28 Reasons to Start Doing Yoga Today

Sport & Activity

Science is finally catching up to yoga's many health benefits, from improved strength to better sleep and mood enhancement.

Last updated: 30 June 2022
9 min read
How Yoga Can Improve Your Health, Wellness and Athletic Skills

Regular yoga practitioners know that when they step onto the mat, they enter a space of calm and serenity. They use their practice to embrace challenge and enhance vitality and performance in life. But you don't have to be an advanced yogi to enjoy the fitness benefits of yoga. Just taking one class can introduce you to the many ways that yoga will make you look and feel better in life and in sport.

28 Benefits of Yoga

Yoga has been around for thousands of years. Recently, modern science has studied the practice to see how it can enhance the human experience. These are 28 evidence-backed benefits of practising yoga.

9 Physical Benefits of Yoga

  • Improves Strength: You probably won't use dumbbells or kettlebells in a traditional yoga class, but you will build muscle with asanas (or poses) such as headstands, planks, downward dog and the chair pose. Numerous studies have shown that yoga is effective at improving muscle strength. A 2015 study that involved 173 adults who did hatha yoga for 12 weeks showed overall improvements in muscular strength. And another 2015 research review showed that practising Bikram yoga improved lower-body strength and the total body range of motion.

  • Boosts Balance: You'll improve your functional stability with poses such as the tree pose, eagle pose and the warrior II. A study published in the journal Age and Ageing found that yoga-based exercises were effective at improving balance to reduce the risk of falls in adults aged 60 and older. And a 2016 study involving young, male university students also found improvements in balance when they participated in yoga workouts.

  • Enhances Flexibility: You don't have to be flexible to take a yoga class, but as you become consistent with a practice, you are likely to improve your flexibility. In fact, one study showed that when sedentary adults participated in yoga for eight weeks (three classes per week), they showed significant improvements in flexibility, mobility, strength and balance. Flexibility adds to overall fitness, as well.

  • Increases Energy and Vitality: Your energy level and sense of vitality can be tough to measure as there can be significant variations from one individual to the next. But studies have shown that practising certain "power poses" can improve your subjective level of energy. The poses studied included standing open poses (mountain pose or tadasana and upwards salute or urdhva hastasana) and standing closed poses (eagle pose or garudasana).

  • Improves Athletic Performance: Athletes of all types use yoga to improve sports performance. For instance, one study showed that a brief yoga session involving 11 poses and lasting 20 minutes helped improve performance among distance runners. And another study showed that a 10-week yoga practice could improve whole-body measures and enhance overall athletic performance in male university athletes.

  • Reduces Risk of Injury: If you're looking to exercise but avoid injury, yoga is a smart choice. The National Institutes of Health notes that the risk of injury associated with yoga is lower than that for higher-impact physical activities (such as running, tennis or skiing). There are even studies suggesting that practising yoga may help to reduce the rate of injury among employees on the job.

  • Improves Breathing: At the heart of your yoga practice is pranayama breathing—a formal practice of controlling the breath. Deep breathing on its own can help you to feel more relaxed and focused. Studies have also shown that it can improve overall respiratory function after just eight weeks.

  • Improves Posture: You'll probably notice that after just minutes on the mat you stand taller and feel more graceful. Research supports this observation on posture health. Studies have shown that practising hatha yoga improves postural control in young, healthy adults and can also improve postural control, mobility and gait speed in older adults. Improved posture is one of the many benefits of a yoga practice.

  • Supports Better Bone Health: Many people, especially post-menopausal women, look for ways to improve or maintain bone health as they age. And research has shown that a 12-minute daily yoga routine can expose bones to greater forces and can improve bone-mineral density in both the spine and femur.

9 Lifestyle Benefits of Yoga

  • Improves Sleep: Need to catch a few more z's? Several studies have linked yoga practice to better sleep in various populations. Experts at the Yoga Journal recommend a relaxing yoga practice such as yoga nidra (a form of yoga to relax the body) to help you fall asleep faster.

  • Elevates Mood: Having a bad day? Take a few minutes and practise your flow. One study compared yoga to walking and found that a 12-week yoga practice was significantly more effective at improving mood and decreasing anxiety than walking.

  • Decreases Stress Levels: Yoga can't eliminate stressors from your life, but a regular practice may help you manage them better. According to a researcher in the International Journal of Yoga, yoga offers an effective method of managing and reducing stress, and she recommends yoga as a treatment for the management of stress.

  • Builds Community Connection: The practice of yoga can be a deeply personal journey. But along the way you have the opportunity to connect to a community of teachers, students and leaders who can offer support and encouragement. Opportunities for growth are extensive, including yoga-related travel excursions and workshops.

