Yoga only benefits people who can bend like a pretzel. I can’t even touch my toes. My yoga instructor was quick to debunk my negativity and invite me to a yoga class. After that, I was hooked.
“Yoga is for people exactly like you,” the instructor told me. “Everyone should feel welcome to practice at their own level. You’ll see unique benefits specifically for your body.”
She was right. After getting rid of my self-conscious misgivings, I was able to enjoy yoga for how it benefited me. Sure, when you search for “benefits of yoga” you’ll find that it improves your flexibility and betters your mood—but these are a given. What else can yoga do for me?
I asked several experts (ranging from well-renowned instructors to seasoned practitioners) about their experiences. “What are some distinct and extraordinary benefits of yoga—things you’d never expect?” I asked them. Their responses were genuine and surprising, offering insight into the “extra” part of extraordinary.
#1 Yoga Normalizes Weight
Seems like all you hear about these days are quick fixes, diet pills, and weight loss gimmicks. While natural approaches and consistency are the best medicine, it never hurts to talk about science-backed evidence—and this one is no exception!
Ever heard of cortisol? If you’ve ever experienced stress, your body is familiar with it. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can cause weight gain and high blood pressure if too much is in your system.
Practicing yoga has been clinically proven to reduce cortisol levels in your blood, thus reducing your body’s tendency to hold excess fat. Yoga’s slow movement and breathing practices naturally regulate the body, and cortisol levels fall.
Want to know another natural remedy for weight normalization and cortisol reduction? Try adding turmeric to your diet. Mixing turmeric cream to your coffee or morning smoothie not only helps regulate your stress hormones, it also reduces inflammation in your body.
#2 Yoga Increases Immunity
It’s easy to disassociate from the real medical effects of yoga. I know I’ve been conditioned to view yoga through a philosophical lens, only understanding the soul-healing aspects of it. As I’m journeying through these unique benefits of yoga, I’m beginning to understand the palpable remedies involved.
Believe it or not, there are certain yoga poses that massage and send blood directly to your lymph nodes. Remind you of the purpose of lymph nodes? Sure. These glands are located throughout your body and are some of your system’s strongest defenses against infection.
Lymph nodes are a filtration system, and they release antibodies that fight bacteria. Unlike the heart which pumps involuntarily, the lymph nodes need continuous movement and healthy blood flow for peak performance. This lymphatic circulation during yoga flushes your body of toxins and helps you remain well.
The majority of your lymph nodes are located in your neck, armpits, abdomen, and groin. Any movements that stimulate energy and blood flow through these areas will help with lymphatic drainage. Check out this video for a simple yoga flow that will help detox your body after a long day!
#3 Yoga Lubricates Joints
There is such thing as too much of a good thing. When it comes to synovial fluid, there’s no exception. Synovial fluid in its natural amount is very important to joint health. This fluid is present in all your joints and allows the cartilage between bones to glide smoothly.
Excessive weight, inactivity, or other traumas can cause inflammation in the joints. How does the body respond to these red flags? By sending extra synovial fluid, of course. But this does the body no good. This excess fluid is what you see when a joint is swollen.
So where does yoga come in and save the day? Well, yoga allows your body to take part in consistent, low impact movement, and promotes the circulation of synovial fluid. Because safe practice of yoga can negate weight loss and encourage activity, your joint inflammation risk is low and your joint lubrication is at a natural level.
Synovial fluid also acts as a nutrient to our cartilage, so a healthy supply of this fluid keeps cartilage from wearing away. Activities like yoga and adequate hydration can keep your joints healthy for years to come.
#4 Yoga Helps With Incontinence
Get ready to feel a little uncomfortable. We are going to talk about incontinence—the plain name used to describe the accidents that happen when you don’t make it to the restroom in time or you experience a surprise sneeze. It happens to the best of us, so let’s tackle this topic. Here are some fun facts about the art of Mula Bandha.
Mula Bandha is a yoga practice that brings awareness to your pelvic floor—the hammock of muscles between you pubic bone and sitting bones.
Mula Bandha invites its students to call upon the most subtle forms of awareness and control by practicing “root lock” (at risk of being crass, this basically helps strengthen sphincters).
Mula Bandha cues very specific moves. You must remember an important distinction—the difference between clenching and lifting. Rather than imagining yourself squeezing, imagine drawing something upward through the center of your body (like a tissue from its box).
Mula Bandha can be viewed in parallel with Chakras. Even though the practice is very much an anatomical engagement, you can also understand it on a metaphysical level by studying the lower Chakras. This meditative awareness asks you to explore your root and sacral regions and how they link to your emotional energies.
#5 Yoga Sparks Creativity
The arc of creativity is a mysterious thing. No matter what your medium—paintbrush, camera, dance, or violin bow—we’ve all experienced that blank canvas intimidation. What’s the link between ideas and our environment? Turns out, there’s a significant connection.
Like a seed needing the perfect combination of light, water, soil, warmth, and timing, our minds are also seeking a muse-summoning combo. Cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Helen Abadzi suggests that there is a quiet spot at the intersection of memory recollection and mental rest where ideas can be pieced together.
Whenever you try to force creativity, anxiety arises and erases those gentle conditions that foster new ideas. Constant comparison, social noise, and other environmental factors suffocate our ability to absorb inspiration. Enter yoga.
One of the main aspects of yoga is mind-quieting. Sometimes your mind can get in the way of ideas, and yoga is the introspective way to hush the stimuli. With controlled breathing, relaxed poses, and inward searching, yoga and meditation could generate ideas when you least expect it!
