Yoga is one of the most holistic approaches to overall wellness as it works on various aspects of health, especially the physical and mental.
It is no wonder that yoga is now appealing increasingly to the masses – many come to yoga seeking answers for a problem, and eventually experience more benefits than they expect.
In this article, I share the 10 benefits of yoga which are highly powerful for achieving optimal health and wellness.
Benefits of Yoga: A Personal Experience
Regular readers of this blog would know that I was introduced to yoga due to a running injury. It was tendonitis of my Tibialis Posterior Tendon (outer ankle); a result of overuse and marathon running. Despite the pain, I continued running, and my left Tibialis Anterior Tendon then tore. I lost the use of both my ankles and needed to rest for weeks on end.
That was when yoga came into my life. I could not sit still, and desperately needed an alternative outlet for my monkey mind and emotions.
It started as a simple stretching exercise through free yoga apps (link). I started feeling at ease with my injury and unexpectedly started sleeping better and feeling more relaxed about life in general. My usually-tense leg muscles started aching less. In short, I felt better than I ever did even while recuperating from an injury.
It was strange. It was yoga working in me.
Since then, I fell in love with yoga. If I stay off the mat for too long, my physical and mental body tells me I need to get back to practice. The benefits of yoga are that obvious.
In this post, I summarise some of the biggest benefits of yoga, most of which I have personally experienced over the years. This is definitely not an exhaustive list but is a good one to motivate some of you who are still looking for reasons to start yoga.
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Physical Benefits of Yoga
1. Improved flexibility and balance
Without a doubt, improved flexibility is the most obvious benefit of yoga. As mentioned in the 8 Myths of Yoga Busted post, flexibility is not a prerequisite to doing yoga, but an outcome of the practice.
Flexibility is important to help prevent injuries, back pain or issues with balancing. This, in turn, results in a lower risk of falling or getting chronic pain during old age. In addition, a well-stretched muscle more easily achieves its full range of motion and functional abilities including bending, reaching or stooping during daily tasks. 
For those who would like simple stretches for improving flexibility, you can start off with the following routines:
- 7 Day Free Yoga Basics Challenge
- Morning Routine for Beginners – Energize and Wake Up!
- 9 Basic Yoga Stretches You Should Include In Your Morning Routine
- Flexibility Exercises (Static Stretches)
2. Reduced chronic pain, especially in the joints
Chronic pain due to a range of issues such as injuries, joint problems, etc. affects millions of people today. For instance, the most common cause of limited activity in people below 45 is lower back pain.
While research on the impact of yoga on chronic pain is still relatively new, a growing number of existing studies have shown that yoga, specifically yoga therapy, can help reduce many types of chronic pain.
In 2005, a pilot study by the American College of Rheumatology showed that yoga can help decrease pain and improve function of people who suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee. 
Another research in 2016 has found several studies showing that yoga could provide superior compliance and benefit in the long term compared to traditional exercise programs derived from physical therapy. 
For more about yoga therapy, check out this summary by Yoga Journal.
3. Reduces blood pressure
Various research and studies have shown that yoga has a positive effect on reducing resting blood pressure.
- In 2019, researchers studied data from 49 trials that involved 3,517 participants who had high blood pressure or were at risk of developing the condition. Participants who practised 3 sessions of yoga per week (including breathing techniques and meditation) had reduced blood pressure by 11/6 mmHg compared to the non-yoga group (reduced by 6/3 mmHg).
- In 2016, results of the Lifestyle Modification and Blood Pressure Study (LIMBS) were published. In this study, participants were randomly assigned to 3 intervention methods:
- Yoga only,
- Blood Pressure Education Program
- Combination of yoga and Blood Pressure Education Program
- At 12 weeks, there was a significant reduction in blood pressure in the yoga and the combination groups, compared with the group that did the education program alone.
4. Improves lymph health and immunity
The lymphatic system, according to Livescience, is a “network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials”. It is crucial for producing the antibodies required to prevent diseases and infection, without which the human body will experience different conditions and diseases such as infections, autoimmune disorders, or cancers.
Yoga poses that involve inversions, where the head is below the heart, increases lymph circulation. Gravity allows the lymph to flow through our organs when we invert, and gravity again sends the lymph through the filtering system (lymph nodes) when we return to the upright position.