  • Improves Mindfulness: Understanding and practising meditation and mindfulness can help you to navigate tricky situations throughout the day. Mindfulness is the ability to stay fully aware in the present moment. Studies have supported the use of yoga for improved mindfulness, especially in the area of healthy eating practices.

  • Improves Focus: We could all stand to be dialled in with greater focus at work, in sport and even when chilling at home with the family. Yoga can help you find your focus and even enhance overall cognitive functioning, according to this 2017 study.

  • Increases Self-Esteem: Remember those power poses that helped increase overall energy and vitality? The authors of that study also noted that they improved self-esteem as well. Other studies have investigated the ways that yoga can improve self-esteem in adolescents, burn victims and others with positive findings.

  • Promotes Self-Care: Who couldn't use a little extra relaxation and TLC these days? The National Institutes of Complementary and Integrative Health advises that yoga supports good health habits. A yoga practice can also help to provide you with self-care tools to manage and reduce stress, according to a 2020 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.

  • Improves Quality of Life: Several studies have looked at the impact that yoga can have on the overall quality of life in different populations. Evidence shows that those undergoing medical treatment, those managing chronic pain or disease and others can feel better about their lives simply by practising yoga.

10 Health Benefits of Yoga

  • Helps Relieve Back Pain: Back pain can interfere with almost every aspect of life because the lower back is involved in so many typical day-to-day movements. While taking medication is a solution for some, several studies have shown that yoga can be a safe and alternative treatment.

  • Reduces Arthritis Symptoms: If you live with arthritis, consider starting a yoga practice. Scientific evidence has supported the use of yoga to both reduce symptoms (including pain and tender or swollen joints) as well as to reduce disability and improve self-efficacy and mental health in those with osteoarthritis.

  • Supports Healthy Weight Loss: Looking for an exercise programme to help you lose weight? Yoga may be for you! One study compared hatha yoga to vinyasa yoga during a six-month behavioural weight-loss programme that also included a calorie- and fat-reduced diet. Both the hatha group and the vinyasa group were successful at weight loss when they practised five days per week (20 to 60 minutes per session).

  • Reduces Inflammation: Chronic inflammation is a key element in many conditions including heart disease, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers have found that a yoga workout programme can be a "viable intervention to reduce inflammation across a multitude of chronic conditions". And another 2018 study concluded that yoga may be useful as a complementary intervention for those at risk for, or already managing, diseases with an inflammatory component. Plus, yoga is likely to have fewer side effects than other interventions.

  • Treats Chronic Pain: Neck pain, headaches, back pain. Do any of these conditions sound familiar? If you're looking for a way to reduce pain, you may want to add yoga to your toolbox of remedies. There are a number of studies suggesting that yoga may be a helpful treatment for chronic pain.

  • May Help Fight Depression: If you, or someone you know, is fighting depression, turning to yoga may help. A large 2017 research review found that yoga interventions were effective in reducing depression. The most common form of yoga used was hatha yoga.

  • Helps Lower Blood Pressure: One of the more widely promoted benefits of yoga is its ability to help lower blood pressure. Several large research reviews have confirmed this benefit, although research is ongoing to help scientists fully understand the relationship.

  • Relieves Menopause Symptoms: Hot flashes, mood swings and trouble sleeping are all problems reported by women going through menopause. During this transitional time, yoga can help ease these symptoms (and others) according to a large body of evidence.

  • Boosts Immune Health: The research linking yoga to a healthier immune system is still in its early stages. Researchers think that yoga may help boost immune health, although they add that a longer, consistent practice may be needed to gain the greatest benefit.

FAQ About Starting Yoga

How Often Do I Need to Do Yoga to Gain the Health and Fitness Benefits?

There is no hard-and-fast rule about how much yoga you need to do to gain health and wellness benefits. One study demonstrated that the positive effects of yoga practice can occur after performing yoga poses for only two minutes. But most studies involved interventions of at least eight weeks. However, that doesn't mean you won't feel some changes before that amount of time.

What Kind of Yoga Should I Do to Gain Health Benefits?

There are many different types of yoga and each has its own focus. Hatha yoga and vinyasa yoga (flow yoga) are both widely studied. But that doesn't mean that other types of yoga can't provide benefits as well. For instance, nidra yoga provides intense release and relaxation. And yin yoga is a slower practice that focuses on movement in the hips, lower back and thighs. Research the different types of yoga before you begin and choose one that meets your needs.

Can I Gain Health Benefits if I Practise Yoga at Home?

You can practise yoga anywhere to gain health benefits. If you like the atmosphere of a yoga studio, then take a yoga class there. But if not, there are countless online resources and apps that allow you to practise wherever it suits you, including at home.

How Yoga Can Improve Your Health, Wellness and Athletic Skills

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Originally published: 18 November 2021

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