From super-effective stress relief to increased flexibility, yoga offers numerous health and wellness benefits. There is much more to this magnificent practice than being able to shape yourself into a pretzel – and we are happy to prove the point by exploring 21 ways yoga helps improve health and wellness!
Chronic pain sufferers know how frustrating it is to swallow handfuls of harmful medications every day, often with little to no relief. Apparently, yoga may be the answer – although it’s not as effective for cutting pain levels as some of the strongest painkillers, it is still incredibly helpful to achieve substantial analgesia – and best of all, it doesn’t have any ill effects .
Everyone Can Do It!
Kim Innes, a Kundalini Yoga practitioner and a clinical associate professor at the University of Virginia, recently published a study on how yoga may benefit people who have a variety of health risk factors, including being overweight, sedentary, and at risk for type 2 diabetes .
The study summarizes all relevant evidence, concluding that yoga is an effective and accessible way to “promote significant improvements in several indices of importance in DM2 management, including glycemic control, lipid levels, and body composition.” 
In a small study in 2007, UCLA researchers examined how yoga affected people who were clinically depressed and for whom antidepressants provided only partial relief .
Turns out that practicing a specific a Kundalini Yoga chanting sequence just 12 minutes daily for eight weeks led to reduction of stress levels and helped keep inflammatory response at bay!
Like many other forms of exercise, yoga is a positive stress, an enjoyable challenge that increases serotonin levels and boosts endorphins release, making us feel amazing ! Interestingly, the changes can even be spotted using modern clinical testing techniques, such as functional MRI screening.
Improve Mental Focus
A recent study examining the effects of an 8-week Hatha yoga intervention on executive function has demonstrated that yoga facilitated “significantly improved performance on the executive function measures of working memory capacity and efficiency of mental set shifting and flexibility” – even in older adults . The down math is simple: yoga sharpens mind!
Maintain A Healthy Body
Researchers agree that practicing yoga regularly helps build and maintain stronger, healthier bodies . Benefits of yoga remain strong even for experienced yogis, so fear not: the novelty won’t wear off !
Not all yoga routines are equally relaxing (we don’t recommend Power Yoga right before bedtime, for instance!), but most sequences promote relaxation and better sleep. There are even dedicated routines to help you snooze – try Yoga in Bed: 20 Asanas to Do in Pajamas from Edward Vilga, for instance.
It’s a well-established fact that yoga battles inflammation , and there is a good explanation for that. By contracting and stretching muscles, you increase the drainage of lymph, which helps lymphatic system fight infections and get rid of toxic waste products. Yoga also reduces stress, which is closely tied with inflammatory response .
Improved Immune System
Most yoga routines incorporate some form of meditation, which appears to have strong positive effect on the functioning of the immune system . Meditation helps immune system regulate responses appropriately, activating and going into “sleep mode” when necessary, as opposed to constantly being half-awake.
A well-balanced yoga routine, incorporating plenty of backbends, forward bends, and twists, helps maintain nutrient supply to spinal disks, which can easily herniate and compress without regular movement. Don’t overdo it and only perform asanas appropriate for your level though!
Although most yoga styles aren’t quite aerobic, it can still boost your heart rate so it falls into that “gold standard” aerobic range. Besides, even slow paced asanas are great for cardiovascular conditioning! This is partially due to great emphasis yoga places on mindful breathing techniques.
Yoga improves mobility and increases joint health by gently and safely pushing the joints out of their “comfort zones”. By working through the joints yoga also facilitates joint lubrication, which increases range of motion and helps you feel young and free no matter what.
Recover From Injuries
Suffered an injury? Yoga will help recover! Being a gentle, low-risk form of exercise (if practiced appropriately according to your fitness level), yoga helps restore bone mineral density, even after femur and spine injuries .
Control Blood Pressure
If you’re suffering from high blood pressure, yoga might be the answer. Numerous studies have found that a pose as simple as Savasana (which is seemingly just lying on the yoga mat) drops systolic and diastolic blood pressure significantly – and the higher the initial blood pressure is, the more impressive the drop.
Lower Blood Sugar
A recent meta-analysis suggests that “yoga benefits adult patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus”, lowering abnormally high blood sugar levels and eliminating bad cholesterol . The researchers acknowledge, however, that “further studies are necessary to support our findings and investigate the long-term effects of yoga in type 2 diabetes mellitus patients” .
Help Coping With Menopause
Many women have turned to yoga to help them cope with the symptoms of menopause, varying from unwanted hot flashes to severe sleep disturbances and unpredictable mood swings. Yoga seems to work here, as it appears to have beneficial effects on hormonal regulation, pain threshold and blood circulation.
Improved Sense Of Wellbeing
Controlled breathing techniques are the key for most yoga types. Some schools, like Kundalini yoga, place more emphasis on breathing, but generally, any yoga classes will teach you the basic breathing techniques. Turns out our emotions and breathing are closely connected, as 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.
Some researchers think yoga may also boost libido by helping practitioners feel more in tune with their bodies. Practicing certain types of yoga promotes increased blood flow to the reproductive organs, enhancing desire and pleasure.
Strong muscles not only look great – they also help prevent and battle conditions such as osteoarthritis and chronic back pain. Many asanas help you build strength, also balancing it with flexibility – so your muscles get strong sans getting tight. No need to build strength at the expense of flexibility – just incorporate yoga into your exercise regime.
Balance poses are a core part of yoga practice, and they’re even more important for elderly people. This is because balance helps prevent falls and increases body awareness. Preserving balance can be crucial for being independent. Moreover, falls are the leading cause of injury-related death in older people, so it’s a good idea to start balance training earlier in life.
With so many benefits yoga has to offer, it’s almost a crime not to try a yoga class! Leave your fears and skepticism at home, grab a yoga mat and open up to something new, relaxing, challenging, rewarding and mind-blowing – yes, yoga is truly all in one.
- Hegana, R., et al (2016) “Effect of Karamardādi Yoga versus diclofenac sodium in post-operative pain management: A randomized comparative clinical trial.” Anc Sci Life. 2016 Apr-Jun;35(4):217-21. doi: 10.4103/0257-7941.188174.
- Kim E.I. & and Terry, K.S. (2016) “Yoga for Adults with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review of Controlled Trials”. Journal of Diabetes Research, Volume 2016 (2016), Article ID 6979370, 23 pages; http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2016/6979370
- Wheeler, M. (2012) “Yoga reduces stress; now it’s known why”. Source: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/yoga-reduces-stress-now-it-s-known-236785
- 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.
- Gothe, N.P., et al (2014) “The effects of an 8-week Hatha yoga intervention on executive function in older adults.” J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2014 Sep;69(9):1109-16. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glu095. Epub 2014 Jul 14.
- Braun, T.D., et al (2016) “Group-Based Yogic Weight Loss with Ayurveda-Inspired Components: A Pilot Investigation of Female Yoga Practitioners and Novices”. Int J Yoga Therap. 2016 Sep 1.
- Black, D.S. & Slavich, G.M. “Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials.” Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2016 Jun;1373(1):13-24. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12998. Epub 2016 Jan 21.
- Lu, Y.H., et al (2016) “Twelve-Minute Daily Yoga Regimen Reverses Osteoporotic Bone Loss.”. Top Geriatr Rehabil. 2016 Apr;32(2):81-87. Epub 2015 Nov 5.
- Cui, J., et al (2016) “Effects of yoga in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus: A meta-analysis”. J Diabetes Investig. 2016 Jul 1. doi: 10.1111/jdi.12548.
- 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