Yoga is an ancient practice with origins stretching back thousands of years in India. It is designed to help you achieve a more positive outlook on life and a focused, permanent sense of serenity and peace. The word ‘yoga’ itself means ‘union’ and ‘union with the divine’; however, many people have stripped away the spirituality and focus of yoga so that most think of it as a group of intensely athletic people putting their legs behind their heads and curling up into jaw-dropping positions. While that certainly happens, but only after years of careful stretches and practice. Yoga has so much more to offer than flexibility and the idea of garnering a strong body. People of all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities can do yoga and adapt it to suit their individual tastes and needs. If you think yoga might not be for you, I urge you to reconsider. Here is my top 20 reasons why you should start doing a yoga practice.
1) Improved flexibility and mobility:
Improved flexibility is one of the first and most obvious benefits of yoga. During your first class, you probably won’t be able to touch your toes, never mind do a backbend. But if you stick with it, you’ll notice a gradual loosening, and eventually, seemingly impossible poses will become possible. You’ll also probably notice that aches and pains start to disappear. Your mobility will also improve which in turn will make it easier for you to complete everyday movements that require kneeling, bending, or reaching.
2) Yoga builds full-body strength:
Building strength doesn’t have to be done solely through gym workouts or strength training sessions. In fact, using your own body weight as resistance is a form of resistance training and can be a great way to build strength across your entire body. For example, Chaturanga (a key flowing transition in yoga) builds strength in your upper body and core whilst Warrior poses works your lower body (hamstrings, quads, and glutes). The whole point of yoga is to work on your body’s strength so that you can sit for longer in meditation, and the physical investment in the stretches and positions ensures that you’ll experience plenty of physical strength benefits as a result.
3) It can improve your sleep:
When we are less stressed, we sleep better, and when we sleep better, we are less stressed. Physical activity and mental relaxation fuel this virtuous cycle. A variety of studies have shown that yoga can improve sleep quality and quantity in people struggling with insomnia.
4) Yoga regulates your nervous system response:
One of the biggest benefits of yoga is that it helps balance the autonomic nervous system. This system controls our heart, breath and, in fact, all functions that keep us alive and healthy. Yoga is found to help regulate the two of this system: the sympathetic (which helps energize the body) and parasympathetic (which helps heal the body).
5) There are different types of yoga for different times of day:
Unless you’re a hardcore night owl, we doubt you want a super energizing class to do before bed. Fortunately, another benefit of yoga is that it can be adapted to whatever time of day/type of flow you want-again, working with our nervous systems. In classical Indian Yoga morning classes are designed to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system which keeps us energized for the day and evening classes stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system – which helps us relax and enables the body to heal as we sleep. For early birds, get your heart rate up with Vinyasa classes and sun salutations, then at bedtime pick a soothing restorative or Yin Yoga class.
6) It will improve your posture:
Yoga is effective at helping you develop some premium, proper posture, since a lot of the breathing and seated positions require a straight back for proper effect. Good posture is going to develop during yoga practice.
7) Prevents cartilage and joint breakdown:
Each time you practice yoga, you take your joints through their full range of motion. This can help prevent degenerative arthritis or mitigate disability by “squeezing and soaking” areas of cartilage that normally aren’t used. Joint cartilage is like a sponge; it receives fresh nutrients only when its fluid is squeezed out and a new supply can be soaked up. Without proper sustenance, neglected areas of cartilage can eventually wear out, exposing the underlying bone like worn-out brake pads.
8) Protects your spine:
Spinal disks-the shock absorbers between the vertebrae that can herniate and compress nerves-crave movement. That’s the only way they get their nutrients. If you’ve got a well-balanced asana practice with plenty of backbends, forward bends, and twists, you’ll help keep your disks supple. Long term flexibility is a known benefit of yoga, but one that remains relevant for spinal health.
9) Increases your heart rate:
When you regularly get your heart rate into the aerobic range, you lower your risk of heart attack and can relieve depression. While not all yoga is aerobic, if you do it vigorously or take flow or Ashtanga classes, it can boost your heart rate into the aerobic range. But even yoga exercises that don’t get your heart rate up that high can improve cardiovascular conditioning. Studies have found that yoga practice lowers the resting heart rate, increases endurance, and can improve your maximum uptake of oxygen during exercise—all reflections of improved aerobic conditioning. One study found that subjects who were taught only pranayama could do more exercise with less oxygen.
