Yoga is a 5,000-year-old discipline that teaches physical poses – asanas – in a way that
integrates the body, mind, and spirit. Many people come to yoga for its physical benefits –
core strength, flexibility, better posture and alignment, improved breathing, deep opening
of hips and shoulders. Yoga is now a doctor's first prescription for cardiac and respiratory
issues, anxiety and depression, muscular tension, osteoporosis, arthritis, and numerous
other health issues.
If you're just here for the physical benefits, that's great. But don't be surprised if, like
many other people, you find that you feel calmer and more peaceful after class and become
aware of your body in ways you've never felt before. Not only will your understanding
of anatomy, posture, and breathing patterns improve but so might your awareness of
emotional and mental patterns. What appears on the surface to be a purely physical
practice often ends up affecting much more than the body.
No matter what style of yoga you choose to practice, you will begin to move your body in
new ways, learn about your own anatomy, and correct ingrained habit patterns. You will be
encouraged to listen to your own body, respect its wisdom, and progress at your own pace.
Below is a quick overview of the physical benefits of yoga. For links to more scholarly
explanations and research, visit our resources page.
- Increased flexibility. By safely stretching your muscles, yoga releases the lactic acid
that causes stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue. Yoga also increases the range of
motion and perhaps the lubrication in joints. As a result, you will likely feel a sense
of ease and fluidity throughout your body. Yoga stretches not only muscles but all
of the soft tissues surrounding the muscles (e.g., ligaments, tendons, and fascia
sheath). Research has shown that the flexibility benefits of yoga come quite quickly:
in one study, participants showed up to 35% improvement – notably in the shoulder
and trunk area – after just eight weeks.
- Increased strength.
When practiced correctly, nearly all yoga poses build core
abdominal strength. Many poses, including Downward-Facing Dog, Upward-Facing
Dog, and Plank, build upper-body strength, which is particularly crucial as people
age. Standing poses held for several long breaths strengthen the hamstrings,
quadriceps, and abdominal muscles. To strengthen the lower back, try Up Dog and
- Better posture.
As you become stronger and more flexible, you will likely notice
an improvement in your posture. That's because you're using deep abdominal
muscles to sustain each pose – and with a stronger core, you're more likely to sit
and stand "tall." And, with the heightened body awareness that comes with yoga,
you're more likely to notice and correct any slouching or slumping.
- Greater aerobic capacity.
Deep, mindful yoga breathing may help increase your
lung capacity, which in turn can improve sports performance and endurance.
- Amelioration of chronic diseases. Yoga has been proven to lower blood pressure
and slow the heart rate, which is good news for people with hypertension and heart
disease, as well as for those prone to strokes. Yoga has also been associated with a
reduction in cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as a boost in immune system
function. Multiple studies are under way to determine yoga's impact on relieving
symptoms of asthma, back pain, arthritis, insomnia, multiple sclerosis, and other
- Improved state of mind. The psychological benefits of yoga are less well
documented by medical research, but the anecdotal evidence is hard to deny. Ask
anyone who practices yoga regularly and they will likely attest to experiencing a
greater sense of calm, less stress, sharper concentration and mental focus, and
generally brighter moods.
Give yoga a try and see for yourself.