The [Many] Benefits of Yoga

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Clearly, we're quite passionate about yoga here. Sure, it can be a great workout. It can help you tune out the real world for a while. It can help you relax. For those who come to class on and off, this is about the most of what you'll get. But if you can commit to a more consistent practice? Let us tell you how life-changing it can be.

Most of us at the studio have consistently been doing yoga for 10+ years. All of our teachers have received 200-500 hour certifications, which means they've done a whole lot of yoga in their time. Some might call it zealous - personally, we just can't think of living without our daily practices. It has truly shifted our bodies, minds, and spirits in ways that we haven't found anywhere other than on the mat.

Here are 13 ways a regular yoga practice can improve your life:

1. Improved flexibility

This is certainly one of the first and most obvious benefits of doing yoga regularly, though getting into full Hanumanasana (splits) isn't every yogi's goal (though if it's yours, keep on keepin' on!) If you stick with a regular practice, you'll probably notice a gradual loosening in your connective tissue. It gets easier to bend down, walk around, reach up - you name it! That alone signals a better quality of life. Improving your flexibility also means that your chronic aches and pains may start to lessen or disappear all together - tight muscles in your hips can strain your knee joints due to improper alignment of your thighs and shins. Tight hamstrings can lead to a compressed lumbar spine, which can cause back pain. Once you commit to a daily practice to stretch these places out? Bye bye, pain!

2. Build muscle strength

Another obvious benefit, building up the strength in your muscles can protect your body from developing arthritis and back pain. If you find that your balance has been poor, strengthening the muscles in your legs can help prevent falls and make you more steady on your feet. Sure, you can go to a gym and build strength that way - but yoga will give you strength and flexibility. Talk about a 2-for-1!

3. Better posture

In every class you take, during every pose, you'll likely be cued on exactly how to place your head (if you have a good teacher - which we certainly have in spades!) Head and neck placement is extremely important in yoga because when you practice proper alignment in class, you're more likely to automatically correct your posture outside the studio, too. Poor posture can cause back, neck, and other musculoskeletal issues. The best way to keep that at bay? Come back to your mat.

4. Prevents cartilage and joint breakdown

Joint cartilage is like a sponge. Every time you practice yoga, you gently squeeze and move your muscles, bringing fresh nutrients and fluid into your joints. Without regular movement, neglected areas of cartilage can eventually wear out and break down, causing bones to rub right against each other. You wouldn't let your car's brake pads wear out to the point of nothing - don't do it to yourself!

5. Improves bone health

It's been well researched and documented that weight-bearing exercises strengthens bones and helps reduce the risks of osteoporosis. Many yoga poses require you to lift your own weight. Your arms are usually the most vulnerable to osteoporotic fractures, but poses like Downward Dog and Upward Dog help strengthen these bones in particular. In an unpublished study at California State University, regular yoga practice increased bone density in the vertebrae. Yoga's ability to reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels may also help bones maintain proper calcium levels.

6. Increased blood flow

Well this benefit is a no-brainer. Red blood cells carry oxygen to all your organs and tissues. The more oxygen you can get moving around your body, the better! Increased oxygen contents can also thin the blood by making platelets less sticky - meaning a reduced risk of blood clots which can cause heart attacks and strokes.

7. Decreases blood pressure

The effects of Savasana (Corpse Pose) were compared in two studies of people with hypertension, originally published in British medical journal The Lancet. After three months, the Savasana position was associated with a 26-point drop in systolic blood pressure and a 15-point drop in diastolic blood pressure.

8. Regulates the adrenal glands

Adrenal gland stress and failure is one of the most prominent health issues we see in our community today, especially amongst women. The reason for this is due to high cortisol (stress) levels. Prolonged stress means prolonged releases of cortisol...which can throw your immune system into overdrive to the point that it begins to attack your own body. Heightened cortisol levels can also undermine memory ability and lead to permanent changes in the brain. Additionally, excessive cortisol levels have been linked to major depression, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. Yoga, with its calming nature, naturally reduces cortisol levels in the body, sparing your adrenals from overwork.

9. Increases your sense of happiness

One study has found that a consistent (read: daily or few-times-a-weekly) yoga practice improved symptoms of depression and led to a significant increase in serotonin levels and a decrease in both cortisol (which we talked about above) and monoamine oxidase (which is an enzyme that breaks down your neurotransmitters, or the chemical messengers your brain relies on to communicate with the rest of your body.) At the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Richard Davidson, Ph.D., found that the left prefrontal cortex showed heightened levels of activity in people who meditated regularly, a finding that has been correlated with greater levels of happiness and better immune function.

10. Helps you focus

In nearly every class, you'll hear this phrase: Be in the present moment. In yoga, we tune into ourselves and let outside distractions fall away...leaving us in a state of focus. Regular yoga practice improves coordination, reaction time, memory, and in some cases, even IQ scores. Who wouldn't want that?

11. Relaxes your body (and mind)

Ah yes, probably the #1 reason most people seek out yoga to begin with. Yoga encourages you to slow down, take deep breaths, and focus on the present moment, which helps your body shift from the sympathetic nervous system (which puts you in a state of fight-or-flight response) into the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the rest-and-digest response. When you're operating from your parasympathetic system, you're calm and peaceful; it lowers your breathing and heart rate, decreases your blood pressure, and increases the blood flow to your intestines and reproductive organs.

12. Builds self-awareness

Becoming aware of your body and beginning to understand how it communicates with you is huge. Every yoga practice gives you the opportunity to come fully into your body after a day (likely) filled with screens, virtual meetings, and mental tasks. When you become more aware of what's going on within, you're likely to choose to respond differently to situations in your life, practice better boundaries, and know much sooner when something feels off.

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