5 Science-Backed Benefits of Yoga that Go Beyond the Mat
Even the most die-hard yoga enthusiast can sometimes get in a bit of a slump. (And no, “slump” isn’t the name of a pose.) When life gets in the way, hauling out your mat and busting a downward dog may be the last thing you feel like doing. For those times, it helps to remind ourselves the many numerous benefits of yoga, besides limbering up our muscles. From hidden physical gains to surprising mental health boosts, a wealth of research proves that the practice is more than the sum of its poses. If you’re in need of a little motivation to get back in your yogic groove, here are five amazing benefits of yoga you might not have known!
1. It strengthens bones. Time and again, scientific analysis has confirmed that weight-bearing exercise improves bone density. Resistance and pressure create stress that actually benefits bone; our bodies respond to stress by producing more osteoblasts, the regenerative cells that forge new bone tissue. You don’t have to take up weightlifting to see the benefits of yoga — yoga uses the body’s own weight to achieve this bone-building phenomenon. One study found that women who practiced yoga just 12 minutes every other day increased bone density in their spine and hips.
2. It banishes insomnia. Ever feel like going to sleep during shavasana (the final resting pose of every yoga class)? There may be a reason why. According to the National Sleep Foundation, daily yoga practitioners fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and wake up less frequently throughout the night. If you struggle with insomnia, search for specific routines for winding down toward sleep, and try practicing before bedtime.
3. It defies depression. Anyone who’s hit a rough mental health patch knows the vicious cycle: You feel down, so you don’t feel like exercising. Then not exercising makes you feel worse. The good news is even if you can’t drag yourself out for a brisk jog or a spin class, a little bit of yoga could go a long way toward lifting your spirits. In one study, people with clinical depression were asked to take up regular yoga. After three months, most of the subjects lowered their scores on a depression screening test by at least 50 percent. Experts theorize these increases could be related to the stress-moderating effects of yogic deep breathing, or the reduction of physical arousal measures like heart rate and blood pressure. Practicing in community with a group also helps build social connection, another proven defense against depression.
4. It fights heart disease. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the US. Want to keep your cardiovascular system in shape? Yoga can help. While some classes are intense enough to give the body an aerobic workout (always a boon to the heart), the primary key to the yoga-heart-health connection appears to be the reduced blood pressure that results from mindful practice. When pressure in the arteries stays under control, these all-important vessels can circulate blood freely from the heart to the rest of the body. And take note: Contrary to popular belief, new research shows that hot yoga provides no more benefit to the heart than mainstream practice.
5. It improves self-image. It makes sense that doing yoga would make you feel better about your body. After all, you’re toning up and practicing healthy self-care. But the body image benefits of yoga don’t come only from strengthening muscles and tightening the core. According to Harvard Medical School, people who practice on a regular basis experience more satisfaction and less critical attitudes toward their bodies. They also report feeling more in tune with their physical selves, indicating that the mindful awareness employed during yoga has staying power beyond the studio. Practicing in a safe space with others of all ability levels likely compounds this sense of personal acceptance.
Which of these benefits of yoga motivates you the most to get on the mat? Let us know on Twitter @BritandCo!