If you’ve ever done a few sun salutations or downward dogs, it probably comes as no surprise that practicing yoga is incredibly good for you. There’s nothing better than leaving a yoga class feeling zenned, loose, and rejuvenated after stretching your body and focusing on your breath. Regardless of your expertise or level of training, if you’re practicing yoga consistently, you’re bound to reap the benefits — some over time and others almost immediately. But what are the benefits of yoga? Some yogis may experience a better night’s sleep, less runny noses and seasonal colds, or perhaps an overall feeling of peace and calm in their day-to-day lives. But, in fact, all the physical and mental benefits of yoga are too many to name — so here’s a list of some of our favorites.
1. Decreases stress and anxiety
Especially this year, I’m sure we’re all looking to destress a little (or a lot). Luckily, multiple studies have shown that yoga can decrease levels of cortisol, otherwise known as the stress hormone. In fact, one study, which followed 24 “emotionally distressed” women as they participated in a three-month yoga program, found that many of the participants experienced lower levels of cortisol, stress, anxiety, fatigue, and depression. Many other studies backup this idea, in addition to demonstrating that yoga can also improve one’s quality of life and overall mental health.
In addition, yoga has also been proven to decrease anxiety. Poses like Savasana, which focus on breath work and a heightened awareness of the present moment, can help yogis find a sense of peace, both on and off the mat. As you become more consistent in your practice, you may find yourself breathing more deeply in stressful situations outside of your yoga practice, thus allowing you to lower your heart rate and respond to situations in a more relaxed way.
2. Improves sleep
Of course, if you’re dealing with too much stress these days, it may be taking a toll on your sleep schedule. Whether you have a mind that won’t stop racing or aching muscles that make it difficult to relax, numerous studies have shown that incorporating yoga into your daily routine can potentially promote better sleep. While the exact link between yoga and sleep quality is not perfectly clear, yoga has been shown to help people fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and feel more rejuvenated upon waking compared to those who do not practice yoga. So, if counting sheep hasn’t been doing the trick for you lately, try practicing some relaxing asanas or mindful breathing before bed. You’re bound to catch some z’s in no time.
3. Builds strength
While many people may think that the only way to build strength is to lift weights and sweat away at the gym, in reality, there are so many ways to stretch and tone your muscles — and one of them is yoga! Although experienced yogis may make some postures look easy, many yoga poses can actually be incredibly challenging. Poses like warrior work the quads and upper arms, tree pose works the legs and core while stretching the hips and inner thighs, and the classic plank pose works nearly the full body, including the arms, shoulders, core, and legs. Many of these poses are both physically and mentally challenging, but if practiced consistently overtime, you’ll undoubtedly be able to boost your strength and increase endurance.
4. Increases energy
Like most exercise in general, practicing yoga has the power to boost endorphins, thus increasing your energy levels. Whether you’re in a more relaxed flow like Hatha or a more vigorous flow like Vinyasa, yoga is a gentle way to get your blood pumping and heart beating, which can lead to more energy, both mentally and physically, throughout the day. As a result, you may have an improved alertness and vitality, allowing you to fight off negative feelings and thoughts when they arise. Some especially energy-boosting postures are those that lengthen the spine, such as the tree pose, allowing energy to circulate throughout the body, and poses that open up the chest, such as cobra pose or cat-cow, which encourage deeper, more mindful breaths.
5. Can reduce chronic pain
If you’re one of the millions who suffer from chronic pain, whether it be back pain, arthritis, headaches, or carpal tunnel syndrome, you may be happy to hear that yoga is a great way to relieve some discomfort. With a strong emphasis on stretching the muscles and improving flexibility, yoga has the potential to loosen stiff, aching joints. In fact, in a study on a group of individuals suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, yoga was discovered to be more effective in relieving pain than using a wrist splint. Furthermore, if working from home and sitting in front of the computer all day has been taking a toll on your back and shoulders, daily yoga can potentially improve your posture, allowing you to sit up straighter and alleviate back pain in the long run.
6. Lowers blood pressure
While many benefits of yoga can be almost immediate, practicing consistently can also benefit you later in life. With heart disease as the leading cause of death in the U.S., there’s no denying that heart health is a crucial aspect of our overall well-being, and one of the leading causes of heart issues is high blood pressure. Luckily, various studies show that yoga is a powerful tool to lower blood pressure, increase heart health, and slow the progression of heart disease. By encouraging reduced stress levels, minimal inflammation, and regulating the heart rate, yoga has the ability to not only increase your quality of life, but also potentially add valuable years to your life.
While each of these six benefits can result from a regular yoga practice, we’re confident that, if you make yoga a part of your daily lifestyle, you’re bound to discover benefits beyond those mentioned. Whether you’re looking to use yoga to target a specific ailment or to simply feel better mentally and physically, yoga can offer something good for everybody. Whatever your age, experience, or level of fitness, we encourage you to give yoga a try and witness the results for yourself.