Yoga is all around, we doubt that you can walk three blocks downtown without seeing a yoga studio. Not sure if the benefits of yoga are the real deal or just another fad? We are here to help you make up your mind about it. Yoga is an exercise, a lifestyle, a form of art, and a science. Yoga is non-judgmental and anyone can practice it in a way that fits your needs and desires.
Yoga has existed for many years, more than five thousand to be more exact. Since it is so ancient, it is hard to pinpoint exactly where it started and who developed it. India is its birthplace, and various philosophies came together to develop yoga’s principles. Archaic Indian sacred texts started to use the term yoga as in “to put to active and purposeful use”.
Science is now catching up with the health benefits of yoga. Over time,we can understand the advantages that benefit those who practice yoga, over those who don’t. These benefits are not only physical but also mental. It is incredible to see what a routine that includes daily yoga can do for you. Let’s see some of these benefits ahead.
What is Yoga Good for? Top 10 Physical Benefits
Many people choose to do yoga to get fit, lose weight and combat illnesses. We have elaborated a list of 10 benefits you can achieve if you do yoga. Some of these benefits are well-known, and some should be on your list.
It improves flexibility
This is the number one question on everyone’s mind when it comes to yoga. All the marketing pictures of yoga studios are of women in extremely bendy and impossible looking positions. During the first class, it is likely that you won’t do a backbend, or bring your foot above your head. If you stick to it though, you will see gradual and steady progress. Little by little, your hand will reach closer to your feet and soon the advancements will be undeniable. After all, there is nothing different between you and the women from the poster other than practice.
It builds muscle strength
At first glance, nobody would say that yoga strengthens the muscles. Lifting weights, cycling and going to the gym are the ones that do that. Well not anymore! There are specific poses in yoga that strengthen the muscles. When you do yoga, you have to support your whole body weight in challenging positions, and that is very intense. Some studies support that, people who practiced yoga six times a week have experienced a significant increase in strength in the upper body. They also showed weight loss and better endurance to heavy exercises.
Many researchers support that muscle gain, combined with flexibility is the best way to build up strength. Strong muscles not only look good but also protect your spine, reducing back pain, and reduce the chances of arthritis development.
It helps your posture
Back pain is such a common ailment that almost everybody has suffered from it at one point or another. Several things can cause this, and some of them can be immensely helped by yoga. The configuration of the human body itself brings a challenge to the spine, as it has to balance our head straight up for several hours. That alone can cause back pain and weak back muscles do nothing to help.
The more tired we get, the more we curve our spine and slump forward. When we do that, the body compensates by trying to flatten the natural curve of the spine, and that is not good for your back. Having a good posture is a must to prevent joint problems, neck pain, and other back problems. With yoga, you will strengthen your back muscles and teach your spine to easily carry the weight of your head and body.
It is good for bone health
It is not news that types of exercises that strengthen muscles are also effective in pushing away osteoporosis. In yoga, it is common that you lift your weight, and that bolsters bones and joints. Besides that, various positions make you use your arms to hold your weight, like the downward dog and handstands. The arms are parts of the body that are more prone to start suffering from osteoporosis. Also, yoga helps lower stress levels and cortisol, which many studies believe help keep calcium in the bones.
It can be effective in reducing chronic pain
A 2016 study uncovered that approximately 20% of adults in the USA suffered from chronic pain. That amounts to 50 million people. That number is alarmingly high. A particular study followed individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome and divided them into two groups. One was given a wrist splint and the other practiced yoga regularly for eight weeks. They found that yoga was a lot more efficient in diminishing the pain and improving hand grasp. Similar studies were made in osteoporosis and knee pain.
It makes you sleep better
There are few things worse than sleeping badly. It makes us feel tired and, more seriously, can lead to obesity, heart problems, depression, and diabetes. Every kind of exercise helps us sleep better, but yoga is the best of them. In a study in 2005, 69 elderly patients were given the choice to either take herbal teas or do yoga before bed. The yoga group slept better and more than the other group and felt overall better in the morning. Yoga relaxes the body and mind and reduces anxiety and stress. Hence Yoga is proven to help people sleep faster and deeper.
