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Downward dog, here you come.
If you’ve been to a handful of yoga classes, you’ll know that the benefits of yoga span both physical and mental. The ancient practice – originating from ancient Indian philosophy – is thought to be one of the best workouts for boosting both your body and mind. Combining a series of breathwork training, meditation, and mindful movement, it promotes wellbeing and ultimately a deeper sense of awareness of the self.
Don’t worry if you’re not so sure what the benefits of yoga actually are – sure, stretching your body always feels good, but can balancing on your forearms (we’re looking at you, crow) and attempting to do inversions act as mental health help, too? Short answer: yes. This guide – and our round-up of the best yoga poses for beginners – will explain how.
Here, Jen Landesberg, Tone & Sculpt App global trainer explains how. Because remember – there are loads of different types of yoga and flows for every skillset and ability. If you haven’t been before, our guide to yoga for beginners will help – because trust us when we say, yoga is always guaranteed to make you feel good.
Benefits of yoga: 8 ways yoga improves quality of life
Fun fact: the word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj which translates as to yolk or to bind, shares Landesberg. “The meaning of this word is commonly interpreted as “union” and that is exactly what it is – it is a practice that unites the mind, body, and soul as one,” she explains.
In short, yoga is a philosophy or way of life that spans way beyond the four corners of a yoga mat. “There are many different “schools” or types of yoga – Lyengar, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, to name a few – each one focusing on a different element of the yogic philosophy,” she continues.
The more western adaptations of yoga tend to focus mostly on the physical practice, aka the asanas or poses.
1. Improved flexibility and mobility
The physical benefits of a yoga practice are expansive, says Landesberg. “A regular yoga practice increases the flexibility of your muscles and mobility of your joints – when I started yoga, I could barely touch my shins let alone my toes. I was notoriously inflexible, so seeing how much yoga has changed my range in movement is proof of its power.”
One study on college athletes found that they made significant improvements to their flexibility and balance after just ten weeks of yoga.
2. Increased muscle strength
Weight training or trying to up your muscle mass? More dynamic yoga practice can lead to increased muscle strength and tone.
“In yoga, you are constantly carrying your own bodyweight around the mat,” explains the yogi. “There’s no better feeling than knowing you are strong enough to do that.”
3. Improved heart health
Did you know? One of the other benefits of yoga is that the practice improves your cardiovascular health.
“First-time yoga goers are sometimes shocked at just how much cardio is involved in a practice,” shares Landesberg.
4. Reduced risk of injury
Another fun fact about the benefits of yoga: because the practice improves bone health, strengthens your muscles, and works your tendons and ligaments, scientific research has shown that it actually helps to protect your body from injury. Neat.
5. Improved mindfulness
Yoga, at its simplest, is all about taking time to move your body and think mindfully. “The physical benefits are only a small part of the joys of yoga,” stresses Landesberg.
It’s a very mindful practice, and so the yogi shares that it can be a great way to escape, recentre yourself, and train your mind to live in the present moment.
6. Reduced stress
Similarly, living more mindfully – a key component of a yogi’s philosophy – has been found to reduce stress levels. We’ve all faced extraordinary levels of stress over the past few years, and yoga offers a way to re-set and re-centre.
“Even the busiest thinkers have confessed how shocked they were after a practice that they truly didn’t think of anything else for the entire duration of the class,” shares the expert.
7. Reduces risk of mental health conditions
You’ve likely guessed by now that yoga can also have pretty profound impacts on your mental wellbeing. “This is what keeps people coming back to their mats,” explains Landesberg. “From personal experience, I have seen how incredible yoga can be for states of anxiety, depression, and intense stress.”
How so? Simply, because yoga offers you a safe space that you can always go back to, to reground and find calmness. “That’s so important,” she stresses. “The mental benefits of yoga are truly endless and very personal to the practitioner – so really I encourage anyone thinking of starting to try it and see just how much of an impact it can have on your mental health.”
One 2018 study found that depression, anxiety, and stress decreased significantly in women after twelve sessions of regular yoga practice.
8. Encourages a philosophy of life
And finally, as mentioned above, yoga encourages a mindful, compassionate, and considered approach to life that can only improve your quality of life. It teaches you to appreciate the small things, act always with an open heart and kindness, and honour yourself and your core values.
See – the benefits of yoga really are endless.