What are the benefits of practicing yoga? It is a well-established fact that practicing yoga strengthens muscles and increases flexibility, but did you know that it also has the potential to make you feel less pain?
One notable study published in the Harvard Mental Health Letter observed the stress responses of 12 regular yoga practitioners, 14 participants with fibromyalgia, and 16 healthy volunteers. To do this, the researchers asked participants to engage in — or not to engage in — a set number of hours of yoga per week and then applied pressure to their skin using a thumbnail pin. The results were definitive. According to their findings, “people who practiced yoga had a higher pain tolerance than the rest of the participants,” WTNZ reveals.
Even better, yoga continues to evolve and become even more accessible to the average person. Adaptive yoga, a form of yoga that works with participants’ current abilities and range of motion, makes the practice even more accessible than ever before. Thanks to adaptive yoga, people with arthritis, spinal cord injuries or trauma, and multiple sclerosis are able to reap the benefits of starting yoga and building a regular practice. Adaptive yoga instructors work with their students to develop modifications that work for them. In some cases, that may mean modifying movements themselves or adding props, like chairs, straps, or blocks to help stabilize or support you during the class or yoga flow.
Whether you opt for a more traditional practice, Bikram yoga, or adaptive yoga, the benefits of starting yoga are plentiful. Learn more below.
1. Reach Peak Physical Health
The vast majority of Americans are not getting enough exercise. As many as 80% do not exercise enough, even though physical activity is proven to lower risks of heart conditions, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancer. In addition to these perks, there are many unique, physical benefits of starting yoga. These benefits include:
- Yoga relieves pain. According to the Harvard Medical School, yoga can help relieve chronic back pain. In one study, researchers asked participants to practice 180 minutes of yoga per week for six months. Those who stuck to the routine reported a 56% reduction in pain and pain-related symptoms.
- Yoga prevents pain. In addition to relieving pain, studies show that yoga can also help prevent it in the first place. Those with rheumatoid arthritis experienced fewer symptoms when they regularly practiced yoga. That means they were able to walk and move around with markedly lower pain levels than their non-practicing counterparts.
- Those who regularly practice yoga suffer fewer injuries. Similarly, yoga works to prevent injuries in several different ways. Yoga strengthens muscles, improves flexibility, increases your range of motion, boosts balance and stability, and even builds greater bone density. Certain types of yoga can even help further enhance these effects. A study published in Scientific Research reveals that Bikram yoga or hot yoga, for example, lowers women’s risk of osteoporosis by significantly increasing the bone density of their lower backs, necks, and hips.
Remember to always practice Bikram yoga in a studio with others nearby. For at-home yoga, heating solutions can help make you feel more comfortable, but they should not be used to uncomfortably raise the temperature in the room.
2. Make Exercise a Habit
One of the benefits of starting yoga is that it is one of the top exercises that are likely to become a habit.
Unfortunately, science shows that making something new a habit isn’t easy. Most of our current habits are associated with cues and routines, like putting on our seatbelts. They are so ingrained that we don’t even think about them. There are steps you can take to make a new exercise routine a habit, however. One of the benefits of starting yoga is that it gives you a leg up while doing this. Why?
Yoga comes along with a number of intrinsic rewards. Intrinsic rewards are much more effective for long-term motivation than extrinsic or physical rewards. Extrinsic rewards are best for short-term goals or one-time achievements. Consider that window installation you have been putting off. If you commit to buying yourself an expensive watch once you get it done, that may temporarily boost your motivation.
You get it done. You get your watch. All is well. However, if you need to commit to a long-term habit, like cleaning your windows every week, buying yourself an expensive gift every week isn’t practical. Even if it is, you may have enough money that these expensive gifts fail to motivate you.
It is much more effective to consider the intrinsic rewards of washing your windows. Does a clean home make you feel more at peace? Are you more likely to invite friends and family over when the windows are clean? That calm feeling and fond memories with friends will help drive you to clean your windows week after week.
Similarly, yoga packs countless intrinsic rewards. It reduces stress, it gives you energy, and it can improve sleep. Plus, yoga does all this while putting less stress on your joints and tendons than other forms of exercise. Yoga can be as strenuous as you wish. You can tailor your yoga practice or choose yoga classes that match your desired level of intensity.
It isn’t easy to make exercise a habit. The benefits of starting yoga — and continuing to do yoga — are plentiful, just like the intrinsic rewards associated with the practice.
3. Improve Your Mental Health
Perhaps one of the most important benefits of starting yoga is that it can dramatically improve your mental health.
Right now, we could all use some strategies to help combat stress, anxiety, and depression. Thanks to the global pandemic, anxiety, and depression are at an all-time high. It doesn’t help that unemployment rates and your likelihood of filing for a divorce and being intimately involved in a divorce case are steadily climbing, too.
