Many people believe that yoga is nothing but a collection of stretching exercises. But, the truth is, there’s more to yoga poses (asanas) than meets the eye.
The word yoga literally means a yoke or union. In other words, it’s fundamental goal is to bridge the gap between body and mind. And, when we do poses that stretch and open up the body, we’re not only making physical space, but emotional and mental as well. This extra space helps us lead calmer, happier, fulfilling and more harmonious lives.
But, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
For a more comprehensive understanding of this popular practice, consider these ten benefits of yoga for the body and mind.
1. Become (and Stay) Healthy and Fit
Our busy schedules can make it hard to stay fit in today’s world. But, just a few minutes of yoga a day can help increase our level of physical fitness and make us look good in our yoga clothes. How is this possible? The answer is quite simple – yoga uses the body’s weight to challenge and work out the muscles, improving muscle density in the process. This is great for our overall physical well-being, especially as we age.
2. Boosts Your Mood
Studies have proven that yoga helps improve cognitive behavioral performance and also helps with anxiety, depression, insomnia, schizophrenia, menopause, and mood swings. Furthermore, practicing yoga with others helps both stimulate oxytocin (the love hormone) production and increases serotonin (the happy hormone) levels. When these two hormones combine, it can significantly improve your mood.
3. Stress Release
In these modern days, we spend most our time switched on and plugged in. This isn’t a problem in itself, except that we often forget how to turn off the switch when needed. When we get like this, the body (and mind) is unable to truly rest. But, just a few minutes of yoga a day can reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) levels and refresh our minds. This minimizes our risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, depression, and other stress-related ailments.
4. Increases Inner Peace
Yoga is an excellent way to calm a disturbed mind. It works with the breath and stops our tendency to work from the sympathetic nervous system i.e. the fight or flight part of ourselves. In fact, it helps us tap into the parasympathetic system, which lowers our heart rate and promotes a restorative and calming mood.
5. Improves Immunity Levels
Stress and a restless mind can significantly reduce the effectiveness of our immune systems. But, researchers have found that yoga (through gene expression) has the ability to increase immunity at a cellular level. Furthermore, it improves our overall health and, as a consequence, our internal defense system as well.
6. Builds Awareness
Many of us live our lives on autopilot, barely aware of what’s going on around us. On the other hand, an aware mind helps us tap into the present moment, bringing more clarity and focus to every task we undertake.
Practices, like yoga and meditation, encourage us to draw our attention inwards. This gives us the space and time needed to gain awareness of what’s going on in our hearts, minds, and bodies.
7. Increases Energy Levels
Dealing with the numerous tasks on our daily to-do lists is exhausting. But, simply doing yoga for a few minutes a day can refresh your mind and give your body more energy.
8. Better Posture and Flexibility
Improved flexibility is one of the biggest reasons that people practice yoga but, on the flip side, it’s also why others shy away from it. However, the truth is, yoga can be done by anyone, whether you are pregnant, sick, healthy, old, or young. And, when you consistently do a sustained yoga practice, your muscles will begin to let go, increasing the space and freedom in tight shoulders and/or hips. Furthermore, doing yoga on a regular basis helps strengthen and tone the muscles of the body, which improves posture.
9. Protects Joints and Cartilage
As we get older, general movement causes our joints to deteriorate and the cartilage between them to wear away. Practicing yoga takes our joints through their full range of motion, which lubricates them with synovial fluid and brings oxygen to the area as well.
10. Helps You Do Your Job Better
It has been proven that ideas, creativity, and insight come from a place of stillness and peace. Yoga moves the body, which stirs up energy and creates physical space. Regulating our breathing helps us control that energy and focus it inwards, which leads to a feeling of deep stillness. The extra space that this creates leads to better work relationships, decisions, and a boost in overall productivity.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, a good yoga practice can improve our overall well-being in a number of ways. But we must also remember, to get the most out of it, we must practice our asanas on a regular basis. Namaste.