It’s well known that yoga increases flexibility and strength in a gentle way accessible to those at any fitness level. But yoga fans will tell you it also offers mental and spiritual benefits that go beyond mere muscle tone and elasticity. Some even believe that yoga slows aging by keeping the body cleaner, running more smoothly, and reducing our physical deterioration on the cellular level.
If you’re considering starting a yoga practice, remember that even if you’re in great shape, it’s a completely different form of exercise than what you’re probably used to doing, so take it slow and listen to your body. If it hurts, stop, because yoga isn’t a “no pain, no gain” type of workout. You’re supposed to feel relaxed and limber at the end of class, not like limping home in defeat.
Below are 6 benefits to adding yoga to your regular workout regimen:
1. See Ya, Stress—
One of the first things people notice when they start a regular yoga routine is the sense of calm and tranquility it brings them, almost instantly. Something about stretching muscles and the slow, controlled movements brings a peace to the workout rarely found in other exercises.
One study showed that women who did yoga at least once a week for over 2 years released 41% less of a protein triggered by stress that makes people feel moody and tired. (Source: Psychosomatic Medicine.)
Because yoga forces us to focus intently on our body and position, it creates an automatic sense of mindfulness as we meditate and remain in the moment for the duration of each pose, naturally eliminating stress and tension.
2. Balance Bonus—
As we get older, balance can become compromised by medications or loss of muscle tone. Yoga can correct this issue by strengthening the balance muscles through repetitive practice, because we all know: practice makes better.
Tree pose, where each leg is individually held up at the knee for a count (without lowering the other leg for support or wobbling) and yoga poses that build core strength can really help those with inner ear or dizziness issues.
3. Stretching to Sleep—
Studies have shown that people with sleep issues who do yoga regularly before bed sleep better, longer, and fall asleep faster than those who don’t. (Source: Brigham and Women’s Hospital.)
This improved sleep is attributed to the more relaxed mental state generally found in those who do regular yoga.
Other research has shown that as little as 3 sessions per week can help people sleep better overall—so if insomnia is an issue for you, consider spending some quality time on your yoga mat to hopefully get more quality time in your bed.
4. Better Breathing—
Yoga can help those with asthma, allergies and other respiratory issues, thanks to the sinus-clearing deep breathing exercises that tend to accompany the poses.
Reducing anxiety plays a role in breathing problems, and the calming effects of yoga seem to help patients with asthma control tension and relax so they can breathe more easily without medication.
Deep breathing also oxygenates the body which is great for brain function, and helps every other part of the body perform better as well.
5. Brain Booster—
By relaxing the mind, yoga increases mental clarity and concentration, and psychologically improves emotional well-being and attitude.
Breathing through one nostril at a time is a common yoga meditation practice that has been shown in studies to increase electrical activity in the brain, boosting cognitive abilities and intellectual performance.
6. Terrific Toning—
Even more than strength training and free weights, yoga can target muscle groups by using the body’s own weight to balance, firm and tone. Poses requiring the exerciser to hold them for long periods of time are especially strengthening.
The back is one of the areas most helped by yoga, as the backbone supports everything, and yoga promotes good alignment by decompressing the spine and building up surrounding muscles. This can be very helpful for those who sit for a living and have back pain issues.
Remember that yoga is not a competitive sport: everyone is at their own level, with strengths and weaknesses, just like yourself. The goal is to achieve progress at a comfortable rate so you will be more likely to stick with it and see results. If you push too hard too soon, you might put yourself off this excellent form of exercise for good, losing all of the benefits listed above.
So hang in there and be consistent, because the more you practice, the more you’ll learn to love yoga, and all of the wonderful things it has to offer your body and soul.