For many people, yoga is a modern-day symbol of wellness and serenity in a fast-paced world. In fact, more than 20 million Americans practice yoga — and they have good reason to do so.
In addition to many unique spiritual benefits, including mindfulness, self-awareness and the ability to stay present, recent scientific research shows that doing yoga offers regular practitioners many physiological benefits as well.
Change for the Better
Here are five ways that doing regular yoga can change your life.
1. Increased Happiness
Consistent yoga practice is shown to increase a person’s levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain that is responsible for your mood, appetite, sleep patterns and memory. In addition to raising levels of the chemical that makes you feel happier, regular yoga practice can also lead to significant decreases in levels of monoamine oxidase — the enzyme that breaks down cortisol, otherwise known as the stress hormone. The result is a balanced brain with higher levels of happiness and decreased anxiety.
2. Lowered Blood Pressure
As with most forms of aerobic exercise, doing yoga is highly beneficial for your cardiovascular health. Studies show that regular yoga practice can increase blood flow, lower one’s resting heart rate, increase physical endurance and lower individual risk of heart disease and related conditions. In addition, yoga also thins the blood and lessens the likelihood of developing blood clots, which can cause heart attack or stroke. Moreover, even forms of yoga that are not technically considered aerobic exercise have been found to improve general cardiovascular function.
3. Reduced Stress
Constant stress can be bad for our bodies. Thankfully, yoga encourages relaxation, concentrated breath and a bodily shift from functioning as a sympathetic system (having a fight-or-flight response) to the parasympathetic nervous system (a state of relaxation). This transition lowers stress hormones in your brain, increases blood flow to vital organs and decreases breathing and heart rates. As a result, regular yoga practitioners tend to experience lower levels of anxiety or chronic stress and an improved quality of life.
4. Better Sleep
Doing yoga can provide relief from the daily stressors and hectic activity of modern life. Restorative postures, such as savasana, encourage relaxation and can greatly improve sleep. In fact, research shows that regular yoga doers take less time to fall asleep, stay asleep longer and report more restful sleep than their non-yogi counterparts.
5. Improved Brain Function
Lastly, recent discoveries show that even short yoga sessions can immediately increase brain function. Specifically, doing yoga stimulates two key functions in the brain — those that are responsible for inhibitory control and working memory. These two significant functions are closely associated with a person’s ability to maintain focus and retain and use new information. According to a study recently published by the University of Illinois, those who did short bursts of yoga even outperformed participants who did short bursts of other cardiovascular activity, such as running.