Developed in India thousands of years ago, the practice of yoga has endured. It’s practiced widely around the world by people from every walk of life. In 2016, UNESCO named it an intangible cultural heritage. Why has yoga persisted for so long? Here are ten reasons why it’s important and why people continue to explore it:
#1. It improves your flexibility
Many types of yoga include impressive poses that require lots of stretching. At first, they may seem impossible, but over time, yoga loosens stiff joints and muscles. Better flexibility results in less pain, while improved flexibility in your connective tissues and muscles can also help with better posture. Good flexibility also improves blood circulation and protects the body from movement-induced injury.
#2. It strengthens your muscles
In addition to flexibility, yoga can help build and strengthen your muscles by relying on your own bodyweight. There are many benefits to building muscles this way instead of weight-lifting. Yoga is also a good workout for muscles because of “eccentric contraction.” This is when the muscles stretch and contract at the same time. When you focus on poses that use eccentric contraction, you’re giving your muscles a great workout.
#3. It helps prevent diseases like arthritis
Arthritis occurs when a person’s joints become inflamed. Yoga can help keep joints healthy and flexible. The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, leads to the breakdown of cartilage. During yoga, the body’s joints are taken through a full range of motion, which exercises parts of cartilage that aren’t used normally in everyday movement. This results in the cartilage getting more nutrients, which keep them healthy and strong.
#4. It helps reduce high blood pressure
High blood pressure can be very dangerous, leading to heart attacks, strokes, aneurysms, and more. Yoga can help lower high blood pressure, according to at least two studies from The Lancet. A specific yoga pose known as Savasana was associated with significant blood pressure drops after three months of practice.
#5. It can reduce migraines
Migraines are much more than just bad headaches. The pain can be all-consuming and last between 4 to 72 hours. Other symptoms like nausea, sensitivity to temperatures, and fatigue often accompany the pain. In a study from 2007, researchers saw that yoga could help reduce both the frequency and intensity of migraines. Yoga can also help the body heal from migraines thanks to its ability to lower a person’s heart rate and blood pressure.
#6. It reduces anxiety
The benefits of yoga aren’t just physical, they’re also mental. An essential part of yoga is deep breathing all through a session. Deep breathing is linked to reduced anxiety symptoms. When someone is anxious, they usually take shallow, quick breaths. The body doesn’t get enough oxygen and more panic sets in. Combining deep breathing with yoga poses ensures the body gets enough air while also giving the mind something to focus on other than anxiety.
#7. It can improve sleep
Many types of yoga focus on relaxation and calming the mind. Nidra and atha yoga are especially effective. These both focus on sitting or lying down poses, as well as deep breathing. Relaxing the mind and body this way helps prepare you for sleep. Research supports this with studies showing that yoga can even help with severe sleep problems.
#8. It encourages mindfulness
A significant part of yoga is the focus on the present. During the day, most people are occupied by what they have to do next or they’re thinking about things they can’t change from the past. They become disconnected from what’s around them in the present moment. This can damage relationships, productivity, and mental health. Being present and more mindful is one of the main intentions of yoga practice. Benefits are both physical and mental.
#9. It can be a valuable spiritual practice
At its core, yoga is a spiritual practice meant to connect every part of a person’s mind, body, and soul. Certain types of yoga are more focused on spirituality than others, so if that’s something a person feels is missing from their life, yoga is a great way to reconnect. The benefits of tuning into your own spirit include a deeper sense of meaning, more self-awareness, and a better relationship to the world around you.
#10. It encourages feelings of happiness
Considering the reasons explored already, such as a healthier body and mind, it makes sense that yoga practice results in increased happiness. Science shows that the change can happen on a chemical level. One study revealed that adopting a consistent yoga routine increased the brain’s production of serotonin, which is linked to feelings of happiness. The left prefrontal cortex also showed increased activity connected to happiness and contentment. As someone keeps practicing yoga, the benefits become more apparent.