You have heard a million times that yoga is good for your body and you have visions of being svelte and extremely flexible to be able to practice all the asanas you see on social media, but what if there were more benefits to your body than the ability to wrap your legs around your head? There are so many physical benefits (as well as a myriad of non-physical) and they are all good reasons why you should introduce a little yoga into your life.
When you start to practice yoga on a regular basis, one of the first changes you will see in your body is the increased flexibility. Over time, you start to loosen muscles and connective tissues that surround the bones and joints - but there are also immediate changes. As you practice, the blood flow to the muscles increases improving the function. Most yoga classes will not concentrate on one part of the body but will use all of the muscles in the body. A simple sun salutation, which is often used in a warmup, uses the majority of the muscles, leading to improved muscle function throughout the body.
As you strengthen the muscles through regular practice, it also has a positive impact on your balance. Not only does yoga strengthen the physical muscles, but also improves the mind and the self-perception of your body. Being more aware of yourself and your body means you can sense where your body needs to be by connecting the body with the mind and using this focus improves our balance.
Stress has a very physical effect on the body. Muscular tension, neck problems, and upper back problems can sometimes be brought on by a stressful lifestyle. Many people are so stressed these days that it can lead to depression, anxiety and metabolic dysfunction, to name but a few. Yoga can help to alleviate the effects of stress because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, AKA the rest and relax response. In yoga, you practice pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation and asana practice (physical postures) and when used in conjunction with each other, the mind and body are free to relax, unwind and switch off from everyday life. Just by taking a small window of time each day to practice one or all of these techniques can help you to disconnect from the stress.
Although not the most obvious forms of muscle building yoga does have a place in helping build and grow muscles. Some asanas require you to hold physically challenging positions for periods of time. This not only requires endurance, but also strength. Many postures target certain muscle areas, for example Warrior II requires a lot of stamina and strength in the legs due to the positioning of the body and the length of time for which the poses are held.
Increases Core Strength
Everyone strives for that flat toned tummy but your core is so much more than just the abdominal muscles. Yoga helps to tone and strengthen all of the core muscles. Not only do they keep your tummy toned, but they also create a better posture, better body shape and can help to avoid injuries and strains. Yoga helps to build back strength and abs strength through the asana and the breathing used during the practice. Just about all asanas use the core in some way. From balances to twists, planks to handstands, all require a deep abdominal connection, strength and stability. Building a stronger core will not only help you in your day to day life, but also to master those more challenging asanas, from the arm balances to the folding poses. You work and tone the core muscles when practising pranayama (breathing techniques) as many practises strengthen the transverses and diaphragm (although it’s not technically an abdominal muscle, it still contributes when it interacts with other organs in deep breath work).
Improved Lung Capacity
The lungs play a huge part in delivering oxygen throughout the body. A larger lung capacity not only improves stamina, but also helps contribute to greater overall health. Although yoga isn’t traditionally classed as a cardiovascular workout, a quick flowing vinyasa class can leave you sweating and panting as much as a gym session. Even a slower hatha class will help improve your lung capacity as you are taking slower, longer breaths. A combination of pranayama and physical asana is best for improving lung capacity, but pranayama, when practised alone has also been shown to improve lung capacity.
Following on from increased lung capacity is increased concentration. As you focus on breathing techniques you are actually improving your concentration leading to better focus and enhanced memory focus. Yoga encourages you to clear the mind and be in the present moment. All that exists is the present moment. You are encouraged to let go of anything that no longer serves you - be it worries or stress, emotions or thoughts. Without this baggage weighing you down, your mind is clear and free to concentrate and focus with a newfound clarity. Some people report a feeling of lightening and a feeling of carefree. Being able to concentrate and focus on things they have forgotten or merely suppressed with the worry and pressure of everyday life. Yoga gives you the time to yourself, to your breath and your body to be able to reconnect.
Increased Bone Density
Yoga can help to increase lost bone density among older adults and can also replace bone mass. Studies have shown that practising yoga regularly leads to gradual bone gain over time. To see increases in bone density, a regular practice of at least 4 classes a week is needed, and results can be tested after approximately 6 months.
A Release From Aches and Pains
Do you often find yourself hunched over a computer, at a desk or in a car for long periods of time? Do you have neck pain and back pain? Stiffness and aches? Yoga can help relieve it all. Most forms of yoga are gentle enough to help relieve your aches and pains over time, but there are classes and workshops focussed on a more restful, restorative type of yoga. Asanas are held for longer periods of time increasing flexibility and strength in the muscles and getting deep into the joints and ligaments helping stiffness and releasing tension.
As you become more aware of your body through the physical and mindful practice of yoga, you begin to realise what a truly remarkable vessel it really is. As your practice deepens, you begin to appreciate your body more. This results in increased self esteem and increased body confidence. Yoga encourages you to be more mindful both in the way you see other people but most importantly in the way you see yourself. The things you didn’t like about yourself suddenly seem more trivial. As you accomplish more physical asanas you praise your body for taking you there. You stand taller and prouder, you have a sense of purpose about you. Your posture is improved, you breathing calmer and the way you hold yourself is different. All because of yoga.
This is just dipping the toe into the difference yoga can have on your body and also your mind. You don’t have to dedicate hours of your time, even 10 to 20 minutes a day can have a huge impact on your body and your life, what have you got to lose?
About the author
Zoe is a yogi, foodie, and lifestyle blogger. She is a mother of four and living life to the fullest!