It enhances balance
When we have a good balance we can move better, have control over our body and prevent injuries. Balance training can make us more agile and delays aging. There is an interesting experiment we can do to determine our level of balance and overall body health. Stand on one foot and close your eyes, keeping track of how long you can hold the position. If you are between 25-30 years old, you should be able to hold it for at least 28 seconds. If you are 40, at least 16 seconds. If you’re a senior, 7 seconds. And so on.
Yoga is one of the best exercises for balance. Many positions force you to stand on one foot and you learn how to use your whole body to maintain equilibrium and flow among poses with grace.
It can relieve migraines
MIgraines are an extreme type of headache that causes throbbing pain, nausea and light sensitivity. It is acutely uncomfortable and people who suffer from it feel debilitated by it. They miss out on opportunities and turn down on doing activities because of it. A study from 2014 showed that adding yoga to your daily routine and regular medication can help with migraine symptoms and improve the circulatory system, which helps with headaches and pain.
Increases blood flow
Relaxation helps circulation, and there is nothing better to relax your body than a yoga class. The yoga movements also encourage oxygen to reach all parts of your organs. Twisting and inversions bring fresh oxygen to the heart and brain, making them function better. Besides, yoga raises hemoglobin levels in the blood, which helps prevent blood clots and heart diseases.
People who suffer from poor circulation can feel numbness and coldness in their hands, cramps, swelling problems, and dark circles around their eyes. Yoga is not only effective to help with these issues, but is also a low impact exercise that can be cheaply done in your house. These are some of the best yoga poses that help with circulation: the downward-facing dog, the warrior, the triangle, and the child’s pose.
It boosts immunity
Having a weak immune system means you are constantly prone to inflammations, infections, and colds. Stress levels are a big influence on immunity and yoga is a natural and gentle way that helps with that. It also stimulates the lymphatic system to push harmful toxins out of your body. Yoga is one of the exercises that involve the whole body and not only selected muscles, uniting our organs and systems and promoting balance. Supporting the overall health of your body is the main way to support your immune system, and yoga does just that.
There are many other physical benefits from doing yoga, like relieving menopause symptoms, neck pain, lose weight and asthma symptoms. If you suffer from any of the diseases we mentioned, it is important to always consult with a doctor before engaging in any physical activities. Yoga is a natural relief for many ailments, but should not be used in place of medication or treatments.
7 Fantastic Mental Benefits of Yoga
Yoga is not only good for your body but also your mind. It has changed the lives of several people and helped with the mental health and general well-being of yogis. Science is learning more each day about these benefits, and taking more interest in the intricacies of the mind and things that influence it.
It reduces stress
Stress, the modern worry that creeps inside the lives of so many of us. Traffic, an unpleasant boss, deadlines, current political events, and bills, these are just some of the worries we have daily. While technology is an amazing feature and great to keep us up to date on occurrences, it also makes it hard for us to disconnect and truly relax. In this amazing modern word, we sometimes feel pressured to keep up with the fast-paced life we lead.
Stress is vital for survival. It is what makes us quick on our feet and what makes us finish tasks more efficiently. It is a crucial warning system that helps perceive danger and it can even boost memory. That is, however, if we have in small, piked doses.
When we produce stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol on constant levels we elevate blood pressure and damage our blood vessels. Emotional stress that goes on for months can do a lot of damage to our body, leading to fatigue, depression and even heart disease.
Studies that followed people who practiced yoga for at least three months showed that they have lower cortisol levels. They also had lower signs of stress. Yoga calms the mind and teaches a lot of relaxation techniques, and it is worth a try if you are suffering from stress.
It helps with anxiety
Thankfully we are past the age of seeing anxiety as just “worrying it too much” or some silliness we have to get over with. It is a real disease and can affect people in vastly different ways. It can manifest with symptoms such as tightness around the chest area, dizziness, increased heart rate, and difficulty in breathing.
