10 reasons why yoga is good for you

“So how is yoga good for you anyway?”

I was asked this question recently and in all honesty it threw me! I mean, I know it’s good for me – I feel so amazing after a class and my health fund gives me money back for doing it – it’s clearly very beneficial for my health. But as for saying exactly in what way it is good for my wellbeing using cold, hard, scientific evidence to prove this; well I was stumped. So I took to the books and picked up the phone, determined to come up with a definitive list backed up by medical experts. Et voila – here are 10 reasons why yoga is good for you:

1. Yoga makes you happier. Science supports several possibilities for how yoga helps with depression. Studies have found that it reduces levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), while one particular study in India found that a yoga practice that included asana (the yoga postures), pranayama (breath regulation), and meditation raised levels of serotonin and lowered levels of monoamine oxidase—two neurochemicals involved in depression. Further, mindfulness and relaxation are considered to be important aspects in the treatment of depression, both of which are incorporated into a good yoga practice. It has also been shown that yoga decreases anxiety and stress. Which leads us to:

2. Yoga helps you to focus and remain calm. Yoga encourages you to focus on the present, which increases self-awareness and mindfulness and helps you to build better coping mechanisms for stress. In his article on how yoga changes your brain, Alex Korb describes how yoga works not because the poses are relaxing, but because they are stressful.

“It is your attempts to remain calm during this stress that create yoga’s greatest neurobiological benefit. One of the main purposes of yoga is to retrain your habits so that your brain stops automatically invoking the stress response”.
— Alex Korb

3. Yoga improves your flexibility. Yoga increases your flexibility and agility as well as increasing the range of mobility in the joints, which helps prevent and build resilience to injury. Flexibility can also improve your posture because flexible muscles have less tension.

4. Yoga improves your posture. With better flexibility comes better posture, as tight muscles affect your spine’s alignment. Yoga builds core strength which protects your lower back and prevents you from slouching; it also maintains the natural curves in your spine. Good posture also makes you look and feel better - so hold that head high!

5. Yoga protects your spine; with a wide variety of forward bends, backward bends and gentle twists, yoga stimulates and nourishes the spinal disks which act as shock absorbers between your vertebrae. Yoga can also help to ease any back pain by gently stretching and strengthening the muscles of the lower back and legs and increasing blood circulation, which in turn brings healing nutrients to any injured tissues.

6. Yoga boosts immunity. Your immune system is easily affected by poor diet, lack of sleep, stress, anxiety and toxins in our environment. At certain times of year (I'm looking at you, winter!) there seems to be no end to the colds, coughs and tummy bugs flying around, so looking after yourself becomes even more important.The lymphatic system aids the immune system in removing and destroying waste, debris, dead blood cells, pathogens, toxins, and cancer cells. Lymph nodes move through the body by muscle contractions; therefore physical movement such as yoga is a great way to get your lymph flowing.  Specific yoga poses which can help to boost your immune system are wide-legged standing forward bend, downward facing dog, Warrior III, inversions and plank pose:

Downward facing dog

Downward facing dog

7. Yoga helps you to sleep better. Insomnia has been linked to anumber of serious medical conditions, including cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure, cognitive disorders, anxiety and depression. Researchers at Harvard Medical school found that yoga improved both sleep quality and quantity in people suffering from insomnia. Poses that we love to practice before bedtime include:

  • Uttanasana (standing forward bend)
  • Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend)
  • Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)
    • Viparita Karani (legs up the wall)
  • Followed by a calming, restorative savasana  in bed, preferably in a dark room with a few drops of lavender on your pillow.

You might also want to try meditation. An over-active mind is often one of the reasons that people struggle to sleep, so introducing a short meditation practice into your night time routine can help to calm your mind and wind down before sleep.

8. Yoga improves your sex life. Oooh cheeky! But it does. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that regular yoga practice improves desire, arousal, orgasm and general sexual satisfaction. Perhaps most importantly for women, yoga helps to improve your self-esteem (see number 10) and body image, which is a real confidence booster in the bedroom.

9. Yoga helps you to lose weight. Yoga has been found to be helpful in the management of obesity. In one study the training of yoga asanas and pranayama for three continuous months, for 1 hour every day in the morning by a yoga expert resulted in decrease in body weight, body mass index (BMI), and waist hip ratio. The spiritual and emotional elements of your yoga practice can also encourage you to confront any unhealthy attitudes towards food on a deeper level. Are you an emotional eater? Do you reach for sugar when you're stressed out? Being mindful of how and why you eat will help you to develop a healthier approach to what you are consuming.

10. Yoga increases your self-esteem. This for me is perhaps the most important reason why everyone should do yoga. So many of us struggle with self-esteem and body image which can lead to over-eating, over-working, lack of sleep – all of which most certainly lead to illness. Learning to fall in love with yourself is perhaps to key to living a happy, healthy life. Try looking at yourself in the mirror every morning before you leave the house and say "You, my dear, are absolutely gorgeous"; it will do wonders.

Sources:

‘Yoga for depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis.’ Cramer H, Lauche R, Langhorst J, et al.

‘Rapid stress reduction and anxiolysis among distressed women as a consequence of a three month intensive yoga program.’ Michalsen A, Grossman P, Acil A, Langhorst J, Ludtke R, Esch T,et al.

‘Effects of yoga — pranayama practices on metabolic parameters and anthropometry in type 2 diabetes.’ Balaji PA, Smitha VR, Sadat AS

‘Yoga: Changing The Brain's Stressful Habits ‘ Alex Korb, Ph.D

'The Journal of Sexual Medicine' (Nov. 12, 2009)

Claire Hocken