From head to toe, you’d be hard-pressed to find something yoga doesn’t improve — flexibility, strength, digestion, mental health, the list goes on. Despite what you see on social media, practice makes perfect is not the motto here — and you don’t even have to be flexible to get started. Focus instead on practice makes progress.
Curious about what some of those benefits are? We rounded up the reasons yoga is great for your health.
1. A healthy spine
A 2011 study compared scans of yoga teachers’ spines to those of people who didn’t practice yoga. The yogis had stronger spines with less degenerative damage to discs.
2. Focus and cognitive health
Struggling to pay attention? Want to improve focus, speed up your brain’s processing skills, and boost your cognitive function? According to this 2015 research review, just unroll your mat.
3. More energy
Yoga can have comparable effects to other power poses, according to a 2017 study in Frontiers in Psychology. You don’t need a whole hour on the mat to reap the energy and self-esteem boosting benefits either. A mere 2 minutes will suffice.
4. Weight loss
While other types of exercise can burn more calories, yoga can help weight loss — even when it’s restorative. Researchers believe that’s likely due to yoga’s ability to reduce cortisol, one of your stress hormones.
5. Better sleep
Want real-life proof of yoga’s benefits? According to a survey of actual yogis, more than half say they sleep better thanks to the practice.
6. Stronger bones
Yoga is low impact but weight-bearing, so it can help you build or maintain bone density. (That’s especially crucial for healthy aging!) Bite-size practices are enough, according to a 10-year study that used a 12-minute regimen to reverse bone loss.
7. Better balance
Falls are a major health risk for aging adults, but yoga can help you stay steady on your feet. The practice builds stronger feet and ankles and it helps you become more aware of your body in your surroundings, giving you more control over your balance and posture.
8. Relief for back and neck pain
9. Healthy knees
Knee pain and stiffness don’t have to be a part of growing older. Yoga has been shown to improve knee pain and that awkward and annoying stiffness that happens in the mornings in people suffering from osteoarthritis.
10. A strong heart
For those at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease or metabolic syndrome, yoga may help. A systematic review and meta-analysis found “promising evidence” of yoga’s ability to boost heart health. The practice helped improve body mass index, blood pressure levels, and cholesterol.
11. A groovin’ digestive tract
Possibly due to the connection between your brain and your gut, yoga can impact your digestion. One small study found yoga could help chronic constipation — and improved both physical and emotional health — but more research is needed.
12. Ease depression
Yoga may also help boost your mood, as part of a treatment plan. In a systematic review, yoga was deemed “effective in reducing depression,” though evidence is limited.
13. Maxin’ relaxin’
Yoga helps combat stress, by building resilience and teaching relaxation techniques. It also can lower your cortisol levels.
14. Soothe anxiety
Koya Webb, a certified yoga teacher, health coach, and author, believes “It’s better to start with something and commit than try to bite off too much and never follow through.”
“That applies with your yoga, breathwork, and meditation practices as well,” says Webb.
If you’re new to yoga, start small. Add a few of these yoga poses for beginners to your routine. In the morning, yoga can center and energize you. At night, it can ground you and help you wind down.
No matter what your reason is for starting yoga, you’ll soon experience the benefits of yoga daily — for health inside and out.
“Yoga is a unique mind-body practice because it equally emphasizes both,” says Webb.
“Yoga is a great way to improve your fitness and flexibility, but it is more than just pretty poses,” says Webb. “Many people don’t know — until they experience it — that yoga is deeply and profoundly healing. It relieves stress, detoxifies, and strengthens us physically, mentally, and spiritually.”
If you’re looking for some health benefits, mindfulness, or plain ol’ relaxation, you can’t go wrong giving yoga a try. If you’re not sure, scope out some YouTube vids to start getting a feel for what it’s all about.