The ancients made many bold claims about yoga, including its almost mythological ability to cure all diseases and maintain eternal youth. Just because these claims were exaggerated and not backed by modern, Westernized science, does not mean that they were unfounded! With a little research, you can see the factual evidence, backed by our fancy new science, that shows the real physical and mental health benefits that regular yoga can bring to its devoted students.
Even though I’m not going to claim that it can cure all maladies, yoga has the power to improve almost anyone’s life using these identifiable health benefits. Regular yoga, depending partly on which you practice and how often, can benefit your body on a mental and structural level. Here are 13 huge health benefits of yoga (backed by science).
1. Back Pain Relief
Back pain may be the number one reason people seek out yoga and they’re wise to do so. Poses like Cat/Cow can improve flexibility and strength in your spine, improving mobility and giving you a leg up on overuse pain related to an aging or strained back. Holistic healers recommend yoga first, before any pain meds are on the table, for people with achy backs.
2. Leg/Arm Strength
Your legs and arms can become weak if you don’t work them out (of course!). For many people, strengthening regimens at the gym put too much strain on their schedules. This is where at-home yoga poses that strengthen your arms and legs can come in handy. Try Triangle and Side Angle Poses for your legs and Dolphin Pose for your arms.
3. Vital Organ Energy
We may not think too much about “energy” in this sense in Western medicine, but your vital organs need to be activated and massaged to function well. Those of us who live sedentary lives may be selling ourselves short on energy, something yoga is good at fixing. A lot of poses offer massages to vital organs, which improves kidney, liver, and adrenal function.
4. Improved Digestion
Digestion follows from the same vital energy, but it warrants its own section. Healthy digestion requires movement in your system and poses like Upward Salute can massage your intestines and colon and relax your system so it can process and dispose of food in a healthy way.
5. Improved Balance
Balance may not be a conscious concern until we get older, but people of any age can benefit from improving it. Balance not only helps us prevent injuries from falls but also helps us maintain structural balance. Balancing poses like Eagle Pose can give you the ability to load your muscles properly when walking.
6. Improved Flexibility
This should go without saying, but flexibility and yoga go hand in hand. Bow Pose and Tree Pose will give you access to all kinds of structural stability you never knew you had while getting your spine to a more flexible (that means healthier!) place.
7. Healthy Heart Function
Heart problems can lead to inflammation, high blood pressure, and disease. Opening your chest cavity and activating your heart can reverse these problems and offer its own therapies. Poses like Downward Dog give your body length and openness enough to take pressure off your heart.
One of yoga’s most touted benefits involves its ability to calm your mind and promote relaxation. After a busy day, yoga can help you put your mind to rest so you can enjoy your evening with de-escalated levels of blood pressure and mental activity. Use a pose like Legs-Up-the-Wall to get blood flowing to your brain and promote peace.
9. Insomnia Therapy
Along with relaxation, many people find therapy for insomnia with yoga. Busy evenings can get your mind elevated and unable to calm down into restful sleep. Poses like Standing Forward Bend and Child’s Pose can help you motivate your body to accept sleep.
10. Arthritis Therapy
Arthritis pain is caused by discomfort in tender joints that can become swollen over time. Loosening and warming up these joints can offer some relief from pain.
11. Pelvic Pain Relief
Pelvic pain can strike anyone and leads to muscular dysfunction, tightness, and sexual problems. If you’re a man or woman with pelvic pain, hip-opening sequences should be part of your regular practice.
12. Increased Energy
Low energy can impact every aspect of our lives, especially our mood. By increasing energy with a full sequence, you can get a boost in your positivity, alertness, memory, and stress reduction.
13. A Community of Healing
Finally, not so much a benefit of physically doing yoga but becoming a part of the practice, yoga connects you to a positive community of people like you. One major cause of sedentariness and stress is just … feeling lonely and cooped up. Communities of yoga listen to you and give you social support, which may be the 13th benefit listed here but it’s by no means the least!
These 13 yoga benefits are backed by scientific studies that you can find in all kinds of online journals for yourself. Here’s just one such study, about how Hatha Yoga had a positive effect on participants’ stress levels. Many more are popping up as more people in the West discover through experience how these health benefits (and more!) improve every aspect of life through regular, balanced, and mindful yoga practice.