There is a good reason why yoga took the world by storm. It is a practice accessible to everyone and offers a wide array of mental and physical benefits.
Today, we want to summarize these benefits, to help you better understand how yoga can improve mental and physical health.
8 Mental Benefits Of Yoga
First, let’s look at the mental health benefits of yoga. For me, mental health was the main thing that inspired me to stay on my yoga journey, and I know yoga brought many incredible changes to mental health of many other people. Here are some things you can expect.
1. Relieves Stress
This is one of the best-known and probably most studied mental benefits of yoga.
Furthermore, it encourages us to take care of our mental well-being, teaching us how to regulate stress and approach it with compassion and awareness.
Yoga relaxes the body, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, offering the opposite of the fight-or-flight response, bringing us to a state of security and calmness.
2. Improves Sleep
Yoga can also help you with sleep, studies have shown it significantly increases melatonin levels 1Harinath, K., Malhotra, A.S., Pal, K., Prasad, R., Kumar, R., Kain, T.C., Rai, L. and Sawhney, R.C. (2004). Effects of Hatha Yoga and Omkar Meditation on Cardiorespiratory Performance, Psychologic Profile, and Melatonin Secretion. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, [online] 10(2), pp.261–268. doi:https://doi.org/10.1089/107555304323062257 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15165407/.
It improves both sleep quality and duration, as well as helping you establish healthy sleep patterns.
Yoga is also a great sleeping aid for children – research shows yoga breathing techniques may help small children fall asleep quicker.
3. Reduces Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression
I have personally experienced great benefits from yoga when dealing with anxiety and depression, and many others share this experience.There are also tons of studies 2https://focus.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.focus.16104#:~:text=A%20recent%20meta%2Danalysis%20of,exercise%20in%20decreasing%20depressive%20symptoms. https://focus.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.focus.16104#:~:text=A%20recent%20meta%2Danalysis%20of,exercise%20in%20decreasing%20depressive%20symptoms. to support the fact that yoga can decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Yoga also reduces these symptoms in people who have other mental health issues, like bipolar disorder, PTSD, and schizophrenia.
Unsurprisingly, studies show the more consistent you are with your practice and the more often you do it, the greater the effects on your mental health.
Nowadays, healthcare professionals are recommending adopting yoga practices as a form of exercise to help mental health and stress management for people of all fitness levels.
4. Improves Focus and Memory
When doing yoga, new connections form in our brain3 Gothe, N.P., Khan, I., Hayes, J., Erlenbach, E. and Damoiseaux, J.S. (2019). Yoga Effects on Brain Health: A Systematic Review of the Current Literature. Brain Plasticity, 5(1), pp.105–122. doi:https://doi.org/10.3233/bpl-190084. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6971819/, improving our cognitive skills like memory and learning.
Yoga especially works on the parts of the brain responsible for awareness, attention, thought, language, and memory.
Specifically, some studies used brain imaging technologies to show that yoga practitioners have a thicker cerebral cortex (responsible for information processing) and hippocampus (involved in memory and learning) than those who don’t practice yoga.
This may also mean yoga can help with age-related cognitive issues like memory loss.
5. Boosts Self-Esteem
Yoga can help improve one’s perceived body image and self-esteem, especially in adolescents and young adults who often struggle the most.
Some also show yoga may help with obsession and depression in those who struggle with anorexia nervosa.
Simply being a part of the yoga community and staying consistent with your practice can help build your confidence and accept your body as it is.
6. Improves Social Life
For those who practice in a studio, yoga can help with social life. You will naturally interact with other practitioners in your class, which has a positive effect on both our mental and physical health.
Practicing with others can bring a sense of belonging, help you work on your social skills, and often leads to new friendships as well.
7. Improves Quality of Life
Studies that explore how yoga can improve mental and physical health often talk about the effect of yoga on overall quality of life.
Due to the numerous benefits it has on mental and physical health, the perceived quality of life of the practitioner increases.
This is especially true – and important – for older adults and people struggling with medical issues. It can help them relax, reduce pain, and give sense of acceptance and belonging.
This becomes especially important when we know researchers see the quality of life as one of the crucial predictors of our longevity 4Gavrilov, L.A. and Gavrilova, N.S. (2014). Predictors of Exceptional Longevity: Effects of Early-Life Childhood Conditions, Midlife Environment and Parental Characteristics. Living to 100 monograph, [online] 2014, p.1. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4318523/ [Accessed 28 Dec. 2023]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4318523/ and chance of improvement when dealing with injury or illness.
8 Physical Benefits Of Yoga
The physical practice of yoga brings many rewards to your physical health. From improved flexibility and strength to improved functioning of multiple systems in the body, here’s how yoga can lead you to greater health.
