espite being around for thousands of years, for many people, yoga is still shrouded in mystery. But thanks to the proliferation of yoga studios everywhere and the widespread availability of yoga in digital format, this ancient practice is finally getting its due attention and respect. Practitioners of all skill levels are realizing the trove of benefits that yoga offers.
While the list of its purported virtues is extensive, there are five benefits of yoga that you’ll love and that will warrant giving it a try:
- Healthy eating habits
- Heart health
- Improving self-esteem
- Protecting your mental health
- Stress management
Yoga has been around for thousands of years but has never been more popular and accessible than it is today. Can’t get to a studio? You can live-stream yoga classes from the comfort of your home or access digital content from anywhere. Keep reading for five benefits of yoga that you’ll love and that will hopefully inspire you to get started on your personal yoga journey without delay.
Is Yoga Considered Exercise?
Exercise can be defined as any series of physical movements that cause muscles to work and the body to burn calories. Under this broad definition, yoga qualifies as exercise, and millions of yoga practitioners and enthusiasts around the world would certainly agree. While some forms of yoga are fluid and relaxing, others are more strenuous and physically demanding.
In terms of exercise, the various forms of yoga work out different muscle groups of the body, the most common being your:
- Core: this is one of the hardest areas to address through traditional workout methods, but yoga poses such as the side plank and boat pose can zero in on these muscles
- Arms: your own body weight and gravity provide more than enough resistance to work out your arms with challenging poses like the plank, crane, and crow
- Legs and glutes: there are a number of yoga movements that specifically target the quadriceps, thighs, and glutes, including squats and warrior poses
The amount of exercise that you can derive from yoga will naturally depend on factors like pace, duration, and intensity, but as far as putting your muscles to work and burning those calories, yoga checks all the boxes.
Can You Increase Your Heart Rate in a Yoga Class?
The short answer to this question is yes. You can increase your heart rate in a yoga class. But this is entirely dependent on the particular form of yoga that you practice. For instance, restorative yoga uses calming poses that are as much meditative as they are physical. Other forms of yoga have poses that are held for long periods, and while challenging, they hardly qualify as cardio in an exercise sense.
But yoga variants like ashtanga, power, and vinyasa are adaptable to fast-paced, intense workouts that can elevate your heart rate because they involve a continuous, strenuous activity that utilizes large muscle groups.
In particular, vinyasa yoga, which is known as a fast-paced flow, is capable of producing an intense workout that can increase your heart rate through continuous, dynamic movements that are choreographed to flow from one to another without any breaks in between. If you participate in an advanced vinyasa class with a quickened pace, you can be sure to expect a good workout that will increase your heart rate.
How Long Has Yoga Been Around?
The various forms of yoga that are practiced in studios and streamed online these days are modern variations of practices that go back thousands of years. In fact, scholars believe that the earliest depictions of yoga-related poses and symbols may have originated nearly 5000 years ago in the Indus Valley (an area that now encompasses northeast Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northwest India).
Since those ancient times, yoga has undergone multiple periods in its development. Here is a snapshot of the five major periods in the history of yoga:
- Introductory period: the very beginning stage of yoga is unclear, but it is believed to have lasted until 1500 BCE
- Pre-classical period: for roughly two thousand years (2000 BCE to 100 CE), texts forming the foundation of yogic thought and philosophy were developed
- Classical period: as the name suggests, this period (100 to 800 CE) witnessed yoga blossom into a comprehensive platform for mind and body well-being, as evidenced by the development of the famed eight pillars of yoga
- Post-classical period: during this period (800 to 1700 CE), various schools and forms of yoga emerged
- Modern period: (1893 to current) western societies were introduced to yoga at the close of the 19th century, and the rest, as they say, is history
No one knows what the future holds for yoga, but if the past 5,000 years are any indication, it is bound to be exciting and inspiring.
5 Benefits of Yoga You’ll Love!
Aside from the exercise aspects that we have discussed above, yoga offers a wide spectrum of benefits. Here are five benefits of yoga that will keep you coming back to the mat.
