There are really more than 10 reasons why yoga is so good for you, and the physical, psychological, and subtle benefits of this practice could fill books. But following is a brief highlight of some of the reasons you should consider adding yoga to your world. Here are 10 health benefits of yoga.
1. Strength, Agility and Flexibility are all Increased
Many sports will give you strength. Others will give you more agility, but few practices will increase strength, agility, and flexibility all at once. In my years of teaching I’ve seen professional athletes overcome injury by increasing their range of motion with yoga, and victims of a double masectomy regain full mobility after debilitating surgeries that left loads of scar tissue in their bodies. Nothing really compares for repairing the body and making sure that the ligaments and connective tissues are just as strong and pliable as the muscles themselves.
2. Yoga Enhances Memory & Cognitive Functioning
It may seem strange that a practice which involves breathing and stretching can enhance your cognitive functioning, but yogis could really be better at learning, have increased memory capacity, and retain high levels of concentration. Many of these benefits are attributed to meditation – arguably the goal of all yogic practice, but it can also help you at school or on the job by improving your brain functioning.
3. Body Weight Normalizes – More Health Benefits of Yoga
While doing an hour of hatha yoga, or even power yoga won’t likely burn as many calories as doing a high intensity interval workout, yoga has a way of normalizing body weight by restoring hormonal balance in the body.
By lowering levels of cortisol and our nervous system’s constant fight or flight response, not only are we less likely to overeat, or eat to suppress unpleasant emotions, we also train our brains to feel satiated more easily because we aren’t constantly in panic mode. Stress is known to cause obesity and fuel virtually all disease, and yoga is a perfect countermeasure.
4. Yoga Naturally Reduces Pain
There are countless studies proving that yoga can be very effective at relieving pain. It doesn’t matter if you suffer from fibromyalgia, arthritis, or migraine headaches, yoga has been proven to effectively reduce pain from all these ailments. And if you are one of the millions of people that suffer from back pain – yoga can make that pain practically disappear.
Meditation has even been shown to be better than morphine at reducing pain.
5. Respiratory Efficiency Increases
Further adding on to the health benefits of yoga, yoga is one of the few practices that utilizes pranayama – the cultivation of life force or chi through breathing. While many people practice pranayama as a means to obtain higher states of awareness, they also end up having some serious side benefits including increased lung capacity, more tidal volume (the total amount of air your lungs can hold at any one time), and an ability to reduce the pace of their breathing which has been directly linked to a longer lifespan.
6. Blood Pressure is Normalized
Yoga has specific benefits for hyporeactors in blood pressure. For those suffering from hypertension, yoga has been shown to be even more effective than dietary changes for improving blood pressure.
7. Mental Health is Greatly Enhanced
Yoga offers so many benefits in the psychological department it is difficult to name them all in a brief overview, but among them are an improved overall mood and sense of well-being, more connectedness with others, lowered depressive states, less hostility toward the self and others, less anxiety, feelings of self-actualization increase, motivation increases, and more.
8. Yoga Prevents Degenerative Diseases
The ways in which yoga prevents disease are astounding. When you really understand how, it can be more evidence than you would ever need to take to the yoga mat, stat! Here are just some of the reasons yoga helps to keep you young and healthy longer:
- Glucose decreases
- Sodium decreases
- Total cholesterol decreases
- Triglycerides decrease
- HDL cholesterol increases
- LDL cholesterol decreases
- VLDL cholesterol decreases
- Cholinesterase increases
- Catecholamines decrease
- ATPase increases
- Hematocrit increases
- Hemoglobin increases
- Lymphocyte count increases
- Total white blood cell count decreases
- Thyroxin increases
- Bioavailable Vitamin C increases
- Total serum protein increases
- Oxytocin increases
- Prolactin increases
9. The Parasympathetic Nervous System Takes over in Yoga
Why is this a good thing? Both the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems work to keep us stabilized in the face of stress. These systems are connected like a see-saw. When one goes up the other goes down. When the sympathetic nervous system is active, it usually means we are on ‘high-alert’ either responding to stress or trying to minimize it.
This is the part of our nervous systems that is most often triggered – from flashing lights, traffic noises, emails from our co-workers or boss, family responsibilities, etc. Yoga strengthens the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system which is primarily responsible for the ‘relaxation response.’
Obviously you wouldn’t want to constantly be zoned out or lethargic, nor perpetually on high-alert, so yoga helps to put the circular motion, the balance, back into the two nervous system’s dance.
10. You Can Do Yoga Anywhere
Perhaps one of the most convenient health benefits of yoga is that you can experience them just about anywhere. I’ve done yoga in studios, at the airport, in my home, at a friend’s home, in hotel rooms, outdoors in parks and forests, even on top of rocks, or on the rooftops of tall buildings in a busy city. You don’t need anything (except maybe a yoga mat) but even that isn’t really necessary to do yoga.
There are no gym memberships required, and no expensive gear. You don’t have to be in shape to start, and it will continue to challenge you even if you are in shape. Yoga is timeless and can be done almost anywhere without a great const or inconvenience.
For even more reasons to practice yoga, visit a class in your area and learn first hand what it can do for you.
Anantharaman, V., and Sarada Subrahmanyam. Physiological benefits in hatha yoga training.
The Yoga Review, 3(1):9-24.
Arpita. Physiological and psychological effects of Hatha yoga: A review of the literature. The Journal of The International Association of Yoga Therapists, 1990, 1(I&II):1-28.
Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.