If you practice yoga, you may know that it’s much more than just exercise. Yoga is a mindful practice, which combines movement, breathing, and focus with physical and mental energy to help you focus on your body and being in the here and now. And because of that, it has many benefits. Here are just some of the body, health, and mind benefits from this type of physical practice.
1. Improves flexibility
While holding certain poses or postures may be difficult, the more frequently you practice, the better you’ll get, and the more flexible you’ll become. “Flexibility is increased when you create angles at your hip that stretch your hamstrings and inner thighs, allowing your spine to move more freely so that its muscles lengthen throughout the session,” explains Michele Olson, PhD, adjunct professor of sport science at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, AL. “The arms and shoulders assist by reaching up, forward, behind you, and even around you, all serving to increase the ranges of hip and spine motions and mobility.”
2. Strengthens core muscles
While each yoga pose you perform uses a different set of muscles, almost all positions activate your core muscles, too. From sun salutations, to planks, to warrior poses, you’re required to fire your abs and surrounding muscles in order to perform these exercises correctly. “The core is essential in keeping your spine aligned and supported or else you’d hold the position incorrectly or with poor form,” explains Olson. “The repetition of yoga positions during each session and throughout a weekly routine keep calling on the core muscles in your abdominals, trunk, spine, shoulder girdle, and hips to brace and maintain proper alignment through the series of movements and poses.”
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3. Increases overall muscle and bone strength
Yoga forces your body to remain in positions like plank, high lunge, and even down dog split, making for a sort of all-encompassing body weight–strength workout. “By using body weight to do calisthenics-type exercises, it stimulates to the bones as well as to the muscles to grow and remodel,” explains Riva Rahl, MD, a preventive medicine physician at Cooper Clinic in Dallas.
4. Advances cardiovascular fitness
While yoga may be a slower-paced workout than say running, according to a small study published in the International Journal of Yoga, it has heart health benefits. “Many people get their heart rate up to the target heart rate zone while doing yoga, particularly flow yoga,” explains Rahl.
5. Helps mood and anxiety
According to a study on a small sample of mentally fit individuals that was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, practicing yoga can help improve your mood and decrease anxiety levels. “Thoughtful breathing and meditation in your practice can reduce any anxiety you may have,” says Rahl. “Yoga can also distract you from stress in your daily life, and because it’s exercise, it also releases endorphins, which help boost your mood.”
6. Improves overall well-being
Yoga is a practice that focuses on being mindful, learning to connect with one’s breath, and helping to find more balance and focus in one’s own life. Therefore, it has been found to help improve overall well-being. “By being a mindful form of exercise, yoga helps you to transport your thoughts toward good body sensations such as feeling ‘long,’ ‘stretched,’ ‘relaxed,’ ‘whole,’ and ‘united’ with your body and emotional state,” says Olson. “It’s a mind-body activity.”
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