15 Surprising Ways Yoga Can Improve Your Life

by Amanda Page Editor

There likely is little doubt in your mind that yoga is good for your physique, considering the various sculpted celebrities shown toting yoga mats in every tabloid. The benefits of yoga, however, transcend the tight tush and defined shoulders. Here are 15 surprising ways that yoga can improve your life.

Improved memory

Concentration yoga, known as Dharana, relaxes the occupied mind through deep breathing and focusing of attention on a single object. Additionally, all forms of yoga increase circulation to the brain, improving its ability to recall information.

Better sleep

According to recent research, regular yoga practice helps people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Studies show that insomniacs fell asleep 14 minutes faster and slept an hour longer after two months of doing 45 minutes of yoga poses before bed. This is likely because breathing and stretching helps people become physically and mentally relaxed, allowing their brains to switch off more quickly.

Better sex

Yoga has been livening up bedrooms since 200 B.C. with its libido-boosting powers. Practicing daily asanas – a sequence of sitting, standing, and balancing poses, increases body awareness, reduces tension, and speeds up the release of arousal revving hormones – leading to increased lubrication and a keener ability to achieve orgasm.

Better mental health

As the saying goes, “Namaste the stress away!” Research suggests that hitting the mat at least once a week for two years or more slows the release of cytokine, a stress-triggered protein which leads to bad moods and fatigue. Regular asanas also raise levels of the brain chemical GABA (low levels are linked to depression).

Less pain

According to a study in Spine, those who suffer from lower-back pain and did two 90-minute yoga classes a week eased soreness by 56 percent in just six months. Those who relied on pain meds and “regular” physical therapy to treat back pain lessened back pain by only 16 percent. This results from improvements in posture and the strengthening of back muscles achieved from holding yoga poses.

Happy pregnancy

One in 5 women experience depression during pregnancy, but a study from the University of Michigan found that pregnant women who practiced mindfulness yoga for ten weeks saw significant reduction in depressive symptoms. They also reported a stronger emotional bond to the baby in their womb. Weight gain and stress can negatively impact an unborn baby and yoga is one healthy and relatively easy way to stay positive during pregnancy.

Healthy heart

The biggest heart benefit from yoga is improved blood vessel function. A study from Yale University School of Medicine found that those who practiced yoga for six weeks improved blood vessel function by 17 percent, and those who had heart disease prior to starting yoga showed a 70 percent improvement.

Better digestion

Yoga is an enjoyable and effective way to manage digestive health and disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. The ability to reduce stress, anxiety, and pain, aids in stabilizing digestion, and provides relief from IBS symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, and pain.

Regaining balance

A study of stroke survivors shows that practicing yoga can help patients improve balance and inspire confidence in re-learning daily activities. This is because yoga teaches patients coordination between body and mind, and the controlled breathing fights stress and frustration, allowing them to feel more confident and motivated to stick with the exercises.

Heal eating disorders

Yoga has been shown to aid in the recovery of adolescents suffering from eating disorders. While yoga itself can’t cure the disorder, the stress reduction properties help to ease obsessive concerns about weight and body image associated with eating disorders. Anxiety and eating disorders are closely linked, and managing stress by clearing the mind is a highly effective tool for keeping symptoms at bay.

Fertility boost

A study published in the journal _Fertility and Sterility _found that women who practice yoga have a significantly higher pregnancy rate – 52 percent - than women who don’t – 20 percent. Researchers believe that practicing stress management during an in-vitro-fertilization cycle can have a significant impact on pregnancy results, likely linked to muscle relaxation and lower stress levels.

Migraine management

More than 28 million Americans suffer from migraines, which are vascular headaches caused by inflammation and irritation of the nerve endings in the brain. Using yoga to prevent migraines depends partially on what triggers the migraine, but generally yoga treatment focuses on prevention through stress reduction and alleviation of headache pain when it starts.

Gain strength

Ok, sculpted bodies are definitely a perk to yoga and aside from looking good, those muscles also protect the body from injury. Dumbbells and fancy machines are not necessary to achieve a toned physique. Yoga utilizes weight resistance provide a more relaxing approach to strength training. For muscle building benefits, try asana poses, such as the crow, plank, and warrior III.

Raise confidence

Research from the University of California at Berkeley found that women who practiced yoga regularly rated their body satisfaction 20 percent higher than those who practiced other forms of exercise. Researchers believe this is because the focus of yoga isn’t on how the body looks, but rather how all parts of the body feel and what they can be doing for overall wellness.

Breath easier

Those who suffer from chronic lung ailments, such as asthma and bronchitis can benefit from yoga breathing exercises, poses, and relaxation techniques. Yoga puts you in control of your mind and emotions, making you more relaxed and thus allowing you to breathe easier. It also helps your lungs to operate better and enhance airflow during an asthma attack.

Amanda Page
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Amanda Page

Amanda was an editor and graphic designer for HealthCentral.