If you’ve done your “downward dog” yoga pose today, you’re probably feeling more relaxed. Regardless of your level of yoga expertise, if you’re practicing regularly, you can feel better from head to toe.
Yoga offers physical and mental health benefits for people of all ages. And, if you’re going through an illness, recovering from surgery or living with a chronic condition, yoga can become an integral part of your treatment and potentially hasten healing.
A yoga therapist can work with patients and put together individualized plans that work together with their medical and surgical therapies. That way, yoga can support the healing process and help the person experience symptoms with more centeredness and less distress.
1. Yoga improves strength, balance and flexibility.
Slow movements and deep breathing increase blood flow and warm up muscles, while holding a pose can build strength.
2. Yoga helps with back pain relief.
Yoga is as good as basic stretching for easing pain and improving mobility in people with lower back pain. The American College of Physicians recommends yoga as a first-line treatment for chronic low back pain.
3. Yoga can ease arthritis symptoms.
Gentle yoga has been shown to ease some of the discomfort of tender, swollen joints for people with arthritis, according to a Johns Hopkins review of 11 recent studies.
From pumping blood throughout the body to supplying tissues with important nutrients, the health of your heart is an essential component of overall health.
Studies show that yoga may help improve heart health and reduce several risk factors for heart disease.
High blood pressure is one of the major causes of heart problems, such as heart attacks and stroke. Lowering your blood pressure can help reduce the risk of these problems.
5. Yoga relaxes you, to help you sleep better.
Research shows that a consistent bedtime yoga routine can help you get in the right mindset and prepare your body to fall asleep and stay asleep.
6. Yoga can mean more energy and brighter moods.
You may feel increased mental and physical energy, a boost in alertness and enthusiasm, and fewer negative feelings after getting into a routine of practicing yoga.
7. Can Decrease Stress.
Yoga is known for its ability to ease stress and promote relaxation. In fact, multiple studies have shown that it can decrease the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. One study demonstrated the powerful effect of yoga on stress by following 24 women who perceived themselves as emotionally distressed. After a three-month yoga program, the women had significantly lower levels of cortisol. They also had lower levels of stress, anxiety, fatigue and depression.
8. Yoga connects you with a supportive community.
Participating in yoga classes can ease loneliness and provide an environment for group healing and support. Even during one-on-one sessions loneliness is reduced as one is acknowledged as a unique individual, being listened to and participating in the creation of a personalized yoga plan.
9. Relieves Anxiety.
Many people begin practicing yoga as a way to cope with feelings of anxiety. Interestingly enough, there is quite a bit of research showing that yoga can help reduce anxiety. In one study, 34 women diagnosed with an anxiety disorder participated in yoga classes twice weekly for two months. At the end of the study, those who practiced yoga had significantly lower levels of anxiety than the control group.
10. May Reduce Inflammation.
In addition to improving your mental health, some studies suggest that practicing yoga may reduce inflammation as well. Inflammation is a normal immune response, but chronic inflammation can contribute to the development of pro-inflammatory diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
A 2015 study divided 218 participants into two groups: those who practiced yoga regularly and those who didn’t. Both groups then performed moderate and strenuous exercises to induce stress. At the end of the study, the individuals who practiced yoga had lower levels of inflammatory markers than those who didn’t.
11. Breathing Benefits.
Yoga usually involves paying attention to your breath, which can help you relax. It may also call for specific breathing techniques. But yoga typically isn't aerobic, like running or cycling, unless it's an intense type of yoga.
How to Choose a Type of Yoga
To get the most benefit, choose a yoga style that matches your fitness level, as well as your personality and goals for practicing yoga.
Try different classes and teachers, and see what works for you
To decide on the yoga style that's right for you, ask yourself these three questions:
- Are you doing yoga for fitness and to get in shape as well as to explore the mind-body connection? Then choose a more vigorous yoga style like power yoga, Ashtanga yoga, or Bikram yoga. All three styles combine an athletic series of poses into a vigorous, total-body workout. You may need a few beginner classes so that you can easily move through the poses.
- Do you have an injury, a medical condition, or other limitations? Then start with a slower class that focuses on alignment, such as Iyengar yoga, Kripalu yoga, or Viniyoga.
- Are the meditative and spiritual parts of yoga your primary goal? Then try one of the yoga styles that include plenty of meditation, chanting, and the philosophic parts of yoga. For example, you might try Kundalini yoga
Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise or fitness program, especially if you have any medical problems or are an older adult.