It’s common knowledge that the advantages of yoga go beyond just being able to (finally) touch your toes or maintain a stable plank. From physical fortitude to alleviating stress, regular downward dogs and crescent lunges can also revitalize other aspects of your life.
Here, discover more about some of the top privileges of yoga that will urge you to unfurl your mat as soon as possible.
Heightens Immune System
Whether you’re warding off a regular cold or merely shielding your body during flu season, incorporating a brief yoga sequence into your daily routine could help prevent illness by bolstering your immune system. According to research from Norway, gentle yoga poses, breathing exercises, and meditation have an impact on gene expression, which is how your body utilizes the information in a gene to create a functional product like a protein. The best part? These immune-boosting benefits of yoga manifest quickly, even before you step off the mat.
Additionally, your immune system gets a boost thanks to your fight-or-flight response, which activates as soon as you start exercising to enhance circulation, as reported by Shape.
“Both actions activate immunosurveillance, mobilizing immune cells into blood, lymph, and tissues to increase the probability that they come into contact with pathogens,” says Jeffrey Woods, Ph.D., a kinesiology professor at the University of Illinois and a fellow at the American College of Sports Medicine.
Teaches Mindful Breathing
You may think you have the whole “inhale, exhale” routine down, but one of the primary benefits of yoga is the practice of intentional breathing, affirms Brenda N. Umana, M.P.H, 500-RYT, a yoga and meditation educator. “Generally, the instructor will prompt when to breathe in and out,” she explains.
One particularly significant type of breath is the ujjayi breath, also known as the victorious breath, in which you inhale and exhale through your nose with your lips sealed. “Anatomically, this style of breathing encourages some resistance in the throat muscles associated with breathing,” Umana adds. “These muscles are connected to the nerves (primarily the vagus nerve) in your brain that foster a more peaceful state in your nervous system (as opposed to feeling stressed out).” In other words, you can rely on yoga-inspired breathing techniques to instantly achieve relaxation in stressful moments.
Alleviates Stress and Enhances Sleep Quality
Anyone who has ever settled into child’s pose knows that yoga has a calming effect. “The contraction and release of muscles during yoga, along with mindful awareness of physical sensations, assist us in unwinding,” explains physician Jamie Zimmerman, M.D., a Sonima meditation instructor.
That might be one reason why merely eight weeks of daily yoga significantly enhances sleep caliber in individuals with insomnia, as per a study from Harvard University.
The anxiety reduction advantage of yoga comes from the inside out, as stated by Paige Willis, yoga teacher and creator of Undone. “Your mind releases different chemicals that collaborate to aid you in feeling relaxed,” she clarifies. “One of these, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), is accountable for transmitting a wave of tranquility throughout your body. The others, your joyful hormones (i.e oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins), assist in enhancing your mood and outlook on life.” So TL;DR: If you’ve had an especially demanding day at work or you’re experiencing tension from a disagreement with a friend, yoga can assist in alleviating those uneasy feelings.
And as you continue your yoga practice, you’ll be capable of utilizing those soothing techniques off the mat as well — which enables you to prevent stress before it escalates into full-blown panic mode. Umana compares it to playing basketball at practice versus during a high-stakes playoff game, “While the practice is a bit fabricated [meaning a controlled scenario], someone could throw a ball at [a player] during the game and they know exactly what to do because of the practice,” she points out. “Similarly, a yoga [routine] is a bit of a fabricated scenario that supports us in the game of life.” In that sense, your yoga practice is quite literally a practice that prepares you for stressful situations in real life.
Fortifies Deep Core Muscles and Pelvic Floor
The advantages of yoga for your abs go beyond a superficial six-pack (also known as the rectus abdominis muscle). Yoga also enhances your core stability and strengthens your pelvic floor muscles, according to ob-gyn Alyssa Dweck, M.D., coauthor of V Is for Vagina. It not only strengthens your muscles (allowing you to hold certain — ahem — poses for longer), but it enhances your flexibility, increases your core stability, and strengthens your pelvic floor muscles — which translates into a better ability to contract your pelvic floor muscles for more intense orgasms, she says.
As for deep core muscles, specific yoga practices revolve around pelvic floor engagement, which focuses on pelvic floor muscles such as the coccygeus, iliococcygeus, puborectalis, and pubococcygeus. These core muscles are located at the bottom of the torso and support the bladder, bowel, uterus, and vagina, while also stabilizing your spine, as Shape previously reported.
“Specific practices in yoga…are utilized to engage and lock our energy (or prana),” says Umana. “One in particular focuses on the pelvic floor muscles, known as the Root Lock (or Mula Baddha). It is a technique used not only in physical practice (or asana) but also in breathwork (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana) as well.” In the Root Lock, you’ll inhale and exhale while gently contracting the pelvic floor muscles for a few seconds before releasing them.
