The Six Mental and Physical Health Benefits Associated with Practicing Yoga
Beginning a yoga practice can positively impact both the mind and body, and that's true regardless of your current activity level. Practicing yoga regularly—generally, at least three times a week—says Renee Dunn, a yoga practitioner and instructor and the founder of Amazi foods, can result in many health benefits. "Physical release which results in energy boosts, releasing of tension we build up through the day. If you practice regularly...for a few weeks, you'll start to feel the difference!" says Dunn.
As one of the six schools of Hinduism, yoga has long been popular and is also considered a revered form of exercise. "Yoga forces one to slow down and connect to their body sensation, which leads to greater regulation of thinking, behavior, and emotions," says Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, psychologist, pediatric mental health expert, and director of the Global Institute of Children's Mental Health. "The regular practice of being mindful of one's body, respiration, and sensations, gives the nervous system that essential practice that it needs to stay focused not just in a yoga session but at work or in the classroom too."
An integrative and holistic practice, Dunn says, "[Yoga] really trains us to notice what is happening within us, and that translates to the choices we make daily—for nourishment, sleep, relationships, and generally, how we interact with the world around us." Ahead, discover some of the health benefits of yoga that will have you wanting to add the exercise to your weekly routine.
There is a common misconception that participating in yoga has to mean that you are already flexible. In reality, practicing can increase your flexibility, and because there are several different types of "schools" of yoga, there are many options for varying levels of expertise and comfortability. Dunn says, "Yoga is fantastic for beginners. It truly meets us where we are. While it does encourage us to deepen and grow over time, it can be highly modified to meet any level of practitioner—using blocks, straps, chairs, or knees down."
Brenda Umana, MPH, RYT-500, says, "The rhythmic style of breathing in yoga or at least the emphasis on breath can also start to lower your heart rate and reduce stress. In some styles of breathing...it stimulates the muscles in your throat that are linked to the nerves in your brain that promote a more restful state in your nervous system, as opposed to being stressed out."
A Lowered Risk for Chronic Diseases
There are several health benefits to practicing yoga. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of these benefits include lessening your chances of chronic diseases through reducing blood pressure and improving circulation and respiratory function. Yoga practice can also reduce joint and back pain, increase your overall flexibility, muscle tone, and dexterity.
Improved Blood Flow
Because of the practice's focus on both the mind and body, doing yoga regularly can have a positive impact on your overall health and assist in your ability to create healthy habits. Dunn says, "It's a wonderful place to start to cultivate body awareness, to bring movement and fluidity into your joints, to get your blood flowing."
Lessened Anxiety and Depression
In addition to the many physical benefits that a regular yoga practice can provide, mental and emotional improvements can occur. Dr. Capanna-Hodge says, "Regular yoga helps to keep our nervous system regulated and calm and therefore less reactive to everyday stressors. When it comes to clinical conditions such as anxiety, depression, and trauma, regular yoga has been shown to reduce symptoms and help individuals have a greater sense of wellbeing."
According to the International Journal of Yoga, yoga has been known to assist in reducing anxiety, sleeping or insomnia issues, and increase mental clarity and sharpness. Studies have also shown that participating in yoga can result in overall mental relaxation, as well as interrupt chronic stress cycles.