Simple yoga poses such as Downward Facing Dog, Standing Forward Fold or supported Bridge pose are great for lymph health. If you are more advanced then full inversions such as headstands, handstands and shoulderstands can be practised as well.
5. Builds stronger muscles
Yoga is not only great for flexibility, but also for building strength in our muscles. Seasoned yoga practitioners can all attest to this – when we hold yoga poses, even the very basic ones such as the warrior poses, we are working on muscle conditioning and building endurance.
- In a 2011 study, 79 participants performed 24 cycles of sun salutations 6 days a week for 24 weeks. They were found to have significant increases in body strength and lower BMI in all groups.
- In 2015, a study examined the effects of a 12-week Hatha yoga intervention on cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility in 173 adults. Those who did yoga experienced significant improvements in maximum oxygen intake, strength, and resting heart rates.
Learn more about Sun Salutations:
Mental benefits of Yoga
6. Relieves stress and anxiety
Yoga is a mind-body practice that aligns physical and mental disciplines to help achieve peace, calm and relaxation. Several studies have shown that yoga can decrease stress by suppressing the secretion of the stress hormone, cortisol.
There are many types of yoga with different styles and intensities, all of which are beneficial for stress management. Hatha yoga may be a good choice for beginners with its slower pace which allows for yogis to focus on breathing deeply, which we know is great for stress management.
Note: Do not mistake Hatha Yoga as being easier to perform. The real hatha yoga requires strength, flexibility and endurance all at once.
Learn more about the different types of yoga.
7. Better focus and concentration
New information is always incoming, whether through our mobile devices or any other digital technology. As our concentration gets pulled in many different directions, it is easy for us to lose focus and productivity.
An important element of yoga is to focus on the present and live with complete awareness and intention. Yogis do this by concentrating on breathing, using our gaze or drishti, and building awareness of the breath in order to stay present.
Balancing yoga poses are great for helping us cultivate mindfulness and improving concentration.
Check out this yoga video where we practise using our Drishti to improve balance and focus.
8. Better sleep quality
Chronic Insomnia affects 10 to 15 per cent of the American population, making it the most common sleep disorder.
There are various methods to address insomnia, and yoga is seen to be a highly effective complementary solution with other lifestyle changes. According to Psychology Today, yoga can help improve sleep quality and quantity for those suffering from chronic insomnia.
As someone who suffered from insomnia (and still occasionally get sleepless nights), I find that having a nightly routine of yoga stretches and sleep meditations help me fall asleep faster and longer.
9. Increases contentment, happiness and self-acceptance
It is natural for us to spend a lot of time worrying and thinking about the future. Negative thought patterns, comparison with others, and self-critical thoughts limit our potential and prevent us from living a full life. We are more familiar with discontentment than we are with contentment.
One of the Niyamas of the 8 Limbs of Yoga is ‘Santosha’, which means contentment.
Regularly practising yoga leads us to accept and better appreciate what we have in life RIGHT NOW. As we live with an attitude of gratitude, we work towards a healthier and more positive relationship with ourselves. This self-acceptance helps us to be able to create deeper connections with others and the world.
10. Encourages a healthier lifestyle
Yoga helps us live healthier lifestyle on two fronts:
- Asana (or yoga posture) practice gets us to move and burn calories
- Meditation or mindfulness practice helps us to pay attention to our eating and lifestyle choices. Yoga has been found to reduce eating disorder symptoms, preoccupation with food and decreased episodes of binge eating disorders.
Food for thought: Many people think that to be a yogi requires one to love healthy food, and practice a ‘green’ lifestyle. The fact is, most of us come to yoga as broken, non-green people but are transformed by our practice to love the world and our bodies over the years. Living healthy and green is a result of yoga, and not a pre-requisite.
Science is starting to catch up to the ancient art of yoga, revealing the multiple physical and mental health benefits of a yogic lifestyle.
Incorporating yoga into your life may bring about mind-body-soul wellness and help you live a higher quality of life.
So I encourage you to find some time to practice yoga regularly. This doesn’t need to be a long session, even 10-15 minutes a day is sufficient to trigger change and long term transformation.
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The YogaMad is founded by Mila, an avid yogini who is passionate about inspiring others to live their best lives while finding mind-body-soul balance. She has a background in business consulting but has left the corporate world in her quest to live out her dreams as a yoga nomad.