If you’re considering taking up yoga, today you’ll find out everything you need to know about the benefits of yoga and why it’s a fantastic way to improve the quality of your life. You’ll learn what this practice can do to help you get healthy both physically and mentally and finally understand what all the hype is about.
First things first, though — what is yoga exactly, and is there only one type?
A Short Introduction to Yoga
By definition, yoga is a body and mind practice that combines breathing techniques, physical postures, and meditation.
As expected, this practice has changed quite a bit over time. Namely, in its original form, yoga was less focused on physical fitness and more on spiritual energy and mental focus.
In contrast, modern yoga focuses on stretches and poses that are meant to increase your physical energy and awaken your inner self. Furthermore, this ancient Indian discipline has become a form of exercise that prioritizes flexibility, strength, and proper breathing.
In fact, yoga is, without a doubt, one of the most popular forms of exercise in today’s fast-paced world. Not only is it a great way to unwind after a long day at work, but it also has many amazing health benefits.
Types of Yoga
Depending on what you’re into and what your goals are, there are several types of yoga techniques, of which some of the most popular ones are:
• Ashtanga yoga ― uses six established posture sequences that link each movement to a breath.
• Bikram yoga ― or hot yoga, practiced in a heated, humid room (the temperature can reach up to 105° Fahrenheit with 40% humidity). It incorporates 26 poses with two breathing exercise sequences.
• Hatha yoga ― serves as a great introduction to the basic yoga postures.
• Kripalu yoga ― teaches acceptance and knowledge of the body. Kripalu usually starts with breathing exercises and stretches that are later followed by a series of individual poses.
• Power yoga ― an athletic type of yoga based on the Ashtanga yoga system.
• Yin ― a passive, meditative practice that focuses on releasing tension in the ankles, hips, neck, shoulders, knees, and back.
• Prenatal yoga ― specially designed for pregnant women, this type of yoga can also help you get back in shape after pregnancy.
Why Take Up Yoga Anyway?
Yoga is the perfect form of exercise for those of you who wish to strengthen both your body and your mind. As a bonus, it does wonders in terms of stress relief, and it can help you improve your balance, flexibility, strength, and even posture.
The Physical Health Benefits of Yoga
Yoga has some amazing health benefits, so I would like to introduce them to you by going through the physical ones first and then discussing the psychological advantages.
1. Improves Flexibility
As I mentioned, one of the more obvious benefits of yoga is that it can do wonders if you’re looking to improve your flexibility. The butterfly stretch is highly recommended, because it opens the hips and stretches the hip adductors, thus decreasing tension and increasing flexibility.
To be honest, it will most likely take a while before you can touch your toes. Moreover, you probably won’t be able to do some of the more difficult positions in the first month.
But, don’t get discouraged if you feel achy all over after the first few classes. That’s the thing with any type of exercise — you need to be patient and stick to it if you want to see improvement.
Trust me, even if you’re stiff as a board, once you start practicing regularly, you’ll become incredibly limber. That’s the goal anyway!
For example, before I got into yoga, I had incredibly tight hips, which put a severe strain on my knees. Furthermore, I had to deal with stabbing back pain on a regular basis.
To be fully transparent, it took about a month for me to start noticing some improvement. But once I got into exercising every day, things only got better.
2. Helps Keep the Joints Lubricated
Joint cartilage is what keeps your joints moving smoothly. As you wear and tear your cartilage by performing everyday tasks, your synovial membrane can become inflamed. This inflammation can also produce extra fluid in your joints, causing them to swell up.
While practicing yoga, your joints are going through a full range of motion, which is a good thing. These movements allow you to squeeze the less frequently used areas of the cartilage, providing your joints with the nutrients they need to function properly.
In layman’s terms, the motions you perform while practicing yoga help keep your joints thoroughly lubricated.
3. Keeps Your Spine Supple
Similar to the cartilage, your spinal disks need proper nutrients to stay supple. The only way for them to get those nutrients is through a range of bends, backbends, and twists.
However, you can’t just start bending and twisting on your own accord, or else you may end up injuring yourself. Yoga poses are carefully crafted to keep your spine safe and supple. You do have to go slowly, though, and practice individual moves a lot so as not to injure yourself.
4. Strengthens Your Muscles
Before I started practicing yoga, my upper body strength was non-existent. I kid you not — I couldn’t do a push-up to save my life!
Since many poses require you to lift your own body, I knew I had to start with some of the easier exercises. Luckily, Downward and Upward-Facing Dog weren’t that difficult to master, and they really helped me strengthen my arms.
Ultimately, whether you’re in it to look good, or you want to build amazing muscles, yoga is a great way to strengthen your core.
For some reason, people tend to think that yoga is easy and requires little to no body strength. However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth!
For example, certain styles of yoga, such as power yoga or Ashtanga, require plenty of core strength. If you’d like to start out with some less vigorous styles, you could opt for Iyengar or Hatha, which are both amazing for improving muscle tone.
In fact, plenty of weightlifters decide to take up a style of yoga since it gives them the flexibility they lack through weight training. Also, by incorporating some yoga into their everyday exercise routine, weightlifters gain an abundance of core strength.
5. Strengthens Bones
Yoga helps strengthen your bones, increase their density, and even stimulate your bones to retain calcium.
