Nearly one in 10 adults in the U.S. practices yoga, according to the NIH. That’s a huge uptick since 2007, when only 6 percent of adults were down with downward dog. With roots tracing back to India, yoga combines physical poses (called asanas), breathing exercises and meditation. There are many schools of yoga practiced in the U.S., including hatha (the most well-known), vinyasa (flow yoga that links the body movement with breath) and bikram (in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit).
Yoga offers several health benefits: strengthened muscles, increased flexibility, and better posture, to name a few. But there’s more to yoga than standing taller. Here are seven other reasons why you should roll out the yoga mat.
- Less stress
Researchers found that a single 90-minute hatha yoga class reduced the perceived stress levels of women ages 40 to 60 in Taiwan. The stress benefits were even more significant for the women who took weekly hatha classes for eight weeks.
- Lower-back pain relief
Committing to yoga just once a week could help with chronic lower-back pain. Boston University researchers found that yogis cited reduced back pain and improved back function after 12 weeks of doing yoga. Interestingly, there was no reported difference in improvement between the group who practiced yoga once a week and the group who practiced twice a week.
- Higher threshold for pain
Yoga may help increase pain tolerance, according to a study in the journal Cerebral Cortex. Patients were asked to immerse a hand in cold water for as long as they could. Researchers found that the yoga practitioners tolerated the cold pain twice as long as the control group. While there was no significant difference in total gray matter volume between the groups, the yogis had more gray matter in the brain regions related to pain processing, pain regulation and attention.
- Improved sleep
Harvard Medical School researchers found that daily yoga helped people with insomnia sleep better. Patients practiced 45 minutes of yoga each night for eight weeks and reported increased total sleep time and improved sleep efficiency.
- Heightened focus
Yogis at California State University San Bernadino completed assessment tests two weeks and nine weeks into a 10-week hatha class to measure their concentration, motivation and anxiety level. Researchers at the American College of Sports Medicine noted dramatic improvements in all three areas.
- Better balance
Yoga can enhance your balance – no headstand required. Illinois residents age 65 and older saw improvements in balance and fear of falling after participating in a biweekly yoga class for 12 weeks, according to a study published in the journal Stroke.
- Increased self-control
Preliminary NIH research suggests that yoga may help women quit smoking, at least in the short-term. Smokers were assigned to participate in one of two eight-week programs: a biweekly vinyasa class or a general health and wellness class. The group who did yoga were more likely to abstain from smoking for the first seven days. (More research is needed to draw conclusive findings.)
Every school of yoga is different and every teacher is different. If you’re a novice, try out several studios and instructors until you find the right one for you. Always notify your teacher before class if you have an injury. A good yoga instructor will provide modifications to make poses easier or, sometimes, more challenging. If you are pregnant or have blood pressure, glaucoma, or sciatica, you should modify or avoid certain poses. Many studios offer pre-natal classes.
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