4 Surprising Health Benefits of Yoga You Probably Didn’t Know About

Over the past decade, yoga has increased in popularity. It’s why you’ve probably seen more yoga studios near where you live.

One reason for this is that more celebrities are doing yoga. But, it isn’t limited to that. Instead, it’s because people who practice yoga feel better after a class.

Just as importantly, yoga doesn’t judge you. It welcomes everyone no matter your age, race, weight or gender. And, almost anyone can do it. This isn’t always the case for other forms of exercise including running or lifting weights.

And while all these things bring people in the door, it’s the many health benefits of yoga that keeps them coming back.

Here are some of the reasons why you should be doing yoga.

It Gives You Better Balance, Flexibility, and Strength

Probably the most obvious and immediate effects of yoga are its physical benefits. After a few classes, you’ll feel stronger, shed a few pounds and be more limber.

This not only makes you look and feel better, but it also boosts your self-esteem and confidence.

Together, all these attributes make life easier. Being stronger lets you carry objects around without having to ask for help. It also lets you make quick work of any type of manual labor.

Meanwhile, being flexible helps prevent injury when you accidentally slip. And, balance prevents falls which can cause fractures or bruises.

Better yet, research shows that yoga offers many other surprising benefits. These include faster reaction times, increased agility and stamina. These effects are more unexpected because yoga doesn’t involve speed, quick movements or any cardio at all.

That said, they do come in handy from time to time.

Moving faster allows you to get more things done. It also lets you get from one place to another quickly. Or, react swiftly during crises or emergency situations.

Similarly, increased stamina prevents fatigue. Thus, allowing you to spend more quality time with your kids or not get tired after a long day at the office.

Yoga is an Amazing Stress Reliever

Besides the physical benefits, one of the reasons many people practice yoga is for its stress-relieving effects. You’ve probably felt it at one time or another.

Yoga lets you get some time to yourself. And because you’re focused on the present, you’re able to get away from life’s problems and stresses for a while. This is one of the reasons you feel lighter, less worried and happier after a class.

But, it doesn’t stop there. There are other more complex things that yoga does to your mind and body that help reduce stress.

It Lets Your Mind Relax

Thanks to brain imaging scans, scientists have been able to prove that practicing yoga produces changes in your brain. While it requires long-term practice to achieve permanent structural effects, there are some immediate ones as well.

One of this has to do with GABA or Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid. This is a brain chemical that prevents your mind from getting too excited. When this happens, the increased neural activity results in stress and worry.

Studies show that during yoga practice, your brain produces more GABA. As such, you feel calmer and more relaxed. Plus, it also helps decrease stress and feelings of anxiety.

Yoga Lowers Your Cortisol Levels

Besides releasing more GABA, yoga also lowers the level of stress hormones in your body. Among them is cortisol which is a chemical your body uses to put you in “fight or flight” mode.

This is why when you anticipate a stressful situation or a threat, you start feeling more alert. You also feel a rush of energy, a tinge of sweat and feel your heart beat faster.

That’s all thanks to your stress hormones. These hormones prepare your body to take on any stressful situation, including emergencies and life-threatening events. They are the reason why you have more strength, better focus and faster reaction under duress.

This all happens because stress hormones signal your body to do a host of things. Among them is release more glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream and pump more blood into your muscles and organs. Altogether these effects let you concentrate better, feel stronger and move faster in order to take on the challenge that faces you, be it speaking in public, running away from a mugger or asking your crush out.

Unfortunately, being in a state of stress is only meant to be temporary. Beyond that, it becomes harmful to your health. The high levels of sugar in your blood, faster heartbeat and other effects can result in diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease among other things.

That’s why chronic stress is bad for your health. And, because 77% of people are affected by stress, yoga gives you a natural way of managing it without medication and all the side effects that come with it.

This lets you take care of yourself so that you can go back and take on all the challenges that work, family and life have to offer.

It Boosts Your Brain

This is probably the most surprising one of all. After all, how does stretching and doing pretzel-like poses affect your brain?

Unfortunately, because of how television and movies portray yoga, it’s often seen as a physical form of exercise. In reality, yoga is so much more.

At its core, it combines three elements, the asanas or poses, pranayama or breathing and meditation. It is for this reason that yoga enhances your mind, body, and spirit.

To compound matters, it was impossible to actually see yoga’s effects on the brain despite the many claims of yogis on its ability to do so.

That is until recently.

Thanks to the advancement of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), you can now see what yoga actually does to your brain. These scans are able to map your brain and see how much activity there is in different areas. In doing so, it’s easy to pinpoint which parts of your brain yoga affect and how it does so.

