronger. Poses such as Warrior II and Chair Pose are excellent ways to strengthen your legs, glutes, and arms, as well as your core.
You can also bring your yoga practice up a notch by holding a pose. While some types of yoga encourage you to only push yourself to where you start to become uncomfortable, others teach to continue to push that level of comfort. It’s a process, but as you slowly increase the length of time you hold a pose, you strengthen those engaged muscle groups
Yoga provides anxiety and stress relief
In addition to learning the health benefits associated with the practice, scientists are starting to focus on yoga as an alternative to pharmacological options to relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. Many mental health counsellors and psychiatry experts suggest yoga as a natural way to lower one’s overall symptoms when experiencing too much stress or sadness in their lives.
Breathing deeply and being present are foundational parts of a yoga practice, which results in an overall ability to take a mindful approach to day-to-day stressors that occur. Yoga is similar to meditation and is often part of meditation.
Just as yoga poses start basic, so does its approach to mindfulness. By simply focusing on your breath going in and out of your lungs, you learn to calm your mind and body and instantly lower your heart rate. All it takes is breathing in for three seconds, holding that breath for three seconds, then exhaling for three seconds to immediately signal your body to slow down, relax, and be mindful. No prescription with a list of side effects is needed.
Yoga can boost immunity
The long-term practice of yoga has been shown to have benefits on the immune system, as well. Part of this is through reducing chronic stress, which can negatively affect a person’s overall health and immunity. Bringing your stress level down always achieves better overall health outcomes.
Researchers believe that yoga boosts immunity in several ways. First, it has been shown to decrease and downregulate inflammatory markers such as IL-1beta, IL-6, and TNF-alpha. It also enhances cell-mediated and mucosal immunity, making your body a powerhouse of self-healing.
Yoga improves sleep
Sleep is our opportunity to recharge, and without it, the body cannot operate as it should, and the mind becomes foggy. Put simply – if you don’t sleep well, you can’t reach your full potential.
Since your sleep cycle is affected by your overall physical and mental wellness, yoga offers the added benefit of better sleep. By going through a series of poses that release the tension of your muscles and your day, you’ll accomplish two things – a more relaxed body and a calmer mind that is ready for a good night’s rest.
Benefits beyond the mat
The best part about the practice of yoga is that it offers benefits beyond the mat. As you learn each pose and how it engages certain muscle groups, you’re also learning to focus your breath and be aware of what is happening in your body. The phrase “listen to your body” is heard often in yoga circles because it’s required to achieve the full benefits of the practice.
This subconscious awareness then spills over into other parts of your daily life that aren’t a part of your yoga experience at all. For example, by learning to listen to your body, you’ll find that you will eat more mindfully. You’ll start to notice how your patterns of distracted eating (while sitting in front of a TV) or eating to feel better emotionally might be contributing to weight gain and poor health. You’ll also start to notice the point where you are full, which will help with portion control.
This listening to your body is also one of the first and most vital steps to practicing self-care, which we discussed at the beginning of this article. Without making the time for yourself to release the tensions built up in your body, your muscles will hold that tension, creating aches and pain that continue the cycle of stress.
With all the benefits that a yoga practice brings, it’s no wonder that so many people are returning to their ancestral roots and making yoga a part of their modern lives.