I have tried a number of different types of yoga, and Kundalini is the one that I find the most fulfilling - at least for the past few years. But regardless of which type of yoga you prefer, the fact is that yoga is just plain good for you!
Doctors, mental health professionals, and regular old yoga practitioners like you and me all agree - yoga has loads of awesome health benefits for people of all ages and physical conditions. Of course, any form of exercise has its benefits, but yoga has some very special ones that many other forms of exercise just don't provide - at least not to the same degree.
Below is a quick roundup of 10 amazing health benefits that you can experience for yourself simply by practicing yoga on a regular basis.
The first physical benefit that you probably think of when you think of yoga is obviously flexibility. While you might struggle with some of the poses at first if you are inflexible (which most adults are), in time, you will really begin to notice a difference. According to Yoga Journal:
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. That's no coincidence. Tight hips can strain the knee joint due to improper alignment of the thigh and shinbones. Tight hamstrings can lead to a flattening of the lumbar spine, which can cause back pain. And inflexibility in muscles and connective tissue, such as fascia and ligaments, can cause poor posture.
Another of the first physical benefits of yoga that you will notice is improved muscle strength. According to Gaiam.com:
The postures are meant to strengthen your body from the inside out, so you don’t just look good, you feel good, too. Each of the yoga poses is built to reinforce the muscles around the spine, the very center of your body, which is the core from which everything else operates. When the core is working properly, posture is improved, thus alleviating back, shoulder, and neck pain.
One of the reasons I first started doing yoga was to relieve my chronic back pain. Yoga helps to stretch tight muscles, which helps to relieve pain and stiffness, but it also helps to strengthen the muscles at the same time as mentioned above, which lessens pain problems and risk of injury down the road. According to the American Osteopathic Association,
“The relaxation techniques incorporated in yoga can lessen chronic pain, such as lower back pain, arthritis, headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome...”
A pilot study of eight people with rheumatoid arthritis showed that a six-week yoga program improved pain, pain disability, mental health, depression, vitality, and self-efficacy.
Stress is a major health problem in today's modern world. Chronic stress has been linked to just about every type of disease and health issue, from heart disease to stroke, to high blood pressure, obesity, and chronic pain. This might be one of the reasons why yoga is so successful at relieving so many different health issues. Yoga's focus on the body, the breath, and moving through each pose helps to take your mind off the stresses of the day and allows you to become more mindful of the present moment. This is a great way to relieve stress - and all the health problems that come with it! As this article in Yoga Journal states,
Yoga encourages you to relax, slow your breath, and focus on the present, shifting the balance from the sympathetic nervous system (or the fight-or-flight response) to the parasympathetic nervous system. The latter is calming and restorative; it lowers breathing and heart rates, decreases blood pressure, and increases blood flow to the intestines and reproductive organs—comprising what Herbert Benson, M.D., calls the relaxation response.
Obviously, exercising regularly helps with weight loss, and some forms of yoga are more aerobic than others. However, research shows that there may be another reason why yoga helps you lose weight. According to researchers at Harvard Medical School,
...People who practiced yoga for at least 30 minutes once a week for at least four years, gained less weight during middle adulthood. People who were overweight actually lost weight. Overall, those who practiced yoga had lower body mass indexes (BMIs) compared with those who did not practice yoga. Researchers attributed this to mindfulness. Mindful eating can lead to a more positive relationship with food and eating.
As we get older, we lose bone density - especially as we tend to sit more and move less as we age. Yoga can help to reduce this bone loss, and may even help to build denser bones for those who have already suffered some loss. As this article at YogaBasics.com explains,
A decrease of bone density is one of the biggest concerns among aging adults. Research has found that yoga improves bone density in people who have suffered from bone loss, including those with osteoporosis or osteopenia. Yoga uses opposing muscle groups and gravity to put pressure on the bones, which increases the production of bone-growing cells. Triangle pose, Warrior I and II, and Plank pose all emphasize opposing muscles.
Reduced stress and increased movement aren't just better for your muscles and your mind - they can even help improve digestion. According to Gaiam.com...
The digestive system gets back on track when the stretching in yoga is coupled with a healthy, organic diet, which can relieve constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and acid reflux.
Both the meditative aspect of yoga and the physical exercises may help your immune system function more efficiently, thereby reducing your chances of infection and disease. According to YogaJournal.com,
When you contract and stretch muscles, move organs around, and come in and out of yoga postures, you increase the drainage of lymph (a viscous fluid rich in immune cells). This helps the lymphatic system fight infection, destroy cancerous cells, and dispose of the toxic waste products of cellular functioning.
One study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that yoga could be a beneficial treatment for adults suffering from PTSD, while yoga has also been found to improve both mental and motor skills in children with developmental and learning disabilities. According to this article at YogiTimes.com,
Regular practice of yoga and meditation has shown to improve children’s ADHD behavior, self-esteem, relationship quality, sleep patterns and anxiety levels.
Yes, happiness is part of health, wouldn't you agree? And yoga, regardless of other aspects of our health, just plain makes us happy! At least, it does for me, and plenty of evidence suggests that I'm not alone... According to Yoga Journal,
...one study found that a consistent yoga practice improved depression and led to a significant increase in serotonin levels and a decrease in the levels of monoamine oxidase (an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters) and cortisol.
...regular yoga practice – combined with yogic breathing techniques – helped to significantly improve several markers for depression.
To your health,