It is no secret that yoga can increase flexibility or that it may often involve meditation. But yoga isn’t all about bendy bodies or love & light. It is not about who can contort their body the best. And it is not about the “hippie-dippie” stereotypes that you may hear. There are real, actual, scientific reasons why yoga has multiple physical, mental and emotional health benefits. And here are 5 of them.
Does your cold have you in a headlock? Are your sinuses pounding your head in? Yoga will help you fight back. A 2013 study found results that indicated yoga can influence gene expression in immune cells. This means that yoga can help you steer clear of any sicknesses coming your way. And even help reduce any prevalent symptoms. But remember, all things in moderation. If your body is already working hard to fight back, allow yourself only a few gentle immunity-boosting poses to help keep that bug away.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word that translates to “extension of the life force”. Life force is a great way to describe one's breath. Breathing literally forces life into us. And pranayama allows for practitioners to lengthen and deepen their inhales and exhales, inside and outside of yoga. This helps support the respiratory system by keeping respiratory muscles strong and flexible. Yoga classes also cue breath awareness for correct breathing. Many people may not even know that they are breathing wrong until they are made aware of how they should be breathing. Normal, healthy breathing will allow for both your belly and chest to rise on the inhale and fall on the exhale. However, some people breath only through their chests (not their bellies). And others breathe in reverse, with the belly and chest rising on the exhale and falling on the inhale.Additionally, deep breathing is known to reduce stress. So the next time you are feeling irritated - take a nice, deep, long breath in, and slowly exhale it out.
If you are looking to improve your cognitive abilities, then yoga may be the answer for you. One study showed “patients assigned to yoga practice for 12 weeks with daily meditation for 12 minutes in weekly one hour classes did better than those who participated in memory training classes in verbal and visual memory, executive function, mood resilience, anxiety, and connectivity of the brain.” Another study compared the effects of yoga exercise vs. aerobic exercise on cognitive performance and “results showed that cognitive performance after the yoga exercise bout was significantly superior (ie, shorter reaction times, increased accuracy) as compared with the aerobic and baseline conditions for both inhibition and working memory tasks.” This is due to the fact that while most other exercises allow for “zoning out” of the mind, yoga encourages you to stay present and focused with mindful awareness and meditation. But the key here is consistency. It takes hard work and dedication to become fully, mindfully aware and the first step is to continually show up on your mat.
It is well-known that yoga aids in self-love, but did you know other types of love can benefit from yoga too? In fact, that self-love and confidence you build in your yoga practice is what makes you so much more attractive to others around you. Beyond that, Wired found data from dating services like Match and OKCupid that shows people who so much as even mention yoga are ranked as the most desirable singles.And while most general exercise can make someone feel sexier and enhance their sex drive, yoga takes it a step further. It increases flexibility and core stability, allowing for more fun in the bedroom. And it involves a surprising amount of kegels - wait, sorry - “mula bandha exercises” for stronger pelvic floor muscles, ie, stronger orgasms.
Okay, so this one is a little hippie-dippie, but bear with me. If all of the aforementioned benefits of yoga don’t already make you happy enough, you’ll be pleased to know that studies have shown yoga can reduce stress and anxiety by lowering your blood pressure and cortisol levels. One study examined brain waves in 7 yoga instructors and “found that alpha waves increased and serum Cortisol decreased” during yoga practice. Additionally, yoga can alleviate many forms of physical pain in the body. Harvard health states, “Yoga can help people with arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine, low back pain, and many other types of chronic pain conditions.” So it feels safe to say that reduced stress and reduced physical pain will make anyone and everyone happy. Include that with a better immune system, better breathing, better love life and better cognitive abilities - yoga will have you smiling all day long. And we all know how contagious a smile can be. A smile can go a long way and could give someone having the worst day the pick-me-up they’ve been needing. So as your own happiness brings a smile across your face, watch and see how much joy you truly spread throughout a world in need of more kindness and love.