It’s no secret that yoga’s good for you, but many people simply look at yoga as something to use when they need to gain flexibility, improve their balance, or de-stress. Those are all yoga benefits, but the positive things you can gain from practicing yoga regularly extend far beyond those perks. Here are thirteen yoga benefits that may surprise you.

1. Stress Prevention and Relief

It’s probably not a surprise to you that you can mellow out with a yoga session after a rough day, but did you know that a daily yoga practice can actually decrease the likelihood that you’ll get stressed out in the first place? In a study, a yoga group and a control group took an exam. The yoga group had practiced yoga 35 minutes per day with a trained instructor for 12 weeks prior to the test. The yoga group didn’t have a significant increase in stress (based on heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure), but the control group did.

2. Improved Immunity

Similarly, yoga was shown to decrease postoperative stress in breast cancer patients, which led to a stronger immune system (no significant immune system depression after surgery) and better odds of a successful recovery from surgery. In this study, yoga was said to decrease anxiety and depression, too.

3. Improved Relationships

Yoga affects your mind and spirit in a way that has an effect on your relationships with others—your spouse, your kids, your parents, your friends, and even strangers. When you feel more at peace, more in the moment, more in tune with everyone around you, you begin to notice things and interact with people in a much more positive and compassionate way. If yoga has given you more confidence (likely!), you’ll probably be more open to communicating your own thoughts, needs, and suggestions. Don’t be surprised if you not only begin strengthening your current relationships, but begin to attract new friends and acquaintances, too.

4. Ability to Stay in the Moment

Have you ever tried to hold a balancing pose while your mind was on dinner, the drama with your sister, or some issue at work you’ve been dealing with? You topple over, right? Yoga trains you to keep your mind focused and in the moment, and with enough practice, that ability bleeds over into all other areas of your life. You’ll be a more attentive friend because of it, and you may also find that you’re much more efficient in your daily life because you’re not slowing yourself down by letting your mind travel into the past or the future while you’re working on something else. In addition, you’ll really get to revel in those little moments of joy you might have otherwise missed, and those all add up to a happier you!

5. Ease of Making Better Food Choices (and Less Binge Eating)

Yoga lowers levels of cortisol and increases levels of serotonin in the body. When cortisol is up, you’re more likely to binge eat (aka stress eat!). When you practice yoga, you become more in tune with what your body really needs, not what it’s craving in order to fill a void, and you’ll be less likely to reach for a convenience food with no nutritional value. By calming yourself through yoga, you may find that you have fewer cravings overall anyway.

6. Increased Strength

YlvaRetouchWEB copy 2This one may not come as a surprise, but for those of you who have never done yoga and think it’s easy or all about flexibility and balance, know that you can get incredibly strong from practicing yoga, too. (Also, it’s not exactly easy, per se, but anyone can do it—you can start anywhere and work your way up to challenges that require lots of strength, flexibility, and balance!)

7. Removal of Toxins

Yoga stimulates the lymphatic system, which helps to flush the toxins out. Be sure to drink plenty of water before and after your practice to ensure that those toxins that start moving get pushed all the way out of your body. Along with your regiment of digestive probiotics, your body will always feel lean and clean.

8. Pain Management

Yoga has been successfully used as a component of treatment for lower back pain. That may not come as a shock, since so much of yoga puts at least some attention on back strength and flexibility. However, yoga has also been used—with significant results—in other areas of pain management, like carpal tunnel syndrome, hand osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and joint pain in breast cancer survivors. In many cases, the yoga routines used in these studies were designed for the particular issue at hand, but often worked as a holistic approach anyway, alleviating much more than pain. For example, participants noticed a better grip (those with hand osteoporosis, in particular), better mood, less fatigue, a feeling of acceptance, and increased energy.

9. Protected Bone Density

You can do yoga for strong bones! Running and lifting weights at the gym aren’t the only way to avoid losing bone density as you age. Strength-bearing poses in yoga have the same effect in premenopausal women. Doing yoga now reduces the risk for osteoporosis later in life.

10. Improved Cardiovascular Health

Mindfulness-based stress reduction combines yoga and meditation and has been shown to lower stress, anxiety, depression, blood pressure, and BMI in patients with coronary heart disease.

You may also be surprised to know that you can actually get in a good cardiovascular workout. Yoga isn’t all about sitting still and taking deep breaths, or even holding poses for a long time while taking deep breaths. Some routines are pretty fast-paced and can get your heart rate up! And while you’re working on that, muscles all over your body are getting stronger, too, as you shift from one pose to the next.

11. Better Mood (Lowered Depression Risk)

Kimberly_Snyder_0545ARweb® copyAs the breast cancer study mentioned above, yoga has the ability to alleviate depression and anxiety, boosting the quality of life for those who practice it. In addition, yoga could be recommended as a portion of the treatment for those suffering from depression. In a prison setting study, a 10-week yoga course decreased levels of depression and anxiety in inmates and workers. There was also a boost in their cognitive-behavioral performance.

Yoga has also been shown to help with the mood swings and other things that go along with menopause!

12. Improvement in Asthma

Yoga can actually benefit those who suffer from asthma. Deep-breathing exercises could increase the stamina of the lungs and allow people to get a better awareness of how they should  be breathing, so when something goes awry, they notice earlier and can take care of it before the attack becomes dangerous.

13. Better Digestion

All those twists are good for more than flexibility! They stimulate your digestive tract, too, and make elimination easier. I recommend doing a few twists when you wake up in the morning just to rev everything up and ensure that you can start your day feeling lighter, not weighed down.

A Holistic Approach with Ongoing Benefits

Kimberly_Snyder 0672_COLORweb copyYou may have noticed that a lot of the surprising benefits of yoga came with a few extra positives attached, and several of the benefits listed here are interlinked. Yoga is a fantastic holistic approach to improving your mental, emotional, and physical health. A lot of the benefits you find on the mat also extend well beyond your session or even the hour or so after you’re done with your practice. When you practice yoga regularly, for example, you don’t get stressed out as easily and your perspective in general shifts to give you a happier, more positive outlook on life.

Want to learn how to do a yoga handstand? I can teach you!

Photos by: Ylva Erevall