Benefits of practicing yoga

Originating in ancient India, the practice of yoga dates as far back as 3000 BCE – over 5000 years ago. While there are various branches of yoga which focuses on different aspects, this article is about the more popular Hatha Yoga, the physical and mental branch designed to prime the body and mind. Yoga is a combination of posture-based physical, mental and breathing exercises that strengthens the body, relieves stress and relaxes the mind. One of the great things about yoga is that it’s suitable for everyone – young, old, fit, out of shape – whatever your current form, you can reap the benefits of yoga.

Speaking of benefits, yoga holds numerous advantages, some of which are highlighted below:

  1. Physical Benefits

    • Improves flexibility and mobility: Yoga involves poses designed to stretch your joints and loosen your muscles. You don’t have to be flexible to start, but you will surely see improvements in your movement and flexibility after a few sessions. Say goodbye to stiffness and soreness!

    • Builds strength: Many people think that yoga is only about stretching, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Yoga incorporates many popular poses like squats, lunges and planks which simultaneously work to stretch and strengthen core muscles. You can also incorporate yoga resistance bands and weights to target specific muscle areas for strength building.

    • Increases endurance and stamina: Yoga improves stamina and endurance on physical and mental levels. Popular poses such as Tree, Mountain and Chair poses improve balance and co-ordination. When combined with focused breath-work, they lead to improvements in physical and mental stamina.

    • Lowers heart rate: Breathing deeply and calmly is a key component of yoga. The practice teaches techniques for being aware of your breathing, slowing it down, and breathing fully from your stomach to your lungs. Doing this consistently will significantly lower your heart rate and teach you to be calm – even in emergency situations.

    • Weight control: Practicing yoga consistently fuels your metabolic system and burns significant calories, helping you shed excess, unwanted weight.

    • Correct posture: Yoga stretches out your joints and muscles, causing you to walk taller and sit up straighter. Previous aches and pains caused by incorrect standing, walking or sitting postures may also be alleviated through the practice of yoga.

    • Better all-round fitness: Athletes and fitness experts all over the world testify that yoga improves overall fitness levels and helps them be better in other areas of exercise. So, even if you already have a fitness routine, consider incorporating some yoga – you’ll be thankful you did.

  2. Mental Benefits

    • Stress relief: Yoga is widely known to be an efficient stressbuster. The combination of poses, breathing and meditation serve to regulate heart rate and improve our physical and mental response to stress and stressful situations.

    • Better sleep: Reduced stress equals better sleep. It’s been proven that practicing relaxing yoga poses before bedtime calms your mind and body which can be particularly helpful for fighting insomnia.

    • Become more mindful and self-aware: Yoga involves clearing your mind and focusing on the present – your movement, breathing and sensations that come with each pose. This is, essentially, mindfulness. Consistent practice of mindfulness leads to higher levels of self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-confidence.

    • Improve concentration and think clearer: Concentrating on your movement and breathing in the present moment reduces the cognitive load on your brain, thereby improving cognitive function. You’re able to think more clearly, recollect and retain information, resulting in better execution of your everyday tasks.

    • Be happier: All the benefits outlined above certainly lead to higher energy levels and mood improvements. However, studies also show that consistently practicing yoga and meditation reduces the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, and leads to higher levels of serotonin, the happiness hormone. So, if you want to improve your daily mood, consider starting your day with some gentle yoga.

    • Live longer: It’s since been proven that regular exercise significantly increases one’s chances of living a long, healthy life. This is especially true with yoga, as it combines physical and mental benefits which may improve your life span. Furthermore, yoga has been directly linked to a reduction in the risk of heart disease.

  3. Convenience: Yoga is one of the more convenient forms of exercise, as it can be done at home, with minimal tools, and little/no physical supervision. On YouTube, there is an abundance of free instructional videos by trained instructors, for different paces. If you feel more comfortable with online instruction, start with a ‘yoga for beginners’ video and if/when you feel ready, graduate to more advanced levels. The great thing about yoga is that you still reap the benefits at whichever level you practice.

    While you can incorporate tools like yoga blocks, wheels and resistance bands to elevate your practice as you go long, the only tool you require to start is a mat; because yoga looks inward and uses your own body as its tool. How cool is that?

    This is especially useful as the world navigates the COVID-19 pandemic. Your local gym being closed, or you not feeling comfortable going to your gym isn’t enough reason to neglect your fitness.

  4. Low Risk: The practice of yoga avails the same benefits as a gym – but in the safer, more conducive environment of your home. Yoga is generally considered low-impact and safe for people, when guided by a well-trained instructor. Severe injury due to yoga is rare, but as with most things, if you’re pregnant or managing an on-going medical condition, speak with your healthcare practitioner before starting yoga to find out if there are particular poses you need to alter or avoid.

As you can see, for a practice considered to be low-impact/low-effort, yoga provides numerous, wide-reaching benefits. Just 15 minutes of yoga daily can lead to an improved life, so roll out your mat and get moving today!

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Dania Nwizu is a creative entrepreneur based in Lagos, Nigeria. She spends most of her time writing, telling food stories and walking on water.

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