Whether you’re new to yoga or have been practicing yoga for a while, you’ll find there are a number of health benefits. If find yourself recovering from serious medical condition, don't be surprised if yoga is recommended as a form of exercise or therapy. Some medical centers, such as Duke Integrative Medicine, now recognize the benefits of yoga as therapy for those recovering from cancer, accidents and injuries.
As you start to warm up in your yoga session with a series of postures and deep breathing, you'll benefit from an increased blood flow to muscles that are working in these poses, according to Beth Shaw, founder of YogaFit. For example, in a flowing style yoga such as Vinyasa that moves fluidly through poses, you might start with a standing series of poses like Moonflower, Sun, Chair and Sunflower. As you flow through these, your heart beats faster, which increases the flow of oxygen to all parts of your body. Other standing postures like Side Angle or Half Moon with twists also increase your circulation. With an increase in circulation, more nutrients reach your cells faster, including your brain cells. The antibodies and white blood cells that you help fight infection move through your body faster to strengthen your immune system.
Practicing yoga and working on different postures is a way to stretch and increase your flexibility. During your yoga session, your joints are taken through their full range of motion. Your muscles and the tissues surrounding your bones and joints will gradually loosen up with time. Increased flexibility and joint movement helps prevent arthritis and chronic pain, says the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Strength and Stability
As you hold an active yoga posture, you'll feel a myriad of muscles kicking in. Yoga postures like Warrior I and Warrior II help you build strength in your quadriceps, calves, hamstrings and thighs. Hang out in forward plank long enough, and you'll feel you abdominals waking up. Increased core stability and strength comes from postures that work your abdominals, lower back, gluteals and hip flexor. These postures helps you build and maintain muscle mass. This increased muscle mass and strength helps protect you from conditions such as osteoporosis and back pain.
One of the biggest benefits you'll find with yoga is stress reduction. The National Institutes of Health have recognized yoga as a form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine that helps your body combat stress -- many people seek out yoga as a form of therapy to relieve anxiety and depression. Yoga practice brings about changes in your body that reduce your levels of stress-induced hormones like cortisol, and you'll experience increased levels of the feel-good hormones such as serotonin.
Practicing yoga postures can help you improve your posture and balance, and it helps keeps your mind active. If you are looking to shed a few pounds, a regular practice of yoga can help you with weight management if you use it as part of a healthy diet and exercise program -- your exercise program for weight management should also include some form of aerobic activity.
- Beth Shaw's Yogafit, 2nd Edition; Beth Shaw
- YogaJournal.com: Let’s Twist Again
- National Institutes of Health: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM): Yoga for Health
- International Journal of Yoga: Exploring the Therapeutic Effects of Yoga and Its Ability to Increase Quality of Life
- MayoClinic.com: Can I Use Yoga For Weight Loss?
- National Institutes of Health: Medline Plus: Exercise and Immunity
- Duke Integrative Medicine: Classes, Workshops & Education
Kris Heeter is a research scientist specializing in basic cancer and disease research. Her work has appeared in several scholarly journals and online publications. Heeter has also been a wellness professional for more than 15 years, teaching healthy cooking courses and fitness classes. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology.