The practice of yoga, which only first began to gain popularity here in the U.S. during the 20th century, has actually been around for thousands of years, having been originally developed in ancient India.       

As a multifaceted practice involving the combination of meditation, various body poses, and breathing exercises, yoga is designed to engage both your mind and body.  

Its therapeutic effects have been well documented in both eastern and western cultures, with hundreds of different yoga studies being published in top-tier scientific journals here in western society.  

In the following section, we’ll be going over 15 different science-backed mental and physical health benefits that have associated with yoga.

Psychological Benefits of Yoga

Photo by Max Nikhil Thimmayya

1. Yoga May Improve Your Mood 

One mental benefit that’s been observed in a number of different studies is an improved mood.  For example, in 2013 national survey involving over 1,000 yoga practitioners, 86.5% of study participants reported that yoga improved their happiness.(1)

Another study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine recruited 37 adults diagnosed with clinical depression to participate in 60 yoga classes lead by an expert instructor.  

Before and after each class, participants were asked to rate their mood state, with researchers finding that participants’ moods significantly improved from before to after the session.  At the conclusion of the study, the researchers observed a significant reduction in depression, along with anger and neurosis, with 65% of participants reaching remission levels by the end of the intervention.(2)

2. Yoga Can Alleviate Stress and Anxiety

On top of making you happier, numerous studies have also demonstrated that yoga can help to reduce your levels of stress and anxiety as well.(3)

For example, a 2012 randomized, controlled trial evaluated the effects of a 10-week yoga program on a number of mental health variables in high school students.(4) Some of the students were placed in a regular physical education class while the others participated in a yoga program.  

At the end of the study, the researchers ultimately found that compared to the control group, who actually saw declines in mental health, the students who took yoga demonstrated reductions in stress and anxiety, along with a lower incidence of mood disturbances.  

Another 2015 study measuring mental health outcomes in adults after a 10-week yoga intervention ultimately found that participants demonstrated a significant improvement in perceived stress — the researchers found a significant reduction in self-reported behavioral and psychological symptoms of stress. (5)

3. Yoga May Increase Your Quality of Life

Yoga has also been shown to increase practitioners’ quality of life perceptions — even more so than other forms of exercise according to some research.(6) For instance, one study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine recruited over 130 healthy adults to partake in either a 6-month yoga course, a walking exercise class or no class at all.(7)

A series of cognitive assessments were conducted at baseline and at the conclusion of the trial.  The researchers ultimately found that compared to the control groups (walking-class and no-class) the group of individuals who partook in yoga demonstrated a significant improvement in a number of quality of life measures including an improved sense of well-being along with and an increase in perceived mental energy.

4. Yoga Might Help to Promote a Positive Body Image

Some research also shows that yoga can help to enhance how you perceive your appearance.  For example, one 2016 study recruited almost 200 yoga practitioners and over 120 non-yoga practitioners to partake in a questionnaire measuring several aspects of participants’ self-body image.  

Compared to non-practitioners, those who regularly performed yoga, scored significantly higher on measures of positive body image, as well, as lower on measures of self-objectification, leading the researchers to conclude that regular adherence to a yoga program can help individuals to develop a favorable relationship with their bodies.(8)

Physical Benefits of Yoga

Photo by Yogi Madhav

5. Yoga May Lead to Better Sleep Quality

Several studies have demonstrated that regular adherence to a yoga program can also improve perceptions of sleep quality.  One qualitative study published in 2013 recruited 42 individuals to participate in an 8-week yoga program.(9)

Study participants were asked to take a questionnaire at the end of the study to evaluate what (if any) benefits subjects thought they had gained from the intervention.   The researchers ultimately found a significant association between yoga participation and perceived sleep quality, with a number of subjects reporting that yoga enhanced the quality of their sleep.  

6. Yoga Improves Flexibility

One of the most well-documented findings in the research is that yoga improves flexibility.  Regular adherence has been shown to loosen the muscles and connective tissues around your bones and joints, helping to increase flexibility and range of motion over time.(10)

For example, a 2014 study recruited low to moderately active middle-aged women to participate in a six-week yoga intervention.(11) The researchers measured participants’ lumbar and hamstring flexibility both before and after the trial with a standard sit and reach assessment. 

 At the conclusion of the intervention, participants demonstrated significant improvements in both measures included in the study, leading the researchers to conclude that yoga can be an effective strategy for increasing flexibility.    

7. Yoga Can Increase Muscle Endurance and Strength

A number of different studies have also demonstrated that yoga can increase the strength and endurance of your muscles as well.   Research suggests that holding a yoga pose stimulates isometric contractions in your muscles, which over time, helps to increase their overall strength.(12)

For example, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine split  34 middle-aged participants into one of two groups — group 1 participated in an 8-month yoga intervention, while the other group was simply asked to maintain their normal lifestyles.(13)

The researchers tested both groups’ strength on the leg press machine at baseline and at the conclusion of the trial.  They ultimately found that compared to the control group who actually lost strength, the individuals who partook in yoga, on average, demonstrated an 11.4% increase in strength over the course of the 8-month intervention.

