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If you’ve been practicing yoga for quite some time now, you’ve likely noticed some amazing benefits of this activity. Best of all, you don’t need to jump on the “spiritual” side to embrace the benefits (although it may be important too!), as amazing things yoga does for health and wellbeing are backed up by science.
Never tried yoga before? Even better – keep reading and get inspired to try something new.
Yoga improves your memory and makes you smarter.
General benefits of exercise for brain functioning are no surprise – for instance, a number of recent studies have demonstrated positive effects of exercise on neurogenesis, or creation of new brain cells . Furthermore, physical activity prevents cognitive decline  by prompting in increase in B.D.N.F. production – a nerve protecting compound that some scientists call “Miracle-Gro” for the brain.
Yoga trains your brain.
Learning new activities is a proven brain-training technique, as it increases the density of white matter, or the fibers that let neurons communicate, in the brain . Yoga takes it to the whole new level, as it’s capable of increasing intellectual capacity and improve IQ tests performance .
Deeper muscle activation means better function of the nervous system.
Did you know that your core consists of 29 muscles and not just a six-pack? Learning to use them is a cleansing rinse for your nervous system – but your typical crunches definitely won’t promote correct activation of these diverse muscle groups.
This is exactly when yoga comes into play, helping you correctly activate deep abdominal muscles and improve your core control, as well as engage your pelvic floor muscles.
Calm mind and emotions with Yoga.
Yoga lets you reap all the benefits of meditation without actually sitting still and feeling like you are wasting your time. By focusing on various static exercises, slow transitions, and steady breathing, you will slow down the vicious circle of mental fixation on negative emotions.
Yoga helps to separate yourself from anger, frustration, fear, uncertainty, regrets and any other feelings and emotions causing ongoing stress. Stress is one of the biggest culprits in the development of many health conditions , and reducing its levels is a very confident step to calmer, more focused version of yourself.
Yoga relieves stress tension in our body.
Generating in the mind, stress inevitably takes its toll on your physical wellbeing. Scrunching, clenching the jaw, tension headaches, sore wrists and shoulders…stress creates a lot of tension in the body. These unconscious habits tend to add up gradually over the years, leading to “unexplained” pain and ongoing misery, which – guess what – only increases stress levels further.
Good news: regular yoga sessions can help! See, while practicing static postures, you will easily identify where your tension points are hiding. This makes releasing the tension much easier! Note on the side, however – learning how to release bigger muscles takes a lot of time and practice, so in case you have some major problems yoga is unlikely to become a cure. It still makes great complimentary therapy, however.
Yoga tames your stress.
While it’s important to drive stress out of your body, it’s even more important to prevent stress from entering your mind! Yoga helps here, too. By focusing on the present, relaxing and slowing your breath, you help the body to shift the balance from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system.
If this is a bit confusing, we’re happy to simplify – instead of engaging in the fight-or-flight response, your body goes into the restorative mode. Lowered blood pressure, normalized heart rate, increased blood flow to the intestines and reproductive organs… Stress, stress, go away!
Yoga makes you happier
When our body is positively stressed, like when you go through a favorite workout, endorphins are released into the body that make us feel good. Yoga has strong effects here – by increasing serotonin levels and lowering cortisol, yoga workouts are extremely helpful in battling depression . As a bonus, the very same mechanisms also boost the immune system!
Yoga makes you more creative.
With all its vibrancy and numerous styles, techniques and schools, yoga most certainly helps you become more open and receptive, which can be very inspiring. A creative and open mind lets us experience life fully and come up with inventive ways to deal with life’s challenges.
Yoga lets you control your emotions.
One of the core concepts of yoga is controlled breathing. It varies slightly between schools: for instance, Kundalini yoga places a particular emphasis on breathing techniques. However, the essentials can be learned in any general yoga classes.
Why is it so important?
Turns out our emotions and breathing are closely connected, which leads to another amazing benefit of yoga. A recent study by Pierre Phillipot (as cited by Psychology Today ) showed that different emotional states are associated with distinct breathing patterns.
For instance, stressful situations and negative emotions lead to shallow, fast breathing, whereas peacefulness is associated with slower, fuller breathing. Best of all, it works the other way around as well: breathing has powerful effects on how we feel. Practice yoga – and you will soon see for yourself.
Mindful Movement helps release emotional tension.
Any mind/body professional can tell a lot about your personality by simply looking at your posture and observing your movement. Over time we store our emotions and anxieties in our body in a form of various muscle tensions and blockages. As you practice yoga, these tensions gradually go away, making room for flexible, responsive joints and muscles , no emotional tension attached .
Yoga teaches you to be yourself.
Practices such as meditation and yoga help build awareness – and the more aware you are, the better you know yourself. By increasing feelings of compassion and interconnection, yoga helps calm the nerves and achieve clarity of mind.
By choosing a more thoughtful approach, you discover your true reactions, opinions and passions. In other words, you are learning to be your true self while practising yoga!
Become more confident.
In her TED Talk, social psychologist Amy Cuddy discusses how the “power” posture boosts confidence levels – and she is absolutely right. Unfortunately, way too many of us suffer from chronic low self-esteem, and the majority tends to handle this “negatively” by indulging in poor food choices, sleeping too little, overworking or drinking a bit too much at times.
By trying a positive approach such as yoga instead, you are far more likely to achieve long term benefits such as experiencing feelings of gratitude, empathy, and forgiveness – and towards yourself, too! You will soon feel like a precious part of something bigger, which you definitely are, and will stop beating yourself for every little mistake and imperfection.
With no doubt, yoga is and integral part of 21st-century fitness world – and we hope we’ve inspired you enough to convince you to try a class or following along a video or two! Soon enough, we’ll likely have even more scientifically proven information about the benefits of yoga.
If you wish to take the most out of your yoga workouts, consider contacting a qualified personal trainer first. Just like any other form of physical activity, yoga has its own nuances and limitations which may be hard to foresee on your own. A personal trainer will help you build a personalized yoga routine, which will enhance the benefits of this wonderful type of exercise.
- Ma, C.L., et al (2016) “Physical exercise induces hippocampal neurogenesis and prevents cognitive decline.” Behav Brain Res. 2016 Oct 1;317:332-339. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2016.09.067.
- Jackson, C.F., et al (2015) “Non-pharmacological interventions for people with epilepsy and intellectual disabilities.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Sep 10;(9):CD005502. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005502.pub3.
- (2006). “CBT for Occupational Stress in Health Professionals – Introducing a Schema-focused Approach Martin R Bamber CBT for Occupational Stress in Health Professionals – Introducing a Schema-focused Approach”. Nurs Stand. 2006 Oct 18;21(6):30.
- Falsafi, N. (2016) “A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Versus Yoga: Effects on Depression and/or Anxiety in College Students.” J Am Psychiatr Nurses Assoc. 2016 Aug 26. pii: 1078390316663307.
- Seppala, E.M. (2013) “Breathing: The Little Known Secret to Peace of Mind”. Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201304/breathing-the-little-known-secret-peace-mind
- Mace, C. & Eggleston, B. (2016) “Self-Reported Benefits and Adverse Outcomes of Hot Yoga Participation.” Int J Yoga Therap. 2016 Aug 15.