Ever wonder about the benefits of yoga?
Well, you don’t need to look any further. We went through thousands of research studies to see how yoga can make you healthier. Boy, did we find many!
I remember my own story.
That’s how I got to thinking about yoga’s benefits.
What I soon realized was that this ancient practice did more good than what we give it credit for. When I began, I thought it was all about the stretching and poses.
But, I found out it’s much, much more.
So, I’ve decided to compile a list of scientifically proven benefits of yoga.
Currently, there are over 3,000 studies done on yoga. And below, I’ve included a few hundred that are relevant to our health.
To make it easier to go through this long list, I’ve divided the benefits into categories. This will make the list easier to navigate.
Table of Contents
- Brain & Emotional Benefits
- Mind & Performance Benefits
- General Health Benefits of Yoga
- Physical Benefits
- Yoga Helps in Your Relationships
- Role in Pain Relief
- How it Helps in Preventing Illness
Yoga’s Benefits on Your Brain & Emotions
How does yoga affect your mood and emotions?
Here are some changes in our brain, our way of thinking and perception that happen.
1. Attending Yoga Classes Lifts Up Your Mood
Yoga has similar effects to exercise.
During yoga, the body releases hormones that help improve mood and lowers stress. This is why many feel happier after a class.
Besides doing poses, yoga includes meditation and breathing. The latter two help improve focus and mindfulness.
A Boston University study compared its effects walking. Their focus was to see which improved mood, anxiety and GABA levels more. GABA, or Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, is a neurotransmitter. It helps calm your brain down. It also works to regulate anxiety.
After 12 weeks, the yoga group had bigger improvements in mood and anxiety.
To check for GABA levels, the scientists used magnetic resonance spectroscopy scans. These scans showed increased thalamic GABA levels in the yoga group.
Also, the study links the improvements in mood and anxiety to the higher GABA levels.
Another experiment compared yoga to swimming.
Here, yoga decreased anger, tension, and fatigue more in both men and women. This led the team to conclude that for mood enhancement, aerobic exercise isn’t your only choice.
If you don’t know where to start, here’s a great 20 minute yoga workout for beginners to get you going.
2. Yoga is a Proven Stress Reliever
Stress can come in many forms. These include mental, physical and emotional.
Physical exercise is a proven stress reliever. This is thanks to endorphins released by the body during exercise.
Endorphins are brain chemicals that help lower our feeling of pain. They also make us feel more positive.
As a result, it helps reduce your stress levels.
Yoga’s physical aspect helps lower stress the same way other kinds of exercise do. But, it has extra health benefits. That’s because yoga includes mental, emotional and spiritual aspects as well.
Altogether, these features help you unwind, lower stress and relax.
Here’s a review that shows yoga lowering stress. Plus, it also reduced symptoms related to it.
So how does yoga fare against other proven stress management therapies?
A study in the journal Cognitive Behavior Therapy sheds light. It shows that yoga produces similar results in stress reduction as cognitive behavior therapy.
Here, employees from large companies did 10 sessions of yoga. This was enough to cut their stress. It also helped improve behavior and other factors related to stress.
3. Yoga Reduces Anxiety Levels
Along with stress, yoga helps reduce anxiety.
Anxiety can come from many things. These include fear and uncertainty.
Yoga helps reduce worrying by lowering our cortisol levels.
It also decreases that feeling of nervousness that can sometimes overcome us. This is especially true when there’s something we’re uncertain of.
German researchers did an experiment to see how this works.
They found that 3 months of Iyengar yoga helps emotionally distressed women. It was able to reduce their stress and anxiety levels.
Besides these effects, the women also had more vigor. They were less fatigued and had a better overall well-being. Those who had back pain and headaches also reported relief from these problems.
Additionally, the researchers noted the yoga group’s salivary cortisol decreased significantly.
For followers of hatha yoga, you’ll be glad to know that it works just as well. Especially as a relaxation therapy for anxiety and stress reduction.
This is based on a study by the University of South Australia.
Here, 1 hour weekly sessions of hatha yoga improved stress and anxiety levels. The 10 week program also helped participants be more relaxed.
4. Yoga Helps Fight Depression
Depression affects over 15 million adults in the U.S.
The condition carries the most burden among mental and behavioral disorders. This is according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The worse thing about it is it takes away the most years out of our lives.
Depression is often linked to illness and disease. The thing is, it can be caused by many different things.
For anyone with depressive symptoms, yoga can help you be more active. It also aids in reducing your feelings of depression.
The GABA neurotransmitter we mentioned earlier is linked to depression and anxiety. Scientists found that lower GABA levels are associated with depression.
For their study, they relied on specialized MRI machines. These devices let them measure GABA levels in the brain of teenagers with depression.
The team then compared the teens’ scans with those who weren’t depressed. This led them to discover that the depressed teens had lower levels of GABA.
Yoga helps decrease feelings of depression. It does this in part by boosting GABA levels.
A study by UCLA researchers used 5 weeks of Iyengar yoga to test this. They found that yoga reduced symptoms in adults with mild levels of depression.
The classes focused on postures believed to help reduce depression. This included inversions, backbends and standing poses.
In the end, participants reported less depressive symptoms and anxiety. They also had more positive moods and lower levels of negative mood.
5. It Gives You A More Positive Outlook on Life
Having a positive outlook and mood helps you be happier. More importantly, it makes you healthier.
According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, being positive is healthy for everyone.
