10 Proven Ways That Yoga Can Improve Your Health

1. Makes you more resilient to stress

Researchers believe that yoga increases what’s known as vagal tone, the ability of the body to effectively respond to stress. The positive impact that yoga has on vagal tone helps regulate the nervous system, and helps to increase well-being and resilience to stress.[1]

Vagal tone is the state of the the largest cranial nerve called the vagus nerve, which helps with the regulation of all the major functions of the body. A relationship has been shown with an increase in vagal tone and a reduction in allostatic load (amount of stress accumulated over time). Individuals who have high vagal tone have a healthy functioning vagus nerve, and are more stress resilient. Those who have low vagal tone are more sensitive to stress.

Poses to do: Triangle pose, Bridge pose, Legs up the wall pose, Downward dog pose, Child’s pose

2. Lowers blood pressure

It has been proven that yoga is useful for reducing blood pressure. One study has revealed that practicing simple yoga exercises at home can be a useful supplementary therapy for high blood pressure. Another study observed that a form of Hatha yoga has a modest but beneficial effect on blood pressure and is as effective as other lifestyle modifications designed to reduce blood pressure.[2][3]

Poses to do: Bridge pose, Legs up the wall pose, Corpse pose, Downward dog pose,  Bound angle pose

3. Helps to prevent and alleviate depression

There is ample scientific evidence demonstrating the positive effects of yoga on depression. Yoga helps in increasing brain GABA levels, a neurotransmitter with antidepressant properties. Depression is linked to low GABA levels, and GABA level boosting medications have been successfully used for treating depression. A 27% increase in GABA levels has been observed immediately after a session of yoga. Just two 1-hour yoga classes a week can help reduce fatigue and boost mood.[4][5]

A study has revealed that yoga can also help in improving bipolar disorder symptoms . Some bipolar patients who participated in the study reported yoga practice to be “life changing.”[6]

Poses to do: Downward dog pose, Lotus pose, Cobra pose, Bridge pose, Child’s pose

4.  Reduces asthma symptoms

Some studies have found yoga to improve symptoms and quality of life in asthma patients. The emphasis that yoga places on posture and deep, long breaths improves the efficiency and capacity of the lungs, which in turn helps to reduce the severity and frequency of asthma attacks.

The results of one study showed a 66.7% reduction in the use of asthma inhalers after 4 weeks of daily 50 minute yoga sessions. The study participants also had much fewer asthma attacks.[7]

In another study, 66% of asthma patients who practiced yoga regularly, either reduced or completely stopped using cortisone medication.[8]

Poses to do: Cobra pose, Bridge pose, Downward dog pose, Corpse pose, Upward plank pose

5. Gives your memory a boost

Just one 20-minute Hatha yoga session has been shown to improve accuracy and speed on tests of inhibitory control and working memory, two measures of brain function responsible for the capability of remaining focused and absorbing as well as retaining information. The participants of this study performed better on the tests after yoga practice in comparison to after an aerobic exercise session.[9]

Poses to do: Tree pose, Cobra pose, Lotus pose, Plow pose, Intense forward bending pose

6. Helps you sleep better

Researchers have shown that yoga helps relieve chronic insomnia. Study participants completed an 8-week yoga treatment which consisted of breathing, meditation and mantras in a single session before bedtime. After the 8 weeks, the participants had significantly improved insomnia symptoms in comparison to before the treatment.[10]

Another study has shown that yoga helps alleviate sleep problems in postmenopausal women diagnosed with insomnia.[11]

Poses to do: Child’s pose, Plow pose, Corpse pose, Bridge pose

7. Relieves back pain

It is usually very difficult to treat chronic low back pain (CLBP). A study has shown that Iyengar yoga sessions twice a week for 24 weeks reduced pain and improved physical function in individuals with CLBP.[12]

Other studies have also shown yoga to be of benefit for CLBP.[13][14]

Poses to do: Warrior II pose, Legs up the wall pose, Pigeon poseCamel poseBridge pose

8. Improves symptoms of arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can be improved with yoga. Most individuals with rheumatoid arthritis don’t exercise regularly even though exercise helps to relieve pain. The results of a study showed that rheumatoid arthritis patients who participated in 12 Raj yoga sessions improved significantly in scores of disease activity. Raj yoga is one of the gentler kinds of yoga which combines breathing and exercise techniques.[15]

Poses to do: Cobra pose, Cow pose, Child’s pose, Downward dog pose,  Bridge pose

9. Reduces frequency of migraine attacks

Research has shown that yoga can help reduce the frequency of migraine and headache episodes as well as reduce the need for medication. Yoga helps to improve vagal tone and reduce sympathetic activity. Stimulation of the vagus nerve can be effective for treating chronic migraine.[16][17]

Poses to do: Child’s pose, Downward dog pose, Seated forward bend pose, Corpse pose, Bridge pose

10. Makes your bones stronger

It has been well established that yoga improves coordination and balance, which helps in protecting against falls, a major contributor to bone fractures. Research has also shown that yoga increases bone density in the spine and hips and can even reverse bone loss in osteoporosis patients.

Yoga for Starters Infographic

Image Source: Health Central