1. Improves Balance and Flexibility
The two main physical benefits you’ll notice when practicing yoga are improved balance and flexibility.
The stretching poses improve your flexibility and range of motion. Yoga works on all areas of the body, allowing you to reach areas that are often especially tight as we don’t work on them enough, such as the hips and the low back.
Greater flexibility improves our physical performance, reduces pain, and prevents injury.
The balancing poses also help you with balance skills, which improves your performance in other activities, and also helps prevent balance-related issues as you age.
2. Improves Breathing
Yoga involves diaphragmatic breathing, breath awareness, and many breathing exercises.
Studies show 5Yadav, A., Singh, S., Singh, K. and Pai, P. (2015). Effect of yoga regimen on lung functions including diffusion capacity in coronary artery disease patients: A randomized controlled study. International Journal of Yoga, 8(1), p.62. doi:https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.146067. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4278137/ yoga practice offers significant improvements in respiratory functions.
Furthermore, it can improve lung function for those who struggle with asthma. In this manner, it can help with their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Breathing improvements can also help with your overall health, relaxation as well and performance in aerobic activities.
3. Impacts Stamina and Strength
Yoga involves a lot of endurance based routines, you often need to hold poses for quite a while. In this manner, it works both on your stamina and strength.
Practicing yoga, even as beginners, improves the strength of the core and arms, although this depends on the style and the asanas you do. If you include more standing asanas like Warrior yoga poses and tree pose, you can see great improvements in leg strength as well.
Toning the muscles and doing dynamic practices that challenge stamina are some of the reasons why yoga also decreases body fat and can aid in weight loss.
4. Reduces Chronic Pain and Inflammation
Yoga can decrease pain and also prevent the development of chronic pain.
With age, and as a result of our lifestyles, many people develop chronic lower back pain and joint pain.
By releasing the muscles, and balancing out our strength and flexibility yoga can remove this pain. This is because it combats the underlying causes of chronic pain, which are often tightness in one area or weakness in another.
Yoga may also help with chronic inflammation. With time, this condition may lead to other chronic diseases so it is important to approach it on time.
Some studies show that yoga can reduce chronic inflammation. The results may be even greater if you also look into Ayurveda, which tackles the issue of inflammation by observing your doshas and offering solutions through changes in your diet.
5. May Improve Immunity
More research is needed to confirm this, but some studies 6Arora, S., Bhattacharjee, J., Gopal, A., Mondal, S. and Gandhi, A. (2011). Effect of integrated yoga practices on immune responses in examination stress – A preliminary study. International Journal of Yoga, 4(1), p.26. doi:https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.78178. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3099098/ link yoga practice with improved immunity.
One of the reasons is its effects on stress, as chronic stress has a negative effect on our immune system.
Furthermore, yoga also affects immunity by fighting inflammation.
6. May Improve Heart Health
Yoga and pranayama (deep breathing) also have positive effects on heart health.
There are many studies to confirm this. The greatest summary is from The Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine which looked at and summarized 1400 different studies 7Ezrin, S. (2017). 13 Benefits of Yoga That Are Supported by Science. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/13-benefits-of-yoga#TOC_TITLE_HDR_3. to see the effects of yoga on various systems in the body.
One of the things they noticed is that the practice benefits the cardiovascular system, especially due to breath control. It improves the heart rate, arterial pressure, contractility of the heart, and stroke capacity.
7. Improves Posture And Body Awareness
In the modern age, we mainly live sedentary lives and rely on technology. For this reason, many people spend time hunched over and have an unhealthy posture.
A regular yoga practice helps with posture in multiple ways.
First of all, it improves our body awareness, so we can catch ourselves when we are sitting incorrectly.
Furthermore, it improves the functions in the brain centers which are related to interoception and posture, helping us detect and improve postural habits.
The increased muscle strength and mobility also help with alignment, by releasing tight muscles and correcting imbalances which often lead to bad posture.
8. Healthy Blood Pressure
There is research to suggest that your yoga classes can improve your blood pressure wellness which reduces your risk of heart disease health conditions for those with high blood pressure.
“The odds of having normal blood pressure and using yoga were 85% greater than the odds of having normal blood pressure and not using yoga (OR 1.85, 95% CI 1.39–2.46).”BMC Public Health8 Penrod, N.M., Moore, J.H. Antihypertensive effects of yoga in a general patient population: real-world evidence from electronic health records, a retrospective case-control study. BMC Public Health 22, 186 (2022). https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-022-12569-3#citeas
Now that you know how yoga can improve mental and physical health, you might also be interested in how it affects our spiritual life.
Here are some great articles that explore that side of yoga in great detail: