Health Benefits Of Yoga

Emma Lymn
by: Emma Lymn
Health Benefits Of Yoga

At first glance, yoga may look intimidating. After all, the images of people you see practicing yoga often show them doing some very difficult poses.

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The good news is that is isn’t as daunting as it may seem. In fact, almost anyone can do yoga. Unlike other forms of exercise, yoga doesn’t judge or discriminate. In fact, it welcomes people from all walks of life.

Better yet, you don’t need to do any of the complicated postures or be an expert to experience the benefits of yoga. Practicing the basic poses as little as two to three times a week is enough to let you enjoy its positive physical and mental effects.

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In case you’re wondering what they are, below is a list of ways yoga can change your life.

1. Health benefits in your brain

One of the most popular misconceptions about yoga is that its benefits are limited to the physical. This is probably because yoga is known for its flexible movements that require you to hold certain poses for time.

However, the reality is that yoga’s benefits are more far-reaching. They affect your physical, mental and emotional well-being.

A lesser-known benefit of regularly practicing yoga is it improves brain function.

Better Cognitive Function

One way it does this is by increasing the density of gray matter in your brain. Our brains consist of two types of tissues, white matter, and gray matter. They’re called as such because that’s the color they appear as during brain scans.

  • Gray matter is the shaded gray areas of your brain. These regions contain your brain cells or neurons. As such, they’re responsible for things like your memory, senses, muscle control and decision making.
  • White matter is the white area of your brain. They act like the subway line allowing signals from one part of your brain to communicate with another. As such, the different regions of your brain depend on the white matter to send and receive signals in order to coordinate your thoughts, feelings, and movements.

What’s interesting is that brain MRI scans of people who practice yoga regularly show that they have denser gray matter compared to people who don’t do yoga. The good news is that researchers from Harvard University found that as little as 2 months of doing yoga already shows significant improvements in your brain’s gray matter.

Yoga Increases Some Areas of Your Brain

In addition to the change in gray matter composition, yogis have also been known to have better memory and spatial orientation. In addition, those who regularly practice yoga have better perception and awareness of things in and around them.

One reason for this is that regular yoga sessions increase certain regions of your brain. Two essential parts of the brain it affects are your hippocampus and somatosensory cortex.

  • Your brain’s hippocampus is in charge of your memories, specifically long-term memory. It plays a major role in spatial awareness and orientation as well as your emotions and senses. For this reason, long-term yogis not only have good memory function but, they also are better at controlling their emotions and reactions especially during stressful situations.
  • Your somatosensory cortex, on the other hand, is involved in your brain’s ability to receive signals from your senses. These include your sense of sight, smell, touch, and hearing. As a result, it makes you more aware of your body and the things around you.

Increases in Your Brain’s Cortical Folds

If you’ve seen a picture of a human brain, one thing you’ll notice is that it looks wrinkled and is filled with bumps. These are what’s called gyrification or cortical folds.

The folds increase the surface area of your brain. As such, they allow it to contain more brain cells. And, more brains cells mean better mental ability.

A good analogy would be a blanket. When spread open, a blanket takes up a big amount of space. But, when folded down, its size gets smaller. But, the amount of thread it contains, and it's surface area stays the same.

Because your head is limited by the size of your skull, our brains need to be folded to fit in it. Otherwise, our heads won’t be proportioned with your bodies, which will put undue pressure on your spine.

Interestingly, people who regularly do yoga have been shown to have more folds in their brains. This allows their brains to function better.

2. It Helps Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Another amazing health benefit of yoga is it helps reduce stress.

Because the world we live in today is very fast-paced, it’s very easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Unfortunately, being always in a hurry and trying to get everything done can be stressful.

If left unchecked, it can turn into chronic stress which is very harmful to your health.

Yoga Helps Your Brain Calm Down

Practicing yoga allows you to slow down and relax. Its slow, methodical movements let you focus on the present. This helps your brain calm down.

One of the biggest reasons that yoga is able to do this is because it causes changes in your brain. During yoga, your brain produces more GABAGABA or Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid is a chemical in your brain that helps it slow down so it doesn’t get overly excited. This helps you step back from the stresses and anxieties of work, home life, and relationships in order to relax.

In doing so, GABA helps you reduce stress and anxiety as well as prevent depression.

