What are the benefits of Yoga?

By Becci Grant, Fri 26th Apr 2019

A summary of just a few reasons how Yoga can help you

Why Practice Yoga?

The benefits are endless. Yoga is a combination of connecting the full spectrum, the mind, the body, the soul, the breath. It is a magical practice, still unsure? Here are just a few benefits and perks of incorporating yoga into your life.

It helps you live in the present

Most of us spend the majority of our time thinking about the past or the future (regretting, worrying, planning), or checking out completely into the land of cell phones and social media. Many of the benefits of yoga stem from the ability to unplug and focus on what’s going on in your body and in your life right now. Happiness can only be found here and now.

It helps with stress relief

Yoga reduces perceived stress and anxiety, which in turn reduces the physical effects of stress on the body. By encouraging relaxation, yoga helps to lower the levels of the stress hormones such as cortisol. Related benefits include lowering blood pressure and heart rate, improving digestion and boosting the immune system.

You will sleep better

When we are less stressed we sleep better, and when we sleep better we are less stressed. Physical activity and mental relaxation fuel this virtuous cycle. A variety of studies have shown that yoga can improve sleep quality and quantity in people struggling with insomnia. Other studies have shown similar results in other groups of people, including cancer survivors and postmenopausal women.

It can help relieve chronic pain 

Studies suggest that practicing yoga reduces pain for people with conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune diseases, and hypertension as well as arthritis, back and neck pain, and other chronic conditions. 

It will make you stronger

Yoga is a full-body workout, targeting all the muscles of the body with both static holds and dynamic movement. You’re supporting your own body weight, building functional strength in areas where you really need it. This is strength with purpose.

You will gain flexibility AND mobility

People often talk about flexibility, but what’s really important is mobility–the functional flexibility that makes it easier for you to complete everyday movements that require kneeling, bending or reaching–or maybe just cramming into a tiny airplane seat. Yoga increases mobility so that you can bring more ease to your movement and don’t feel so stuck in your body.

It helps the body detoxify and aids in organ function

Physical activity increases the motility and mobility of the organs and muscles, allowing them to perform their natural detoxification process. Deep yogic breathing enhances the function of the lungs. Sweating ramps up the cleaning mechanism of the body just a little more.

Gain a sense of inner calm

Yoga quiets the monkey mind. At the very beginning of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is Sutra 1.2: Yoga chitta vrtti nirodha, or “Yoga is the stilling (regulation, quieting) of the turnings of the mind.” Yoga teaches us how to step back from our churning thoughts and maintain a state of inner calm.

It reminds you to breathe! 

Our breath and emotions are connected in a feedback loop. Yoga brings awareness and control to our breath patterns, allowing us to notice when our emotions are affecting our breath, and using the breath to calm our emotions. Sometimes a deep breath is what separates you from saying something you will regret! The more you can connect with your breath, the clearer you think, even in difficult situations.

You enhance proprioception

We only get one body to live in, shouldn’t you get to know it better? Yoga has you turn your mind inward to what your body is feeling right now. Where are your legs and arms? What are they doing? Which muscles are active? This practice develops you skills of proprioception, which in turn leads to things like better posture and better balance.

You will build your self confidence

Yoga asks you to challenge yourself. You will struggle, sweat, probably tip over more than once. And guess what: no matter how you look in your practice or how many poses you fall out of, no one is going to judge you and you’ll feel great in savasana! Most importantly, if you dedicate yourself to practicing, you will see improvement. Together, these experiences build confidence to take on challenges beyond the mat. 

It helps with weight management

Yoga is exercise, and you do burn calories doing yoga. But even less vigorous styles of yoga can help you control your weight by reducing stress, bringing mindfulness to your eating habits, and providing a heightened sense of well-being and self-esteem.

You become a part of a lineage

We are a culture without deep roots, for better and for worse. Whether or not it’s a good thing for Americans to pastiche together our identity from many places, there’s no question that we are open to embracing other practices and cultures. When we practice yoga, we become a part of a number of thousand year old tradition that gives us tools for enriching our lives with philosophical and spiritual—as well as health enhancing—practices.

It will improve your posture

By combining core strengthening with core mobility and proprioception, yoga can help improve posture. Better posture reduces anxiety, improves productivity, reduces back pain, and helps you breath better

It helps with concentration

Distraction and obsessive ‘multi-tasking’ is one of the neurosis of our time.  Concentration is shifting your focus from many things at once to one thing at a time.  Observing your body, breath and emotions through the yoga practice teaches you to focus your mind on one thing at a time. It is proven that as you observe your breath, it will slow down, and that as the breath slows down, the mind will follow suit. Over time practicing focus will shift you into a restful but aware state, which will recharge the mind and can help with enhanced mental facility and creativity.

You will cultivate an attitude of gratitude

By bringing awareness to your body and what it can do and clearing your head, you can see how much you have to be grateful for in your life. Many yogis begin and end their practices by dedicating their time on the mat to someone or something important to them. Can’t we all agree that the world could use a little more gratitude?

