I have a confession: for a long time, I was a total yoga detractor. As a former high school athlete, my competitive sensibilities had a hard time accepting yoga as a serious form of exercise. It seemed like in terms of a workout, my time could be better spent doing just about anything else.
However, after years of encouraging me to join her for a class, my mom finally wore me down and I quickly learned that almost all of my assumptions about yoga were untrue. Contrary to sitting quietly for an hour, it was rigorous and challenging, yet also seemed to fill in a gap that’s often left empty by regular gym-style exercise.
On top of all this, the teachers and students were always going on about the many health benefits that came with practicing this ancient discipline. Besides toning muscle and increasing endurance, here are some other major advantages of yoga that I’ve experienced:
Increased Flexibility and Balance
Most people already know that yoga involves a lot of stretching and movement, which will gradually leave you feeling looser and more flexible. This is a good thing, because tighter muscles can lead to improper alignment and stress on your joints. When your muscles are relaxed, you’re less likely to injure yourself performing day-to-day physical tasks. Enhanced muscle strength also leads to better posture and protects against conditions like arthritis and back pain.
After a strenuous yoga class, I often find that I sleep extra soundly. As it turns out, this is no coincidence. While the physical exertion may tire you out somewhat, many studies also attribute this sounder sleeping property to yoga’s ability to help practitioners deal with stress. Yoga encourages self awareness of breathing which can decrease anxiety, thus leaving your body more prepared to relax. With your mind at ease, you may find that sleep comes more easily than usual.
A lot of the yoga health research cites a popular Norwegian study that looked at the way yoga affects the mind-body relationship. What this study found was that regular yoga practice “resulted in rapid gene expression alterations” or small changes in gene expression that affected the functionality of one’s immune system. Also, working your muscles through a series of yoga poses increases the drainage of lymph – the fluid that circulates through the lymphatic system. This fluid, which is rich in immune cells, helps your lymphatic system fight infection as well as dispose of cellular waste.
There are tons of other cited benefits, so for additional reading check out these sources: