There are countless benefits of practicing yoga – from mental to physical to spiritual. In today’s post, we’re listing out the numerous positive benefits that yoga can bring you – both the expected and unexpected ones. So if you’re taking up yoga as a newbie, or you’re a lifelong yogi doing some research, here are some benefits of yoga that will help improve your overall health in different ways.
Benefits of Yoga for your Mind
It’s widely known that exercise and movement contribute to positive mental health, and yoga is no exception. Let’s dig into the 3 key mental benefits of yoga.
1. Yoga improves your memory.
Yoga is like a workout for your brain, as well as your body.
In the same way that weight lifting helps your muscles grow stronger and bigger, yoga helps your brain cells to develop new connections which in turn strengthen your memory. When you’re practicing yoga, changes actually occur in your brain structure and function, particularly in the part of the brain that plays a key role in memory, attention, awareness, thought, and language.
In fact, studies using MRI scans and other brain imaging technology have shown that people who regularly take part in yoga have a thicker cerebral cortex (the area of the brain responsible for information processing) and hippocampus (the area of the brain involved in learning and memory) compared with non-yogis. These areas of the brain typically shrink as you get older, but studies show less shrinkage in the brains of older yoga practitioners than those in the same age group who do not practice yoga. So, as well as improving your memory in the present, yoga can balance out any age-related decline in memory and cognitive skills in your future.
2. Yoga increases your ability to concentrate.
It’s not often in today’s busy modern world, with near-constant emails and stimulation from dual-screening, that we give ourselves and our minds permission to stop. Yoga offers uninterrupted time to focus on the present moment and your breathing, without being worried about other people’s opinions or the stressful pressures you may have experienced throughout your day.
Integrating physical movement with breath awareness and focused attention can facilitate neural communication between the brain and body, which increases your ability to concentrate – on tasks both at work or at home. So when your child is revising for exams, why not explain the benefits of yoga for students to them – being able to concentrate for longer is a big win for schoolwork.
But better concentration doesn’t just need to mean ‘getting more done’. One of the things we find most beautiful about the benefits of yoga and meditation here at Yoga Escapes is that, unlike so much other physical activity, yoga is a non-competitive way of connecting with a group. It can be practiced by anyone, at any age – together or in solo practice – and it gives you the chance to be around like-minded people whilst also taking time to focus on yourself. It’s your hour in the day to concentrate on just ‘being’.
3. Yoga can help you to combat depression.
This may be one of the unexpected benefits of yoga to some. A review of 15 studies published in the journal “Ageing and Mental Health” looked at the ways in which a variety of relaxation techniques impacted depression and anxiety in the older generation. In addition to yoga, the relaxation techniques tested by the studies were stress management, massage therapy, progressive muscle relaxation, and listening to music. It was discovered that all the techniques provided some benefit, but yoga and music were the most effective for both depression and anxiety specifically. Yoga also appeared to provide the longest-lasting effect, helping to combat depression longer-term in regular yoga practitioners.
The deep, slow breathing used during yoga has even been used as an add-on treatment to support people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yoga was found in this case to reduce intrusive memories and help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which induced a calmer state in people taking part in the yoga class.
Benefits of Yoga for your Body
The benefits of yoga go beyond just the mind – these are the 5 main ways in which yoga is beneficial for your physical health too.
4. Yoga lowers your stress hormones and increases good brain chemicals.
Chronic stress, known sometimes as the “silent killer”, can be incredibly damaging to your physical health. That’s why it’s so important to find ways to combat stress in our day-to-day lives, as well as take time out from business as usual to consciously remove stress from the body (like you would do on a luxury yoga retreat, for example!).
Yoga has been shown in multiple studies to lower stress hormones in the body, while at the same time increase the brain chemicals that are really good for you, such as endorphins and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). These feel-good chemicals help decrease anxiety and improve your mood, therefore lowering stress overall and giving you a more positive outlook on your day.
5. Yoga slows the signs of aging.
Most people would agree they’d like to live – and look – younger. And when you practice yoga over a significant amount of time, you’re consistently reducing tension, anxiety and stress in your body, meaning you can actually slow down the aging process at a cellular level.
Some studies show that yoga can even help to reverse muscle loss (known as sarcopenia) as you get older. Sarcopenia begins for most people in their 30s and 40s and tends to get worse the older you get, making the muscle building benefits of yoga much more appealing for people in those age groups.
6. Yoga increases your flexibility.
If you google “what is yoga?” or picture what it’s like to practice yoga, you might think of the stereotypical image of a bendy, lithe yogi with their legs crossed on the floor and back straight, or even standing one-legged on the mat with their other leg pulled towards their back. If you are not that person – do not worry! Yoga isn’t about contorting yourself into all kinds of uncomfortable positions. And you certainly don’t need to be able to touch your toes or stand on one leg with perfect balance to get started.
