6 Health Benefits of Yoga

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A while back, I was having a rough start to my week. It was only Monday, and I was already dealing with a stressful situation, difficult news about a family member’s health, and a number of other stressors. In general, my work and life are relatively stress-free, so this particular day weighed heavily on my mind and body. I found it difficult to focus and had a tight pain in my chest.

Partway through the day, I realized, “I need to go to yoga.”

A few hours later, I was in tree pose at a local yoga studio, and I could feel the tension and difficulties of the day melting off. As I completed the final savasana, and then rolled up my yoga mat, grabbed my water bottle, and exited the studio, I felt lighter. I could breathe easier. Life seemed less stressful, and although my family member wasn’t suddenly well, I had a new, calmer perspective on the situation.

It turns out my peaceful state wasn’t just in my head. Research has shown that there are real health benefits to practicing yoga. Here are six of them:

#1 Yoga reduces stress levels

Multiple research studies have reported on the stress-reducing benefits of yoga, including one study that showed that yoga improves “stress, anxiety and health status.” Yoga utilizes deep breathing and promotes relaxation, both of which can reduce stress levels.

#2 Yoga reduces blood pressure levels and improves other health markers

Blood pressure is the pressure blood places on the arteries as it flows through the body. Since yoga helps reduce stress and anxiety—two contributors to high blood pressure—it can lower blood pressure levels. One research review concluded that, “Not only does yoga reduce high [blood pressure] but it has also been demonstrated to effectively reduce blood glucose level, cholesterol level, and body weight.”

#3 Yoga improves heart function

Even the American Heart Association endorses yoga. That’s because the ancient practice can reduce blood pressure, increase lung capacity, improve heart rate and respiratory function, increase muscle tone and boost blood circulation. The Association does note that it’s important to do yoga in addition to the 150 minutes of recommended exercise weekly (though I’d argue hot yoga should count into those 150 minutes!).

# 4 Yoga helps manage chronic conditions

Yoga is well known for helping manage hypertension (blood pressure) and heart disease. And according to the Mayo Clinic, it may also help alleviate other chronic conditions, including depression, pain, insomnia and anxiety.

#5 Yoga helps prevent injury in athletes

Runners, cyclists, swimmers and other endurance athletes put a great deal of stress and strain on their bodies, often developing only certain muscle groups. Yoga helps strengthen the entire body, while providing much-needed stretching for those sore and overused muscles. Balance, flexibility, core strength—these all help with injury prevention and recovery. Plus, developing focus during yoga practice can give any athlete a competitive edge.

#6 Yoga promotes all-over fitness

Improved stress and anxiety levels, strength, flexibility, balance, heart rate and function, blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol, respiratory function and blood circulation mean one thing: a healthier you. Weight maintenance is a bonus. Overall, yoga is a healthy addition to any lifestyle—and even better if you use it to replace a sedentary habit, like watching television.

Yoga has been helpful to me. Not only do I work it into my weekly exercise regimen, but it’s also my go-to when stressful situations arise. If you’ve never practiced yoga before, give it a try. You might be surprised at the results.

What other benefits have you noticed from practicing yoga?

Sources: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0965229906000434, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22517349, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/Yoga-and-Heart-Health_UCM_434966_Article.jsp, http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/yoga/art-20044733?pg=1

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