Amazingly enough, there is much more to gain from yoga than weight loss and improved fitness. Your internal systems can also benefit greatly from yoga, helping with better circulation, digestion, and immunity. These are only the first three systems that we will look at for now… and there are many other benefits that will likely inspire your own joining of yoga in the near future!
1. Increases your blood flow
Yoga gets your blood flowing. The relaxation exercises you learn in yoga can help your circulation, especially in your hands and feet, and yoga also gets more oxygen to your cells to improve overall function. Twisting poses are thought to exonerate venous blood from organs and let oxygenated blood flow in. Also, inverted poses (e.g. Headstand, Handstand, and Shoulderstand) encourage venous blood from the legs and pelvis to flow back to the heart, where it can be pumped to the lungs to be freshly oxygenated, also reducing swelling in your legs from heart or kidney problems, and t thins the blood by making platelets less sticky and by cutting the level of clot-promoting proteins in the blood. Additionally, increased levels of hemoglobin and red blood cells bring more oxygen to body tissues. All of this can decrease the risk of heart attacks and strokes since blood clots are often the cause of these killers.
2. Drains your lymphs and boosts immunity
When you contract and stretch muscles, move organs around, and come in and out of yoga postures, you increase the drainage of lymph (a viscous fluid rich in immune cells). This helps the lymphatic system fight infection, destroy cancerous cells, and dispose of the toxic waste products of cellular functioning.
3. Increases your heart rate
Regularly increased heart rate into the aerobic range helps lower your risk of heart attacks and can relieve depression. While not all yoga is aerobic, you can work it up to the aerobic level on your own, boosting your heart rate into the aerobic range. And, even if yoga exercises that don’t get your heart rate up that high can improve cardiovascular conditioning. With these stimulations, yoga lowers the resting heart rate, increases endurance, and can improve your maximum uptake of oxygen during exercise—all reflections of improved aerobic conditioning. One study found that subjects who were taught only pranayama could do more exercise with less oxygen.
4. Reduces your blood pressure
If you’ve got high blood pressure, you might benefit from yoga. Two studies of people with hypertension compared the effects of Savasana (Corpse Pose) with simply lying on a couch, and after three months, Savasana was associated with a 26-point drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number) and a 15-point drop in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number—and the higher the initial blood pressure, the bigger the drop.
5. Regulates your adrenal glands
Yoga lowers cortisol levels, secreted from the adrenal glands in response to an acute crisis, to temporarily boost immune function. If your cortisol levels stay high after the crisis, they can compromise the immune system. Temporary boosts of cortisol help with long-term memory, but chronically high levels undermine memory and may lead to permanent changes in the brain. Additionally, excessive cortisol has been linked with major depression, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. In rats, high cortisol levels lead to what researchers call “food-seeking behavior” (the kind that drives you to eat when you’re upset, angry, or stressed). The body takes those extra calories and distributes them as fat in the abdomen, contributing to weight gain and the risk of diabetes and heart attack.
6. Boosts your immune system functionality
Asana and pranayama probably improve immune function, but, so far, meditation has the strongest scientific support in this area. It appears to have a beneficial effect on the functioning of the immune system, boosting it when needed (for example, raising antibody levels in response to a vaccine) and lowering it when needed (for instance, mitigating an inappropriately aggressive immune function in an autoimmune disease like psoriasis).
7. Gives your lungs room to breathe
Yogis tend to take fewer breaths of greater volume, which is both calming and more efficient. A 1998 study reported that after one month, their average respiratory rate decreased from 13.4 breaths per minute to 7.6. Meanwhile, their exercise capacity increased significantly, as did the oxygen saturation of their blood. In addition, yoga has been shown to improve various measures of lung function, including the maximum volume of the breath and the efficiency of the exhalation. Yoga also promotes breathing through the nose, which filters the air, warms it (cold, dry air is more likely to trigger an asthma attack in people who are sensitive), and humidifies it, removing pollen and dirt and other things you’d rather not take into your lungs.
8. Prevents IBS and other digestive problems
Ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation—all of these can be exacerbated by stress. So if you stress less, you’ll suffer less. Yoga, like any physical exercise, can ease constipation—and theoretically lower the risk of colon cancer—because moving the body facilitates more rapid transport of food and waste products through the bowels. And, although it has not been studied scientifically, yogis suspect that twisting poses may be beneficial in getting waste to move through the system.
9. Uses sounds to soothe your sinuses
The basics of yoga—asana, pranayama, and meditation—all work to improve your health, but there’s more in the yoga toolbox. Consider chanting. It tends to prolong exhalation, which shifts the balance toward the parasympathetic nervous system. When done in a group, chanting can be a particularly powerful physical and emotional experience. A recent study from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute suggests that humming sounds—like those made while chanting Om—open the sinuses and facilitate drainage.
10. Guides your body’s healing in your mind’s eye
If you contemplate an image in your mind’s eye, as you do in yoga nidra and other practices, you can effect change in your body. Several studies have found that guided imagery reduced postoperative pain, decreased the frequency of headaches, and improved the quality of life for people with cancer and HIV.
11. Keeps allergies and viruses at bay
Kriyas, or cleansing practices, are another element of yoga. They include everything from rapid breathing exercises to elaborate internal cleansings of the intestines. Jala neti, which entails a gentle lavage of the nasal passages with salt water, removes pollen and viruses from the nose, keeps mucus from building up, and helps drains the sinuses.