While there are many different types of yoga to know about, the word “yoga” essentially refers to a mind and body practice. It includes activities that combine physical poses and stretches with breathwork and meditation.
This is what makes yoga such a spiritually and physically rewarding activity.
What does the word “yoga” mean? The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root “Yuj,” which means “to unite”.
Yogic scriptures state that practicing yoga results in the unity of individual and universal consciousness so that there’s harmony between the body and mind.
With the above in mind, let’s explore how yoga works. We’ll start by looking at what health benefits you can gain by practicing yoga on a regular basis.
How Does Yoga Improve Your Health?
Yoga provides many benefits for the mind and body. Here’s a rundown of some of the most important ones to gain.
Yoga Improves Your Strength
Feeling strong enables you to achieve more tasks during your daily life. It also boosts your self-esteem by making you feel capable.
Since yoga includes slow physical movements along with deep breathing, it boosts blood flow throughout the body. This warms up your muscles. Holding yoga poses also builds your bodily strength.
Yoga Makes You More Flexible
During yoga, you stretch your muscles when holding various poses. This increases your range of motion. Over time, it can therefore help to make you more flexible.
Flexibility is important to develop because it has many benefits for the body. It improves your posture, and muscle coordination, and can reduce your risk of injuries.
It’s been said that you can start to see improved flexibility after about four weeks of doing regular yoga.
Yoga Improves Your Posture
When you practice yoga regularly and become stronger as well as more flexible, this contributes to you achieving a healthier posture.
Many yoga poses help you to build core strength, which supports your back. Your core muscles are required to help you strengthen and maintain your posture.
Yoga Improves Your Immune System
Having a strong immune system keeps you healthy and can ward off illness. Practicing yoga has a positive effect on the body’s immune system.
A study found that yoga has an anti-inflammatory effect, therefore reducing inflammation markers in the body.
This is important because when you experience high levels of inflammation in the body, this damages your healthy cells.
Yoga Improves Your Heart Health
Since yoga is focused on helping you become calmer, this reduces stress which can have a negative effect on your heart.
But, practicing yoga is also linked to increased blood circulation and lower blood pressure, two conditions that contribute to a healthier heart.
In research that studied 37 clinical trials, it was found that yoga lowered blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and heart rate in a similar way to how aerobic exercise achieved the same results.
Yoga Boosts Your Mind
When you practice yoga, your brain cells create new connections. These improve your cognitive skills.
Research into yoga that made use of brain-imaging technology has found that people who did yoga on a regular basis had a thicker cerebral cortex, which processes information, as well as a thicker hippocampus, which is involved in memory and learning.
In addition to the above, it was also found that older yoga practitioners didn’t experience as much brain shrinkage as people who didn’t practice yoga. This means that sticking to a regular yoga practice can prevent age-related brain decline.
Yoga Improves Your Sleep
When you don’t get enough sleep at night, your body produces more cortisol, which is the stress hormone. This can lead to various issues, such as overeating, anxiety, and irritability.
Practicing yoga is calming, which is why it’s the perfect activity to do to prepare for bed.
A study found that yoga improves sleep quality and decreases the severity of insomnia so you can have more energy for your busy days.
Yoga Helps You Control Your Weight
Yoga assists in weight control in a variety of ways. These include the following:
- It encourages greater mindfulness about eating. A study found that mindfulness reduces impulsive or binge eating. It also has a positive effect on one’s physical activity levels, all of which contribute to greater weight control.
- Some types of yoga burn a lot of calories. A one-hour session of yoga such as vinyasa yoga can burn around 400 to 500 calories! This makes yoga useful for weight loss.
Yoga Boosts Your Balance
Balance is an important part of yoga. When you do poses, you have to remain centered and balanced, and this has both physical and mental benefits.
Physically, it helps you develop greater balance, which makes you feel you can better complete tasks and use your body more efficiently. Mentally, it improves your ability to focus on the present moment so that you don’t fall over.
At the end of your yoga session, you can take this feeling of stability into the rest of your life.
Yoga Lowers Your Stress Levels
Stress is linked to various health conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Yoga reduces your stress because it gives you the perfect opportunity to slow down your breathing, focus on your poses, and clear your mind of whatever is causing you to worry.
The meditation involved in yoga is also beneficial. A study found that when people did yoga Nidra meditation for 30 days, they decreased their stress and boosted their general wellbeing.
