7 benefits of yoga

Yoga’s breathing exercises, meditation and poses encourage relaxation and reduce stress – and certainly practising yoga helps flexibility.

Written by

Sheila Frampton

What is Yoga?

Many people consider yoga to be a form of holistic exercise that promotes flexibility, good posture and relaxation. Of course, it is all these things – but it is so much more. 

Practised for over 5,000 years, yoga is a philosophy, ancient art and a way of life – a discipline that unites the mind, body, and universal spirit. Indeed, the word ‘yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ meaning to merge, join or unite and yoga involves directing the intellect, the mind, the emotions and the will. Yoga seeks to help reveal truths about the ‘self’ and to overcome worldly desires or attachments like ambition, greed, status and ego.

A woman and a dog on a yoga mat.

What are the overall benefits of yoga?

Yoga’s breathing exercises, meditation and poses encourage relaxation and reduce stress – and certainly practising yoga helps flexibility. Yoga is not designed to ‘create health,’ the idea is that it promotes an internal environment that allows each of us to come to our own state of health. Yoga, however, has been shown to provide definite health benefits – both mental and physical.

The mental and physical benefits of yoga are linked – reducing stress can help boost heart health, reduce anxiety and depression and improve quality of life. By relieving chronic pain, yoga can make sufferers feel better which, in turn, will help them to feel healthier. Many of the benefits are linked to the fact that yoga has been proven to reduce the secretion of cortisol, the stress hormone which, in turn, affects the levels of serotonin, associated with depression. 

1) Stress reduction

People taking up yoga often report feeling more relaxed and less stressed almost immediately and studies conducted by the Thomas Jefferson Medical College and the Yoga Research Society have revealed a reason for this. Yoga can reduce the levels of cortisol – the stress hormone. The deep breathing could also elicit the ‘relaxation response’ which invokes the restorative functions of the body.

A woman doing a yoga pose on a yoga mat.

2) Helps relieve anxiety, disorder and depression

Recent studies reveal that yoga was effective in helping relieve generalised anxiety disorder, a common condition – and it can be a valuable tool in an overall treatment plan. The study focused on Kundalini yoga, incorporating postures, breathing techniques, relaxation exercises, yoga theory and meditation and mindfulness practice. By decreasing the stress hormone, cortisol, yoga will influence levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter often associated with depression.

A husband and wife looking into each others eyes.
A man sitting with a dog on a garden sofa on a sunny day.

3) May boost memory function

It appears that regular asana practice can increase the connection between the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid and brain cells – which may boost intelligence levels as well as reducing the anxiety and depression linked to low levels of this neurotransmitter. The more cell connections the brain has, the better the memory and cognitive function. Researchers in the USA found that just 8 weeks of Hatha yoga improved cognitive functions within the brains of elderly people with sedentary lifestyles – the participants completed 20- minute yoga sessions and noteworthy improvements occurred in memory, speed and accuracy.

An elderly husband and wife sitting on a sofa smiling at a tablet device.

4) Improved heart health

Yoga helps relax the body and the mind reducing the levels of emotional stress that can cause a whole range of physical effect including the release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline which narrow the arteries and increase blood pressure. Studies have shown that slow-paced yoga classes twice weekly reduced the frequency of atrial fibrillation episodes in people suffering that condition and patients suffering heart failure showed improvement in exercise capacity and quality of life after an eight-week yoga programme. They also had lower blood levels of markers for inflammation which contributes to heart disease

A woman doing a yoga pose on a mountain during sunrise.
A woman doing a yoga pose on the beach at sunset.

5) Reduce chronic pain

Yoga can help people suffering from arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine, low back pain and may other types of chronic pain symptoms. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in the USA found that a weekly yoga class increased mobility more than standard medical care for 313 people suffering from chronic low back pain. Analysis of 17 studies involving more than 1,600 people concluded that yoga can improve the daily function among people with fibromyalgia as well as improving mood and psychosocial well-being. Yoga has also been shown to be more effective in reducing pain and improving grip strength for those with carpal tunnel syndrome than wearing a wrist splint.

An elderly husband and wife doing yoga poses in a garden centre.

6) Promote sleep quality

In studies focusing on the quality of sleep, over 55% of people practising yoga reported improved sleep and 85% reported reduced stress. Mindfulness, promoted by yoga, can increase melatonin levels and reduce night-time sleep disturbances and breathing techniques can help induce sleep. The best types of yoga for sleep are Hatha yoga and Nidra yoga.

A woman with dark hair asleep in a white bed.
A sleeping cat stretching it's legs.

7) Improves physical well-being: strength, flexibility, balance and co-ordination

In studies focusing on the quality of sleep, over 55% of people practising yoga reported improved sleep and 85% reported reduced stress. Mindfulness, promoted by yoga, can increase melatonin levels and reduce night-time sleep disturbances and breathing techniques can help induce sleep. The best types of yoga for sleep are Hatha yoga and Nidra yoga.

An elderly couple relaxing on yoga mats.

“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self. ”

The Bhagavad Gita

Related articles

Get regular updates from us

We’ll email you details of the latest properties, exclusive events and real life stories straight into your inbox.