Healthy bones are important for brain health, longevity, and mobility. Even though they’re all crucial, the spinal column is the most significant bone structure of them all.
With that in mind, yoga is incredible because it increases your muscle strength and improves your posture, hence boosting the stability and mobility of your spine.
To get you started, here are some great bone-strengthening poses to try out:
6. Improves Sleep Quality
For those of you suffering from insomnia, you’ll be happy to know that practicing yoga can help improve the quality of your sleep.
Insomnia can be a result of high blood pressure, weight-related issues, depression, and stress, among other things.
From my personal experience, incorporating yoga into my daily exercise routine has helped me achieve and maintain a healthy sleep schedule. I had stress-related insomnia that became even worse once I developed chronic back pain.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, or you would simply like to improve the quality of your sleep, I highly recommend trying Yoga Nidra or Yin yoga.
Internal Health Benefits of Yoga
It’s easy to notice the physical health benefits of yoga. However, it’s a bit more difficult to see the changes that are occurring inside your body. With that said, here are some amazing internal health benefits of yoga.
7. Decreases Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a silent killer. It can cause severe damage to your body for years without you noticing. What’s more, it can ultimately lead to more serious health problems such as heart disease, dementia, kidney failure, etc.
Some yoga poses can help slow down your pulse rate. A slower pulse helps your heart pump more blood through your body with fewer beats.
8. Improves Circulation
If you have poor circulation, practicing yoga can help improve your body’s blood flow. Certain poses can also keep your organs healthy by helping transport oxygen throughout your body.
9. Improves the Respiratory Rate
Do you ever think about the way you breathe? Probably not. There’s a good chance you take quick, shallow breaths rather than long, deep ones without considering how damaging that could be to your lungs.
With yoga, you can learn to control your breathing and lower your respiratory rate. For reference, having a low respiratory rate is a sign that your lungs are working properly.
10. Regulates Adrenal Glands
Adrenal glands produce cortisol as a response to stress, which, in turn, boosts your immune function. However, if your cortisol levels remain high for a while, your immune system can become compromised.
In fact, if your cortisol levels become chronically high, that could create significant changes in your brain activity. In some cases, these changes include depression and anxiety. Taking up yoga, however, can help you regulate your adrenal glands and lower high cortisol levels.
11. Boosts Your Immune System
You can really give your immune system a much-needed boost if you add a few choice yoga poses to your routine. For instance, Sukhasana and Uttanasana are simple to perform, and they help increase your blood flow and control your breathing, as well as give your body a surge of energy.
Ultimately, that’s why I like to practice yoga in the morning. I find that doing a few choice exercises when I wake up is a great way to get myself ready for the day ahead.
Emotional Health Benefits of Yoga
Some people tend to deal with their emotional problems by going for a run, while others prefer to talk to a psychiatrist. However, did you know that yoga can also help you deal with your problems in a mindful, healing way?
12. Helps With Depression
According to several studies, yoga can help decrease the secretion of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. Furthermore, the techniques used in this practice are similar to meditation and serve as a mindful, self-soothing form of exercise.
Yoga can help you deal with symptoms of depression by opening your mind to positive thoughts and getting rid of the stressful, negative ones. Another thing worth mentioning is that yoga can increase your energy levels (which tend to be lacking when you’re depressed) and improve your concentration.
13. Improves Your Mood
Whenever I’m having a bad day, I like to get out my trusty yoga mat and do a few of my favorite poses. In case you’re skeptical about whether or not this works, keep in mind that yoga is a type of exercise that increases the production of serotonin (also known as the happiness chemical).
Furthermore, the calming nature of yoga can help you achieve tranquility and focus on images that make you happy. Once you get into that positive headspace, your mood is bound to improve.
14. Helps Relieve Stress
Are you feeling stressed? Luckily, yoga is a great stress-reliever!
Certain poses can increase your HRV (heart rate variability) and boost the relaxation response in your body. By exercising on a regular basis, you can ultimately improve your body’s reaction to stress.
Moreover, since each pose has its own breathing pattern, you can create your very own exercise routine for stress relief. Here are a few of my personal favorite poses ― feel free to make them your own.
15. Boosts Your Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem is no joke. It can lead to depression, anxiety, and a plethora of eating disorders. Fortunately, due to its mindful, calming approach to exercise, practicing yoga is a great way to get in touch with your inner self.
Sometimes, all it takes to boost your self-esteem is to explore the side of yourself you’ve forgotten all about.
By taking the time to study each pose and its meaning, you’ll learn to love yourself a little bit more each day. Plus, you’ll get a sense that you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. That in and of itself is one of the greatest benefits of yoga, in my opinion!
To sum up, everyone needs to find a way to unwind, especially after a long day at work. Some people like to chill out on the couch with a couple of beers, while others prefer to exercise.
If you’re contemplating taking up yoga, I hope my article has given you that much-needed nudge in the right direction to try it out. With regular practice, it’ll do you and your body a lot of good.
Keep in mind, though, that if you really want to experience all the benefits of yoga, you will need to be consistent when it comes to exercise. It will take a while for your body to get used to all the positions, but once it does, yoga will become second nature to you. So, to all you future yogis ― Namaste!