With roots in ancient Indian culture, yoga has spread across the globe and found undeniable appeal among people of all backgrounds. Modern styles of yoga can provide not only a great physical workout, but mental health benefits as well.
With perks such as improved balance, breathing, and stress reduction, yoga is a uniquely powerful addition to any fitness routine and wellness strategy. Here are 15 benefits of yoga for both your physical and mental health that you should keep in mind if you’re considering incorporating this exercise type into your routine:
The physical benefits of yoga
Practicing yoga regularly can have a massive impact on your physical health, with benefits including:
Improved body awareness and coordination
Let’s dig in more.
1. Improved flexibility
This is one of the most well-known yoga benefits. I’ve heard a lot of people say, “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible,” but that’s really the same thing as saying, “I can’t lift weights because I’m not strong.” Practicing yoga will improve flexibility in the same way that lifting weights improves strength.
Many yoga poses involve stretching muscles all over the body, improving both static flexibility (the ability to hold a stretch in a fixed position) and dynamic flexibility (the ability to move joints and muscles through their full range of motion during activities).
2. Improved mobility
Sometimes referred to as “joint mobility” or “functional mobility,” mobility is the ability of a joint to move freely through its intended range of motion. It involves not just muscles, but also the health and function of the joint itself.
Yoga enhances mobility through a combination of held poses and dynamic movements that promote joint health and flexibility of the soft tissues. Many yoga postures require multi-dimensional movement of joints, maintaining and improving joint mobility.
3. Increased strength
Regular practice of a vigorous style of yoga, such as Vinyasa or Ashtanga, can certainly lead to strength gains and improved muscle tone. It only takes one Vinyasa yoga class to find out just how much strength yoga requires!
Many postures involve engagement of multiple muscle groups. Balancing poses like Half Moon require very specific engagement of certain muscles that might not be activated through most other exercise modalities. Yoga can be considered low-impact strength training, with the resistance being your own body weight.
4. Improved balance
Yoga features plenty of poses that challenge balance, such as Tree Pose or Warrior Three. There are specific cues or actions that are instructed during balancing poses that help to engage the correct muscles and stay upright. There are also instructions related to using a steady breath and gaze to help hold these difficult poses. If you are interested in improving your balance, there are few better movement practices to add into your routine.
5. Improved body awareness and coordination
In the same ways that yoga improves balance, it can also improve overall body awareness and coordination. Yoga postures require coordinated and controlled action by different parts of the body at the same time. Attention is deliberately brought to specific areas of the body to better engage muscles and remain present. Becoming more coordinated is helpful not only for everyday life, but also for practically any physical activity.
6. Improved breathing
Yoga encourages a deep, controlled breath even while holding difficult poses. The ability to breathe well is perhaps an underrated aspect of fitness, as taking in oxygen is critical to your health and performance, especially during physical activity.
More and more attention is being paid to how we breathe — for instance, a shallow breath taken mostly in the upper lungs is less beneficial than deeper breath that includes the base of the lungs. Proper breathing mechanics developed through a regular yoga practice can help maximize performance in other types of aerobic exercise.
7. Better posture
It makes sense that with improved body awareness, you might notice when you’re slumping or slouching more often. Taking this one step further, you may even notice with more clarity how poor posture makes you feel. Posture can affect your joint health, breathing mechanics, and even your mood. Yoga emphasizes proper alignment and lengthening throughout the body in every pose, a skill that translates directly to improved posture off the mat.
8. Pain relief
Through restorative poses and relaxing breathwork, yoga can help mediate or reduce pain in different areas of the body. Specific movements like twists or forward folds can ease lower-back pain, while backbends may open up areas of the chest and shoulders that become compressed due to stress, excess sitting, and staring at your phone. Correcting poor posture through yoga can be very helpful in reducing strain and pain.
The mental health benefits of yoga
Along with the physical benefits of regularly practicing yoga, doing yoga also offers a slew of mental benefits, including:
Improved mind-body connection
Improved focus and attention
Connection and community
Let’s dive in!
Mindfulness is a mental state characterized by focused attention on the present moment, without judgment, and with an attitude of openness and acceptance. Yoga helps to cultivate mindfulness by encouraging students to become fully aware of their thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and environment without needing to change them or put a value-judgment on them. Mindfulness can help to promote relaxation and reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stressors.
2. Stress management
Yoga is classically prescribed as a way to help manage stress — and for good reason! There are a number of mechanisms underlying yoga’s role in stress reduction. Any of the mental health benefits here could qualify, but in particular the development of mindfulness and improved breathing have a direct relationship to our management of stress.
3. Better sleep
Sleep is absolutely critical to good mental health. There are several ways in which yoga can promote better sleep. Improvements in breathing mechanics can result in better oxygen uptake overnight. It’s well-known that unhealthy conditions like sleep apnea are associated with insufficient oxygen delivery and impaired breathing. The hard physical work of yoga is meant to prepare the body for deep rest, and there are many gentle movements that are perfect to do in the evening to set the stage for a great night’s sleep.
4. Improved mind-body connection
The mind-body connection refers to the interconnectedness between your physical health and mental/emotional health. Yoga can improve this connection by cultivating mindfulness and body awareness. As described above, mindfulness involves noticing thoughts and feelings without judgment. Improved body awareness means an improved ability to notice and respond to any physiological signs of stress.
5. Improved focus and attention
We live in an age of distraction where simply putting down your phone for more than five minutes is a herculean triumph. Yoga provides a consistent opportunity to practice deliberate attention. There is a focus on the breath, specific areas of the body, and even thoughts themselves. Improved focus and attention is one distinct and powerful benefit of yoga.
6. Improved confidence
Simply put, if you practice yoga consistently, you will see improvement. Yoga poses are meant to be challenging, and some may seem anatomically impossible at first. Consistent practice results in so many mental and physical milestones, which can be great motivation to keep going.
7. Connection and community
Yoga is like a universal language. People from all different backgrounds and cultures have come to enjoy the benefits of yoga, and this sense of shared purpose infuses every yoga class. Practicing with others can help keep you accountable, provides an easy way to meet new people, and fosters a sense of community that is so beneficial for mental health.
The benefits of yoga: Final thoughts
To sum up, yoga can be a great workout on its own, a great complement to other exercise modalities, and a powerful practice for overall wellness. Consistent practice over time will yield the best results, and benefits can vary from person to person. It is important to find a style of yoga that meets your individual needs and goals. Whether you are seeking improvements in physical fitness or mental health, yoga is a great choice.
If you’re looking to add yoga to your fitness routine, be sure to check out Hydrow’s app. We offer tons of at-home yoga classes, all led by world-class Athletes and filmed in stunning locations around the world.