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To some who exercise regularly at a high intensity, yoga may appear too slow and easy to seem worthwhile – but there are quite a few huge benefits to this ancient exercise regimen. Moreover, adding yoga to any workout routine can help you become a more injury-resilient, well-rounded athlete.
Dating back over 5,000 years, yoga is practiced in many forms and adored all over the world, and with good reason: it has many benefits. Most people immediately think of the improvements in flexibility and balance, but the benefits go far beyond that. Research has demonstrated that a consistent yoga practice affords a host of physical, emotional, and mental benefits, including the following:
- Yoga Can Decrease Stress. One of the main reasons many yoga fanatics love the practice is for its stress-relieving benefits. Many people cite feeling immediate stress relief after even just a few poses or a single session. Yoga decreases the production of cortisol, a key stress hormone, and increases mindfulness and a sense of inner peace, both of which alleviate stress and help you feel calmer.
- Yoga Can Help Manage Anxiety. While it’s not entirely clear exactly how yoga helps people manage anxiety, there’s an extensive body of research demonstrating the ability of a consistent yoga practice to reduce anxiety and even symptoms of PTSD. The emphasis on mindfulness, being present, and the awareness of your breath may contribute to finding this sense of peace.
- Yoga Can Improve Your Mood and Mitigate Depression. Any form of exercise can produce endorphins and increase mood, but extensive studies have shown that yoga seems particularly effective at alleviating depression and improving outlook and an overall sense of wellbeing. The anti-depressant effect of yoga results from decreases in cortisol levels, which is a stress hormone that can inhibit levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that elevates mood and improves your sense of wellbeing.
- Yoga Can Improve Muscular Strength. If you’ve ever gotten into tree pose and felt your leg shaking, or felt your abs quivering in plank position, it quickly becomes obvious yoga works your muscles. Yoga poses often look deceptively easy, but they can require quite a bit of core, upper body and leg strength. Each yoga pose represents an isometric muscle contraction – holding statically without moving – while stringing poses together in a sequence or yoga flow also involves concentric and eccentric contractions.
- Yoga Can Improve Sleep Quality. Many people struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get enough sleep. In addition to eating foods to support sleep, getting a comfortable mattress, using a weighted blanket, and throwing in some sleep earbuds to create a quiet sleeping sanctuary, you can practice calming yoga poses before bed. Research has found that yoga can increase the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. People who practice yoga consistently report better, more restorative sleep.
- Yoga Can Reduce Chronic Pain. Chronic pain affects millions of adults and can be anything from recurrent migraines to osteoarthritis in the knees or hips. Yoga has been found to reduce symptoms in nearly every specific chronic pain condition and population studied, from low back pain sufferers to those with rheumatoid arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or fibromyalgia.
- Yoga Can Support the Immune System and Improve Overall Health. Research shows that yoga may help support the immune system, improve respiratory function, and reduce the severity of asthma and allergies. Yoga has also been shown to reduce inflammation, which can help manage pain and overall wellness, as chronic inflammation is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers. Poses are thought to increase lymphatic circulation, which can help support the immune system. Focusing on deep breathing also strengthens the diaphragm and deep core muscles to improve respiratory function.
- Yoga Enhances the Mind-body Connection. By focusing on your breath and finding your center, connecting movements to breathing, quieting out external distractions, and being present, yoga strengthens the mind-body connection and helps bring awareness to how your body feels and reacts, and how you can influence how you feel in your mind and body by manipulating them separately and together.
- Yoga Increases Mobility. We tend to lose mobility in our joints and muscles as we age. The flexibility work in yoga helps prevent this decline and keeps us feeling more youthful. Yoga poses increase the range of motion of joints, improve spinal mobility and flexibility, and reduce pain associated with stiffness.
- Yoga Increases Flexibility and Balance of the Body and Mind. Flexibility and balance in yoga extend beyond the physical poses and positions of your body on the mat. Yoga emphasizes flexibility and balance of the mind as well, teaching you to be more open-minded, adaptable, present, gentle on yourself, and emotionally open and connected. Sound a little weird? Give it a shot anyway. Many people who take up yoga report that while they initially felt turned off by the so-called spiritual side of it, they have learned to deeply appreciate that aspect of it as well.
How to Get Started
You may not need yoga blocks, straps, or other props to get started, but a good yoga mat is important. Some people use a towel, but a yoga mat provides a more grippy surface, so it is safer and makes holding static poses easier. See if there are any beginner classes at your gym or local yoga studio or look for free yoga videos online. It’s important to start with fairly basic poses and listen to your body as you hold a pose, without overreaching or pushing past your comfort level. It’s always recommended that you consult a professional before starting any exercise regimen.
Source: The Manual