Whether yoga has still been just on your mind or part of your day, one of the most frequently thought of questions is about what are the benefits of yoga.
What does yoga do for your body? While there is no doubt that yoga is great for keeping fit, it is just the tip of the iceberg.
Yoga is essentially a way of life. It is a holistic practice, which is why yoga benefits not just our physical body but also our mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies.
The physical aspect of yoga in the form of asanas or body postures, and pranayama or yogic breathing exercises, is an integral part of yoga, which leads to the many health benefits of yoga.
In addition, yoga helps us create a lifestyle and routine, becomes our ethical guide from everyday choices to life decisions, and teaches us to find stillness.
Yoga, therefore, is a complete practice in itself because it inspires and empowers us to become our best selves.
This article is a journey into understanding what is yoga good for. And not just that, through learning about how yoga can help you, you will also be able to identify the areas of your life that need to be paid more attention to. It will enable you to chalk out that transformation for yourself.
The Benefits of Yoga Touch All Aspects of Our Being
As per yoga philosophy, our being is made up of 5 layers – the physical body, the energy body, the emotional body, the wisdom body, and the bliss body. They are like the peels of an onion, with the physical body being the outermost layer.
The 8 limbs of yoga (read more about the 8 limbs of yoga and practical ways to add them into your life here), also known as the eight-fold path of yoga, describe the complete practice or pursuit of yoga. They start from our external world, go on to our inner environment, and end with the ultimate realization of bliss.
These eight limbs of yoga are interwoven with our five layers of existence. What this means is that we can use one or more tools available in our yogic practice to benefit any of the five aspects of our being, the physical, pranic or energy layer, emotional, our thinking mind, or our spiritual body.
Also, if there is a disturbance in any aspect of our being, it adversely affects the others. For instance, if we are not feeling well physically, our energy levels can come down, we can feel low, and our thoughts can run into negative loops.
Yoga is a holistic practice that benefits all aspects of your life.
Yogic practices can help us restore balance on all levels and integrate our different aspects, ultimately enabling us to transcend to a deep awareness of the self.
Let us look at what is yoga good for, what does yoga do for your body, and what does yoga do to your body.
20 Benefits of Yoga
The health benefits of yoga can be experienced both immediately and in the long term. Science is increasingly recognizing what yoga does for your body and how yoga can be conducive for physical, emotional, and mental health.
Let us look at some of the many benefits of yoga.
1. Protects against heart disease
A study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology suggests that yoga may help protect against heart disease. The study speaks about how yoga plays a role in maintaining our heart health.
Yoga benefits the cardiovascular system by reducing the key factors linked to heart disease. It helps reduce blood pressure, heart rate, body mass index (BMI), and weight. It also helps improve cholesterol levels.
2. Reduces stress and anxiety
Stress reduction is one of the most immediate benefits of yoga. Yoga is good for reducing anxiety and its symptoms.
Studies have shown that yoga decreases the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. A regular yoga practice eases the autonomic nervous system, thus calming the mind and facilitating relaxation. It improves mood, reduces symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and relieves anxiety.
3. Improves flexibility
There is considerable research that shows that yoga improves flexibility. Better flexibility is one of the most obvious answers to what does yoga do to your body.
The range of motion of joints improves with regular practice. When muscles experience stretching, they lengthen and become stronger.
Yoga is good for improving flexibility and this is one of the most tangible benefits of yoga. Something like touching your toes, which might seem impossible to achieve in the beginning, can become accessible as you deepen in your practice.
Yoga is a holistic practice that benefits all aspects of your life.
4. Builds muscle strength
Yoga helps increase strength and build muscle, while at the same time improving flexibility. In yoga, one builds muscles by lifting body weight. As one advances in their asana practice, there is a progression in the poses, which leads to progression in the weight of the body that the muscles can support.
Those who practice yoga experience significant improvement in upper body strength and endurance. As body fat percentage decreases, there is also weight loss.
5. Improves posture
What does yoga do to your body? It improves posture.
Bad posture is mostly an outcome of habit. We tend to develop muscle memory around keeping our body in certain positions and over time that becomes the shape of how we carry ourselves.
Yoga can significantly improve posture and help us get a neutral spine. It does so by enhancing more awareness of the body as a result of which body-mind connection strengthens. It increases upper body and core strength, which enables the body to stay in an upright position. It also strengthens the back muscles and improves alignment.
If you would like to know more about how yoga can fix bad posture, this is a helpful article.
6. Protects musculoskeletal health
Yoga is good for our musculoskeletal health.
Our bone density tends to decline as we age. Yoga helps to increase bone density, as many postures require that we lift our own weight or support our body weight on our limbs. This can help prevent the onset of osteoporosis.
Yoga can also help prevent arthritis by employing the joints and cartilages and making sure they are exposed to their full range of motion. This helps prevent wearing out of these parts because of lack of use.
Balance improves, which means fewer falls, especially for the elderly.
7. Takes care of the spine
Yoga is good for our spine as it helps maintain and improve spinal health. Most of the poses in yoga engage the spine and back. They create a full range of motion for the spine by engaging it in forward bends, backward bends, and twists.
A study has also shown that side planks can reduce the curvature of the spine in people who develop scoliosis.
Chaturanga is a yoga pose that strengthens the core and back muscles.
