The Benefits of Yoga

The Benefits of Yoga

On International Yoga Day, we dive into the proven positive effects of one of the world's oldest practices.

On International Yoga Day, we dive into the proven positive effects of one of the world's oldest practices.

Text: William Defebaugh

Today (June 21) on International Yoga Day, countless people around the world are celebrating the ancient art of yoga. In India, 50,000 people alone have joined Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an outdoor session. While yoga may have began in ancient India, it has made its way across the world—particularly in Western culture, beginning in the free love and New Age movements of the '60s and '70s in the United States. Its popularity has only grown in the time since, with more and more participants discovering the mental, physical, and spiritual benefits of regular practice. While the positive effects of yoga are largely innumerous, we've mapped out a few of the top scientifically proven benefits below.

Grace Jones photographed by Jean-Paul Goude, V57.

It Increases Productivity

According to a recent study of 85,000 adults, the number of members of the American workforce that practice yoga has almost doubled from what it was at the turn of the century (increasing from 6 percent to 11 percent between 2002 and 2012). “Our finding of high and increasing rates of exposure to mindfulness practices among U.S. workers is encouraging,” said the authors of the study. “Approximately 1 in 7 workers report engagement in some form of mindfulness-based activity, and these individuals can bring awareness of the benefit of such practices into the workplace.” This is one among many research studies that point out the benefits that mindfulness practices have on work, including increased energy, focus, and productivity—which is why more and more employers are offering programs for their workers to participate in.

It Changes How You Think

While many misguided practitioners might think yoga is about perfecting poses, one of its key cornerstones is actually to remove our conceptions of "good" and "bad." We experience these judgmental notions about ourselves all too often throughout our day, and they create negative thoughts and feelings. Yoga attempts to silence the mind by focusing wholly on the practice, and surrendering to the poses, however imperfect. This outlook can then be applied to our life, helping us to become easier on ourselves. These emotional benefits of yoga are scientifically proven as well; Neurocardiology, a discipline that explores the relationship between the head and the heart, has shown that activity that increases dialogue between these two areas of the body has positive benefits. Since yoga is about connecting the entire body (and nervous system), engaging in practice that encourages positive outlooks while moving through the physical poses helps cement them in your mind. For these reasons, it has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression.

It Relieves Stress

Yoga reduces stress in multiple ways. The first is by the practice itself: spending time focused solely on breathing and postures helps to remove daily burdens placed on the mind. The second is an ongoing effect: if you've ever taken a yoga class, chances are you've heard a teacher tell you to come back to and steady your breathing. This is because one of the most important lessons that yoga offers is how to train yourself to keep calm and focus on what's important (like breathing) when you find yourself in stressful situations (like an uncomfortable posture). Again, this is a tool that extends outside the studio, helping you to remain calm in tense situations, whether work or otherwise. Find ease in that which is difficult, and that ease will spread to every area of your life.

It's A Good Workout

While it may not be as big of a calorie burner as lifting weights and running on treadmills, yoga has also been proven to combat weight gain. One four-year study found that adults who practiced yoga at least once a week gain three fewer pounds than those conducting more traditional forms of exercise. It also showed a group of overweight adults who were doing yoga losing five pounds while another group of non-yogis gained thirteen. Additionally, while practicing yoga, you're utilizing your whole body, increasing your blood flow—which helps build the muscles you're using faster. While physical appearance should not be the sole reason for doing yoga, as it flies in the face of many values the practice stands for, it certainly is an added benefit.

It Makes You A Better Person

As we touched on earlier, a pillar of yoga is being able to let go of judgment—which, as you are probably well aware, is an eternal source of conflict between the self and others. But that's not the real reason yoga helps to make you a more compassionate person. Letting go of judgment means not judging yourself as well. What hinders us from tapping into some of life's greatest offerings—taking risks, extending kindness, trying new things—is fear of embarrassment. And what is embarrassment really, other than your ego wanting to protect itself? By conditioning your mind to understand that no posture and no action is a success or a failure, what you are really doing is diminishing your ego by letting go of fear. Having a smaller ego will benefit you in just about every area of your life (especially your social skills).

It Improves Your Health

Whether it's the common cold or chronic pain, yoga is a natural health remedy. There is a great deal of research demonstrating the ways in which it is good for your immune system and combating heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, and other health issues. Not only that, by putting your entire body to work, it improves blood flow, digestion, and nutrition absorption (which results in more energy). It's not just the physical aspect either: all of those processes are also affected by stress, and we've already discussed the ways in which yoga can take care of that.

It Makes You More Flexible

This one is perhaps one of the more popular benefits of yoga. While you shouldn't expect to be able to turn into the human pretzel overnight, consistent practice helps to open up the body by the right combination of strength and stretching. The best part? It doesn't matter whether you're 25 or 50; yoga has been proven to benefit people of all ages. And yes, you can expect that this added flexibility will be a bonus in the bedroom—not just in trying new positions, but in feeling more comfortable as well. Regular practice helps you to feel more rooted, and therefore confident about your body. The real fun begins when you can get your partner to practice as well.

It Encourages Connection

Psychology has discovered that our happiness is irrevocably linked to our social lives, and how we interact with other human beings. (For those who think it a coincidence that anxiety and depression are at an unprecedented high in our age of technological isolation, think again.) Going to yoga classes is a way to actually engage with other people, allowing you to feel more like you are part of a community, which can alleviate feelings of loneliness. Not to mention, yogis tend to be pretty open, so you might even expect to make a friend or two in the process. And, as we mentioned in the beginning, the reach of yoga extends across the globe—so even the simple act of practicing connects you to a wider world.

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