Yoga is a physical discipline that’s been practiced in the East for thousands of years. As the practice becomes more popular in the West, more and more people have begun to talk about the health benefits of yoga. Yoga increases strength and flexibility, improves balance and posture, and can help treat chronic illnesses like asthma and heart disease. It’s even believed to relieve the symptoms of mental illnesses like depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

How Yoga Workouts Increase Flexibility, Strength, Posture, and Balance

Yoga poses, or asanas, stretch your muscles, ligaments, tendons, and even the fascia sheath around your muscles, allowing yoga practitioners to develop greater flexibility than those who stick to other workouts. Yoga stretching exercises release the lactic acid that can build up in muscle tissue and cause tension, stiffness, fatigue, and pain. Yoga asanas lubricate joints to give practitioners more ease of movement.

Some schools of yoga promote a more strenuous, physically active practice while other schools focus primarily on relaxation and breathing techniques. But all schools of yoga offer practitioners the chance to build muscle tone and enhance core strength. Increased core strength leads to better posture and balance and increases your awareness of your own body so that you’re less likely to injure yourself while doing yoga or other activities.

Why Yoga Asanas Promote Relaxation and May Boost Your Mood

No matter what school of yoga you choose to study, the practice requires students to learn mindful breathing. Some types of yoga, like Kundalini yoga, focus almost exclusively on the breathing exercises, or pranayama, that lie at the core of the practice. Yoga breathing techniques teach practitioners to lengthen and deepen the breath, which increases lung capacity and elicits the relaxation response, to lower levels of stress hormones and usher in feelings of calm and well-being.

Though scientific research into the effects of yoga workouts on concentration and mood hasn’t yet been completed, yoga practitioners and teachers say that the benefits of yoga include improved concentration and mood. Scientists believe that yoga asanas and breathing techniques may relieve the symptoms of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety.

How Yoga Benefits Chronic Medical Conditions

A school of yoga called Integrative Yoga Therapy, or IYT, has developed in the West to help medical professionals use yoga as an adjunct therapy for a wide range of chronic medical problems. Yoga benefits those with heart problems by lowering blood pressure and slowing heart rate. Yoga can provide relief for the symptoms of insomnia, arthritis, asthma, and other chronic medical conditions.

Regular Yoga Practice Offers Multiple Benefits

The practice of yoga asanas and breathing techniques can increase strength and flexibility while improving balance, posture, and body awareness. Yoga’s deep breathing techniques help to initiate the relaxation response, which eases the effects of stress and can help practitioners feel calm, relaxed, alert, and focused. Yoga’s physical and mental benefits are even useful in the treatment of chronic physical and mental illnesses, like heart disease and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

What are some health benefits of practicing yoga that you’ve discovered?