Yoga has been around for at least 3,000 years. Hailing from ancient India, this program has put down firm roots in the Western world as a way to get fit, improve flexibility, and reduce stress. However, there’s much, much more to yoga than just sweating it out on a mat. In fact, the benefits of taking up a practice will probably shock you.
12 Amazing Benefits of Yoga
Let’s look at the top 12 amazing benefits of practicing yoga for your body and mind, backed by research.
1. Improves Back Pain
At first glance, it might seem like all the twists and bends of various yoga poses wouldn’t be good for your back pain. However, studies reveal that not only does practicing yoga reduce inflammation related to back pain, but that it also helps alleviate chronic low back pain (the kind you’ve been stuck with for months or even years).
One study found that women practicing Hatha yoga—a gentle, stress-releasing form of yoga—for just 12 weeks significantly improved back flexibility, less disability, and reduced stress levels associated with low back pain. (1)
2. Improves Mobility
Bending, lifting, twisting, running, and maintaining good posture all rely on one thing: adequate mobility. In essence, having a mobile body means that it can perform everyday activities like gardening without throwing out your back.
Studies show that yoga increases your mobility by improving strength and flexibility. In fact, even studies done involving participants of 80 years and older showed improvements in flexibility and gait speed after just eight weeks of yoga practice. (2)
3. Reduces Anxiety and Depression
There’s a reason yoga is associated with the image of a peaceful yogi resting in Lotus pose. By getting bendy, you can indeed grab a slice of this peace for yourself.
Research shows that individuals who practice yoga reap the following benefits: (3)
- Enhanced relaxation
- Peace of mind
- Reduced anxiety
- Increased serotonin levels
- Less fear and anger
- Better stress response
- Decreased depression
Scientists believe this is due to the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system during yoga, which governs the relaxation response. Even if you don’t experience any anxiety, depression, or stress, yoga is also a great preventive lifestyle to reduce the likelihood of developing them.
4. Helps With Addiction
At the heart of yoga lies an important concept helping to win the battle against addiction: mindfulness.
Researchers have found that the entire scope of yoga practice, which involves meditation, breathing exercises, and self-awareness, alongside its various poses, helps give addicts a sense of purpose beyond their addiction. The enlightenment of the self found through yoga has been shown to promote discipline and strengthen the will, which is a huge step in the recovery process for addicts. (4)
5. Reduces Blood Pressure
Recent research has shown that hopping on the mat may be one of the best ways to help lower blood pressure. This is especially true if your high blood pressure is related to stress, since stress can independently raise blood pressure levels, especially when it is chronically present.
Studies have found that by regulating stress, reducing blood glucose levels, reducing body weight, and lowering cholesterol levels, yoga can effectively lower high blood pressure while simultaneously reducing other risk factors related to cardiovascular health. (5)
6. Boosts Immunity
Chronic stress can lead to a whole host of physical problems, like increased susceptibility to infections and slow wound healing. This is due to the fact the stress gives your immune system a major beating, which leaves you vulnerable to sickness.
Yoga has been shown to not only lower stress levels (which will help keep your immune system running strong), but also help your body fight the immune damage that does occur when you’re stressed. In other words, yoga acts as a shield around your immune system, helping the effects of stress bounce off and away. (6) To reap this benefit, however, yoga has to be practiced regularly. It doesn’t work as a quick fix to feeling under the weather or a fast way to beat a cold (although it can’t hurt, either).
7. Improves Sleep
These days, it seems just about everyone could use some improved shut-eye.
Yoga can help you get to sleep faster and stay asleep. One study found that people who practiced yoga had significantly less sleep disturbances, decreased use of sleep medications and aids, and reported that it was easier for them to fall asleep. (7)
Making yoga a regular part of your nightly or bedtime routine can even help set the stage for a peaceful night of tranquil rest.
8. Improves Heart Health
Getting enough exercise is one of the keys to heart health. However, for those with heart failure or other serious conditions, it can be hard and even daunting to begin an exercise program.
Luckily, yoga has been shown to not only help improve symptoms of heart failure, but also increase the capacity for exercise. One study showed that just eight weeks of yoga practice was able to improve quality of life for people with heart failure. (8)
9. Improves Asthma Symptoms
Not only does yoga involve different poses that help strengthen your body, it also includes breathing exercises called pranayama that help to strengthen your lungs.
Researchers have found that just eight weeks of yoga is enough to significantly improve asthma symptoms in adults with mild to moderate asthma. Patients have also noticed reduced attacks and less need for medications like inhalers once starting a yoga practice. (9)
10. Improves Arthritis
Along with relieving everyday aches and pains, yoga has also been shown to be an effective treatment for arthritis. By building muscle strength and increasing flexibility of ligaments, pressure is reduced on the joints, resulting in less pain and wearing down of cartilage.
In addition, yoga poses also help to squeeze and “soak” connective tissue with fresh nutrients and oxygen, which can help prevent inflammation and pain in the future. (10)
11. Fights Multiple Sclerosis
The fatigue, loss of coordination, and loss of strength that comes with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) can no doubt be frightening. Fortunately, yoga has been shown to improve energy and fatigue in patients with MS, while also improving quality of life in just six months. (11)
Yoga can also be therapeutic for other chronic and degenerative conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and lupus.
12. Helps With Weight Loss
If you’ve been trying out different exercise programs to lose weight with little success, you might want to give yoga a chance.
Researchers have found that yoga can be an effective solution to obesity, especially when it’s paired with a mindful diet. (12) Using yoga for weight loss means concentrating on practicing more frequently throughout the week, while also considering yoga flows that work up a sweat, such as Vinyasa yoga. But you don’t have to do excessive cardio or lift weights to achieve weight loss, and for many who are already experiencing pain or who feel too out of shape to begin regular gym practices, yoga classes or a practice done at home can be an excellent starting point for a gentle fitness journey.
How Often Should You Practice Yoga?
While there’s no consensus on the definitive number of times a week you should practice yoga, many studies mentioned here have patients practicing at least a couple times a week. As with any program, you can start with a little (say, twice a week for 10 to 12 minutes) and build up from there.
Beginners: Try This 10-Minute Relaxing Sequence
The good news is you don’t have to be a professional yogi to reap the benefits of yoga. Even short sequences, like this 10-minute relaxing yoga sequence, are perfect if you’re a beginner and looking to relax, improve your sleep, and increase your flexibility.