About 16 million Americans already count yoga as one of their regular activities; another 18 million are extremely interested to try it … but for one reason or another have yet to do so.
If you’re among them, you’ll soon see that you have everything to gain and virtually nothing to lose by giving yoga a try. Whether you’re looking for relaxation, pain relief, exercise or simply a new challenge, yoga truly offers something for everyone.
And if you’re feeling like you missed the window and it’s too late to start now, don’t! Yoga practitioners range in age from 18 to their 90s, at all levels from beginner to advanced, and nearly 60 percent are over the age of 35 (with more than 18 percent over 55).1
So Many Reasons to Give Yoga a Try …
1. Pain Relief
Yoga is a wonderful form of natural pain relief. Among people with chronic low back pain, doing yoga for just 12 weeks led to greater improvements in back function than usual care,2 and yoga for 6 months has been linked to significantly less disability, pain, and associated depression. It’s not only back pain that stands to benefit, either.
Yoga has been found to benefit many types of pain, including that from fibromyalgia, arthritis, joint pain, neck pain and more.
2. Anxiety and Depression
One of the great things about yoga is that it’s a mind-body exercise, which means it has benefits for both your physical self and your mental/emotional self. Whether it’s the rhythmic, deep breathing, the meditation/relaxation, the promotion of “mindfulness,” the exercise or a combination, research shows:
- Yoga may be an alternative to drugs for relieving depression3
- Yoga may reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, improve sleep patterns, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life4
- A review of yoga as a therapeutic intervention shows it’s an effective form of mind-body medicine for “psychopathological (e.g. depression, anxiety)” and other conditions5
- Yoga increases the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in your brain, which may offer natural “anti-depressant” benefits
6And according to the Harvard Mental Health Letter:7
“… for many patients dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress, yoga may be a very appealing way to better manage symptoms. Indeed, the scientific study of yoga demonstrates that mental and physical health are not just closely allied, but are essentially equivalent. The evidence is growing that yoga practice is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health.”
3. Increase Flexibility and Balance
As you get older, your flexibility and balance can suffer, increasing your risk of potentially serious falls and fractures. Engaging in yoga is an enjoyable way to turn back the hands of time, in a sense, and actually enhance your muscular strength and body flexibility, rather than lose it.
One review of studies involving people in their 60s and 70s found that yoga led to moderate improvements in gait, upper/lower body flexibility, lower body strength, and weight loss, with researchers concluding, “Yoga may engender improvements in some components of fitness in older adults.”8
Through improvements in balance, posture, and flexibility, yoga can help keep you nimble and active at any age.
4. Better Breathing and Lung Capacity
If you have a condition that impacts your respiratory function, such as asthma, yoga may be of benefit to that, too. Yoga involves deep, purposeful breathing, and research suggests that such exercises may increase chest wall expansion and forced expiratory lung volumes, which is a fancy way of saying it improves your breathing capacity and respiratory function.9
5. Improved Heart Health
Research into the connection between yoga and heart health is still ongoing, but trials that have been done suggest it can benefit heart disease in a number of ways, including:10
- Reducing high blood pressure
- Improving symptoms of heart failure
- Easing heart palpitations
- Lowering other heart disease risk factors, such as high cholesterol levels, blood sugar and stress hormones
- Enhancing cardiac rehabilitation
What Type of Yoga is Right for You?
The numerous types of yoga available might seem intimidating if you’re just beginning, but each has a unique style to offer – that’s part of the fun! For a basic, beginner class, try Hatha yoga, one of the most popular styles that includes traditional yoga postures for all fitness levels.
If you’re looking for more of a challenge, try Ashtanga or Power yoga, which are faster paced and more difficult, and will give you a more vigorous workout. If you really want to work up a sweat, try a Bikram yoga (or Hot yoga) class, which is done in a heated room to increase flexibility and detoxification.
For those looking for a more mindful experience, try Kundalini yoga, which helps your body release an energy that boosts well-being. Ananda yoga is another type that prepares you for meditation and enhances self-awareness and spiritual growth.
If improving posture is your goal, try Bharata or Iyengar yoga, both of which will help to align your spine and improve posture and bodily alignment.
As you can see, the choices are virtually endless, as are the benefits. Ideally, try a variety of classes to see which styles are for you, and don’t be afraid to experiment … you’ll never know which yoga class may be your new fave unless you try it!
1. Yoga Journal, Yoga in American 2008
2. Ann Intern Med. 1 November 2011;155(9):569-578
3. J Affect Disord. 2000 Jan-Mar;57(1-3):255-9.
4. Int J Yoga. 2011 Jul;4(2):49-54.
5. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2004 Jul;48(3):269-85.
6. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2010 Nov;16(11):1145-52.
7. Harvard Mental Health Letter April 2009
8. J Aging Phys Act. 2011 Jan;19(1):62-79.
9. Study presented at the Experimental Biology 2006 Conference
10. Harvard HEALTHbeat May 10, 2011