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5 Unexpected Physical Benefits of Yoga

Over the last twenty years, yoga has exploded onto the mainstream as a multi-billion dollar business, and with more and more people from all around the world rolling out their mats in a studio or at home for the first time. With increased participation in and attention to yoga, medical providers and medical researchers began to realize that yoga might have some serious health benefits beyond just making you a little more flexible. According to Dr. Timothy McCall M.D, who is the medical editor of Yoga Journal and a board-certified physician, “There is an ever-growing body of scientific evidence that yoga can be useful for a wide variety of medical conditions, helping people to feel better, to heal after major illness or surgery and to live better with chronic disease.”

1. Improves Digestive Function

Research has shown that yoga practice can have a positive impact on individuals suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) as yoga works directly on the gut-brain axis facilitated by the vagus nerve. Even if the research didn’t yet prove yoga’s ability to improve digestive function, a few minutes in wind relieving pose would convince me. Yoga postures include gentle pressure, gentle twisting, and massaging of the abdomen which can aid in the manual act of digestion and help to relieve many of the causes of digestive discomfort like gas, diarrhea, and constipation. Additionally, research has proven that yoga’s ability to regulate the nervous system and improve parasympathetic nervous system functioning helps to manage many of the stress-related causes of digestional discomfort.

2. Improves Circulation

Movement naturally improves circulation in many instances but yoga is unique in that many postures change the relative location of the heart to the extremities in space. Heart opening or chest opening postures reduce pressure from poor posture on the chest cavity, allowing the heart to work with less pressure. Postures with raised arms or legs (like mountain pose or legs up the wall pose) require that the heart beat more strongly to carry blood to the extremities which strengthens the heart and encourages better circulation in those areas over time. Finally, inversions place the head and heart below the hips which helps to stimulate venous blood flow back to the heart and may help with better uptake of oxygen in the blood.

3. Strengthens Bones

A study from Harvard Medical School confirms what yogis have known for years, that yoga is an effective weight-bearing exercise to build bone strength. The balancing postures, gentle weight bearing on hands and arms, and work against gravity that many yoga postures include help to strengthen bones. In addition, the increased proprioceptive awareness and coordination that comes with yoga practice over time can help decrease klutzy movement patterns or balance challenges in elderly individuals which decreases the risk of falling and injuring our bones.

4. Improves Brain Function

Yoga challenges the brain by requiring sustained attention on simple tasks, changing neurotransmitter levels, and activating the left prefrontal cortex. Conditioning in our modern world has left many people with excessively short attention spans which often results in short memory. The practice of yoga calls for individuals to remain focused on their bodily sensations (which can help with dissociation) and to stay with their breath over extended periods of time. Studies have shown that yoga also increases GABA, serotonin, and dopamine production in individuals and that yoga has promising uses for neurodegenerative disorders.

5. Improves Immune Function

Immune function is a hot topic in today’s post-pandemic world and the immune system is a very complex system. However, yoga has been shown to increase blood oxygen levels which allows for proper cellular repair and maintenance. Additionally, studies have concluded that “Yoga resists the autonomic changes and impairment of cellular immunity seen in examination stress” meaning that yoga practice helps individuals to have a more resilient immune system when faced with stressors, which we all know are plentiful these days.

Another exciting practice that has been proven to have many medical benefits is meditation. To learn more about meditation and get five free guided meditations click here.


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