It Also Reduces Your Cortisol Levels

In addition to releasing more GABA, research shows that yoga helps lower your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that prepares your body to act in case of emergencies or life-threatening situations. To do so, it releases glucose into your bloodstream to give you more energy. It also makes your heart beat faster so that it will pump more blood into your system.

These changes allow you to be more alert, have more strength and energy for critical moments.

Unfortunately, due to the daily stresses of life, many of us experience high cortisol levels frequently. The bad news is that If your cortisol levels stay high for long periods of time, it can cause long-term health issues. These include obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and heart disease.

Thanks to yoga and its effects on lowering your cortisol levels, you’re better able to manage stress and anxiety.

3. Practicing Yoga Improves Your Flexibility, Balance, Strength, and Performance

After participating in a few yoga sessions, one of the first things you’ll notice is its physical benefits. Your body composition will start changing. Plus, your balance and flexibility will likewise improve. Additionally, you’ll feel stronger as well.

These effects may seem obvious. After all, yoga consists of holding poses and doing stretches.

But the physical changes don’t stop there. Among the hidden benefits of yoga include improved reaction times, better stamina and agility.

These are some of the less obvious effects of practicing yoga. That’s because yoga is made up of slow, calm movements. And, it doesn’t put you through any cardiovascular workout. However, research suggests that better lung function and improved motor coordination are responsible for these extra benefits.

This is why more and more professional athletes now include yoga as part of their regular training routine.

The good news is that even if you’re not an athlete, you’ll still benefit. Faster reaction times, better agility and strength help you avoid slips or falls. Improved flexibility and motor coordination also help prevent accidents and injuries.

4. Yoga Makes Your Body Healthier

If you continue practicing yoga for a few months, you’ll notice certain internal physiological changes taking effect as well. Besides better posture, increased strength and improved balance, your overall health will also get a boost.

Studies show that practicing yoga on a regular basis helps lower blood pressure, improves blood sugar regulation and cholesterol.

In addition, it also helps people suffering from chronic pain. This includes headaches and migraines as well as neck or back pain. Yoga has been shown to be an effective alternative to popping pills. But, unlike pills, there are no side effects to it.

Instead, it helps treat pain by allowing your body to get into better alignment. Additionally, it reduces stiffness and improves your overall range of motion.

5. You’ll Be a Happier Person

Like most forms of exercise, yoga helps improve your mood. According to research done by Duke University’s Medical Center, yoga gives you an emotional boost.

This is one reason many practitioners leave their yoga studio happier or feeling better than when they arrived. One of the reasons for this is that yoga promotes the release of oxytocin.

Oxytocin is often called the love hormone. That’s because it helps you bond with others. Oxytocin is responsible for that positive feeling you experience when you cuddle with your loved or play with your pet.

In combination with reducing your cortisol levels, this helps you be a happier person. It also reduces your risk of falling into depression.

Finally, one very important effect of yoga is that it has been shown to help people accept themselves for who they are. This makes you more content with yourself, where you are in life and what you’ve achieved. Yoga has also been shown to aid in self-control and self-esteem.

6. Slows Down the Aging Process

Finally, yoga helps you stay young. While it won’t prevent you from getting old, it does slow down the aging process.

Ultimately, this helps you live longer and live a healthy life.

Yoga does this by reversing many of the harmful effects of cellular aging. These include:

  • Better Sleep and Improving Insomnia. Among the many health benefits of sleep is it helps you live longer. Studies show that getting less than 7 hours of sleep nightly increases your risk of death by 17%.
  • Stronger bones, better flexibility, and balance. This helps you prevent falls and slips. In doing so, it helps you avoid experiencing fractures and other serious injuries.
  • Less stress and anxiety. Less stress not only means a happier life, but it also means you’ll live longer. Studies show that chronic stress can shorten your life span.
  • Lower blood pressure. High blood pressure increases your risk of a host of serious health conditions including heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
  • Decreasing your blood sugar. Keeping your blood sugar at healthy levels prevent the development of type 2 diabetes and the other problems it brings.
  • Improved breathing and lung function. Good lung function not only helps with asthma, but it also allows you to avoid chronic lung conditions like COPD and bronchitis.
  • Preventing chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.

All these things contribute not only to prolonging your life but also allowing you to live well.

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