8 ways the ancient practice goes far beyond simply improving flexibility and balance
Yoga has been around for centuries, with hardcore practitioners praising its mental and physical powers. But you don’t have to be expert to receive yoga’s benefits.
- Provide an emotional boost. After a yoga routine, you may feel increased energy and alertness. It may even help ease depression. A study from Duke University Medical Center suggested that yoga could benefit those living with depression, schizophrenia, other psychiatric conditions and sleep disorders.
- Give your heart some help. Hitting a yoga class on the regular may reduce levels of inflammation that contributes to heart disease. It may even reduce blood pressure, blood sugar levels, cholesterol and body weight—all factors that help lower heart disease risk. Don’t think of yoga as an “instead of” activity, though. You’ll still need to get in moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise like walking or bicycling. In one small study of patients with heart failure, the group that added eight weeks of yoga increased their capacity for exercise, improved their heart health and enhanced their overall quality of life.
- Ease joint discomfort. In a Johns Hopkins review of 11 studies, gentle yoga eased some of the discomfort of painful, swollen joints of people suffering from arthritis. Holding a pose builds strength, and moving from one pose to the next helps improve range of motion in joints. Heat is especially good for arthritis, so you might reap the best benefits from bikram yoga.
- Improve asthma symptoms. Breathing is a essential part of yoga, and the practice has been shown to ease mild to moderate asthma.
- Beat back pain. Yoga, like basic stretching, helps reduce pain and improve mobility in people with lower back pain. In fact, several studies have found yoga is more effective for chronic back pain than typical therapy. In one study, people living with chronic lower back pain reported better back function after just a few months of practicing yoga. Don’t have chronic pain? You can still benefit from yoga; the stretching can improve spinal flexibility.
- Stop insomnia. A review of several complementary and alternative medicine strategies for treating sleepless nights found that yoga was one of the most effective approaches for taming insomnia. Relaxing poses calm your body and your mind, enabling you to get some sleep.
- Tame PTSD. A study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found yoga, combined with other treatments, could be beneficial for helping patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Though it was a pilot study, participants who practiced yoga saw a greater reduction in PTSD symptoms than those who did not.
- Enhance fertility. There are very few studies about yoga’s effect on fertility, but the practice does reduce stress, and, experts say, less stress likely leads to easier conception. Yoga also allows better blood flow to reproductive organs, which may also aid fertility.