Yoga Helps with Stress Management
One of the most powerful impacts that yoga can have on your life is managing stress and alleviating its harmful effects on the mind and body. Stress manifests itself in many ways, including:
- Lack of focus and concentration
- Physical ailments including neck and back pain
- Sleep disorders
- Substance abuse
Everybody experiences stress in their life, and no one is immune from the mental and physical harm it can wreak. Yoga techniques can provide powerful tools to combat stress and its damaging byproducts with benefits that include these potentially life-saving attributes:
- Incorporating yoga into your regular routine can provide inner calmness and clarity of mind
- It can improve your focus and concentration so that stressors do not overrun all aspects of your life
- Yoga meditation and breathing techniques allow you to reach a state of relaxation and decompress your mind and body
- It teaches techniques that enhance self-awareness, which is critical for early detection and treatment of health problems
- Yoga can revitalize your overall mental well-being
In addition to providing valuable tools for dealing with stress, yoga can also combat the effects of stress head-on. For instance, yoga has been shown to boost the body’s production of endorphins, which are hormones known for their mood-enhancing qualities. Yoga can also bring about a state of relaxation by reusing cortisol levels in the body.
Yoga Can Improve Heart Health
When practiced regularly, yoga can improve heart health on two fronts. First, yoga can be a dynamic form of exercise and an enriching and enjoyable way for practitioners to increase their heart rate while getting in a meaningful workout.
The other way that yoga improves heart health is by helping to reduce the known risk factors that contribute to heart disease, including most notably:
- Lowering blood pressure and pulse rate
- Reducing total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
- Promoting a healthy lifestyle that can reduce stress, a major contributor to heart disease and other ailments
In conjunction with other smart choices like healthy eating habits, a routine that includes regular sessions of yoga can be a game-changer when it comes to improving heart health. Studies have shown that even in cases where heart disease is diagnosed, a health-conscious regimen that includes yoga can dramatically slow down and even stop its progress.
Yoga Leads to Healthier Eating Habits and Weight Management
One of the skills that yoga develops is mindfulness – the non-judgmental awareness of the present. This important concept has far-reaching ramifications, including your eating habits. The term mindful eating is used to describe a yoga practitioner’s ability to recognize the physical and mental aspects of eating. This self-awareness can help you adopt these healthy eating habits:
- Avoiding emotional eating (e.g., eating in response to sadness or anxiety)
- Stopping the consumption of food upon feeling full
- Recognizing sensory cues such as the sight or smell of food and how they affect your appetite or desire to eat
- Being mindful of eating (as opposed to eating while distracted)
Through yoga, you can become a more mindful eater, and in so doing, you can better manage your weight. In fact, regular yoga sessions over the long term can be instrumental for weight loss and reducing your body mass index (BMI).
Yoga Boosts Self Esteem and Confidence
With its emphasis on forging a strong connection between the mind and body, yoga can serve as a true boost to your self-esteem and confidence. Practitioners of all shapes, sizes, and skill levels are taking to yoga and proclaiming their enthusiasm on platforms like social media, where hashtags like #curvyyoga, #curvyyogi, and #curvygirlyoga are proof positive that yoga is an inclusive community like no other.
In terms of confidence, it all begins in the mind, and this is where practicing yoga can give you another meaningful boost. Studies have shown that even a 20-minute session of yoga per day can:
- Increase brain function in terms of processing information
- Restructure your brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex
- Improve your memory, focus, and attentiveness
The elevated sense of self-esteem and confidence that you develop in the yoga studio or on the mat will carry over to the real-world aspects of your life, such as work or school, and you can put your heightened sense of positivity (and brainpower) on full display.
Yoga is Good for Your Mental Health
In addition to the many benefits of yoga in terms of your physical health, the virtues of yoga relating to your mental health are immeasurable and may, in fact, be more impactful to your overall well-being. Conditions like anxiety and depression can be just as debilitating and life-altering as any physical ailment, but just as yoga can promote good heart health, so too can it keep mental health risk factors in check.
One theory as to how yoga positively impacts your psyche is that the unique combination of breathing and posing activates the vagus nerve, which then stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to reduce feelings of tension and anxiety.
Studies have shown that practicing yoga regularly can result in:
- Alleviation of depression
- Boosted energy levels
- Feeling less stressed out and confused at work
- Increased confidence
- Reduction in anxiety
For many practitioners, the motivation for doing yoga lies not in the benefits to their physical well-being, but rather, the restoration of peace of mind, the value of which cannot be overstated.
There are many reasons why people do yoga. Some individuals practice yoga as a means of exercise or to achieve a sense of inner calm. For other practitioners, yoga is a way to decompress and free their minds from the stress of everyday life. Whatever the particular reason or motivation, be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, yoga has something to offer for everyone.