#6 Yoga Encourages You To Love Your Body
Whenever you work closely with someone, you’re bound to formulate a relationship. Working together on a similar project gets you acquainted with flaws, but it also allows you to see positive qualities and practice chemistry. When you practice yoga, you’re working alongside your closest companion—yourself!
What does this tell you? The more you practice yoga, the more you’ll love your body. Why, you ask? As with any member of the fitness family, progress can easily be tracked.
Gratitude for your body will grow along with your consistency to the practice. Because you are aware of your body from inside to outside, only you understand its intricacies. And only you can track even the smallest of successes. These small bits of growth and progress are relative only to you, and that’s what I’ve had to learn.
My first assumptions about yoga were wrong, but here’s the sad truth. Yes, Instagram is plastered with photos of bendy people in perfect poses. This shouldn’t intimidate you from finding your own practice and making your own progress.
It’s easy to get caught up in the ferocious perfection of the fitness world—to be convinced you have to be the best. But this is a dangerous road. Once you step onto the mat or into the studio, yoga will open your eyes to how truly capable and beautiful the human body is—especially yours!
#7 Yoga Teaches Patience
This character trait is tough for some people. Especially in this fast-paced society we live in. The practice of yoga cultivates patience in many ways.
You are patient with the pace.
Perhaps you’ve never been to a yoga class before, but with the exception of some more athletic or power-style yogas, this practice is pretty calm. The music is gentle, the movement is intentional, and even the breathing is long and low in your belly.
You are patient with your body.
Believe me, unless you’re traveling with Cirque Du Soleil, you’re probably going to run into some road blocks at first. You may not be able to land a certain pose or you may lose your balance. The world already requires so much of us—be present in your practice and learn to understand yourself.
You are patient with your mind.
The dog needs a new flea collar, you need an oil change, you’re behind on finishing your taxes, the kitchen faucet is leaky. Your mind will definitely try to sabotage your chill by reminding you of to-do lists and inadequacies. Be gracious with yourself and understand that an overactive mind is normal in this technological world. It’ll soon be quiet.
#8. Yoga Activates Adrenal Glands
Just above your kidneys, there are adrenal glands that can be stimulated to produce extra energy. Adrenal fatigue affects a large portion of the population and they may not even realize it. Extreme fatigue, unexplained weight gain, and high cortisol levels are just a few of the symptoms.
So what causes adrenal fatigue? Constant stress creates overstimulated adrenal glands. This leads to inconsistent cortisol levels and waning energy. It’s one of the only endocrine issues that isn’t caused by trauma as much as environment. As a result, there’s something you can do to help!
You might’ve guessed—yoga is the answer! Back bending is the specific movement that’ll stimulate those adrenals. Here are a few poses to try:
While on your belly, arch your back and bring your heels close to your buttocks. Exhaling, reach back and grab your ankles. Your knees should stay hip width and your breaths should be deep.
Kneel on the floor with your thighs creating a 90-degree angle with the floor. Press your toes into the ground and press your hips forward. Reach for your heels, placing your palms there and resting in the pose.
Note for beginners: you may not be able to assume this pose immediately. Make sure you’re adequately warmed up and that you move slowly through the reach—perhaps beginning with your hands on your glutes before reaching for your heels.
Start on your belly. Your legs should be stretched out, tops of your feet resting on the floor. With palms on the floor tucked close beside your torso, press and lift your torso. Your hips should remain on the floor, chest lifted.
#9 Yoga Stays With You Beyond The Mat
You may think the benefits of yoga only happen on the mat. I’m only relaxed on the mat. I’m only patient on the mat. I’m only comfortable with my body on the mat. But what about when class is over? There are basic yoga principles that will carry over in your day-to-day lives.
Breathing will help you through a stressful moment. You’ll be okay with allowing things to happen—just as you allow yourself to progress slowly on the mat. Because you’re more patient and attentive with your own thoughts, perhaps you’ll be more empathic with others.
As you get acquainted with your shortcomings and small successes, you’ll be able to meet others where they are too. We are all works in progress. Try viewing others with the same grace you’re now giving yourself.
I’ll be honest. When I first got acquainted with yoga, my goals were really small. I’m talking touch-my-toes level goals. I’m a naturally inflexible person, so I was super intimidated to begin. Well, that was years ago. Today, not only am I touching my toes, but I’m reaching new mobility goals all the time.
They say “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” That couldn’t be more accurate. What if I had refused to try yoga? My hamstrings would still be tight as guitar strings. Pushing even the slightest boundary can have a huge effect on your health.
So if I were to chime in and add something to the gurus’ list, I’d say this: practicing flexibility has helped me be okay with setting goals that might be insignificant to others. At the end of the day, the benefits of yoga you discover are the ones that matter.
What benefits do you see from doing yoga? Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments below!
- 11 Natural Ways to Lower Cortisol Levels
- Yoga & Lymphatic Circulation
- 5 Anatomical Ways Yoga Strengthens Joints
- Mulha Bandha Root Lock
- Mulha Bandha and Chakras in Terms of Modern Science
- Yoga for Creativity: Inspiration
- Back Bend to Mend Your Mind
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Meredith is a writer and fitness enthusiast. She lives with her wife in Chattanooga, Tennessee and loves being outdoors. She lived in Thailand teaching English after college and had a book published in 2017. Check out meredithjade.com for more info on what she’s up to.