Diehard fans could speak for hours in praise of yoga, a discipline that explores the connection between the mind, the body and breathing. From increased flexibility to better focus and concentration, the benefits of yoga can be accessed by most people, regardless of age or fitness level. Participating in even one 60-minute class a week helps many people -- especially those who are tired, tight and stressed -- feel and function better.
Strengthens the Core
Classic yoga poses -- such as Front- and Side-Facing Planks, Half Moon and Boat -- develop your core musculature. Your core -- which includes your hip, pelvis, abdominal and back muscles -- is your body's primary source of stability. Boosting core-muscle strength and endurance through yoga can lead to improved posture, increased joint health, and better balance and control. When used to supplement athletic training, yoga-based core training can improve your sports performance and reduce your risk of injury.
Yoga both builds and stretches muscles. By practicing yoga regularly, you can expect to feel looser and more agile over time. Poses that involve bending backward lengthen the muscles along the front of the body, such as the hip flexors and chest. Forward-bending poses lengthen the hamstrings, glutes and other muscles on your back side. As your muscles lengthen, you'll notice a gradual loosening of your joints, which makes day-to-day activities -- like squatting to retrieve something under the bed or twisting to wave to someone behind you -- easier and safer. Greater flexibility can also help ease difficult symptoms associated with certain conditions, including arthritis and chronic knee, hip and back pain.
Mindful breathing and body self-awareness are key components of yoga. Focusing on your breath helps you turn your attention inward and away from life's challenges and annoyances. Furthermore, diaphragmatic breathing -- or breathing deep in your belly -- might help your body cope with stress. Drawing air into the lower area of the lungs brings about several positive physiological changes. Your heart rate slows, your blood pressure decreases and your muscles -- and mind -- relax. Because yoga helps calm the body's stress response, it might be effective in dealing with certain mental health conditions, including OCD, anxiety and depression.
Yoga can improve your self-perception, helping you feel more confident and content. Yoga isn't competitive; it's just about you and how your body feels, which can be particularly beneficial for school-age kids and teens. The IDEA Health and Fitness Association suggests that, when used in school settings, yoga can improve mood, boost attention and focus, increase self-esteem and help kids with self-regulation.