14 reasons yoga is so good for you

The benefits of yoga extend well beyond being able to smugly tell people you do yoga regularly (although it is nice) – take it from me, WH's fitness director and a qualified yoga teacher. In fact, as a form of exercise, it's hard to beat for accessibility or ease – you need little to no equipment and it can be done anywhere you have enough room to move in.

That little space by the side of your bed? Yes, yoga can happen there! Your living room floor? 100%. Wherever you can fit your yoga mat, you're GTG (good to go).

Plus, no matter what Instagram culture tells us, rooted in India’s spiritual practices, yoga is less about doing headstands and much more about building mental and physical strength and cementing healthy habits for life.

So, on this International Day of Yoga, scroll on for 14 benefits of yoga as well as answers to your most FAQs (like 'is yoga good for you?' and 'what types of yoga should I do?').

14 benefits of yoga

From research labs and the mouths of experts (including me, as a part-time yoga teacher), here are 14 science-backed benefits of yoga.

1.Yoga builds full-body strength

Building strength doesn't have to be done solely through gym workouts or strength training sessions. In fact, using your own body weight as resistance is a form of resistance training and can be a great (and free) way to build strength across your entire body.

For example, Chaturanga (a key flowing transition in yoga) builds strength in your upper body and core whilst Warrior poses works your lower body (hamstrings, quads and glutes).

Pick stronger styles of yoga like Vinyasa, Hatha, Power and Rocket to build muscular endurance and strength – just make sure to skew it to your level. Most teachers will give modification advice to make the poses easier, so listen out.

2. Yoga helps to reduce stress and build stress resilience

We get it. It’s hard not to feel more than slightly wired (read: stressed out) with emails and social updates erupting out of your inbox. That’s where yoga comes in. Shown by Coventry University to “reverse” the DNA reactions that cause stress, yoga also lowers levels of inflammatory compounds (cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) in the blood.

'Stress makes us tense physically and mentally. Our flight or fight response activates, we get adrenaline rushes and our body releases cortisol which increases our heart rate and sends the blood to the muscles,' describes MoreYoga instructor Anna de Sousa. 'Yoga helps us tune in with our rest and digest nervous system response, instead. Our body starts its recovery, restore and repair functions.' One of the biggest benefits of yoga, in our book.

3. Yoga can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression

With instances of anxiety and depression on the rise, one of the main benefits of yoga is its ability to combat both. In fact, the Boston University Medical Centre found that yoga is actually superior to all forms of exercise when it comes to improving mood – linked to increased GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid), low levels of which are associated with anxiety and depression), and decreased anxiety.

To reap the rewards, twice-weekly practice is the sweet spot, according to experts.

And the best bit? The benefits of yoga for anxiety and depression accumulate over time, according to research published in Psychological Medicine.

'Practising breath and breath with movement will soothe your nervous system. We all seem to be in a state of hyperarousal, so, to function at our optimal, we need to balance the active state with rest – yoga will help you to do that,' yoga teacher and founder of The Human Method, Nahid de Belgeonne, explains.

4. Yoga regulates your nervous system response

Did you know there are two parts to your nervous system? Us neither. Dr Nitasha Buldeo, yoga instructor and founder of Organic Apoteke and I-Yogaa, explains how yoga works with both of them:

'One of the biggest benefits of yoga is that it helps balance the autonomic nervous system. This system controls our heart, breath and, in fact, all functions that keep us alive and healthy. Yoga is found to help regulate the two parts of this system: the sympathetic (which helps energise the body) and parasympathetic (which helps heal the body).'

5. There are different types of yoga for different times of day

Unless you're a hardcore night owl, we doubt you want a super energising class to do before bed. Fortunately, another benefit of yoga is that it can be adapted to whatever time of day/type of flow you want – again, working with our nervous systems.

'In classical Indian Yoga morning classes are designed to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system which keeps us energised for the day and evening classes stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system – which helps us relax and enables the body to heal as we sleep,' explains Dr Buldeo.

For early birds, get your heart rate up with Vinyasa classes and sun salutations, then at bedtime pick a soothing restorative or Yin Yoga class.

6. Yoga can be made suitable for all skill levels

Another big benefit of yoga is the fact it can be scaled for different skill levels. Whether you're looking for yoga for beginners or something more advanced, there's something for everyone.

Leah Kim, Nike master trainer and yoga instructor, suggests starting with sun salutations as they're beginner-friendly and stimulate your cardiovascular system for a full-body workout. 'Sun Salutations are cycles of flowing postures, and you can increase the intensity and number of cycles to increase the physical challenge. Just make sure you’re breathing as you’re moving,' she advised WH.

7. Yoga beginners can start with breathing

If you're not ready to jump into the physical poses (called 'asanas'), breathing is an important part of any yoga practice to get to grips with, too, while it's also an important part of all physical practices, whether you've been doing yoga for yonks or not.

'Deep breathing (learning to use the diaphragm – our primary inhalation muscle), to its full capacity, is one of the best yoga exercises for beginners,' says Indaba yoga instructor, Sabina Ahmadov.

'You learn how to avoid using accessory muscles to breathe i.e. neck, upper chest and jaw muscles. Learning how to breathe properly before delving into the physical practice is extremely important because it creates a healthy foundation to build a physical practice that is grounding and nourishing.'

How to breathe during yoga

  1. Sit in a position that feels comfortable for you (if you can, cross-legged) and place your hands in your side ribs.

  2. Take 10 deep breaths feeling the ribcage expand into your hands and feeling the breath fill the belly at the same time.

