9 Benefits of Yoga
If you’ve done your “downward dog” yoga pose today, you’re probably feeling more relaxed. Regardless of your level of yoga expertise, if you’re practicing regularly, you can feel better from head to toe, says Harpreet Gujral, program director of Integrative Medicine at Johns Hopkins’ Sibley Memorial Hospital.
Yoga offers physical and mental health benefits for people of all ages. And, if you’re going through an illness, recovering from surgery or living with a chronic condition, yoga can become an integral part of your treatment and potentially hasten healing.
“A yoga therapist can work with patients and put together individualized plans that work together with their medical and surgical therapies,” says Gural. “That way, yoga can support the healing process and help the person experience symptoms with more centeredness and less distress.”
1. Yoga improves strength, balance and flexibility.
Slow movements and deep breathing increase blood flow and warm up muscles, while holding a pose can build strength.
Try it: Tree Pose
Balance on one foot, while holding the other foot to your calf or above the knee (but never on the knee) at a right angle. Try to focus on one spot in front of you, while you balance for one minute.
2. Yoga helps with back pain relief.
Yoga is as good as basic stretching for easing pain and improving mobility in people with lower back pain. The American College of Physicians recommends yoga as a first-line treatment for chronic low back pain.
Try it: Cat-Cow Pose
Get on all fours, placing your palms underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. First, inhale, as you let your stomach drop down toward the floor. Then, exhale, as you draw your navel toward your spine, arching your spine like a cat stretching.
3. Yoga can ease arthritis symptoms.
Gentle yoga has been shown to ease some of the discomfort of tender, swollen joints for people with arthritis, according to a Johns Hopkins review of 11 recent studies.
4. Yoga benefits heart health.
Regular yoga practice may reduce levels of stress and body-wide inflammation, contributing to healthier hearts. Several of the factors contributing to heart disease, including high blood pressure and excess weight, can also be addressed through yoga.
Try it: Downward Dog Pose
Get on all fours, then tuck your toes under and bring your sitting bones up, so that you make a triangle shape. Keep a slight bend in your knees, while lengthening your spine and tailbone.
5. Yoga relaxes you, to help you sleep better.
Research shows that a consistent bedtime yoga routine can help you get in the right mindset and prepare your body to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Try It: Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose
Sit with your left side against a wall, then gently turn right and lift your legs up to rest against the wall, keeping your back on the floor and your sitting bones close to the wall. You can remain in this position for 5 to 15 minutes.
6. Yoga can mean more energy and brighter moods.
You may feel increased mental and physical energy, a boost in alertness and enthusiasm, and fewer negative feelings after getting into a routine of practicing yoga.
7. Yoga helps you manage stress.
According to the National Institutes of Health, scientific evidence shows that yoga supports stress management, mental health, mindfulness, healthy eating, weight loss and quality sleep.
Try It: Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Lie down with your limbs gently stretched out, away from the body, with your palms facing up. Try to clear your mind while breathing deeply. You can hold this pose for 5 to 15 minutes.
8. Yoga connects you with a supportive community.
Gujral points out that participating in yoga classes can ease loneliness and provide an environment for group healing and support. “Even during one-on-one sessions,” she says, “loneliness is reduced as one is acknowledged as a unique individual, being listened to and participating in the creation of a personalized yoga plan.”
9. Yoga promotes better self-care.
After years of teaching yoga, Gujral can attest to this claim: “Once we give people the tools they need, they’re in the driver’s seat, feeling empowered and inspired to care for themselves.”
Scientific Research on Yoga Benefits
Gujral notes that more institutions are learning that yoga is more than just breathing and poses, and that there’s science to prove it is helpful as part of a treatment plan.
The U.S. military, the National Institutes of Health and other large organizations are listening to — and incorporating — scientific validation of yoga’s value in health care. Johns Hopkins’ Sibley Hospital in Washington, D.C., for example, has a dedicated yoga therapist who works one-on-one with patients being treated for a range of conditions.
Gujral notes that yoga is one of her center’s most sought-after and most prescribed modes of integrative treatment.
“Numerous studies show yoga’s benefits in arthritis, osteopenia, balance issues, oncology, women’s health, chronic pain and other specialties,” she says. “Very promising research is happening in the U.S. and in other places.”
Yoga Classes for Seniors
“If you’re new to yoga, it’s good to sign up for a class so you can learn good form,” Jeter says. Call local yoga studios, gyms, or senior centers and ask if they offer classes taught by a teacher trained to work with older people or those with physical limitations. A gentle yoga class can be a good choice. Chair (or seated) yoga is a great option if your mobility or balance is limited, according to Jeter. Move at your own pace—and remember that any yoga pose can be modified so it’s right for you. Just ask your teacher.