Some of the most effective yoga poses to decrease stress include the following:
Cat-Cow Pose (Marjaryasana to Bitilasana)
This yoga pose connects your breathing to your physical movements.
- Start in a tabletop position (this is when you’re on your hands and knees).
- Put your wrists underneath your shoulders, while your knees should be underneath your hips.
- Take a deep breath, and as you inhale turn your eyes to the ceiling while your belly moves towards your mat. Arch your back. This is the Cow pose.
- Exhale, and pull your chin towards your chest while you bend your spine towards the ceiling. This is the Cat pose.
- You should move between this two yoga poses for one minute.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
This is another effective yoga pose that can help you tune out the world and focus on your breathing to instill greater relaxation.
- Get into a kneeling position on your yoga mat.
- Put your knees together and sit back on your heels.
- Fold your body forward so you rest your forehead on your mat.
- Move your arms straight in front of you (or keep them along your legs).
- Let your torso move into your thighs while breathing deeply.
- Focus on relaxing the muscles in your body.
Yoga Boosts Your Mood
We’ve already looked at how yoga can reduce stress, which is sure to put a smile on your face, but it also helps to boost feelings of wellbeing.
A study found that yoga boosts your mood by increasing levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a neurotransmitter linked to happier moods as well as decreased anxiety.
Yoga Improves Your Concentration
Although yoga helps your brain in various ways, did you know it can also help you to better focus on your daily tasks? A study found that yoga affects the neural patterns of the brain. This boosts your ability to concentrate.
Are There Potential Disadvantages Of Practicing Yoga?
Although there are many advantages of practicing yoga, there are some potential drawbacks to consider and know about.
Yoga Can Be Limited By Certain Health Conditions
You should avoid certain yoga positions if you suffer from some health conditions, such as glaucoma.
When you do inversion poses, such as the Shoulderstand, this can put too much pressure on your eyes, which could result in glaucoma-related complications.
Similarly, if you have high blood pressure, you have to be careful to avoid inversion yoga poses and forceful breathing as these can both cause your blood pressure to increase.
Yoga Can Be Dangerous If You Overexert Yourself
While yoga in itself isn’t necessarily dangerous, if you don’t follow the correct safety guidelines this can cause you to get injured.
For example, if you push yourself too far into stretches, this can cause you to feel pain.
Similarly, if you don’t take your time to get accustomed to the yoga poses and instead jump right into an intensive yoga session, this can cause you to end up fatigued or injured.
Finally, you should avoid doing too much yoga per week – aim for no more than five sessions – otherwise this could have negative side effects, such as injury, fatigue, and muscle soreness.
Some Yoga Classes Are Linked To Health Risks
Some yoga classes can be intense. A popular example is Bikram yoga. In this type of yoga, you have to practice poses for 90 minutes in a room that’s got a temperature of around 104 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 percent humidity.
If you’re not careful when practicing this style of yoga, you could risk dehydration and heat stroke.
Back Pain Is Common In Yoga
Lower back pain is the most common yoga injury people experience. This is a result of how some yoga poses require you to round your spine.
You can avoid back pain by ensuring you perform yoga poses in the correct form. Here are other tips to help you prevent back pain and injury:
- Make sure you get into the habit of bending your knees when doing Forward Folds so that your lower back is decompressed.
- When doing twists in yoga, make sure you do them slowly. Focus on taking deep breaths during these poses.
- Try to engage your lower belly. When you have core strength, this results in a stronger back.
Although back pain is common when practicing yoga, it’s been found to alleviate back pain.
Research found that when people with moderate to severe back pain did yoga, they experienced improvements in pain reduction and physical function.
How long should beginner yoga sessions be?
If you’re starting out with yoga, you should aim to complete two to three half-hour sessions of yoga every week. This will ease you into the practice while ensuring you can reap yoga’s many benefits.
Why does it hurt to do yoga?
When you start with yoga, you might find that you experience muscle soreness. This is normal, and you might experience it for hours or days after a session.
What are the best yoga poses to boost your balance?
Some of the best poses to improve your balance include the Mountain pose (Tadasana), Dancer Pose (Natarajasana), Tree Pose (Vrkasana), and Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana)
If you want to start practicing yoga, there are many physical health and mental health benefits to enjoy. These include having greater bodily strength, a stronger heart, and less anxiety.
In this article, we’ve looked at essential physical and mental benefits you can gain by starting a regular yoga practice. We’ve also featured some of the potential drawbacks of yoga of which you should be aware so you can sidestep them.