15 Benefits of Yoga
If you’re feeling a little bit like me with the humid summer in the UK this year, and in need of some inspiration, or perhaps a reminder on why we should move our body.
I have come up with 15 reasons on why yoga is good for you.
1. Leads to better all-round fitness – Weights and sweats are not the only way to work out. Yoga gives you all that a gym can, but in a peaceful, safe and more holistic way. It combines all aspects of cardio, functional and strength training in one. The best part is that it can be done at your own pace, in your own home, or even at the office.
2. Improves flexibility, strength and posture – Whether you’re pretty bendy already or not, a few minutes a day practising yoga will help stretch and tone your body muscles. Poses like the “plank” will simultaneously work on strengthening your arms, legs, shoulders and abs. A daily yoga practice helps improve your posture, making you walk taller and sit up straighter at your desk. Aches and pains caused by incorrect body posture such as back pain can also be alleviated.
3. Protects your spine – Spinal disks (the shock absorbers between the vertebrae that can herniate and compress nerves) crave movement. That’s the only way they get their nutrients. If you’ve got a well-balanced asana practice with plenty of backbends, forward bends, and twists, you’ll help keep your disks supple.
4. Reduces stress – Our lives are busy. Its hard enough trying to form a work life balance, let alone fitting in a workout. Many work places now offer lunch-time yoga sessions – I teach at a few places, because it’s been shown that yoga is an amazing stress buster. Any yoga practice, even a short daily one, should be made up of three elements; poses, breathing and meditation. Studies have shown that people who regularly practise all three elements are better able to regulate their heart-rate variability (HRV). This generally means that their heart rate is lower, giving body the ability to respond to stress in a more flexible way. So if your work place doesn’t offer yoga yet, get in touch!
5. Increases your energy – You might usually reach for coffee when you’re feeling tired. But did you know that just a few minutes of yoga every day will provide that much-needed energy boost and will keep you fresh for longer? With its unique synergy of body and breath work, it’s perfect when your reserves are running low. Daily yoga practice will awaken the main energy centres (called chakras) in your body. Great poses for extra energy are those that extend the spine, such as the tree pose, allowing energy to circulate throughout the whole body, as well as poses that open the chest, like the cobra pose, encouraging the intake of more breath.
6. Makes you happier – Adding a few yoga poses to your daily routine can make you an emotionally stronger and happier person. A recent study has shown that practising regular yoga and meditation results in higher serotonin levels (the happiness hormone). The same study showed that long-term yoga practitioners have more mass in the areas of the brain associated with contentment. Another study has shown that the brain’s gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels are higher after practising yoga. Higher GABA levels are associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety. To put it simply, just 15 minutes of yoga a day can start changing your brain chemistry and improving your mood.
7. Weight loss – This might not be an obvious one, but, it’s true. An everyday yoga practice will fuel the metabolic system and will help burn fat, leading to weight loss. Doing yoga daily can also help restore the hormonal balance in your body, which can normalise your body weight. Levels of cortisol, the hormone that is released in response to stress and low blood-glucose concentration, will be lowered, leading to less overeating. Daily yoga also strengthens the overall mind-body connection and helps you deal more effectively with unpleasant emotions rather than reaching for food to suppress those feelings.
8. Drops your blood pressure – If you’ve got high blood pressure, you might benefit from yoga. Two studies of people with hypertension, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, compared the effects of Savasana (Corpse Pose) with simply lying on a couch. After three months, Savasana was associated with a 26-point drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number) and a 15-point drop in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) — and the higher the initial blood pressure, the bigger the drop.
9. Improves concentration and helps clearer thinking – Yoga poses and meditation require you to concentrate on your breathing. This process of observing your breath calms your mind and makes you more relaxed mentally. As a result of this mental stability, you’ll be able to recollect and retain more information. Meditating for just a few minutes in the morning can result in better concentration throughout the day. By reducing mental stress and physical tension, you are able to recall easier and have more organised thoughts. Improved cognitive function happens when you are able to clear your mind and refresh. From a place of peace and calm, you are able to use your mental facilities more efficiently. Overall, by reducing mental stress and physical tension through daily yoga, you’ll be able to think more sharply and organise your thoughts more easily.
10. Being more mindful – Yoga and mindfulness go hand-in-hand. When practising yoga, you will shift your awareness to the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that accompany a given pose. That awareness will bring the mind back to the present moment – the main aim of mindfulness – where it can stay happy and focused. Practising mindfulness has lasting physical and psychological benefits that are very much in line with the benefits of yoga. You will feel more calm and relaxed, and less stressed and anxious. You will experience more self-confidence and self-acceptance.
11. Improves breathing – Breathing deeply and calmly is an essential part of every yoga practice. The breathing techniques (called pranayama) focus on trying to slow down the breath and on breathing fully from the pit of your stomach to the top of your lungs. These methods will make you feel more relaxed and balanced and will help you face the day with confidence and calm. They also have some great side benefits including increased lung capacity and more tidal volume (the total amount of air your lungs can hold at any one time). You can adopt these techniques whenever you need to, in everyday life. They can help you stay calm in emergencies and to think more clearly in stressful situations, as well as reducing pain.
12. Living longer – As you now know, everyday yoga will help you increase your level of fitness, regulate your heart rate, reduce your stress levels and make you a happier person. All these elements may add valuable years to your life. It’s also known that yoga decreases the risk of heart disease, and it reduces the pace of your breathing which has been directly linked to a longer lifespan. Recent studies have shown that the meditation element of yoga might help delay the process of ageing by protecting the telomeres (caps) at the end of your chromosomes, too. What more excuses do you need to hit the mat?
13. Builds awareness for transformation – Practising yoga and meditation build awareness – the more aware you are, the easier it is to break free of destructive emotions. Yoga increases the feeling of compassion and interconnection by calming the nervous system and the mind. It also increases your ability to step back from the drama of your own life, to remain steady in the face of bad news or unsettling events. You can still react quickly when you need to—and there’s evidence that yoga speeds reaction time—but you can take that split second to choose a more thoughtful approach, reducing suffering for yourself and others.
14. Releases tension in your limbs – Do you ever notice yourself scrunching your face when staring at a computer screen, or holding the telephone or the steering wheel with a death grip? These unconscious actions can lead to chronic tension, muscle fatigue, and soreness in the wrists, arms, shoulders, neck, and face. As you practise yoga, you begin to notice where you hold tension – It might be in your eyes, or the muscles of your face and neck. If you simply tune in, you may be able to release some tension in your eyes and face.
15. Helps you sleep deeper – Stimulation is good, but too much of it taxes the nervous system. Yoga provides you with a sense of peace, calm and serenity. Restorative asana, yoga nidra (a form of guided relaxation), Savasana, pranayama, and meditation encourage pratyahara – a turning inward of the senses – which provides downtime for the nervous system. Another by-product of a regular yoga practice doesn’t only improve the ability to fall asleep, but also the quality of sleep.
So there you have it! Some of the key benefits of yoga which I hope will encourage you to try a class at the gym, a yoga studio, your workplace or even at home.
It doesn’t matter where as long as you can find a place that is quiet and free from distractions. Just a few times per week may be enough to make a noticeable difference when it comes to your health.
As always if you have any questions or comments please feel free to reply to this email. And if you have time to share with me as to what benefits you gain from your practice, I would love to hear from you as well.
Until next month…