Most students start yoga with a specific goal in mind – to alleviate back pain, reduce stress, or improve their golf swing. Many stick with the practice because of the head-to-toe, full-body benefits. When practiced regularly, yoga boosts our physical health, mental clarity, emotional well-being, and athletic performance. It can improve our flexibility, focus, cardiovascular health, and posture.
Of course, yoga isn’t a panacea for all that ails us. Although scientific research into yoga is in its infancy, it is beginning to suggest a regular practice has an abundance of physical, mental, and emotional benefits including:
“I can’t touch my toes.” It’s one of the most common excuses people give for why they don’t practice yoga, but it’s exactly the reason you should. Most of us can’t touch our toes during our first class, but if you stick with it the poses stretch your muscles and you’ll notice a gradual loosening and increased flexibility in the muscles and connective tissue. In fact, one study found people improved their flexibility by up to 35% after only eight weeks.
Yoga uses your own body weight to build strength. Not convinced? Hold Plank, Warrior II, or Chair for several breaths and feel those muscles tremble.
Maintains a Healthy Weight
Most of the evidence for yoga’s impact on weight loss is anecdotal. Whether the physical practice helps shed pounds may be unclear, the scientific evidence doesindicate practicing can help fend off weight gain. One study found that a regular practice was associated with less age-related weight gain: Those who practiced at least 30 minutes once a week for four or more years gained less weight over a 10-year period than those who didn’t practice yoga.
Yoga increases flexibility, develops core strength, and boosts body awareness and that improves posture. In addition, many of the poses counteract hours spent slouching over a computer by stretching and strengthening the muscles and joints in our neck, shoulders, spine, and abdominals – those very body parts most affected by bad posture.
Boosts the Brain
Yoga supercharges the brain. As little as 30 minutes boosts memory, increases focus, helps you process information more effectively, and even makes you smarter. In one study, 20 minutes of yoga boosted scores on cognitive tests. And, in another, adults between 55 and 79 were able to process more information, more quickly and accurately after eight weeks of yoga.
Many people think of yoga as exercise only, but the relaxation benefits are powerful as well. Research has demonstrated practicing yoga can have immediate psychological effects that include decreasing anxiety, depression, and stress.
Improves Athletic Performance
Yoga means union and one of the things the practice looks to unite is our breath and body. The focus on the breath may be one reason a review of studies found that, compared with other forms of exercise, the longer young adults practiced the better their cardiopulmonary endurance.
A balanced yoga practice strengthens supportive, often under-developed muscles that surround fan favorites like biceps and thighs. This creates more balanced, functional strength and may impede overuse injury.
And, yoga has been shown to improve joint and muscular flexibility, which leads to greater range of motion. A greater range of motion means better muscle recruitment, more efficient movements, and increased power.
Keeps You Healthy
Yoga isn’t a cure all or a replacement for your doc. But, studies do show a regular practice may help with migraines, circulation, heart health, low back pain, and insomnia. Before you practice, be sure to discuss any injuries or conditions with your instructor and get clearance from your doctor.