In accomplishing this, you’ll be enhancing the strength of your pelvic floor, which obstructs urinary leakage, aids in alleviating bowel irregularity, and even amplifies climaxes, as reported previously by Shape.
Encourages Mindful Eating
Research conducted by the University of Washington reveals that individuals who regularly engage in yoga practice consume food with more attentiveness than other individuals who exercise. “Yoga prompts you to concentrate on your breath and the sensations occurring within your body,” elucidates Dr. Zimmerman. “This trains your mind to observe the occurrences within your body, aiding in the heightened awareness of feelings of hunger and satiety.” Consequently, you are more inclined to eat intuitively (meaning, making food decisions based on your body’s requirements and cravings) without the detrimental influence of diet culture.
Enhances Cognitive Function
A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health indicates that practicing yoga for twenty minutes improves the brain’s capacity to rapidly and accurately process information, surpassing the effects of running. “While most physical activities allow you to either become absorbed or disengaged, yoga encourages you to come back to the present moment and pay attention,” explains Dr. Zimmerman. “This state of mindful awareness has been linked to structural transformations in the brain, including growth in the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with executive function, working memory, and attention.”
Promotes Cardiovascular Health
Your yoga instructor frequently mentions “opening your heart” for a valid reason: Yoga significantly contributes to the betterment of your heart health. “Yoga has the potential to lower high blood pressure, reduce harmful cholesterol levels, and alleviate stress, all of which are risk factors for heart disease,” affirms Larry Phillips, M.D., a cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center. Moreover, it’s not solely due to the calming effect: Engaging in savasana (learn how to maximize the benefits of this “resting pose” here) associates with more significant improvements in blood pressure compared to simply lying on the couch, as substantiated by research published in The Lancet.
Restorative yoga can particularly benefit your cardiovascular system, asserts Umana. In case you didn’t know, restorative yoga refers to a variation of yoga where props (such as bolsters, blankets, straps, and blocks) support your body, enabling you to sustain poses for prolonged periods without tension. “This facilitates the body in returning to its unstrained state by rebalancing hormones, alleviating tension, and reducing heart rate,” states Umana.
It operates directly with soothing the nervous system and can thus enhance or reinforce our heart rate variability.
Establishes a Connection between the Mind and Muscles
Yoga and mindfulness are frequently mentioned together, and in reality, a significant advantage of yoga is the manner in which it constructs self-awareness, as indicated by Umana. “[With a yoga practice,] you commence to cultivate a rapport with yourself which starts an introspective process of accessing one’s conduct, actions, thoughts, and how our mind operates.” Being on your mat permits you to observe your own thoughts, emotions, and sensations without judgment, which is the initial step in forming a deeper connection with yourself.
“In yoga, there’s no rivalry, which leads to a relatively easygoing, low-pressure environment,” adds Willis. “This grants you the space to build body consciousness, which is your ability to connect with where your body is and what it’s doing in space.” In this sense, a yoga practice might enhance your other workouts as well — and not just by improving your flexibility or developing your core strength. With yoga, you can engage in cultivating a mind-muscle connection, in which you concentrate internally on the muscle and/or the movement pattern you’re attempting to create (think: tucking your pelvis to hold the perfect plank, or bending your knees slightly for a deeper downward dog). Your instructor will likely urge you to contemplate how specific muscle groups are feeling or activating during each asana, which serves as your signal to focus on your body’s movements and remain mentally present.
Facilitates the Formation of Connections with Others
For anyone seeking a new workout companion or someone to try out that new smoothie joint with, a yoga class can provide an excellent opportunity to make friends. And having a new addition to your social circle offers benefits that extend beyond a usual Friday night pizza outing; in fact, having sufficient social ties can enhance everything from sleep quality to cognitive function, as Shape previously reported. Moreover, if you’re aiming to stick with newly established healthy habits, having friends who share those same habits (read: attending regular yoga classes) can contribute to influencing your conduct in a positive manner.
And if you’re seeking a novel way to engage with your beloved canine companion, yes, it’s feasible to perform a downward dog pose with your dog — and it might enhance your bond with each other. Research indicates that the amount of quality time dog owners spend with their pets is positively correlated with a stronger relationship, and practicing yoga with your dog can serve as yet another approach to solidify that connection. Engaging in yoga (or “doga”) with your dog can also aid in their relaxation while supporting their innate instinct to stretch, helping them maintain flexibility and range of motion as they mature.
Gentle elongation is even a component of numerous physical rehabilitation regimens for canines when they’re recuperating from trauma. Say it with us now: “Eeeeeeeexpansive elongation!