What Are the Health Benefits of Yoga?

Health Benefits of Yoga

Each year there seems to be a new exercise trend out there, but there are few as motivational and long-lasting as yoga. What began over 5,000 years ago in ancient India is the go-to practice for more than 13 million adults worldwide. Yoga celebrates not just physical health, but relaxation, breathing and mental focus as well. It is an exercise that works well for just about any fitness level, too.

Today, yoga is the most common complementary health approach you can take to get fit and improve balance and flexibility.

Yoga comes in a variety of formats including:

Hatha yoga is sort of the starter yoga for people learning to master the craft. It combines smooth, slow movements with integrated breathing techniques. Bikram is one of the more distinctive practices. Much like Hatha, Bikram yoga poses consist of slow, focused movements, but they are done in a room heated to around 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The heated environment helps to loosen muscles and produce sweat in order to cleanse the body.

Kundalini yoga practitioners execute rapid movements from pose to pose along with breathing, chanting and meditation. It is a more advanced form of exercise for people who are familiar with the basic yoga poses, but who are looking for a challenge.

Each one of these variations carries with it health benefits that have been changing lives for centuries.

Physical Benefits of Yoga

Yoga allows you to target the different muscle groups, building up strength and stability. There are yoga poses that challenge every single core muscle, for example. Poses like side plank burn the middle abdominals while boat pose tackles the "sit bones" at the base of the pelvic girdle.

Unlike other strengthening exercise routines, yoga uses body weight and tension to build up arm and leg power, as well. Moves such as the plank spread body weight evenly between both the arms and the legs. The crane and crow poses focus more on the arms, forcing them to support the full weight of the person's body.  

Yoga benefits take strength training beyond just building muscle, though. The various poses stretch each muscle, increasing its range of motion and enhancing flexibility and overall balance. While moving through the different poses is not aerobic, it is a low-impact full-body exercise.

Bikram and Kundalini yoga do add additional benefits beyond what you get with the more basic Hatha. People who practice Bikram find that working in heat improves circulation and stimulates sweating to remove toxins from the body.

Practitioners of Kundalini promise it boosts immunity while improving various other systems such as balancing glandular function. By design, it works to restore energy levels and improve discipline, as well.

Although there are not a lot of clinical studies to prove physical benefits like detoxification or balancing of glandular functions, medical science does support the idea that yoga in all forms can reduce risk factors for chronic diseases like high blood pressure and heart disease while improving strength, flexibility and balance at the same time.

At least one study suggests that individuals with chronic low back pain can benefit from a modified yoga format. In fact, the study authors report that the participants had less disability, pain and depression after just six months of these modified yoga classes.

Mental Health Benefits

It is unlikely yoga would be as popular as it is today if it was just about exercise and fitness. People take up yoga for the mental health benefits as much as the physical advantages. The Mayo Clinic reports that studies prove this is a natural way to reduce stress and anxiety. It promotes positive feelings and an overall sense of well-being.

Advanced techniques like Bikram and Kundalini also introduce mediation and relaxation into the pose routines. Through yoga mediation strategies, you learn to be more mindful and live in the moment.

For many, it's the combination of physical exercise and structured relaxation that draws them into the practice of yoga. The various yoga postures combined with focused breathing and meditation work to relieve anxiety and force tensed muscles to relax.

Studies prove that yoga:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Slows breathing
  • Reduces the heart rate
  • Relieves anxiety
  • Relieves depression
  • Reduces episodes of insomnia

Yoga offers a well-rounded fitness strategy whether you are just getting started, trying to regain your strength or are a professional athlete. It does not discriminate between genders or even fitness levels. If you are looking for a something beyond the latest exercise fad, then look for a class near you to get both the physical and mental health benefits of yoga.

You can get started with yoga now by checking out our Yoga for Beginners article, or if you're in the Pensacola, Fl area click the button below to check out local classes by Melissa Garner LMHC, RYT.