So, we all know at this point that there are dozens or even hundreds of physical improvements that can be gained through a regular practice of yoga. There is no reason to believe that it is the sole option for you to improve your health, wellness, flexibility, strength, or even to lose weight. I’m sure you have plenty of other exrcise choices that you enjoy on a warm, sunny day, but this can definitely help with many of your body systems. At this point we will start with the first 10 improvements that can help with your physical well-being.
1. Improves your flexibility
Improved flexibility is one of the first and most obvious benefits of yoga. At first, you probably won’t be able to touch your toes, never mind do a backbend. But stick with it, and you’ll notice gradual loosening, and eventually impossible poses will become possible. Your aches and pains will also start to disappear. Tight hips can strain the knee joint, tight hamstrings can lead to a flattening of the lumbar spine and back pain, and inflexibility can cause poor posture. So… you’ll see other benefits that improved flexibility will help you reach over time!
2. Builds muscle strength
Strong muscles do more than just look good. They also protect us from conditions like arthritis and back pain and help prevent falls in elderly people. And when you build strength through yoga, you balance it with flexibility. If you just went to the gym and lifted weights, you might build strength at the expense of flexibility.
3. Perfects your posture
Your head is like a bowling ball—big, round, and heavy and needs to be balanced directly over an erect spine for back muscles to easily support it. Move it several inches forward, however, and you start to strain those muscles. Hold up that forward-leaning bowling ball for eight or 12 hours a day and it’s no wonder you’re tired. And fatigue might not be your only problem. Poor posture can cause back, neck, and other muscle and joint pain along with other problems like arthritis of the spine.
4. Prevents cartilage and joint breakdown
Each time you practice yoga, you take your joints through their full range of motion. This can help prevent degenerative arthritis or mitigate disability by “squeezing and soaking” areas of cartilage that normally aren’t used. Joint cartilage is like a sponge; it receives fresh nutrients only when its fluid is squeezed out and a new supply can be soaked up. Without proper sustenance, neglected areas of cartilage can eventually wear out, exposing the underlying bone like worn-out brake pads.
5. Protects your spine
Spinal disks—the shock absorbers between the vertebrae that can herniate and compress nerves—crave movement. That’s the only way they get their nutrients. If you’ve got a well-balanced asana practice with plenty of backbends, forward bends, and twists, you’ll help keep your disks supple.
6. Betters your bone health
It’s well documented that weight-bearing exercise strengthens bones and helps ward off osteoporosis. Many postures in yoga require that you lift your own weight. And some, like Downward- and Upward-Facing Dog, help strengthen the arm bones, which are particularly vulnerable to osteoporotic fractures. Additionally, yoga’s ability to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol may help keep calcium in the bones.
7. Founds a healthy lifestyle
Move more, eat less—that’s the adage of many a dieter. Yoga can help on both fronts. A regular practice gets you moving and burns calories and the spiritual and emotional dimensions of your practice may encourage you to address any eating and weight problems on a deeper level. Yoga may also inspire you to become a more conscious eater.
8. Lowers blood sugar
Yoga lowers blood sugar and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and boosts HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Sometimes it helps people with diabetes to lower blood sugar in several by lowering cortisol and adrenaline levels, encouraging weight loss, and improving sensitivity to the effects of insulin. If you have diabetes, lowered blood sugar levels can help decrease your risk of diabetic complications such as heart attack, kidney failure, and blindness.
9. Improves your balance
Regularly practicing yoga increases proprioception (the ability to feel what your body is doing and where it is in space) and improves balance. People with bad posture or dysfunctional movement patterns usually have poor proprioception, which has been linked to knee problems and back pain. Better balance could mean fewer falls. For the elderly, this translates into more independence and delayed admission to a nursing home or never entering one at all. For the rest of us, postures like Tree Pose can make us feel less wobbly on and off the mat.
10. Releases tension in your limbs
Do you ever notice yourself holding the telephone or a steering wheel with a death grip or scrunching your face when staring at a computer screen? These unconscious habits can lead to chronic tension, muscle fatigue, and soreness in the wrists, arms, shoulders, neck, and face, which can increase stress and worsen your mood. As you practice yoga, you begin to notice where you hold tension: It might be in your tongue, your eyes, or the muscles of your face and neck. If you simply tune in, you may be able to release some tension in the tongue and eyes. With bigger muscles like the quadriceps, trapezius, and buttocks, it may take years of practice to learn how to relax them.