Other research has also demonstrated that adherence to a regular yoga program can help to postpone the onset of muscle fatigue, increasing overall endurance as well.  For instance, one 2016 study placed participants in either an 18 session yoga class or no class at all.(14) Muscular endurance was tested in the upper limbs and abdominal of test subjects using a standardized max-rep protocol. 

 At the conclusion of the study, the researchers found that those who participated in the yoga course demonstrated significant increases in muscle endurance in both their arms and abdominals, performing more reps over the course of a one-minute span than they did at baseline.  

8. Yoga Improves Respiratory Function

A plethora of research has also demonstrated that regular adherence to a yoga program can help to improve your respiratory function as well.(15)(16) In a 2012 study, researchers recruited individuals to participate in a 40-week yoga program in which subjects’ overall respiratory function was evaluated over the course of the study. (17)

The researchers measured things like the participants’ breathing rate, ability to hold their breath, exhale strength, and heart rate at baseline, 2 different times midway through the study, and once at the conclusion.   

Following the 40-week yoga intervention, the researchers found that participants made improvements in most of the measures included in the study, leading them to conclude that yoga intervention significantly enhanced several aspects of participants’ respiratory health.  

9. Yoga Might Enhance Athletic Performance

Through increases in things like flexibility, strength, and endurance, yoga intervention has also been associated with improvements in athletic performance.  

For example, one 2016 study investigated the effects of a 10-week yoga course on athletic performance in college athletes.(18) Half of the study participants were placed in the yoga course while the other half did not do any yoga.    

At the conclusion of the study, the researchers found that compared to the control group, who saw no changes from baseline to the end of the study, the athletes who completed the yoga course demonstrated a significant increase in most of the performance measures included in the study, leading the researchers to conclude that regular adherence to a yoga program can help to optimize sports performance in competitive athletes.  

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10. Yoga Can Improve Your Ability to Lose Weight

A number of different studies have demonstrated significant effects on weight loss in individuals who regularly adhered to a yoga program.(19) For example, a 2014 study published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine recruited 22 overweight/obese individuals to participate in a 3-month yoga course.(20)

At the end of the study, the researchers observed that participants lost significant amounts of weight —  3.54 kg (7.8 lbs) on average. After a 9-month follow up, the researchers found that half of the study participants were still regularly practicing yoga, and by that time, had lost 5.9 kgs (13 lbs).  

11. Yoga Can Improve Metabolic Parameters

In combination with weight loss, yoga has also been shown to improve your metabolic health as well.  For example, a 2016 systematic review evaluated the findings from 37 randomized, controlled trials involving yoga and weight loss.(21)

The researchers ultimately found significant improvements in several metabolic parameters across all of the studies included in the analysis.  On average, they observed a 5.2 mmHg decrease in systolic blood pressure, a 4.9  mmHg decrease in diastolic blood pressure, an 18.5 mg/dl decrease in total cholesterol, and a 25.9 mg/dl decrease in triglycerides.  

12. Yoga Protects Against Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease

Also in tandem with weight loss, research suggests that regular adherence to a yoga program can help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.(22) One systematic review published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine analyzed 25 different studies investigating the metabolic effects of yoga.(23)

The researchers ultimately found that participants included in the review demonstrated significant improvements in several risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes, including insulin sensitivity, glucose tolerance, blood pressure, and oxidative stress, leading the researchers to conclude that yoga intervention can have protective effects against type 2 diabetes.  

Numerous other studies have also associated these metabolic improvements with a reduced risk of heart disease as well.(24)(25)

13. Yoga Can Reduce Chronic Pain 

Lots of research shows that yoga can help to reduce chronic pain.  For instance, a 2013 meta-analysis involving over 700 people investigated the effects of yoga intervention on individuals with chronic lower back pain.(26)

The researchers ultimately found that yoga had a significant and positive effect on functional disability and pain, with study participants scoring significantly lower on a series of standardized pain intensity assessments following yoga intervention.   

14. Yoga Lessons Arthritis Symptoms

Findings from a number of different studies also suggest that yoga can be an effective tool for managing symptoms of osteoarthritis.  For example, a 2012 study, investigated the effects of an 8-week yoga intervention on elderly folks with osteoarthritis.(27) The researchers evaluated the participants’ symptoms at baseline, 4 weeks, and at the conclusion of the study.  

Compared to baseline, the researchers found that participants demonstrated significant improvements over the course of the study, with subjects reporting a reduction in perceived joint stiffness following the 8-week yoga course.  

Wrap Up

With literally hundreds of different studies demonstrating positive effects, there is an ample body of evidence that yoga can offer both psychological and physical benefits.  

From losing weight and reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease to improving your mood and body image, regular adherence to a yoga program can help to improve your overall health in several ways.  

Interested in learning more about the benefits of yoga? Check out this article on outwittrade.com, where over 40 experts whey in on the subject.