Yoga helps curtail anger, mitigate anxiety, relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and improves practitioners’ overall quality of life. After 10 weeks of yoga, 52% of women initially diagnosed with PTSD no longer met that diagnostic criteria, Psychology Today reveals.
Other studies looked at seniors’ overall quality of life and asked them to walk, practice yoga, or abstain from physical activity for six months. At the end of that term, those practicing yoga showed more energy, reported better moods, and ranked their overall quality of life significantly higher than the seniors who walked or did little physical activity. That was not only true of aging adults, either.
Cancer patients also report much higher levels of happiness and comfort when they regularly practice yoga. Of course, you do not have to be elderly or in recovery to appreciate these benefits. People of all ages and all walks of life experience these advantages after establishing a yoga practice.
4. Feel Good In Your Own Skin
One thing that we all strive for is self-confidence or to feel good in our own skin. While teeth whitening treatments and splurging on a new wardrobe may help, the goal is to keep that feeling going and build lasting self-esteem. Yoga can help you meet that goal.
Yoga does that by:
- Improving our skin: Yoga increases blood flow, reduces inflammation, and supports your digestive system and the body’s natural detoxification system. Poses like forward folds immediately increase blood flow to your face. By simply promoting healthy circulation — and doing it often — your skin will appear firmer and more youthful. Consistent practice is one of the fastest tickets to glowing skin. If you suffer from skin conditions like rosacea, support your practice with regular care from your local dermatology clinic.
- Helping us manage weight gain and metabolism: Similarly, yoga helps keep you trim, and it helps keep your metabolism in order. By establishing a yoga routine, you will likely lose weight and enjoy the perks of a somewhat faster metabolism.
- Building strength: These days, more and more people are moving away from the desire to simply be skinny or look good and, instead, prefer to look and feel strong. Yoga can easily help you do that. Yoga builds arm muscles and leg muscles and strengthens your glutes and core.
Sometimes, you just want to look good. There is no shame in that, and one of the benefits of starting yoga is that it can help you do just that.
5. Take Time For Yourself
Too many people assume that setting aside time for yourself or devoting time to self-care is indulgent or selfish. That is simply not true. In fact, when you properly take care of yourself, you are better able to care for others. Spending time alone helps you ease stress, recuperate energy, and even be more creative.
Yoga is the perfect opportunity to practice self-care. Yoga combines elements of deep breathing, mindfulness, and stretching that ease tension and relieve body aches. Plus, it is good for your body. Yoga tones your muscles, gets your blood flowing, and improves sleep. That means taking time for yourself to do yoga will feel good in the moment and over time, when your body starts to feel stronger, healthier, and well-rested.
So go ahead. Set aside blocks of time to practice yoga throughout the week, breathe, enjoy the poses, and know that there is plenty of time to complete chores, like cleaning bathroom countertops, later.
6. Make New Friends
One of the most underrated benefits of starting yoga is that it is a great way to meet people and make new friends.
There are tons of yoga classes out there. Keep an eye out for signs in your local area, do a quick online search, or ask friends and family if they have a yoga studio they would recommend. Most of us rely on online reviews to make healthcare decisions and ultimately choose a new family doctor, a dentist, a gym, or a yoga instructor. Read reviews carefully and ensure that they are not paid or otherwise untrustworthy reviews.
When you attend a yoga class, you meet people with a shared interest — and you meet people who are likely relaxed, energetic, and in good spirits, thanks to practicing yoga. Attending the same classes is a simple way to break the ice, and some studios have events or retreats that can help you meet more people and form even stronger bonds.
If your local studio is not offering in-person instruction at this time, sign up for virtual classes and meet everyone over Zoom until you have the opportunity to practice face-to-face.
7. Work Out On Your Own Time
While yoga can be a wonderful social activity, that is not a requirement. If you prefer to do yoga on your own to practice self-care or simply to work it into your busy schedule, that is a perfectly valid option. Take it one step further, and create the perfect space to do yoga in or near your home.
That may include transforming an attic into a makeshift, at-home yoga studio, or clearing out a relaxing corner of the backyard to practice yoga in nature. Make sure to make whatever space you choose as comfortable as possible. Bring in pest extermination services to treat the attic and make sure that it is free of rodents and insects that might make you sick and distract you from exercising.
Repaint, decorate the walls and make it cozy with houseplants, fountains, or Zen rock gardens. If your new yoga retreat will be in your backyard, work closely with a tree service to plant new trees and properly care for the ones you already have. Trim back branches to protect your home and keep trees healthy.
There are many benefits of starting yoga. Find a class near you that meets your needs, or strike out on your own and build a yoga practice using books, YouTube videos, and any other resources available to you. Establish a new routine today and reap the benefits above — and discover new benefits of your own.