8. Increases blood flow
There are various ways in which yoga helps improve blood flow in the body.
By encouraging relaxation, yoga helps blood circulate more easily. When there is movement, there is an improved flow of blood to those areas of the body. This provides the cells with more oxygen and they can, therefore, work better.
In twisting poses, the organs get a fresh supply of oxygenated blood. Inversion poses in yoga reverse the blood flow from the legs and lower body to the heart and brain.
Yoga increases hemoglobin in red blood cells. It also helps prevent blood clots, thereby helping the heart.
9. Boosts immunity and reduces inflammation
Yoga and meditation are known to support the lymphatic system. Movements in yoga aid the drainage of the lymph, thereby boosting immunity.
It may also help fight against inflammation, which is a natural immune response but can lead to diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
10. Improves mood and makes you happier
Yoga is good for our mood. A regular practice of yoga is known to boost mood, reduce fatigue, and improve quality of life. When done consistently, it also increases serotonin levels and reduces cortisol levels.
Yoga is also seen to help with depression and its symptoms.
11. Encourages healthy eating patterns
Yoga has been found to lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. It improves sensitivity to the effects of insulin, lowers bad cholesterol, and boosts good cholesterol.
One of the most long-tem health benefits of yoga is that it encourages conscious eating and helps one become a more mindful eater. The mind-body connection that yoga deepens helps pick the cues of hunger, fullness, and fatigue. It, therefore, can help those with eating disorders and stress eating.
12. Builds better focus
The present moment is difficult to lose with yoga. There is the coordination of movement and breath, of the right side of the body with the left side, of the two sets of limbs, which keeps our attention on the here and now.
Yoga is good for building focus. Regular yoga practice has been shown to improve reaction time, memory, and coordination.
Yoga teaches you to focus on the present, even when standing still.
13. Promotes relaxation
Yoga deepens the breath, encourages you to slow down, and enables you to relax. When the breath deepens, the mind gets signals that it is safe to lower the flight or fight response (sympathetic nervous system) and activate the relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system).
Places in the body where we tend to hold the most stress – our shoulders, neck, jaw, and limbs, can release some of the chronic tension as we become more aware of the body.
The internal organs of the body, including the digestive and reproductive systems, receive increased blood flow and experience relaxation.
14. Improves sleep
Yoga benefits our sleeping patterns and sleeping cycles.
Better sleep is one of the key benefits of yoga. A regular yoga practice, especially one that is restorative, calms the nervous system. This translates to improved quality of sleep. You not only sleep longer, but also get sleep faster and sleep deeper.
15. Develops the breath
Studies have shown that yoga improves breathing. By practicing pranayama (yogic breathing techniques), the breath deepens, slows down, and becomes even.
Yoga is good for improving lung function. People who suffer from respiratory issues like asthma can benefit greatly from a regular yoga practice.
16. Eases digestive problems
The health benefits of yoga extend to the digestive system.
Digestive issues like constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and ulcers can be a result of stress. They can also get worse with stress.
Yoga, by relaxing the body and digestive organs, can help find relief from digestive issues. It also aids in better digestion and elimination of waste from the body.
Certain yoga poses and sequences can help you deal with different digestive issues.
17. Boosts self-confidence
Yoga benefits not just the physical body but is also a tool for self-actualization. What is yoga good for is therefore, not just the tangible but also the innermost layers of our being.
Yoga is a non-violent practice. It enables us to be kinder to ourselves and respect our limitations.
At the same time, by helping us with self-discipline and making us feel stronger and more secure in our bodies, yoga boosts feelings of self-worth and self-confidence.
18. Eases pain
Chronic pain can result from injuries, arthritis, obesity, or even aging. Practicing yoga can help reduce pain and improve physical function.
The perception of pain can increase with stress. When there is a reduction in stress, it has a direct impact on how much pain we perceive. Those who live with chronic pain are able to improve their quality of life with yoga.
19. Builds awareness of the self
Yoga benefits the search for self-realization and promotes deeper reflection as awareness is drawn to the self. Through the various practices of yoga, windows open to those parts of us that remain hidden behind the roles we play.
This opens up new possibilities for growth and transformation. It helps us improve our relationship with ourselves and with others. It also makes us see our own potential and gives us the courage to move ahead on our life path.
20. Encourages self-care
For those of us who feel caring for ourselves is selfish, yoga can encourage us to respect our needs and take a break from our duties. What is yoga good for is teaching us that our duty towards our own self is the highest form of duty.
The time that we spend on the mat is time that we are using to nurture, nourish, and replenish. Yoga can help us create more space in our hearts and our lives for self-care and self-love.
The benefits of yoga transcend the physical. The question of what does yoga do for your body and what does yoga do to your body becomes secondary to what yoga helps you achieve in your life.
It is a practice that is healing for our emotional, mental, and spiritual bodies. While some benefits are experienced while you are still on the mat, others percolate to our habits, routines, and relationships.
While not taking away from all the other health benefits of yoga, perhaps the one most relevant to our lives is that yoga makes us meet the present moment. It is the now that is the most elusive.
If you are looking for more insights into the science behind yoga, this is an interesting video to watch.
Nidhi @thebigbindu is a practicing yoga therapist and an advanced yoga teacher. Her writing is inspired by her experience of yoga and her study of Ayurveda, Yoga philosophy, and Yoga psychology.