Today kicks off Yoga Month, an entire month full of appreciating, practicing, and learning yoga as a community. Whether you practice yoga regularly or have just taken your first yoga class, you’ve probably noticed some benefits – relaxed state of mind, better sleep, or more energy. Although we are still learning and measuring yoga’s benefits, science is uncovering clues about the practice and its effects on longevity and life span.
This week we’re focusing on the physical advantages. We asked yoga expert Danny Arguetty, manager of UW Recreation’s Mindfulness Program, to share some of the leading physical takeaways from continued yoga practice. Without further ado, here are 8 physical benefits to practicing yoga that can promote a long, healthy life.
“For breath is life, and if you breathe well, you will live long on earth.” – Sanskrit Proverb
1. Increase flexibility and reduce back pain
If the body and muscle tissues are overly compressed it limits our ability to move our joints through their full range of motion. When we begin to move more freely, our joint cartilage receives fresh nutrients and we may experience less tension from tight tissues. Back pain is often caused by nerve irritation which results in compressed muscles or muscle spasm. When the muscles relax through various movements and deep breathing, pain is reduced.
2. Increase bone density and health
Many postures in yoga require weight bearing, which strengthens bones. Specifically, yoga strengthens arm bones that are particularly vulnerable to osteoporotic fractures.
3. Increase circulation and blood flow
Whether you build heat through sustaining postures or get the heart pumping through faster cardiovascular movement, yoga gets your blood flowing. In addition, relaxation helps circulation, and movement brings more oxygen to your cells which helps them function more efficiently.
4. Activate the lymph and bolster the immune system
Yoga movements aid in draining the lymphatic system, allowing it to better fight inflection, fight diseased cells, and rid toxic waste in the body. Furthermore, mindfulness appears to have a beneficial effect on the functioning of the immune system, boosting it when needed (i.e. raising antibody levels in response to a vaccine), and lowering it when needed (i.e. mitigating an inappropriately aggressive immune function in an autoimmune disease like psoriasis).
5. Regulate the adrenal glands
Yoga lowers cortisol levels. If high, they compromise the immune system and may lead to permanent changes in the brain. Excessive cortisol has also been linked with major depression, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance.
6. Improve balance
Regularly practicing yoga increases proprioception (the ability to feel what your body is doing and where it is in space) and improves balance. Better balance could mean fewer falls. This translates into more independence and ease of movement with aging.
7. Calm the nervous system and sleep deeper
Stimulation in our modern society can tax our nervous system. Yoga and meditation encourage turning inward to take a break from constant stimuli, providing much needed downtime for the nervous system to recalibrate and in turn create an environment for better sleep.
8. Encourage self-care and a healthy lifestyle
Perhaps the greatest benefits of yoga are its ability to improve self-care and inspire adopting a healthier lifestyle. When we become more involved in our own health and care, we discover we have the power to effect positive change in our lives and commit to more healthy habits. Over time, healthy living, appreciation, and the ability to connect with people and life outside of our own bubble has a large impact on life expectancy.
Research continues to show that the benefits of yoga are tangible and that incorporating yoga into our routines can aid in longevity and increase life span. For the next several weeks, take note if some of these benefits show up in your practice on and off the mat.
Additional sources: Huffington Post, Vox
Danny Arguetty, M.A., is the mindfulness program manager at the University of Washington, a yoga teacher (and teacher trainer), nutrition/life coach, and a lover of the environment. He is the author of Nourishing the Teacher and The 6 Qualities of Consciousness. Passionate about helping people flourish through mindfulness, wellness, and personal self-development, he has over a decade’s worth of experience in group facilitation, one-on-one coaching, and experiential teaching.
Danny has guided workshops throughout the United States, led basic and advanced yoga trainings in the U.S. and India, and spoken at Facebook, Olson Kundig, and Gravity Payments (all in Seattle). He served as adjunct faculty at Williams College, leads a quarterly course on Intro to Mindfulness at UW, and is a faculty member at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health.