More importantly, researchers found that long-term yoga practitioners have very different brain structures compared to people who don’t do yoga.

And that’s a good thing.

Yoga Increase Gray Matter Density

The most obvious difference was the amount of gray matter found people who practice yoga for decades.

Why does this matter?

Your brain is made up of two kinds of tissues. They are gray matter and white matter. Scientists refer to them this way because that’s the color they appear as when scanned. In an average person, there’s slightly more white matter than gray matter.

What’s more important is that these two types of tissues complement one another. That is, they function differently. So, you need each to be healthy to have proper cognitive function.

In general,

  • Gray matter contains your brain cells or neurons. As such, they control your thinking ability, memories and decision making. In addition, they also play a role in your senses and emotions.
  • White matter provides the connections between the different areas of your brain. They work like the old-fashioned telephone lines allowing different parts of your brain to send and receive signals. Thus, you’re able to piece together different bits of information together in order to understand the bigger picture.

Because practicing yoga increases the amount of gray matter in your brain, it lets you control your emotions better. Yoga also makes you more aware of yourself and others. Plus, it boosts memory and cognition while protecting your brain from conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Better yet, all it takes is 2 months of regular yoga practice to see significant changes in your brain’s structure.

Your Brain’s Cortical Folds Increase

Besides changing your brain’s tissue composition, it also increases the number of folds in certain parts of your brain.

When you look at a picture of the human brain, you’ll probably notice that a large portion of it is filled with bumps and ridges. While they’re not visually appealing, they’re there to serve a function. That is, to increase your brain’s surface area.

To explain, your brain’s surface area is where you’ll find its neurons (brain cells). As such, more space is a good thing. After all, smarter individuals have been shown to have bigger and faster brain cells.

The problem is that your brain fits in your skull. And because the human head is a certain proportion to your body, its size is limited. This means that the amount of space that’s available for your brain is likewise limited.

To increase that space, your brain’s tissues fold, twist and bend. This allows it to fit more into your skull.

Think of it like fitting your clothes into a suitcase. By folding, rolling and organizing them in such a way, you’re able to increase the amount of clothing you fit into the same piece of luggage.

That’s what your brain’s folds or gyrification does.

What’s more important is that yoga has been shown to increase the number of folds in your brain. In doing so, it improves your cognitive ability. It also allows your mind to process and handle information faster.

Yoga Slows Down the Aging Process

Another lesser-known benefit of yoga is that it helps slow down aging.

Let’s face it. Everyone wants to stay young. That’s why beauty products are a billion-dollar industry. And, yoga is a natural way to do so, without all the supplements or chemicals.

More importantly, it helps keep you healthy and improves your quality of life. This allows you to do everything you want to while living a long and healthy life.

So how does yoga keep you young?

Yoga Helps You Sleep Better

Sleep is very important which is why it is among life’s essentials. While you’re sleeping, your body repairs damaged tissues and restore your energy. This allows all your muscles and organs to function properly. In doing so, it helps prevent and slows down cell aging which can speed up the rate at which you’re more likely to develop age-related health problems like heart disease and high blood pressure.

In addition, sleep keeps your skin looking young. As you slumber, your body releases human growth hormone which helps repair any damages and blemishes. As such, it aids in keeping your skin smooth and clear.

By the time you hit REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, your cortisol levels decrease. During this time your skin’s temperature also goes down allowing your muscles and skin to relax and become immobilized. This helps them rest and recover.

All together, these events help keep your skin supple, prevent wrinkles and dryness. Additionally. getting enough sleep also reduces those dark circles around your eyes.

It’s Good for Your Heart and Health

Similarly, while you’re asleep, your body releases a host of chemicals called hormones. These function in different ways to help regulate all the organ systems in your body, including your endocrine and nervous systems. In doing so, it’s able to help keep them healthy.

On the other hand, sleep deprivation negatively affects these systems, increasing your risk of chronic health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes and increased cholesterol. All of which makes you age faster and can potentially shorten your life and well-being.

Putting It All Together

A common misconception about yoga is that it is a form of physical exercise. As such, it’s main benefits to your body is physical. However, yoga’s effects are more holistic. They affect your mind, body, and soul.

About the Author

Emma Lymn is the editor of Health Grinder, a health and nutrition blog. She is passionate about helping others learn to eat healthy and lose weight. A proud mom of two kids and a very spoiled dog, she enjoys traveling and volunteering in her spare time.

Emma Lymn is the editor of Health Grinder, a health and nutrition blog. She is passionate about helping others learn to eat healthy and lose weight. A proud mom of two kids and a very spoiled dog, she enjoys traveling and volunteering in her spare time.

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