10) Regulates your adrenal glands:
Yoga lowers cortisol levels. If that doesn’t sound like much, consider this. Normally, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol in response to an acute crisis, which temporarily boosts immune function. If your cortisol levels stay high even after the crisis, they can compromise the immune system. Temporary boosts of cortisol help with long-term memory, but chronically high levels undermine memory and may lead to permanent changes in the brain. Additionally, excessive cortisol has been linked with major depression, osteoporosis (it extracts calcium and other minerals from bones and interferes with the laying down of new bone), high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. In rats, high cortisol levels lead to what researchers call “food-seeking behavior” (the kind that drives you to eat when you’re upset, angry, or stressed). The body takes those extra calories and distributes them as fat in the abdomen, contributing to weight gain and the risk of diabetes and heart attack.
11) It reminds you to breathe:
Our breath and emotions are connected in a feedback loop. Yoga brings awareness and control to our breath patterns, allowing us to notice when our emotions are affecting our breath, and using the breath to calm our emotions. Sometimes a deep breath is what separates you from saying something you will regret! The more you can connect with your breath, the clearer you think, even in difficult situations.
12) You will build self-confidence:
Yoga asks you to challenge yourself. You will struggle, sweat, probably tip over more than once. And guess what: no matter how you look in your practice or how many poses you fall out of, no one is going to judge you and you’ll feel great in savasana! Most importantly, if you dedicate yourself to practicing, you will see improvement. Together, these experiences build confidence to take on challenges beyond the mat.
13) Founds a healthy lifestyle:
Move more, eat less—that’s the mind of many a dieter. Yoga can help on both fronts. A regular practice gets you moving and burns calories, and the spiritual and emotional dimensions of your practice may encourage you to address any eating and weight problems on a deeper level. Yoga may also inspire you to become a more conscious eater. One of the benefits of yoga is how the practices resonate through other areas of your life.
14) Helps you focus:
An important component of yoga is focusing on the present. Studies have found that regular yoga practice improves coordination, reaction time, memory, and even IQ scores. People who practice Transcendental Meditation demonstrate the ability to solve problems and acquire and recall information better—probably because they’re less distracted by their thoughts, which can play over and over like an endless tape loop.
15) Improves your balance:
Regularly practicing yoga increases proprioception (the ability to feel what your body is doing and where it is in space) and improves balance. People with bad posture or dysfunctional movement patterns usually have poor proprioception, which has been linked to knee problems and back pain. Better balance could mean fewer falls. For the elderly, this translates into more independence and delayed admission to a nursing home or never entering one at all. For the rest of us, postures like Tree Pose can make us feel less wobbly on and off the mat.
16) Gives you peace of mind:
Yoga quells the fluctuations of the mind, according to Patanjali’. In other words, it slows down the mental loops of frustration, regret, anger, fear, and desire that can cause stress. And since stress is implicated in so many health problems—from migraines and insomnia to lupus, MS, eczema, high blood pressure, and heart attacks—if you learn to quiet your mind, you’ll be likely to live longer and healthier.
17) Gives you inner strength:
Yoga can help you make changes in your life. In fact, that might be its greatest strength. Tapas, the Sanskrit word for “heat,” is the fire, the discipline that fuels yoga practice and that regular practice builds. The tapas you develop can be extended to the rest of your life to overcome inertia and change dysfunctional habits. You may find that without making a particular effort to change things, you start to eat better, exercise more, or finally quit smoking after years of failed attempts.
18) Benefits your relationships:
Love may not conquer all, but it certainly can aid in healing. Cultivating the emotional support of friends, family, and community has been demonstrated repeatedly to improve health and healing. A regular yoga practice helps develop friendliness, compassion, and greater equanimity. Along with yogic philosophy’s emphasis on avoiding harm to others, telling the truth, and taking only what you need, this may improve many of your relationships.
19) Keeps allergies and viruses at bay:
Kriyas, or cleansing practices, are another element of yoga. They include everything from rapid breathing exercises to elaborate internal cleansing of the intestines. Jala neti, which entails a gentle lavage of the nasal passages with salt water, removes pollen and viruses from the nose, keeps mucus from building up, and helps drains the sinuses.
20) Encourages self-care:
In much of conventional medicine, most patients are passive recipients of care. In yoga, it’s what you do for yourself that matters. Yoga gives you the tools to help you change, and you might start to feel better the first time you try practicing. You may also notice that the more you commit to practice, the more you benefit. This results in three things: You get involved in your own care; you discover that your involvement gives you the power to effect change and seeing that you can effect change gives you hope. And hope itself can be healing.