15 Reasons To Practice Yoga

15 Reasons To Practice Yoga

June 18, 2018

 

  

You may have heard that “yoga is good for you” but aren’t quite sure why. Maybe you’ve heard rumblings of the benefits but aren’t convinced. The good news is that scientific research supports many of the claims you’ve heard. Making healthy habits isn’t always easy, but these 15 outcomes of yoga will make you want to get on your mat more often. Let’s start by exploring both the obvious and surprising physical benefits.

  1. Increased Flexibility

Flexibility is the most obvious result of a regular yoga practice and certainly deserves the recognition. Most styles of yoga include holding poses for a few breaths to elongate various muscles and connective tissues. When muscles are too tight, everyday tasks, such as picking up something from the floor, can feel like a challenge. Additionally, tight muscles can cause pain elsewhere in the body. For instance, tight hamstrings often result in lower back pain.

  1. Increased Strength

While some poses increase flexibility, others increase muscle endurance and strength. Is yoga’s “Chaturanga Dandasana” another name for a push-up? More or less. Alignment-focused lineages of yoga call on practitioners to engage muscles in new ways through unseen isometric contractions. Even the classic Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, appears as a simple standing posture but actually requires the thighs to stay engaged. 

  1. Weight Loss

More vigorous classes, such as Vinyasa Yoga, will get the heart pumping. Not all styles of yoga can replace your weekly cardio, but most will keep your body moving and working for an hour or more. In addition to the actual physical component of yoga, many yoga students adopt mindful eating habits that lead to weight loss.

  1. Improved Balance

A number of yoga poses, even those that aren’t obvious balance poses, call on the body to stabilize itself front to back and side to side. Even beginner yogis can find challenging but manageable balance poses, such as Anjaneyasana, or Crescent Lunge. Standing balances such as Vrksasana, or Tree Pose, and arm balances, such as Bakasana, or Crow Pose can challenge intermediate to advanced students. Improved balance can reduce the chance of injuries during sports and daily activities.

  1. Decreased Chronic Pain

Studies show that moving through yoga flows, or asanas, increases blood flow to otherwise underutilized areas. Cartilage is revitalized with nutrients and yoga practitioners with arthritis and chronic pain are able to find relief. [1] Another study showed that yoga’s impact on the brain can help decrease how practitioners respond to or perceive pain. [2]

  1. Improved Organ Function

Speaking of blood, when yoga increases blood flow to various cells and organs, the blood has more red blood cells and more oxygen. The benefit? Improved functioning of these cells and organs. [1]

  1. Reduced Risk of Heart Disease

A number of other factors, such as weight loss and stress relief, may contribute to this benefit. While scientists have not fully determined why yoga reduces the risk of heart disease, they have seen its impact on heart health. Contributing factors also include lowered blood pressure and lowered cholesterol. In fact, according to the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, researchers compared the heart health benefits of yoga to those of aerobic exercise. [3]

  1. Increased Bone Density

Did you know you could build new bone? And yoga can help. Loren Fishman, MD, a Columbia University physician specializing in rehabilitation, has found yoga to be beneficial in preventing osteoporosis, even in aging women. Certain poses call on muscle groups to push against one another which stimulates bone-making cells. [4] 

  1. Retention of Gray Matter

The brain’s gray matter is responsible for many important functions including memory, learning, motor skills, and decision-making. Gray matter in the brain decreases with age for most people. Recent studies have shown that this is not the case for yogis. Especially in long-term practitioners, researchers have found increased gray matter in areas that regulate emotion and stress, contribute to visualization and sequencing, and impact attention. [5]

 

Benefits of a regular yoga practice go beyond the body. Psychological perks keep students coming back for those “feel good” vibes. What exactly is mindfulness anyway and why should you care about it? Mindfulness is a state of awareness; being mindful means, you stay in the present moment, focused on what you’re doing or who you’re with. You learn to be mindful through bringing your attention to your breath, feeling the subtle sensations in the body as you flow through poses, and noticing any emotions that arise during class. Mindfulness is a major contributing factor to many of the outcomes below.

