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5 Physical Benefits of Yoga

The benefits of yoga can be categorized into a group of three: physical, emotional and spiritual components. Although all are important to maintain balance, this piece focuses on the physical component and its benefits of a regular practice. Some of the main physical benefits of yoga include increased strength, improved flexibility, better body posture, stronger spinal stability and a greater command of the breath.

1. Increased Strength

Asana, otherwise known as the physical practice of yoga, is only one of eight limbs of yoga. Through asana practice, we achieve control of the body by positioning ourselves into different postures that strengthen and tone our muscles and organs. In every pose, we focus on engaging the bandhas, or energy locks in the body. Tapping into uddiyana bandha, for example, requires us to pull the belly in and up, toning and strengthening the abdominal muscles and organs. By flowing through and repeating yoga poses, the body learns to hold these postures more comfortably and creates muscle memory for the next time we practice. The more we practice, the stronger the physical body becomes.

2. Improved Flexibility

In addition to becoming stronger, we become more flexible with a regular practice. Most yoga postures can be categorized into one or two of the following: standing, balancing, forward folding, back bending, or hip opening poses. Each one of these categories focuses on lengthening different areas of the body, and therefore increasing the flexibility of the muscles around those areas. Backbends, for instance, improve the flexibility of the front body (quads, abdomen, front of the neck). On the flip side, forward folds lengthen the back body (hamstrings, spinal erectors, calf muscles). Similar to how the body becomes stronger and better at performing a movement the more we repeat it, the same applies to the flexibility of a muscle group. The more we position our body into a certain position that stretches a muscle group, the more comfortable and deeper we can settle into that position going forward.

3. Better Body Posture

In addition, having a strong and flexible body help contribute to proper body posture. The spine is comprised of 33 vertebrae. This collection of bones is stabilized by muscles that help keep the body straight up. Sometimes after sitting for long periods of time, or when our muscles grow tired, these spinal stabilizers don’t do a very good job at securing the spine and we either slouch or rely on the strength of the neck to hold us up. Overtime, poor body posture can produce chronic pain or nerve impingements, like sciatica. Therefore, it’s critical for the spinal stabilizers to be strong and healthy to remain pain free.

4. Stronger Spine

Proper body posture in asana practice is important to maintaining a strong spine. Through constant practice, the body learns how to shift its center of gravity to hold different poses. For each pose, the spine is lifting, flexing, extending or rotating. Each of these movements strengthen different muscles that support the spine, helping prevent compressed discs by maintaining the necessary space between each vertebrae. A strong spine is key to preventing various types of injuries, particularly spine-related. However, ankle, wrist, knee and hip injuries can also be prevented by maintaining a strong and flexible spine, naturally developed with a regular yoga practice.

5. Control of the Breath

Most importantly, one of the main physical benefits of practicing yoga is mastering a greater command of the breath. It has been said that if you can control the breath, you can control the mind. The breath is one of the tools that connects the body to the mind. This connection allows us to access a parasympathetic state, which is the opposite of a fight or flight response. Practicing yoga helps us control our breath by putting us in a position where we must hold poses, albeit uncomfortable at times, and simply breathe. In Ashtanga yoga, for example, each posture is held for five full cycles of breath. Not only does each exhale allow us to better access a posture, but the awareness of the breath also brings us to the present moment, which can be difficult to achieve throughout the rest of our day-to-day activities. By mastering better command of the breath, we achieve a better control of our bodies and minds.

In short…

The physical practice of yoga is incredibly beneficial to the human body. The more we practice, the stronger and more flexible we become, contributing to healthy body posture, a stronger spine and better breathing mechanics. These physical benefits allow us to keep up with our daily activities and live pain free.

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