Yoga has become a fashionable and trendy exercise option for men and women alike. And why not? You get to wear comfortable clothes. You get to tone, stretch, activate and relax your body.
And best of all: you end most sessions laying down on your yoga mat. What can beat that?
A lot actually! That’s because yoga isn’t just a physical workout. While you’re teetering and holding certain positions, your mind is experiencing lots of benefits, too. And you won’t be disappointed with them.
Here are 13 ways yoga helps you to both create and maintain a strong and healthy mind.
Stress and Anxiety Relief
Unfortunately, most of us experience stress and anxiety. Yoga is a gentle and very effective way to help you relax and slow down. Because you breathe deeply and more slowly, your heart rate also slows down. This can help to lower your blood pressure.
Harvard University found that yoga can help to regulate your stress response system, too. And this is a benefit you can take with you when you walk off your yoga mat.
Yoga also increases your GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) levels. This is a neurotransmitter that helps you feel good when you have adequate levels of it. Luckily, practicing yoga for one hour can raise your GABA levels by 27%.
There are many studies attesting to the power of yoga when it comes to reducing depression. It can elevate and improve your mood, and also lower your feelings of fatigue, leaving you feeling more energetic and alert.
Because yoga raises something called the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), your brain can create new brain cells, and that in turn, can help lift feelings of depression.
Keep Mental Illness at Bay
Teenagers are very susceptible to psychological disorders, but yoga seems to provide teens with a peaceful arsenal of tools to combat mental illness. Teenagers who practice yoga have better moods, can control their anger better, are more mindful and have less tension and anxiety.
Strengthens Memory and Sharpens Concentration
When you’re feeling stuck, uninspired and in a rut, it’s always helpful to move your body. Some of us run, walk, bike, or take up any other activity – all to get the creative juices flowing again. The next time you need to wake up your mind, try a session of hatha yoga. It can improve both your memory and your concentration.
Keeps Your Brain Young
This might seem too good to be true, but yoga can actually prevent your brain from shrinking at a normal rate. The more yoga you do, the greater your brain volume becomes. Your brain can actually look younger, as this study found.
What makes this even better is that the parts of your brain that keep their youthful properties are the same areas that deal with positive emotions. A younger, happier brain? Yes, please!
Relieves the Effects of Trauma
If you suffer from PTSD or are a victim of some form of abuse, yoga can help to alleviate the painful trauma you may still be dealing with. The American Psychological Association reported that hatha yoga can be especially beneficial for those with PTSD symptoms.
Increase Hormone and Neurotransmitters
According to Dr. Karen Koffler, medical director of Canyon Ranch Miami, inversion poses can be incredible tools to release both endorphins and neurotransmitters, as well as to balance hormones.
That’s because when you’re inverted, the increased blood flow ups the amount of oxygen and glucose in your brain. These two substances create the perfect environment for the production of neurotransmitters and hormones.
Change How You Respond to Stress
We know how important it is to think positively in order to enjoy greater health and wellbeing. But even with all of that positive thinking, we can still fall into the bad habit of responding badly to stress.
Alex Korb, Ph.D., a researcher who studies the effects of yoga on the brain, found that yoga can actually help you change your response to stress, struggle, and challenge.
Yoga Doesn’t Just Happen On the Mat
Even though you practice yoga at a specific time, that doesn’t mean your yoga practice only happens for that brief amount of time.
The presence that you cultivate during a yoga practice follows you through the rest of your day. The patience you develop as you try and try again accompanies you during irritating situations. The balance that you achieve during a difficult pose keeps you centered when you’re surrounded by challenging moments.
Yoga Connects You to a Greater Source
The origins of yoga date back to over 3,000 years and began as a spiritual practice. You can even read about yoga in the ancient text, The Baghavad Gita. Today, yoga continues to serve as a bridge between your body, mind, and spirit.
What’s more, yoga can connect you to a greater source – whatever that means to you.
Perhaps you refer to that greater source as God, Divinity, Father, Mother, Spirit, Energy, etc. Connecting to something, or someone bigger than you, helps you to feel safe, secure, peaceful and at ease.
Yoga Can Increase Brain Plasticity
When you envision yourself doing difficult poses, or moving through a sequence of poses, you are actually helping your muscles achieve those same postures when the time comes to do them physically.
The power of your mind and imagination can improve not only your yoga practice but any difficult endeavor you have to undertake.
Just Get Started with Yoga
Social media is full of yogis and photos of their impressive postures. It’s easy to feel intimidated, inadequate and unsure if you can ever master even the simplest of poses.
One of the true beauties of yoga is that it is for everyone, and no matter what your body type or fitness status, you can practice yoga and start reaping the many benefits of it at any stage of the game.
Take inspiration from great teachers and committed yogis, but don’t let them get in the way of you getting started!