Despite being a regular yoga practitioner for over 15 years, I realized its true power only after I started my journey to motherhood. The thought of nurturing a life inside me was overwhelming. Even after my daughter was born, this feeling of constant concern and worry did not go away. This is when yoga came to my rescue and I could experience the most miraculous benefits of this rich ancient Indian philosophy.
Confining the benefits of yoga to a limited few points could be challenging. Even after practicing it for years, I still feel like an amateur every day. It’s like drinking the entire ocean – drop by drop. You can never finish it, but you can always progress on this path. And the more you progress, the more you realize how little you know.
Different people experience the benefits of yoga in different ways. It also depends on the amount of time, consistency, and dedication with which yoga is practiced. However, even if we only focus on yogic breathing and asanas, there are a few common benefits that each one of us can experience through its regular practice.
What research says about the benefits of yoga
Yoga has always been a favourite subject for researchers. Be it the Ashtanga yoga or Iyengar yoga, Hatha yoga or Vinyāsa flow – yoga has been quite an intriguing subject for scientific studies. While some people may choose to categorize it as an ‘alternative therapy’, studies have also shown strong connection between modern science and yoga.
As published in NCBI, a study conducted by Catherine Woodyard shows that yogic practice promotes strength and endurance – and enhance overall quality of life. Another study published at ResearchGate reveals that practicing yoga is helpful in bringing down the prevalence of medical emergencies like physiological, neurological and metabolic disorders.
Yoga is at least more than 5,000-year-old (some believe it is much older than that). However, most of the yogic philosophies and practices have been verbally transferred or documented in the form of ancient mantras, songs and rituals. Some of the golden nuggets of yoga teachings has been lost mid-way. Therefore, it is a welcome step that evidence-based research on yoga is conducted that can work as a reference for the future too.
Major health benefits of yoga
Summarizing the benefits of yoga is tough since several benefits are intangible in nature. However, studies have proved that yoga brings a major positive impact on our physical, physiological, and psychological health. Let’s take a look at the top 11 health benefits of yoga.
1. Removes muscle stiffness
Even the simple yogasanas such as Adho Mukh Svanasana (downward facing dog) or Tadasana (mountain pose) can significantly give a good stretch to your body. This works wonderfully well in easing muscle stiffness. Yoga poses are also highly recommended to runners who often face muscle stiffness and are prone to chronic injury.
2. Corrects body posture
More than the complexity of various poses, yoga gives emphasis on body posture. Keeping the spine straight automatically corrects the body balance and maintains body in the right posture. The regular practice makes you more aware of your body even when you are busy with the daily chores. While all the yoga poses help in correcting body postures, a few specific asanas such as Vidarbahsana (warrior pose) and Bhujangasana (cobra pose) are effective in improving body posture.
3. Delays aging
Now who wouldn’t love that? Yoga can actually reduce your expenses on anti-aging products. According to a study published by Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, yoga can help slow cellular aging and prevent the onset of lifestyle diseases.
4. Improves blood circulation
It is the bone marrow responsible for the formation of blood cells – the red blood cells, white blood cells as well as the platelets. Yogasanas as well as the relaxation exercises, not only increase the bone density but improves the overall bone health.
Yoga also improves blood flow in the system. You don’t always need that extra stroke of blush on your cheeks. Practicing yoga will give just the same effect, in fact even better. The asanas, especially the ‘inversions’ reverse the blood flow from the lower body to the brain and the heart. Studies suggest that yoga can prevent hypertension, heart attack and stroke.
5. Improves breathing
In yoga, breathing is not mere inhalation and exhalation of air. Our breath is considered to carry the ‘life force’ or prana. It is this life force that controls all the five senses and improves balance. With yoga, the seemingly simple technique of breathing is given due importance which increases lung capacity and improves oxygen in the blood. A six-week study conducted on 58 healthy volunteers showed that regular yoga practice significantly improved chest wall expansion and breathing capacity of an individual.
6. Eliminates toxins
Actually, a healthy body is supposed to regularly eliminate the toxins from the system. However, with our irregular lifestyle our bodies get lethargic and gradually lose the detoxification power. Yoga helps rejuvenate our physical and physiological system. The stretches and twists performed in the asanas gives a massage to our internal organs. This helps release the buildup of toxins from the body.
7. Tones body
Yoga promotes the holistic way of living, and that’s why doesn’t support a skewed focus on fitness. Health is more than a flat belly, toned legs or slim neck. However, the balanced approach in yoga provides strength, power, flexibility and complete workout.
The result? A fit, healthy and toned body.
8. Reduces inflammation
Science supports the anti-inflammatory effect of yoga on our bodies. Inflammation is a natural response of our bodies to the external stress or injury. Chronic inflammation can lead to premature aging and could even cause lasting damage to our organs. Regular practice of yoga may lower the inflammation-causing compound in the blood.
9. Improves immunity
Immunity is the natural ability of our bodies to fight an infection or eliminate toxins from the system. Yoga aims to create a balance between the body and the mind – enhancing the inner calm and a systematic lifestyle. These small changes play a major role in improving the disease fighting capacity of our bodies.
10. Boosts energy
Next time you reach out for another cup of coffee, try five minutes of deep breathing instead.
An efficient circulatory system and improved lung capacity increases oxygen content in our blood. More the oxygen, better the energy. Also, yoga helps calm our nerves and reduces anxiety. This conserves our energy which could be better utilized for other important tasks.
11. Balances hormones
Hormones are the chemical substances released by various glands in our body that help our organs function normally. In case of hormonal imbalance, a person could suffer impaired physiological functioning. This could lead to severe problems such as diabetes, weight gain, weak bones and even infertility.
Every yoga pose works on one or more specific endocrine glands in our system. This creates a hormonal balance in our bodies and improves the functioning of internal as well as external organs.
Embrace yoga to embrace life
Yoga does not discriminate and it is for everyone. The health benefits of yoga are equally applicable for kids as well as for adults and the elderly.
Yoga is not just a bunch of exercises or guidelines. It is an art to discover your true self. Whatever your fitness and wellness goals are, yoga will never disappoint you. However, you need to be patient while practicing the techniques and getting them right. Yoga is not a magic wand, but it’s certainly magical.
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