Part of what has made yoga so popular is the idea of the “yoga body” – a body type that is supposedly long and slender. And many of us believe that practicing yoga on a regular basis will help us achieve that.
The reality is, this may or may not be true. Yoga is practiced effectively by people of all body types and is about much more than sculpting your physique. While yoga may help some of us to shed the pounds, the benefits of this mind-body practice go well beyond weight loss.
We’ve all seen magazine photos and YouTube videos of accomplished yogis and yoginis twisting their bodies into pretzels. The good news is that you don’t need to reach that level of ability to benefit from yoga. Practicing yoga on a regular basis, regardless of your level of experience, can help to increase muscle flexibility. A Colorado State University study linked Bikram yoga with increased flexibility of the shoulders, lower back and hamstrings.
When many of us think of strength training, what immediately comes to mind is weightlifting. But yoga can build strength, as well. Anyone who has tried to hold a challenging yoga pose knows that it can be pretty difficult. Maintaining a practice on a regular basis, and holding the poses for progressively longer periods of time, can be an excellent form of strength training.
3. Better brain function
According to a University of Illinois study, just 20 minutes of hatha yoga, improves cognitive functions like memory and focus. In the study, participants performed significantly better on cognitive function tests after 20 minutes yoga than they did after 20 minutes of aerobic exercise.
4. Greater lung capacity
A Ball State University study linked hatha yoga with increased vital lung capacity. Participants practiced yoga poses, as well as breathing and relaxation techniques, for 15 weeks. At the end of that time period, they demonstrated significantly increased vital lung capacity. The study also suggested that these practices could be particularly helpful for smokers and those with asthma.
5. Stress reduction
According to the Mayo Clinic, studies have suggested that yoga can reduce both stress and anxiety. It can also play a role in boosting your mood and improving your general sense of well-being.
6. Chronic ailments
Yoga can help those struggling with chronic ailments to manage their conditions more effectively. For example, it can help to reduce risk factors for heart disease and blood pressure. It can also reduce or alleviate the symptoms of conditions like depression and insomnia, according to the Mayo Clinic.
7. Stable blood sugar
A study published in Diabetes Care found that when people with type 2 diabetes practice gentle yoga their blood sugar tends to become steadier. This may be the case because yoga can lead to small amounts of weight loss.
8. Reduced oxidative stress
The same study found that the participants who practiced yoga regularly enjoyed a decline in oxidative stress, a situation in which the levels of free radicals exceed the body’s ability to neutralize them. This can lead to a host of chronic diseases.
Clearly, practicing yoga regularly can lead to a wide range of health benefits beyond weight loss. At the same time, it is important to take into account the needs and abilities of your unique body. When starting any new exercise of physical activity routine, be aware not to push yourself to the point of exhaustion or injury, and speak with a physical trainer or medical professional if you are uncertain whether the form of exercise in question is right for you.
— Sarah Cooke