It can be cathartic and help unlock stuck emotions

Your mat is a safe space to work through emotions you maybe haven’t let yourself address directly (or didn’t even know you needed to address). Sometimes a pose will start you crying and it won’t stop. That’s totally normal, so don’t try to rein it in—just consider it good (and cheap!) therapy.

Deeper breathing reduces stress and inflammation 

In addition to being relaxing, deep breathing has been proven to physiologically impact the heart, brain, digestion, immune system—and maybe even the expression of genes. Deep breathing also alkalinizes the body, keeping it balanced in its naturally slightly alkalinized state.

You will have steamier sex!

Studies have found that yoga practice significantly increases levels of testosterone in the blood, which is in turn correlated with increased sexual desire and activity in men and women as well as relaxing the parasympathetic nervous system, It also encourages strengthening all muscle areas including the pelvic muscles which can in turn strengthen orgasms Other studies have shown links between yoga and a variety of satisfaction factors in bed, including confidence and performance.

You will become more playful

Practicing yoga encourages us to approach new and challenging situations with curiosity and playfulness instead of ego and frustration. As adults we rarely attempt new things, like balancing on our hands or our head. Taking on physical, mental and emotional challenges as part of a ‘practice’ (instead of a ‘performance’) helps us cultivate ‘child mind’… where we are less goal-oriented and more present from moment to moment.

You grow your community

Yoga can be such a potent seed for discovering new friendships, new teachers, and new communities. Go out and explore.  Find inspirational teachers—and inspire and be inspired by your fellow practitioners!  There is a global community of yogis waiting for you.

Prevents cartilage and joint breakdown 

Each time you practice yoga, you take your joints through their full range of motion. This can help prevent degenerative arthritis or mitigate disability by “squeezing and soaking” areas of cartilage that normally aren’t used. Joint cartilage is like a sponge; it receives fresh nutrients only when its fluid is squeezed out and a new supply can be soaked up. Without proper sustenance, neglected areas of cartilage can eventually wear out, exposing the underlying bone like worn-out brake pads.

 Protects your spine

Spinal disks—the shock absorbers between the vertebrae that can herniate and compress nerves—crave movement. That’s the only way they get their nutrients. If you’ve got a well-balanced asana practice with plenty of back and forward bends, and twists you’ll help keep your disks supple.

Betters your bone health

It’s well documented that weight-bearing exercise strengthens bones and helps ward off osteoporosis. Many postures in yoga require that you lift your own weight. And some, like downward and upward facing dog help strengthen the arm bones, which are particularly vulnerable to osteopratic fractures. In an unpublished study conducted at California State University, Los Angeles, yoga practice increased bone density in the vertebrae. Yoga’s ability to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol (see Number 11) may help keep calcium in the bones.

Increases your blood flow

Yoga gets your blood flowing. More specifically, the relaxation exercises you learn in yoga can help your circulation, especially in your hands and feet. Yoga also gets more oxygen to your cells, which function better as a result. Twisting poses are thought to wring out venous blood from internal organs and allow oxygenated blood to flow in once the twist is released. Inverted poses, such as Headstand, handstand and Shoulderstand, encourage venous blood from the legs and pelvis to flow back to the heart where it can be pumped to the lungs to be freshly oxygenated. This can help if you have swelling in your legs from heart or kidney problems. Yoga also boosts levels of haemoglobin and red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues. And it thins the blood by making platelets less sticky and by cutting the level of clot-promoting proteins in the blood. This can lead to a decrease in heart attacks and strokes since blood clots are often the cause of these killers.

Drains your lymphs and boosts immunity

When you contract and stretch muscles, move organs around, and come in and out of yoga postures, you increase the drainage of lymph (a viscous fluid rich in immune cells). This helps the lymphatic system fight infection, destroy cancerous cells, and dispose of the toxic waste products of cellular functioning.

Regulates your adrenal glands

Yoga lowers cortisol levels. If that doesn’t sound like much, consider this. Normally, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol in response to an acute crisis, which temporarily boosts immune function. If your cortisol levels stay high even after the crisis, they can compromise the immune system. Temporary boosts of cortisol help with long-term memory, but chronically high levels undermine memory and may lead to permanent changes in the brain. Additionally, excessive cortisol has been linked with major depression, osteoporosis (it extracts calcium and other minerals from bones and interferes with the laying down of new bone), high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. In rats, high cortisol levels lead to what researchers call “food-seeking behaviour” (the kind that drives you to eat when you’re upset, angry, or stressed). The body takes those extra calories and distributes them as fat in the abdomen, contributing to weight gain and the risk of diabetes and heart attack.

Helps you sleep deeper

Stimulation is good, but too much of it taxes the nervous system. Yoga can provide relief from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Restorative asana, yoga nidra (a form of guided relaxation), Savasana, pranayama, and meditation encourage pratyahara, a turning inward of the senses, which provides downtime for the nervous system. Another by-product of a regular yoga practice, studies suggest, is better sleep—which means you’ll be less tired and stressed.

Hopefully this gives you a little more insight to the benefits of yoga.

NAMASTE meaning that you will traditionally hear at the end of a yoga class

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