  3. Exhale gently, hugging the belly in, keeping the awareness on the core.

8. Yoga can help with weight loss

Yoga for weight loss can sound like a funny idea, especially if you've always thought of it as something to do mostly for mental clarity. However, a further benefit of yoga is that it can help with weight loss and losing body fat, as well.

To lose weight safely, you should be in a calorie deficit that's appropriate for your age, height, weight and lifestyle as well as exercising to maintain muscle mass. A calorie deficit is when you consume fewer calories than you're expending – forcing your body to use fat for fuel, instead. You can achieve a calorie deficit through nutrition or exercise, like yoga.

Fi Clarke, head of yoga at FLY LDN suggests practising three to five times a week if your goal is to lose weight well – in combination with a balanced, nutrient-dense diet and adequate stress management.

Read more of Fi's suggestions at our full guide on how to use Yoga for weight loss.

9. Yoga can help cultivate mindfulness

Ah, the 'M' word. More than a buzzword, mindfulness is a really important aspect of yoga, something Gabriella Espinosa, a Movement for Modern Life yoga teacher is keen to impress.

'Yoga is much more than a physical practice although practising regularly does engage your muscles, building strength and burning calories,' she says. 'Most importantly, yoga is a practice that cultivates awareness of your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual state and this can improve your mood and how you feel in your body putting you in a better frame of mind to make healthier choices.'

Not only that but it can also help to remind us to stay grateful and adopt a "gratitude attitude" when it comes to daily life.

'Yoga encourages us to live a more mindful life, to stay grounded and present and to find gratitude in all the good things in our lives,' explains de Sousa.

10. Yoga is easy to do on the go

So long as you've got your yoga mat (and even if you haven't, tbh) it's possible to get a flow going. Whether you prefer to tune into a class – one of Yoga with Adriene's, perhaps – or move to your own beat, it's the perfect travel-friendly home workout to keep you fit, strong and mobile on the move.

11. Yoga can alleviate sleep issues

You've got your sunrise alarm clock, weighted blanket and calming bedtime rituals but good, consistent sleep still evades you. Why? Well, it could be because you're not actually calming your nervous system down with IG scrolling or passive Netflix watching. The thing that could help you? Yoga, shockingly.

Research by the Harvard Medical School found that a sustained yoga practice improved both the duration and quality of sleep. Similarly, a study presented at the Associated Professional Sleep Society's annual meeting in 2015, revealed that people who practise yoga regularly are more likely to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

We'd recommend a calming Yin Yoga sequence or short, calming flow (like this one) to help make bedtime as calm as possible.

12. Yoga can be done (with doctor's permission) during pregnancy

A lot of things change during pregnancy, including how to exercise safely. One of the things you can (usually) still do during pregnancy is yoga. So long as you have the sign off from your doctor/midwife, getting down to your mat is still A-OK after the first trimester.

In fact, pregnancy yoga has a range of benefits from strengthening your pelvic floor (very important) to helping you learn calming breathing sequences. The key is to make sure you're doing it safely with your body and your pregnancy in mind.

If you have any concerns, speak to your doctor, midwife or maternity team. No question too small or too silly.

13. Yoga improves balance

As we age, our centre of gravity can shift, which can make it harder to maintain balance. This is due to the liquid that lubricates our joints (synovial fluid) declining as we get older, while our ligaments also tend to lose moisture and elasticity, leaving us with a strong case of rigidity and stiffness on our hands.

Exercise stimulates the production of synovial fluid, which is why it's so important to stay moving as we get older. Experts suggest working against resistance to build strength and improve balance simultaneously, something yoga is brilliant for.

14. Yoga can be done in your pants

Ok, this one might be slightly less science-based but if the only way you're going to do more yoga is by sliding out of bed and straight into a sun salutation, so be it. Besides a sports bra, you don't need to tog up in any special gear to get going. A major benefit of yoga.

How many days a week should I do yoga?

The amount of yoga you do in a week will depend on your lifestyle, responsibilities, fitness level and goal. If you're trying to lose body fat, you may practise yoga multiple times a week. If you're trying to supplement your current workout routine with calming flows, perhaps only once or twice.

There's no hard and fast rule as to how much you should do but Espinosa has some advice if you're trying to create a routine:

'You can make yoga a daily practice especially if you enjoy it. I usually recommend establishing a regular practice of at least three times a week and combining it with other types of exercise.'

'Start with a yoga mat that has a good degree of thickness to protect your joints, a yoga belt, 2 cork bricks and a bolster or a cushion. Props allow you to find greater ease and support in a pose and can make a huge difference in how you enjoy the yoga practice.'

What happens if I do yoga every day?

Loads of great things. You'll get stronger, fitter and improve your posture, bone health and skill. You might also find your sleep, stress management and mood improve, too.

If you're struggling to cement a daily yoga practice, here are some tips from yoga teacher Chatty Dobson, founder of Flex Chelsea.

1. Try different forms of yoga, stick with what you enjoy

'The same goes for teachers – try a number, and find what you like. You’ll never form a routine if it’s a chore, but when it’s something you enjoy you’ll make time for it.'

2. Take it slow

'Don’t put pressure on yourself by looking at the other people in the room, virtual or otherwise, judging yourself for not being as "good" as them. Everyone starts somewhere. Try to remember that everyone’s concentrating on their own practice, so if you can’t do something, no one will notice, they’re focused on themselves.'

3. Ask questions

'Remember that instructors are only humans, and they’re there for you – if you have any questions, always be sure to ask after class.'

So, once and for all, is yoga good for you?

Let's wrap this one up real quick – yes, yoga is very good for you. Moving more regularly, connecting your breath with your body, becoming more mindful and potentially alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression can only be a good thing. Roll out your yoga mat, take a few calming, clearing breaths and get going.

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