An analysis from 2016 found that the practice of Hatha yoga had a visible effect on anxiety. Interestingly, the benefits of yoga were the highest on people with the biggest signs of anxiety at the beginning of the study. Additionally, we have known since 2010 that yoga improves anxiety levels more than walking and running. Breathing techniques are a crucial ally for those who suffer from anxiety, and yoga is great in teaching them.
It is also related to a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This chemical tends to be lower in people with mood disorders and anxiety symptoms. Research showed that yoga increases the levels of that toxin, helping the brain to balance itself. It is also amazing what yoga can do for anxious children, and practicing yoga at the beginning of the school day every day for eight weeks improved the well-being and emotional health of a group of children that participated in a study in 2017.
It calms the mind
The ambient,dimmed lights, exercising, stretching and breathing – all helps contribute to a state where we can relax our minds. That is important and it helps us observe our thoughts and organize our feelings, encouraging us to make better decisions and feel better about our feelings.
It helps with negative emotions
Hatha Yoga can improve the brain’s executive functions and people’s moods. Executive functions are the activities in the brain that influence behavior and decision making processes, in addition to habits and emotional responses. The principles of yoga also promote healthy thoughts and self-caring, which helps to focus on the positive. It also pushes us to live in the moment, enjoying the present and being grateful for what we have.
It boosts your confidence
There are so many ways yoga can boost confidence. For one, it is an effective exercise, helping you lose weight and feeling toned – which does wonders for self-image. Secondly, and more importantly, it promotes self-love and body acceptance. Yoga is for everyone, and you won’t see a class or yoga teacher that doesn’t welcome people with all body types and fitness levels into the studio. Every yoga position has an alternative easier pose that can be done by beginners. Being part of such an inclusive activity, is a great way to build a community and make everyone feel better about themselves.
It improves concentration levels
As we keep pointing out, yoga encourages us to calm our minds and organize our thoughts. That means keeping distracting thoughts at bay and focusing on what matters to us. Ancient yogis have always believed that yoga had the power to flush out emotional clutter and improving concentration. Even twenty minutes of yoga shows improvement in brain function. If you want to see for yourself, here are some yoga poses that help concentration.
- The salutation seal.
One of the easiest yoga poses there is, the salutation seal is great for helping you get focus and relax your mind. Sit down on the floor, cross your legs tightly and put your hands with palms together on your heart’s height. With your spine erect, close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths in and out. Do this for fifteen minutes for better results.
- The tree.
The tree is a challenging, yet simple pose to perform. Standing up, bring one foot up and let it rest it against your other leg – around your knee’s height. Raise both your arms and touch your palms together at full height. Elongate your body and close your eyes, focusing on your breathing and maintaining balance. This pose is great for concentration because it forces us to stay in the moment and aim our attention to our bodies. If that is too hard, you can separate your hands and use them to find balance.
- The warrior.
This is not the easiest of positions, but it is worth a try if you want to train focus. Stabilize your body on one leg and bring your torso parallel to the ground, with arms and one leg pointing forward and back. Finding a visual focal point to keep your gaze on is crucial to keep balance. You will also discover that keeping your mind on the task is also important, and if your thoughts start to wonder your body will also fall. That is key to improving concentration and can be used in every yoga pose.
It helps with memory loss
Memory loss is an embarrassing, sad and difficult inconvenience. We all have forgotten important dates and misplaced important items, but when this impacts our lives in big ways, it is time to do something about it. While going to the doctor should always be your number one priority, there is no harm in trying some yoga activities that can help you keep your mind sharp.
A small, recent study chose adults with mild cognitive impairments, memory loss and pre Alzheimer symptoms and assigned some of them memory-training exercises. While half of the group was doing that, the other half participated in a three months long yoga and meditation retreat. At the end of the study, the second group had bigger improvements in visual-space memory. Here are some poses you can try.
- The Padahastasana.
Stand up with your feet together and bend your whole core to touch your legs, hugging your tights closely. This is great to increase blood supply to your brain and invigorate your nervous system.
- The Halasana.
