Time on a yoga mat can bring many health benefits according to many blog articles. But what happens inside our body when we practice yoga?
Yoga has far reaching effects. All forms of yoga, including pranayama, contribute to our health and wellbeing. Read on to find out some of the amazing things going on inside our body!
Regular stretching means our muscles become more flexible. This can help to protect and support our joints. Over time, with regular stretching, the muscles become extensible, which means they are less likely to be damaged. Healthy flexible muscles means our joints are less likely to be damaged, which is great as we age.
As we practice yoga, blood flow increases to the muscles, bringing oxygen and essential nutrients. This helps the muscles to form, to build in strength (which confers increased body stability). The increased oxygen can also help muscles to repair themselves. Stronger muscles can also help to reduce back pain.
Deep breathing during yoga – pranayama and also breathing during the asana part of our practice – means we are using our lungs more fully, exercising and gently stretching the lungs. This can help to increase our lung capacity and lung function – i.e. our breath and circulation of oxygen works more efficiently. For people with asthma, regular yoga (with a focus on breathwork) can help to reduce their symptoms.
With deep regular breathing, the heart beat starts to slow down. This can help to start to lower blood pressure. Studies have shown that in people with hypertension (high blood pressure), yoga can help to reduce their blood pressure levels naturally. Some of the more active forms of yoga (like Vinyasa) can also work the heart more strongly, as we move fluidly from one asana to the next, building up heat in the body.
This, combined with lung health, improves the circulation in our body.
Switches on parasympathetic nervous system
Control breathing, which can help to calm and relax the whole of our physiology
Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve – part of the parasympathetic nervous system (it carries the messages between the brain, heart and digestive system). The parasympathetic nervous system is the part of our body responsible for our relaxation response. Savasana, the relaxation part at the end of a practice, is important as it allows us to recover and reap the benefits of the yoga practice.
Metabolism is the process whereby the body changes food into energy. With changes to our muscles, through moving our body, and proper breathing, our metabolism improves. An improved metabolism can give us more energy, and also helps to curb cravings, so yoga can contribute to weight loss. There is also an added benefit – it can help us to sleep better.
Regular yoga practice has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol – the stress hormone which can play havoc with our endocrine system. It can also increase serotonin – the so-called “happiness” hormone. So less cortisol and more serotonin can help to provide some balance for our body when experiencing stress in our life.
Our sensitivity to insulin changes. Recent studies have demonstrated that regular yoga practice can lower excessive blood sugar levels in people with diabetes – the changes internally means that our body is better able to cope and deal with insulin.
Inflammation in the body is a precursor to many chronic diseases. The science now shows that regular yoga practice, of any type, can help to reduce inflammation in the body.
Yoga is a weight-bearing exercise. This type of exercise contributes to bone health. For women in particular it can help to reduce the chances of developing osteoporosis. Indeed, some studies have shown that 12 minutes of yoga per day might actually reverse osteoporosis.
Mental health: reduce stress and improve mood
The action of stretching muscles can help to release tension from the muscles, contributing physically to relaxation. As we practice yoga on the mat, our concentration can increase – we can let go of all other thoughts (about what we need to do or where we need to go next) and simply become present in the moment.
It also changes our hormones (as mentioned above), which has a direct impact upon our mood. (Read more about how reducing cortisol and stress can improve our mental health here).
Some scientific studies have shown that yoga practice can reduce the symptoms and occurrence of depression.
Practice yoga to improve your resilience – we become better able to cope with what life throws at us!
It also helps us to connect inside, to become more aware of how your body feels.
The external results
With regular practice, the body will become more toned, as the muscles work more regularly. Our body shape will start to change (with regular practice, for example 3 times per week for 30 minutes each time). How we hold ourself – the posture – looks better; we hold ourselves better, stand taller with shoulders back.
Overall we have improved flexibility, mobility, strength and stability.
Read more about Yoga on our blog
Yoga is a practical exercise, you have to do it to enjoy the health benefits. So we recommend that you take up a regular practice. In the meantime, here are a few articles you might enjoy reading. Some contains suggestions on home practice:
- If you work on the computer a lot, try this yoga sequence to relieve shoulder tension.
- Yoga asanas can help us if we experience headaches, or during times of cleanse and detox. Read: yoga asanas to support your detox.
- In Yoga asanas to support a healthy digestive system we share five asanas (with instructions) to do at home to support your digestion.
Yoga retreats at La Crisalida
Here at La Crisalida Retreats, we include yoga in our daily and weekly activity programme as we believe it can bring so many benefits for our health and wellbeing. Read more here about yoga retreats at La Crisalida.
I am sure you will agree, there are so many benefits of taking up yoga on a regular basis. Whatever your favourite style is, Hatha, Yin, hatha flow, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Kundalini, Restorative, Anusara, or indeed all of these, all have a place in living a life of health and wellbeing.
About the author
- Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).