In fact, at any level of yoga, you’ll probably start to notice the benefits that yoga can have on your flexibility pretty early on into your new practice. One study showed that people improved their flexibility by up to 35% after only 8 weeks of doing yoga.
If you’re worried about how advanced the yoga will be on one of our retreats, rest assured that our friendly Yoga Escapes yoga instructors adapt every class to suit both beginners and most advanced yogis, plus account for any injuries. They will make sure that poses are challenging you when you need, and also allow time for resting your body when you need that as well.
7. Yoga reduces chronic pain.
Yoga can help lessen the pain for people with arthritis, fibromyalgia, lower back pain, migraines and many other types of chronic pain conditions. A study conducted on the benefits of yoga therapy, looking at the results of 313 people who suffered from chronic lower back pain, found that doing just one yoga class each week increased their mobility more than the standard medical care for their condition. Yoga can also improve your respiratory, cardiovascular and immune function, which helps to counterbalance issues causing chronic pain.
8. Yoga improves your posture and balance.
Muscle loss isn’t the only sign of age that can begin in your 30s – it seems early, but that’s the decade where your spine can start compressing too. Between your 30s and 80s, people can lose inches off their overall height. But here to save the day again, one of the many benefits of yoga is that a lot of yoga poses require ‘lengthening’, which is how you train your body to stand taller for a strong spine and straighter posture. And because yoga is suitable for all ages, it’s the perfect way to improve your coordination, posture and balance at any time of life. Starting yoga early in life is no bad thing – there are many benefits of yoga for kids, as well as benefits of yoga for men and women.
Benefits of Yoga for your Soul
The Hindu text Bhagavad Gita says: “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self”. Indeed, there are many spiritual benefits of yoga – these are 3 important mental health benefits of yoga day and night.
9. Yoga boosts how you view yourself and your self-worth.
Many people enjoy the benefits of yoga in the morning for this exact reason – that it gets your day started on a happy and confident note. Physical activity and exercises like yoga have been shown to positively influence our self-esteem and self-worth – namely how positively and kindly we feel about ourselves and our place in the world. Self-esteem is a vital indicator of our mental health and wellbeing – this is true for both men and women, from children and teenagers, to adults and older people.
10. Yoga can help improve sleep, which is a key time for healing.
If you’ve had a bad day, it’s commonplace for friends and family to tell you that “you’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep” – and for good reason. Sleeping soundly is critical for your body to feel well and make any much-needed repairs, since during sleep your body cells produce proteins. These proteins are the building blocks for the formation of new cells needed during your healing process.
Yoga is known to improve the quality of your sleep, and many yogis choose to practice yoga in the evening to get the maximum benefit of a good night’s sleep. The slow and controlled breathing used in yoga stimulates your vagus nerve, which affects your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) responsible for controlling your body’s rest function. Yoga also lowers your heart rate and improves digestion, both of which help you get a better sleep.
11. Yoga helps you feel in tune with yourself and brings a sense of inner calm.
Last but not least, an important benefit of yoga is its ability to connect your mind and body, helping you to stay in tune with your feelings and needs. Many people who practice yoga tell us that it helps them to feel more aware of their physical and emotional sensations, which is why people often take up yoga when they’re going through a significant life event (such as a divorce, health issue or children leaving for university). When it gets to the stage where yoga feels like a ‘secret weapon’ for you, then you know that you can unlock its power in moments of stress or challenge – to bring yourself a deeper sense of purpose and the clarity of inner peace and calm, in whatever moment you need it.
You might have gathered by now that we could write a whole benefits of yoga essay… but don’t just take it from us. As American medical director of psychiatry Dr. Corinna Keenmon explains, “Yoga seems to have this powerful combination of the physical movement combined with the deep breathing, meditation and mindfulness aspect. This total package helps us physically by increasing flexibility, along with heart and brain health. Plus, the cognitive and emotional improvements that happen over time are priceless.”
Overall, the priceless benefits of yoga are numerous and far-reaching. Whether you are looking to improve your physical health, reduce stress and anxiety, or connect with your inner self, a regular yoga practice can be an invaluable tool. So why not make it one of your focuses for the new year? You might be surprised by the positive effects it can have on your mind, body, and soul.
Escape with us on a luxury 5* yoga retreat
If you believe in the social benefits of yoga like we do, join us on one of our many 5* luxury yoga retreats taking place in 2024. You can escape with us to Greece, Italy, Croatia, Spain and Egypt, where we practice yoga twice a day by the sea, with your afternoons free to explore beaches and towns, enjoy spa treatments, boat trips, or just read a book by the pool.
Got a question? Call +44 (0) 791 869 5085 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to speak to one of the team.