Yoga can often be quite esoteric to explain. Concepts such as prana, chakras and koshas are not necessarily the most straightforward to express.
For those who are more scientific-minded, explaining the many benefits of yoga can be difficult. Many people who are skeptical about the practice may also be skeptical about the many mysterious, “feel-good” benefits such as “opening the heart center” or “calming the mind.”
However, more and more Western scientific research is studying the very tangible physical effects of a yoga practice on the physical and mental bodies. The following is a list of scientifically researched, studied and proven health benefits of yoga.
1. Increases Flexibility
One of the most obvious side effects of a yoga practice is a lengthening and loosening of the muscles and the connective tissue (such as fascia) of the body.
As you stretch and move within your practice, you undoubtedly improve your level of flexibility. You may notice as you lengthen the hip flexors that your lower back pain starts to decrease, or as you stretch and relax the neck, your headaches seem to disappear.
Yoga is a perfect teaching of unions, and it reminds you that the entire physical body is connected and that all of this is also connected to your psyche.
You cannot isolate tight hips without having them “pull” on the lower back, creating tension, tightness and potential pain there. Nor can you isolate your bad mood from the tension it creates in your physical body. So, the practice of yoga works to connect all of these elements to increase flexibility in both the body and the mind.
2. Builds Muscle Strength
Strong muscles work to protect the body and (ideally!) keep it free from injury. Muscle strength helps prevent conditions such as lower back pain or arthritis.
For example, strong muscles help your body to align the skeletal system keeping space and integrity in the vertebra of the lower spine. The beauty of yoga is that as you build strength within the muscles, you simultaneously create flexibility.
This simple balance of strength and flexibility helps to keep your body safe to maintain longevity in your practice as well as in your body’s overall health.
3. Improves Posture
As just noted, yoga builds equivalent strength and flexibility within the body. This action creates a more aligned stacking of your bones in their natural and intended positioning.
As a result, this lengthens and extends your spine back into its meticulous configuration, recreating the natural curvatures of your whole spinal column.
Not only does this action make the load of your body weight much easier for the muscles to bear (and thus creating less tension, tightness and strain), it also improves your ability to breathe fully and deeply.
4. Increases Lung Capacity
A major component of a yoga practice is pranayama, or breath work. These different exercises teach the practitioner to deepen and lengthen the breath.
With the ideal stacking of the skeletal system, lung and diaphragm capacity can work to its maximum intended reach. Practices such as deep diaphragmatic breathing and inhale and/or exhale retention systematically teach the body to increase the lung capacity and the intake of oxygen spread throughout the bloodstream.
5. Protects Bone Health
It is well documented in Western science that weight-bearing exercises increase bone stability and strength. The physical yoga practice is chock-full of weight-bearing poses in which you use your own body weight to strengthen and train the bones.
Poses such as Plank, Chaturanga, Down Dog, Up Dog, Handstand and many, many more, are weight-bearing postures that help to strengthen the bones (particularly within the arms where we don’t normally bear weight) which may also help to prevent osteoporosis.
6. Maintains Joint Health
Healthy joints all have one thing in common: they are often used and moved. Movement within the joints stimulates the production of synovial fluid (a viscous liquid that lubricates the joint, removes debris and reduces the friction between the articular cartilage of the joint).
Without the production of synovial fluid, the cartilage within the joints can be worn down, causing deterioration and pain. A well-rounded yoga practice moves the body through the full range-of-motion within the major joints of the body.
These actions within the body stimulate the production of synovial fluid to keep the joints safe, mobile, and stable to be able to maintain a lifelong practice.
Yoga is a beautiful practice that teaches practitioners to work from the inside out. It draws your attention inward and teaches you to focus on the breath. The physical practice works and moves the body in intelligent ways to strengthen and lengthen, which (hopefully) also transcends to the mind.
The practice of yoga has endless benefits far beyond these few major points mentioned here. How does yoga benefit your health?