There’s a reason yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years. The practice combines physical movement with breathing techniques and meditation with variations that are accessible to people of all ages and skill levels. Yoga is now a common form of exercise in the U.S., with 36 million Americans practicing it regularly. Practitioners and health experts advocate for yoga for mental and physical health benefits.
From reducing stress to building strength and improving sleep, there are numerous health benefits of yoga that promote wellness in various aspects of the body.
Health benefits of yoga
Yoga benefits nearly all parts of the body! Though it may not be a standalone treatment for diagnosed medical conditions, it can help alleviate symptoms and prevent progression in some cases. Some of the mental and physical yoga health benefits include:
- Improved flexibility, strength, and balance
- Reduced risk of injury
- Improved mood and alertness
- Less stress
- Better sleep
- Reduced inflammation
- Increased energy
- Contributes to better heart health
- Relieves pain and arthritis symptoms
- Improved posture
Different poses and types of yoga can benefit different parts of the body. Below, we’ll dive into how yoga can benefit mental health, heart health, and gut health.
Yoga for mental health
The meditative and relaxation elements of yoga, combined with breathing techniques and physical exercise, make yoga valuable for mental health. Deep breathing physically calms the body by letting more oxygen into the body and letting out carbon dioxide. This slows the heartbeat, lowers blood pressure, and releases tension. These exercises help calm the mind, reducing depression and levels of anxiety. Though yoga can’t replace talk therapy and other treatments for depression and anxiety, it’s an excellent supplemental practice.
Additionally, the physical exercise component of yoga also lends itself to mental health benefits. Exercise releases the feel-good chemicals of serotonin and dopamine in the brain while lowering stress hormones. Research has also shown that yoga can improve the quality of sleep, which affects several aspects of mental and emotional health, like mood, irritability, cognitive functioning, tiredness, and more.
Yoga is beneficial for older adults, as it is accessible to people with mixed mobility ranges, and can reduce brain shrinkage. Yoga helps brain cells develop new connections, which can help improve learning, memory, awareness, and other cognitive skills. In a sense, yoga can help offset some of the cognitive challenges that come with aging.
Yoga for heart health
Yoga is great for heart health because of its ability to increase circulation and blood flow. It can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart rate.
Some of the same benefits of yoga for mental health carry over into cardiovascular health, as well. For example, the stress management aspect of yoga also helps your heart. High levels of anxiety and stress can lead to unhealthy behaviors like smoking and overeating which can cause elevated blood pressure.
A few of the leading risk factors for heart disease are diabetes, obesity, an unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity. It can also contribute to lower inflammation, another risk factor for heart disease. Yoga provides a gentle form of exercise, which is an ideal way to get moving and active. Regular yoga practice has been found to lead to the adoption of other healthy habits, like healthier eating and higher levels of physical activity.
Yoga for gut health
In addition to mental health, cardiovascular health, and strength and flexibility building, yoga can also help with digestion and gut health. A 2016 study found that yoga had a beneficial effect on treating irritable bowel syndrome and improved the quality of life for people with IBS. A few of the ways yoga helps gut health and digestion are by:
- Stretching the body and building abdominal muscles
- Massaging internal organs
- Improving blood circulation to digestive organs
- Relieving constipation through twisting poses that encourage peristalsis
The stress- and anxiety-relieving benefits of yoga can manifest in the digestive system, as well. The gut is directly connected to the brain, which is why you might feel stomach ache when you’re nervous, or feel butterflies when you’re excited. Reduced stress as a result of practicing yoga can result in fewer instances of stomach aches, constipation, diarrhea, and nausea.
Best yoga poses for overall health
Try these yoga poses for overall health — helping your heart, brain, gut, muscles, and more.
Standing forward bend
While standing, inhale. Then, as you exhale, bend forward so you’re able to grasp your ankles. Bend your knees or widen your stance if you need to, and hold this pose for a few breaths. This pose helps relieve pain, increase flexibility, relieve digestive problems, and reduce stress and anxiety. It stretches the hamstrings, calves, and hips.
Lay on your back with your knees bent. Place feet hip-width apart, and lift your hips as you exhale. Shift your shoulders under your back, and clasp your hands underneath your body. Hold the pose for a few breaths, coming out of it as you exhale. Bridge pose helps open and stretch the chest, calm the body, and improve digestion.
Sit on the floor with legs straight. Bend your right knee, and cross it over the other left, planting your right foot on the ground. Reach your right arm behind you, and place your hand on the floor. Raise your left arm, and place it on the outside of your right knee. Breathe deeply, and carefully release the pose after a few breaths. Do the same on the other side. This twisted pose can help with bowel regularity and bloating.
Yoga is safe and accessible for mixed ages and skill levels, though some poses may need modifications due to injuries or health conditions. Be sure to inform your yoga teacher of these limitations, and discuss these issues with your doctor as needed. For any and all health emergencies, Neighbors Emergency Center is here and ready to help. Find your nearest location.