Lay down on your back and keep your arms by your side with your palms facing the floor. Raise your legs on a 90-degree angle and, using your hands to support your hips, take your feet over your head on a 180-degree angle – touching the floor if you can. Never force any yoga position, simply go as far as your body can and stop it. This position calms the nervous system and reduces fatigue, helping with memory.
- The Sarvangasana.
Lie down on your back with your legs together. Raise your legs at 90 degrees angle. While pressing your arms against the floor, bend your elbows and use your hands to fully support your hip. Raise your lower back from the floor and try to keep your body on a straight line. This is fantastic to induce blood flow, reduce migraines and help with memory in the long term.
Benefits of yoga for men
Yoga is more popular among women than men, that is a fact. Any yoga studio will be mostly filled with women. In 2014, there were over twenty million people practicing yoga in the USA, but only 18% of them were men. There is a stigma associated with the practice, and many men think that yoga is not a “real exercise” or that it is “too feminine”. Interestingly, the majority of Indian yoga teachers that are trained and have been certified in India are men. LeBron James, the famous basketball player, is an avid yogi and an advertiser for the practice of it. If you are a man who is thinking about starting yoga but is not sure if it is for you, or a woman who wants to convince a loved one to give it a try, we are here for you. The benefits of yoga are not only restricted to women, and we elaborated this list to prove it.
Yoga can improve your other workouts
A certified yoga teacher and trainer said: “Yoga widens the range of motion and increases access to more muscle fibers, allowing for more substantial hypertrophy in any given muscle group.” That means you can build more muscles at the gym if you do yoga too. Yoga increases strength, flexibility, and stamina, and that will give you an edge for a range of other exercise types – from weight-lifting to running. Another very important point is that well-stretched muscles are much more likely to recover well, which means doing yoga will help to prevent injuries in other sports.
Yoga can improve productivity
A daily yoga practice of even fifteen minutes enhances focus, betters our decision-making process and organizes our mind. All that is welcomed in the work environment, and will certainly prove positive on your productivity and work rate.
It extends the range of muscle growth
Weight lifting is not the only way to build and sculpt muscles. When doing yoga, we use our whole body weight to build lean muscles. Yoga also increases blood flow, bringing oxygen to the muscles and keeping them healthy. All that influences the muscles and allows them to grow faster.
Men have particular muscles that are the focus on the gym and bodybuilding classes. Muscles on the abdomen, hamstrings, arms, and gluteus are heavily exercised and forced. However, on exercises like bench press or weightlifting, the movements are repetitive and monotonous, and the muscles can only be trained to a certain limit. If you are in this for the long run, you’ll notice that you can reach a plateau restrained by the limit on the muscles’ motion and growth. Yoga lengthens the muscles and tissues, promoting blood and oxygen flow. Alternating the gym and yoga is a smart way to extend the range of muscle growth.
It helps with weight loss
Yoga can be a more effective way to lose weight than many people think. Men who did yoga and breathing exercises were reported to lose up to four pounds a week. As we’ve seen, yoga lowers cortisol levels – a hormone that not only makes us stressed, but also keeps belly fat in our body. Belly fat in men is not only an image issue but a health based one. Regardless of overall weight, having a large amount of belly fat increases the risk of several health problems, such as heart diseases, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and sleep apnea. There is an easy way to prevent all that, and you already know the answer! Yoga.
It pushes your limits
Yoga has an amazing way to push our limits, while at the same time making us recognize our limits. The practice encourages us to push ourselves and to know our bodies, the lengths it can go and when it needs a rest. The reason most men don’t do yoga is that they are afraid of the way they will look because of social stigma. Push yourself to try something new and discover new boundaries to break.
It can improve your sex life
If that is not enough, know that yoga can make sex life better for men and women. Yogis are highly aware of their bodies in a positive way and tend to have lower levels of anxiety. Yoga also improves blood flow to all body areas – including the genital ones. Even Men’s Health Magazine reported a study that found that men who did yoga for at least twelve weeks improved their sexual function in general. To measure that, they followed desire and satisfaction rates. This probably comes from a combination of mood improvements and better pelvic muscle tone.
