Why do Yoga? 5 Wellness Benefits of Yoga

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

If you've ever had a fleeting thought about yoga- even if you've never expressed it out loud- I promise you, yoga enthusiasts can sense this like a shark honing in on a bucket of chum in the ocean.


Okay- maybe- that was a slightly aggressive analogy, and certainly said with jest; and, at some point you've probably had a friend or family member say, "Oh, you just have to take a yoga class, it's soooo amazing!" I am 100% guilty of saying this on more than one occasion. Sometimes we can't help it, and we may need a gentle reminder that your amazing may feel or look different than our amazing. Yogis just love yoga so much, and want to share it with the world.


While the above statement about yoga being amazing is true in some respects, the term "amazing" can certainly be subjective - one individual's relaxation can be another individual's discomfort. Perfect example- a dear friend of mine attended one of my online classes. Afterward, she told me that her experience of trying to lay on her back in shavasana (Sanskrit for Corpse Pose - often used for relaxation), was so physically difficult that she had to come out of the pose. My dear friend listened to her body, and absolutely did the right thing - she readjusted and modified to fit her needs - something that I always encourage my students to do.


As an enthusiastic yogi that has made the blanketed statement about yoga being amazing, I want to rework how I'm presenting yoga to newcomers or those who have thought about yoga, but may feel tentative. When I say "amazing," what I'm really meaning is that I think yoga is amazing because of how beneficial it has been in my own life. As a result of the powerful impact yoga has had on me as a student and a teacher, I want to share with you what I'm learning and experiencing through yoga- knowing that this learning is an ever-evolving process, and there are always new discoveries, new benefits, and new experiences to embody.


Over the years, Western science and medicine has certainly picked up the scent of yoga's benefits and conducted a significant amount of research on the connection between yoga and health and well-being. In fact, in 2016 The Yoga Alliance conducted a large study called The Yoga In America Study. This study found that not only is yoga gaining immense popularity as a health practice in the United States, but people of all ages, abilities, sizes, and walks of life are discovering the practice of yoga. More than ever, yoga has become increasingly accessible to people, and yoga is being represented by a wider cross-section of teachers.


So, what are some of the Benefits of Yoga? After reviewing some of the major studies published in conjunction with The Yoga Alliance - here are some of the key benefits of yoga:

  1. Improves Flexibility, Strength, & Prevents the Breakdown of Joint Cartilage. The biggest take away here is that yoga can improve your muscular flexibility and strength, which can help alleviate physical pain due to strain, tension, and inflammation of the muscles and joints. Additionally, yoga works on helping the joints increase their range of motion, allowing them to lubricate and move more easily and freely, protecting and nourishing your precious joint cartilage.

  2. Increases Blood-flow & Lowers Cortisol Levels. Yoga gets the blood circulating throughout the body, increasing oxygen to the cells and tissues, improving functioning. This is beneficial for cardiovascular health, and can help reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, or heart attack. Cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone, can be reduced during yoga practice due to yoga's focus on relaxation and mindfulness. This reduction in cortisol is especially profound for people suffering from diabetes or pre-diabetes, as cortisol raises blood glucose levels.

  3. Improves Mood & Mental Clarity. Here I will mention the cortisol hormone again, this time in relation to feelings of stress and anxiety. Cortisol signals the brain that danger is present, and a crisis is occurring. While this is helpful in times of actual crisis, high levels of cortisol can linger around long after we want it to, causing undue feelings of stress and tension. Yoga helps to reduce this stress and tension through intentional breathing practices (pranayama), meditation, and movement. Yoga also improves mental focus by teaching students how to be mindful of thoughts, emotions, sensations, breathing, and bodily movement. Many students report having less distracting or racing thoughts following a yoga practice.

  4. Improves Relaxation & Sleep. Yoga places emphasis on coordinating movement and breath together. This practice helps to regulate breathing patterns, and engage the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming and restorative part of your nervous system). When this occurs, the body moves away from its crisis "fight or flight state," and releases physical and emotional tension. As a result, not only are you more relaxed in your waking life, your sleep patterns are improved, and the body can more easily attain deep sleep states, helping to restore and rejuvenate.

  5. Increased Self-Esteem & Spiritual Growth. Central to yoga philosophy is that you are divine. The word yoga translates to "union" or "yoke," meaning that practicing yoga is that of becoming one with our divine self. This connection, this union, when practiced intentionally improves feelings of self-love, body image, gratitude, forgiveness, and connection to oneself and the world around you.

 

References


Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Benefits of Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation.

Saeed SA, Cunningham K, Bloch RM.

Am Fam Physician. 2019 May 15;99(10):620-627.


Effects of yogic breath regulation: A narrative review of scientific evidence.

Saoji AA, Raghavendra BR, Manjunath NK.

J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2019 Jan - Mar;10(1):50-58.


"I can do almost anything": The experience of adults with type 2 diabetes with a yoga intervention.

Thind H, Guthrie KM, Horowitz S, Conrad M, Bock BC.

Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2019 Feb;34:116-122.


The Efficacy of Yoga as a Form of Treatment for Depression.

Bridges L, Sharma M.

J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017 Oct;22(4):1017-1028.


The Psychology of Yoga Practitioners: A Cluster Analysis.

Genovese JE, Fondran KM.

Int J Yoga Therap. 2017 Mar 30.


Therapeutic Role of Yoga in Type 2 Diabetes.

Raveendran AV, Deshpandae A, Joshi SR.

Endocrinol Metab (Seoul). 2018 Sep;33(3):307-317.


Yoga as an Alternative and Complimentary Therapy for Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review.

Haider T, Sharma M, Branscum P.

J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2016 Jan 19. pii: 2156587215627390.



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