Yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India thousands of years ago. It has been in the US since the 1800s, but has gained attention in the past few decades. While yoga is more commonly associated with calmness and meditation, there are a variety of benefits to practicing yoga that extend beyond feeling “zen.”
Yoga helps get your blood flowing. This increase in circulation provides more oxygen to the blood cells and to tissues and muscles. Healthy circulation can help decrease the risk of platelets sticking together and creating blood clots. Yoga has also been shown to help lower blood pressure and improve lipid profiles, and according to Explore: The Journal of Science & Healing, it could be considered an effective adjuvant to the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease.
Flexibility and Balance
A common misconception is that you have to be flexible in order to do yoga. This is not true – yoga helps increase flexibility over time, so it is okay if you cannot touch your toes during your first class. Flexibility helps relieve the aches and pains of tight muscles, improve posture and prevent injury. When done regularly, yoga helps improve balance and body awareness with movement, or proprioception, over time.
Joint and Bone Health
Flexible muscles and cartilage better protect joints and prevent injury. Additionally, the practice of yoga calls for full range of motion from the joints. This helps to provide fluid and nutrients to those neglected areas of cartilage, preventing degeneration or wearing out. As a weight bearing exercise, yoga can also help reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Yoga is not one of those “no pain, no gain” type of exercises that focuses on burning calories or toning physiques. Yoga is thought to be the union of the mind, body and spirit. It focuses inward on breathing and being in the present moment. Also, yoga studios typically do not have mirrors. This helps create the awareness of being in one’s body and all it is capable of, instead of “how do I look in downward dog?” or “she does this pose better than I do.” In fact, according to Body Image, young adults who practice yoga regularly report higher body satisfaction.
Practicing yoga does not only help to increase mindfulness during the practice, but outside of it in everyday life, too. Mindfulness is being fully present where you are in the current moment – not worrying about the future or past, or judging your thoughts or feelings. As it would seem, being mindful can help to boost our mood. It can also help promote more mindful eating – helping us slow down, savor and enjoy food and not eat past the point of fullness.
Back to the “zen” part mentioned earlier, yoga is known to help reduce stress and anxiety. The focus on deep breathing during yoga not only helps us feel more relaxed but also helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes calmness. A regular yoga practice creates a routine practice of stepping away from your to-do list and being present in the moment with mindful breath and movement.
While the main focus is not physical appearance, a byproduct of a regular yoga practice is increased strength. Some yoga poses call for the weight of your body to be lifted by just your forearms (or just one!). Yoga helps stretch, strengthen and tone muscles and improve cardiovascular fitness through weight-bearing poses and powerful flows. There are many types of yoga to choose from so you can find one that is just right for your physical (and mental) needs.
1. Yoga Journal