Just a Few of the 38 Health Benefits of Yoga
Makes you happier
Feeling sad? Sit in Lotus. Better yet, rise up into a backbend or soar royally into King Dancer Pose. While it’s not as simple as that, one study found that a consistent yoga practice improved depression and led to a significant increase in serotonin levels and a decrease in the levels of monoamine oxidase (an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters) and cortisol. At the University of Wisconsin, Richard Davidson, Ph.D., found that the left prefrontal cortex showed heightened activity in meditators, a finding that has been correlated with greater levels of happiness and better immune function. More dramatic left-sided activation was found in dedicated, long-term practitioners.
Founds a healthy lifestyle
Move more, eat less—that’s the adage of many a dieter. Yoga can help on both fronts. A regular practice gets you moving and burns calories, and the spiritual and emotional dimensions of your practice may encourage you to address any eating and weight problems on a deeper level. Yoga may also inspire you to become a more conscious eater.
Helps you focus
An important component of yoga is focusing on the present. Studies have found that regular yoga practice improves coordination, reaction time, memory, and even IQ scores. People who practice Transcendental Meditation demonstrate the ability to solve problems and acquire and recall information better—probably because they’re less distracted by their thoughts, which can play over and over like an endless tape loop.
Relaxes your system
Yoga encourages you to relax, slow your breath, and focus on the present, shifting the balance from the sympathetic nervous system (or the fight-or-flight response) to the parasympathetic nervous system. The latter is calming and restorative; it lowers breathing and heart rates, decreases blood pressure, and increases blood flow to the intestines and reproductive organs—comprising what Herbert Benson, M.D., calls the relaxation response.
Helps you sleep deeper
Stimulation is good, but too much of it taxes the nervous system. Yoga can provide relief from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Restorative asana, yoga nidra (a form of guided relaxation), Savasana, pranayama, and meditation encourage pratyahara, a turning inward of the senses, which provides downtime for the nervous system. Another by-product of a regular yoga practice, studies suggest, is better sleep—which means you’ll be less tired and stressed and less likely to have accidents.
Gives you peace of mind
Yoga quells the fluctuations of the mind, according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. In other words, it slows down the mental loops of frustration, regret, anger, fear, and desire that can cause stress. And since stress is implicated in so many health problems—from migraines and insomnia to lupus, MS, eczema, high blood pressure, and heart attacks—if you learn to quiet your mind, you’ll be likely to live longer and healthier.
Builds awareness for transformation
Yoga and meditation build awareness. And the more aware you are, the easier it is to break free of destructive emotions like anger. Studies suggest that chronic anger and hostility are as strongly linked to heart attacks as are smoking, diabetes, and elevated cholesterol. Yoga appears to reduce anger by increasing feelings of compassion and interconnection and by calming the nervous system and the mind. It also increases your ability to step back from the drama of your own life, to remain steady in the face of bad news or unsettling events. You can still react quickly when you need to—and there’s evidence that yoga speeds reaction time—but you can take that split second to choose a more thoughtful approach, reducing suffering for yourself and others.
Benefits your relationships
Love may not conquer all, but it certainly can aid in healing. Cultivating the emotional support of friends, family, and community has been demonstrated repeatedly to improve health and healing. A regular yoga practice helps develop friendliness, compassion, and greater equanimity. Along with yogic philosophy’s emphasis on avoiding harm to others, telling the truth, and taking only what you need, this may improve many of your relationships.
Encourages self care
In much of conventional medicine, most patients are passive recipients of care. In yoga, it’s what you do for yourself that matters. Yoga gives you the tools to help you change, and you might start to feel better the first time you try practicing. You may also notice that the more you commit to practice, the more you benefit. This results in three things: You get involved in your own care, you discover that your involvement gives you the power to effect change, and seeing that you can effect change gives you hope. And hope itself can be healing.
Book References for Parents
- Axness, M. (2012). Parenting for Peace.
- Brooks, R. & Goldstein, S. (2007). Raising a Self-Disciplined Child.
- Greenspan, S.I. (1995). The Challenging Child: Understanding, Raising, and Enjoying the Five "Difficult" Types of Children.
- Kabat-Zinn, J. & M. (2014). Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting.
- Kaiser Greenland, S. (2010). The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate.
- Nhat Nanh, T. (2007). Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children.
- Nhat Nanh, T. (2008). Mindful Movements: Ten Exercises for Well-Being.
- Race, K. (2013). Mindful Parenting.
- Shapiro, S. & White, C. (2014). Mindful Discipline: A Loving Approach to Setting Limits and Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.
- Siegel, D.J. & Hartzell, M. (2014). Parenting From the Inside Out.
- Willard, C. (2006). Child's Mind: Mindfulness Practices to Help Our Children Be More Focused, Calm, and Relaxed.
Four Seasons of Mindfulness
Book Recommendations for Children
Early Childhood (Preschool and Up)
- MacLean, K.L. (2009). Moody Cow Meditates.
- Gates, M. & Hinder, S.J. (2015). Good Night Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Bedtime Story.
- Gates, M. & Hinder, S.J. (2016). Good morning Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Wake up Story.
- Karst, P. (2000). The Invisible String.
- Cohen Harper, J. (2013). Little Flower Yoga for Kids: A Yoga and Mindfulness Program to Help Your Child Improve Attention and Emotional Balance.
- Saltzman, A. & Santorelli, S. (2014). A Still Quite Place.
- Alderfer, L. (2011). Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda.
- Nhat Nanh, T. (2008). A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles.
- Snel, E. (2013). Sitting Still Like a Frog.
Includes a 60-minute audio CD of guided exercises read by Myla Kabat-Zinn.
- MacLean, K.L. (2004). Peaceful Piggy Meditation.
- Muth, J.J. (2005). Zen Shorts.
- Muth, J.J. (2008). Zen Ties.
- Silver, G. (2007). Steps and Stones: An Anh's Anger Story.
- Nagaraja, D. (2008). Buddha at Bedtime: Tales of Love and Wisdom for You to Read with Your Child to Enchant, Enlighten, and Inspire.
Tweens and Teens
- Saltzman, A. (2016). A Still Quite Place for Teens.
- Winston, D. (2003). Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens.
- Biegel, G. (2010). The Stress Reduction Workbook for Teens.
- Vo, D.X. (2015). The Mindful Teen.