If you’ve thought about taking up yoga, there’s never been a better time than now to hit that mat. Not only does yoga do body and spirit good (and given how stressful the past year has been, that’s welcome news), but it’s also never been easier to find online classes.
Feeling a little intimidated about giving yoga a try? Don’t be, especially when you consider this: You’re already doing yoga. “If you’re breathing, you’re doing yoga,” says Samantha Parker, MS, certified yoga therapist and kinesiophobia and cognitive movement specialist in Washington, D.C. After all, yoga is about learning to control the breath and meld the mind with the body. Fortunately, anybody can practice yoga, and not only is it cost-effective, but it’s also accessible because you can practice anywhere.
Want more reasons to give yoga a try? Take these 10 reasons to the mat with you:
- You’ll dump stress. When you’re stressed, your brain’s amygdala sends messages of distress to your body, which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. Yet by promoting something called the relaxation response, yoga decreases that stress, says Patricia Friberg, MPS, certified health and wellness coach and podcaster in Los Angeles.
- You’ll help slow cognitive decline associated with aging. “Research shows that yoga helps promote neuroprotective effects and promotes gray matter in the brain,” Parker says. And if you do yoga chanting, namely something called Kirtan Kriya, research shows that practicing this chant for 12 minutes a day is enough to improve cognition, increase gray and white matter in the brain, and stimulate parts of the brain that are central to memory.
- You may feel less depressed and anxious. Yoga has been shown to increase GABA — a neurotransmitter in the brain that’s linked with reducing stress and balancing mood — more than any other physical activity. Parker says that practicing yoga helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (the feel-good system) and helps calm the sympathetic nervous system (the stress response when you experience anxiety, fear or nervousness).
- You can prevent injuries. In yoga, you often hold poses for certain periods of time, which increases flexibility. As a result, your muscles and tissues are able to become stronger where they cross and support joints, which leads to injury prevention, Parker explains. Yoga also helps increase flexibility and strength in stabilizer muscles, which can be easily injured stepping off a curb or picking up something from the floor.
- You can alleviate delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). You know that soreness you get after doing an intense or new workout? Think of it like kinking up a garden hose, which means that in your body, you’re creating small micro-tears that lead to inflammation. As a result, the water flow stops. Yet yoga unkinks that hose. “Through yoga, you can improve circulation to the muscles, which promotes healing with blood flow, nutrients and oxygen,” Parker says. Just one yoga session can do the trick.
- You’ll become more mindful. When you do yoga, you’re focused on breathwork, asanas or poses, and the here and now. The upshot? You have little space in your mind to think about the day’s events. “Yoga is a mindful practice,” Friberg says, “which helps shift perspective, increases your resiliency and creativity, and helps you refocus on values.”
- You’ll improve overall strength. Because you’re not only moving through poses but also holding them, you’ll build muscular strength with your own bodyweight, says Samantha Clayton, a personal trainer in Los Angeles.
- You’ll decrease chronic pain. No matter the cause of your chronic pain, yoga can help you heal. “Yoga provides you a safe space where you can make modifications in your movement,” Parker says. Plus, yoga can prevent you from being sedentary, which can create additional problems like poor circulation and loss of muscle strength and endurance. If you can’t get on the mat or have limited mobility, you can always do yoga from a chair.
- Your immunity will get a boost. “By decreasing your stress levels, yoga can help improve your immune response,” Friberg says.
- You’ll improve joint mobility. Joints can easily become stiff and less mobile over time, but they rely on movement to stay lubricated, which is why yoga is the perfect solution. “Yoga gently moves your joints through their full range of motion to keep you flexible and moving freely,” Clayton explains. Bonus? Having that flexibility can improve your movement in the gym or during your favorite activities.