17 Benefits of Yoga Backed by Science

Medically reviewed by Amy Kwan, PTMedically reviewed by Amy Kwan, PT

Yoga is an ancient practice that combines physical poses, breathwork, and meditation. There are several different types of yoga. Some provide intense physical workouts, and others are more restorative and relaxed.

About 1 in 7 adults in the United States has practiced yoga in the last 12 months. Many practice yoga for its potential health benefits, including improved flexibility and less stress. More research is still needed, but preliminary studies show that yoga improves physical health and quality of life.

This article discusses the many benefits of yoga and which health conditions may benefit from it. 

<p>FilippoBacci / Getty Images</p><p>FilippoBacci / Getty Images</p>

FilippoBacci / Getty Images

What Is Yoga?

Yoga is a practice of meditative movements that combines physical exercise with breathing and mindfulness. Many yoga classes in the United States focus on physical poses (asanas). Other elements of yoga include breathing practices (pranayama) and meditation (dyana).

Styles of yoga include:

  • Hatha yoga: A combination of poses and breathing exercises

  • Iyengar yoga: A practice that focuses on holding poses for long periods

  • Power yoga (Ashtanga): An intense workout by moving quickly from one pose to the next

  • Hot yoga (Bikram): A series of 26 poses in a heated room to purify the body by sweating

  • Integral yoga: A slower, gentle type of yoga that focuses on breathing and chanting

  • Viniyoga: A practice that adapts to an individual’s needs and abilities

  • Kundalini yoga: A breathing practice that focuses on energy

17 Benefits of Yoga

Research shows that yoga can improve physical health by lowering inflammation, aiding digestion, and increasing strength. It may also have mental health benefits, including stress relief and improved self-confidence.

Improves Flexibility

The most common reason adults in the United States try yoga is to improve their flexibility. Even low-impact types of yoga have been found to reduce muscle tightness and improve flexibility.

Yoga may be especially helpful for older adults who want to slow down the loss of flexibility that naturally comes with age. A study found that adults over 65 can improve their flexibility with a regular yoga practice. 

Increases Strength

Moving through and holding yoga poses can help you improve flexibility and strength. Research shows that Hatha yoga provides improved strength in children and adults. Older adults and people with chronic health conditions can increase their strength with regular yoga sessions. 

Improves Balance

Many yoga poses require balance and can help you improve yours over time. One study found that when athletes and healthy adults engage in yoga, they improve their balance and athletic performance.

A loss of balance is a common cause of falls in older adults, especially those in nursing facilities. Falling increases a person’s risk of serious illness and even death. Research shows that yoga may benefit older adults at risk of losing their balance. However, more research is needed to determine if yoga benefits older adults at risk of falls.

Promotes Better Posture and Body Awareness

Yoga may benefit people who want to improve their posture and increase their body awareness (how conscious of and connected you feel to your body). Engaging in physical yoga poses while breathing deeply and staying mindful of your movements can help you connect to your body.

Yoga improves strength and flexibility, and this may lead to better alignment and posture. 

Teaches Breath Control

Yoga focuses on controlled breathing and mindfulness. This can improve breath control, which affects your stress and tension levels. Practices like yoga breathing, meditation, and chanting teach breath control and may lower stress over time. 

Reduces Inflammation

A study found that regularly practicing yoga may reduce the number of biochemical markers of inflammation in the blood. Over time, this can reduce inflammation and the risk of chronic health conditions like diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and Crohn’s disease

Protects Joints

Practicing yoga may protect your joints and reduce joint pain. Strengthening your muscles helps to put less stress and tension on your joints. Research found that yoga was more effective at improving knee joint pain than massage.

Improves Cardiovascular Function

A regular exercise routine improves your cardiovascular function and lowers heart disease risk. One study found that yoga breathing (pranayama) may improve heart health. Controlled breathing may improve oxygenation and put less stress on the heart.

Improves Bone Health

Everyone loses bone density as they age, which increases the risk of fractures and falls. Holding yoga poses that require strength, such as a lunge, can improve bone density.

A 2016 study found that people who practiced yoga for just 12 minutes per day experienced improvements in bone density and started to reverse osteopenia (a decrease in bone mineral density that can lead to osteoporosis) and osteoporosis (a decrease in bone mineral density and bone mass). 

Improves Sleep

If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep lately, it may be time to try yoga. Exercise is known to improve sleep quality, and yoga is no exception. Yoga has a calming effect that can improve stress levels and sleep quality.

Improves Brain Function

Studies show that people who practice yoga regularly may experience higher motivation, attention, and executive functioning levels. However, more research is needed to determine how yoga affects the brain.

Boosts Immunity

Yoga has been found to improve stress levels. Chronic stress affects the immune system and raises the risk of getting sick. Yoga also lowers inflammation, which is known to lead to chronic health conditions. 

Aids Stress Relief

Yoga has a positive effect on anxiety and stress levels. Asana yoga, in particular, has been found to help people better manage their stress. In addition to a physical workout, yoga provides opportunities for deep breathing and mindfulness. Together, these practices lower stress levels and improve well-being.

Improves Mental Health

While more research is needed, studies show that regularly practicing yoga may improve mental health. The physical poses and breathing practices are linked with reduced depression symptoms and better mental health.

Reduces Anxiety

Yoga may be an effective treatment for anxiety. One study found that yoga improved symptoms in people with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yoga Nidra is a type of yoga that focuses on meditation and body awareness; it may be especially beneficial for those with anxiety. 

Boosts Self-Esteem

In addition to physical and mental health benefits, yoga may improve a person’s self-esteem. Studies show that people who practice yoga report higher self-esteem and improved body image levels. 

Helps With Burnout

Burnout is a common condition that occurs when a person experiences excessive exhaustion. Studies show that people who practice yoga may have more body awareness. This mind-body connection may help people take better care of themselves and avoid periods of burnout. More research is needed to determine if yoga can prevent burnout. 

Are There Any Risks to Yoga?

The risk of injury or harm from yoga is rare but possible. Healthcare providers usually consider yoga a safe activity, and poses can be modified based on your needs and limitations. Yoga poses should never feel painful.

The most common types of injuries from yoga are strains and sprains. Serious injuries are rare. To lower your risk of injury, choose a beginner class with an experienced instructor. Avoid extreme poses like headstands, and talk with your instructor about any necessary modifications. Also, ask your healthcare provider if they could recommend a certain type of yoga class.

Tell your yoga instructor if you are pregnant or have chronic pain. When taking a hot yoga class, drink plenty of water before, during, and after the class.

Is Yoga Good For Me If I Have a Health Condition?

Yoga may be beneficial for certain health conditions. Some studies show that yoga may improve chronic pain and ease certain symptoms. Regular yoga practice may reduce physical symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes. Talk with a healthcare provider about trying yoga to improve your health condition and symptoms.

How to Get Started With Yoga

Yoga is a gentle exercise option that is ideal for many beginners. If you are new to yoga, consider starting with a beginner class to learn the basics. It may be helpful to arrive early and ask the instructor what to expect.

When you begin to practice yoga, take it slow. Avoid pushing your body too hard; never hold a painful yoga pose. 

Summary

Yoga is a mind-body practice that combines physical poses, breathwork, and meditation. Preliminary research has overwhelmingly found that yoga benefits physical and mental health. Potential benefits include improved balance, increased bone density, less chronic pain, and lower stress levels.

Yoga is generally considered a safe activity for most people. To get started, try a beginner class with an experienced instructor. If you are pregnant or have a chronic health condition, talk with a healthcare provider about the best type of yoga for you.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.

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