If you are ready to embark on the journey that yoga practice is, you should know that there are many types of yoga you can choose from. Don’t worry, we have made a comprehensive guide of the major ones – and you can read along and find the one that better suits you.
Types of yoga
Vinyasa yoga is very popular and can be found in most studios. The word means “linking breath with movement” and the postures are done in a flowing way – rather than changing abruptly from one position to another. You can memorize the flow and do it meditatively, almost like a dance. It is usually practiced in a dark or dimmed room with candles, essential oils, and relaxing music.
Ashtanga is much more vigorous than Vinyasa. It is composed of a series of poses, and each one is held for five breaths on a paced flow. Many people say this is the most traditional type of yoga. The series of positions are practiced in the same way every time, and consist of the Sun Salutation A, the Sun Salutation B, a standing sequence and a closing sequence. There is no music involved and it is usually done in silence (with no instructions from the teacher).
Bikram is also known as hot yoga. It involves the same twenty-six yoga poses and two breathing exercises, all done in a very hot room – about 105 Fahrenheit. The power of yoga combined with sweating and muscle stretching results in an effective exercise. Its inventor, Bikram, brought the practice to the United States in the seventies, and it became very popular since then. Many people feel incredibly renovated and free of toxins after a class.
The traditional poses get a new, powerful approach with this yoga type. Ashtanga positions are incorporated and added core and upper body exercises make you sweat and feel the intensity. The sequence changes every time and there is generally happy and upbeat music in the background. Depending on the instructor, different kinds of yoga (like Vinyasa or Hatha) can be incorporated, but always engaging the core and focusing on building strength.
The Sivananda revolves around five principles: proper breathing, diet, exercise, positive thinking, and exercise. If you follow these five pillars, you will live a healthy yogi life. The practice involves traditional asanas, sun salutations, and breathing exercises. There is no music.
Iyengar is based on the “eight limbs of yoga”. They are our attitudes towards different parts of life, as follows: Yama (attitude towards our environment), Niyama (towards ourselves), Asana (the actual physical postures), Pranayama (controlling the breath), Pratyahara (removal from the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (integration). Using breath control via Pranayama, is the focus of Iyengar, and the Asanas are always accompanied by breathing techniques. There are a lot of props like blankets and straps, and the teacher helps the students to go deeper into their poses.
Classes taught in the Kundalini style involve a lot of meditation and breathing techniques, like alternating nostrils. Chanting, postures and a relaxing environment all help awakening energy in the body, specifically the energy we have in the base of the spine. Each specific Kundalini pose is combined with a breathing method that is supposed to liberate this energy and align the chakras in our body.
Restorative yoga is about rest, relaxation and restoring the body. The poses are simple and you hold them for up to twenty minutes. It is a slow-paced class designed to recover the mind and body. It uses a lot of props, like blocks, bands, and pillows. They help the student to completely let go of any anxieties they may have and fully embrace this slow, gentle and relaxing lesson.
Hatha yoga is a general style of yoga that encompasses the other types. It makes use of Asanas and Pranayama – the yoga poses combined with breathing exercises. It is very traditional, but nowadays it has become hard to identify exactly what it involves. Since it can change from teacher to teacher, it is recommended to call ahead and talk to the studio about it.
Conclusion – is Yoga Good for you?
Yes, even fifteen minutes of yoga can make a huge difference in your health. It is a great exercise for a healthy person with regular health, and a fantastic option for those who suffer from ailments such as high cholesterol, diabetes, chronic pain and more. It makes you stronger, more flexible and it improves your breathing. There is a reason this ancient practice has been around for thousands of years and has not faded away like other “fashion” exercises. The benefits of yoga are almost too many to count.
To choose a studio you like, take your time to get to know the teacher and make sure to understand what type of yoga they teach. It is a good idea to do trial lessons and see if you feel comfortable there before committing to a membership. A teacher should never push your body too much, and yoga is not supposed to hurt. It is all about the journey, not the destination. Always consult a doctor before engaging in any new activities, and respect your body above all.