It reduces your chances of getting sick. Plus, it protects against diseases like diabetes and hypertension.
The institution also notes the importance of emotional vitality. This includes having the feeling of enthusiasm and being hopeful.
Together, these help us cope with stresses in life. Additionally, it provides us with emotional balance.
Harvard professor Shawn Achor, an expert in positive psychology, says it is vital. He notes that 75% of predicting one’s success at work relies on optimistic behavior. That is, the ability to see challenges as a way to improve. And, having a positive support system.
Yoga helps foster the 4 important attributes. All 4 are essential for a happier, healthier life.
- Emotional vitality or that sense of enthusiasm
- Social support
- Self-regulation ability
Here’s some proof.
Researchers collected data from 312 participants during a week-long free yoga camp. Analysis of the data showed that integrative yoga practices have many positive effects.
Pranayama (breathing), asana (postures) and relaxation improved positive emotions. And, they reduced the negative ones. This allowed participants to feel better.
6. Practicing Yoga Reduces Hostility, Anger, and Violent Tendencies
We all get angry at some point or another.
Sometimes we hold grudges or feel hostility towards others.
Studies have found that those who practice yoga are able to reduce that level of anger and hostility.
The practice also improves anyone’s violent personality.
Yoga helps us stay calm even in stressful or hostile situations. It does this through its relaxation and meditation practice.
Plus, it improves overall self-control as well. This lets you keep your temper in check when anger creeps up.
Researchers learned that yoga helps students reduce their violent personality traits. It also improves their balanced personality trait.
Additionally, yoga reduces verbal aggressiveness. This is when you attack a person instead of their position or argument. Some examples of verbal aggressiveness include bullying and criticism.
A study shows that 8 weeks of integrative yoga helped cut down verbal aggression.
7. Yoga Helps Keep You Calm
Yoga helps calm and relax us.
It does this through meditation, breathing and poses.
During yoga, you concentrate on the here and now. This lets you shift your mind away from your stresses, anxieties, and fears.
The shift helps slow your breathing and heart rate. Also, it lowers blood pressure and increases blood circulation.
An experiment done at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons proves this. They found that yogic breathing helps shift one’s balance from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system.
This helps relieve stress.
The reason is that our sympathetic nervous is related to our stress and anxieties. Our parasympathetic nervous system meanwhile, is what calms our stress response systems.
A Boston University study also notes that yoga increases our brain’s GABA levels. This results in a calming effect that helps improve our mood.
For their experiment, they compared yoga and reading. This allowed them to see which activity affected GABA levels more.
Surprisingly, reading for 1 hour didn’t have any effects on GABA. But, a similar 1 hour yoga session increased GABA levels by 27%.
8. Yoga Practitioners are Happier
Want to cheer yourself up?
Skip the fridge.
Try yoga instead.
Yoga improves our mood and upping our GABA levels. Plus, it has other positive effects on our brain as well.
- It affects the area of the brain that’s associated with having a more positive outlook.
- Yoga lowers your cortisol levels. This is the hormone that heightens our stress response.
- Practicing yoga increases your body’s serotonin levels. Serotonin is often called the “happy hormone”. This is because it aids mood regulation and prevents depression.
Do note that these effects are only temporary if you only do one session here and there.
But, for long-term practitioners it’s different. There’s proof from their brain scans.
Scans reveal that yoga effected changes in their brain structure. It did so helping them be more resilient to stress. And it gives them a happier outlook on life.
Research also shows that those who did yoga meditation were happier. They were more satisfied with themselves compared to those who didn’t do yoga or meditation.
The University of Maryland School of Nursing confirmed this in a large survey. It found that 86.5% of those who did yoga agreed that it improved their level of happiness.
It helped them stay healthier and sleep better. Yoga also improved their social relationships and weight maintenance.
9. Yoga Helps Give You Inner Peace (Peace of Mind)
Yoga helps us gain inner peace and calmness. It does this by unifying our body, mind, and spirit.
In doing so, it reduces our emotional and psychological stresses and anxieties. These include fear, anger, regret, frustration, and desire.
Researchers found that yoga’s therapeutic effects cover a wide range of conditions. It affects many aspects of living that help improve our well-being and quality of life.
In short, yoga helps us physically and mentally. Plus, it lets us achieve inner peace.
One of the best things about it is that you can practice anywhere.
You can do yoga at home, while traveling or the park.
10. Yoga Improves Emotional Resilience
What do Navy SEALs know about being successful?
It’s all about being resilient.
These specially trained individuals are always ready to handle physical and mental challenges.
Resilience or having “grit” is the best predictor of success. This is according to University of Pennsylvania researcher Angela Lee Duckworth.
It gives you the ability to see things through, even in tough times. This way you’re ready for the long haul.
Duckworth observed this by analyzing West Point Military Academy students. She learned that grit was a better predictor of success. It was better than SAT scores, class rank, leadership ability and physical aptitude.
Yoga also helps develop our level of resilience. It does so by fostering tolerance to stress and emotional well-being.
A study by the Dru Education Centre in the U.K. confirms this.
Participants in the yoga group saw improved mood profiles and positive psychological attitudes. Yoga allowed them to cope better with work stress. And, they did so with more composure, confidence, and a clearer mind.
The good news is, anyone can use yoga to be more resilient to stress. This is true for when you’re at work, or at home.
It helps you cope with relationship stress as well. These include dealing with your boss or in family life.