  1. Self-Compassion

A key part of mindfulness is observing the sensations, thoughts, and feelings without judgement. As yoga students continuously practice this, on and off the mat, they learn to accept what is. When thoughts of “I wish I were more like this” or “I wish I had more of that” arise, yoga practitioners learn to become observers of these thoughts rather than following them down the rabbit hole or being harsh toward themselves for having those thoughts. Mindfulness can teach us having “bad days” doesn’t make us bad people.

  1. Stress Management

A number of elements within yoga contribute to feelings of relaxation. As students breathe deeply, oxygen reaches the lower lobes of the lungs and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system calms the body and combats stress responses. In addition to breathing deeply, mindfulness comes into play here, as well. Mindfulness teaches students to observe their negative or anxious thoughts as something they can control. Yogis learn to approach stressful situations with clarity and objectivity.

  1. Healthier Eating Habits

Another positive side effect of mindfulness is healthier eating. Mindfulness teaches students to slow down, observe food with all the senses, and appreciate the tastes and smells. We already know that mindfulness includes focusing on the sensations of the body; mindful eaters recognize when they’re full and stop eating. [6] Mindful eaters notice if they are eating in response to emotions (stress or sadness) or eating in response to environmental prompts (that enticing packaging or marketing campaign) instead of hunger. [7]

  1. Better Sleep

Feelings of relaxation and reduction of stress can be major contributing factors to a better night’s sleep. One study followed a group of yoga students for six months. Researchers found that these students fell asleep faster, stayed asleep longer, and felt more rested in the morning. [8] 

  1. Higher Energy Levels

Studies show that yoga results in an increase in energy in practitioners. The physical movement of yoga increases blood flow to the brain and releases endorphins, much like any other physical activity. [9] Additionally, the study mentioned above found that yoga helped students sleep better. Sleeping through the night provides an obvious dose of energy, as well. 

  1. Increased Resilience

A recent study out from researchers at the University of Cincinnati revealed that yoga can help practitioners develop resilience over time. The study followed 125 youth at-risk over a 10-year span. They found that when faced with challenging situations, those that practised yoga were more likely to cope using positive behaviours rather than drugs and alcohol. [10, 11] 

Whether you’re looking to improve your physical health or find a positive mindset, yoga can provide a one-stop shop for that and countless other advantages. Many studios provide classes specifically for beginners; you can find like-minded new students and a supportive atmosphere for your learning. It’s time to take to the mat and reap the benefits of your practice.

 

Resources

[1] Woodyard, C. (2011). Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. International Journal of Yoga, 4(2), 49–54. http://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.85485

 

[2] Bergland, C. (2015). How does yoga relieve chronic pain? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201505/how-does-yoga-relieve-chronic-pain.

 

[3] Heagberg, K. (n.d.). New study highlights yoga's cardiovascular benefits. Retrieved from https://yogainternational.com/article/view/new-study-highlights-yogas-cardiovascular-benefits.

 

[4] Goldman, L. (2017). This 12-minute yoga sequence is backed by science to strengthen your bones. Retrieved from https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/12-minute-yoga-sequence-for-strong-bones.

 

[5] Villemure, C., Čeko, M., Cotton, V. A., & Bushnell, M. C. (2015). Neuroprotective effects of yoga practice: age-, experience-, and frequency-dependent plasticity. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4428135/.

 

[6] Harvard Health Publishing. (2015). Yoga – benefits beyond the mat. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/yoga-benefits-beyond-the-mat.

[7] Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. (2009). Regular yoga practice is associated with mindful eating. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090803185712.htm.

 

[8] Manjunath, N. K., & Telles, S. (2005). Influence of yoga and Ayurveda on self-rated sleep in a geriatric population. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15937373.

 

[9] University of Waterloo. (2017). Yoga, meditation improve brain function and energy levels, study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170906103416.htm.

 

[10] Weingus, L. (2017). Science proves yoga has an incredible impact on resilience. Retrieved from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/science-proves-yoga-has-an-incredible-impact-on-reslience.

 

[11] Schefft, M. (2017). Yoga can reduce risky behaviors in troubled youth. Retrieved from http://magazine.uc.edu/editors_picks/recent_features/yoga.html.

 

By Mandy Schenkemeyer for WeirdMojo

 



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