Andrea Metcalf by Andrea Metcalf

Yoga has been around for centuries. It is the union of mind and body and one of the most widely practiced forms of exercise in the world. Yoga consists of patterns of stretches, balances, and strengthening movements focused with conscious breathing techniques. As it has become more main stream, many people are finding the benefits of a regular practice. Here are 5 reasons why yoga may be right for you.

1. Reduce, prevent and manage back pain.

Recent studies show that for people with chronic low-back pain, yoga may reduce pain and improve function. Group Health Research Institute in Seattle launched a clinical trial that enrolled 228 adults. All had moderate low back pain that had lasted for at least 3 months. Of the three groups, two groups received 12 weekly 75-minute classes of either yoga (92 participants) or stretching exercises led by a licensed physical therapist (91 participants). They were asked to practice at home on off days for at least 20 minutes. The remaining 45 volunteers were asked to follow a self-care book that described the causes of back pain and suggested exercise and lifestyle changes to reduce pain. After three months the yoga group had the best outcomes and improved more after six months. (Archives of Internal Medicine)

2. Improve heart health.

Although cardiovascular exercise is widely known to improve heart health, research shows that regular yoga practice can reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure and reduce resting heart rate. Research studies at both John Hopkins and Harvard Health show better functioning heart measurements for patients enrolled in regular yoga practices. Doctors from the study noted that similar benefits were achieved from regular yoga as from regular walking programs.

3. Improve balance and coordination.

Many studies have shown that regular yoga can improve balance and coordination. From Pediatric Physical Therapy studies to studies with older adults who have a fear of falling, improvement with coordination and balance appear in as little time as six weeks. Balance poses including traditional tree pose or Warrior Three offer strengthening of the muscles surrounding the hips which can greatly improve balance. Vinyasas, which are a series of movements, help improve coordination by moving from exercises rooted in the lower body to the upper body. The most common, Sun Salutation can be a great introduction and offer a simple 8 series of moves that most people can accomplish.

4. Improve your mood and help to treat depression.

Meditation is a regular part of any yoga class and has been proven to improve mood and even treat depression. Questions remain about exactly how yoga works to improve mood, but preliminary evidence suggests its benefit is similar to that of exercise and relaxation techniques. In a German study published in 2005, two groups were asked to report how they felt over a three-month period.  Group on participated in two 90-minute yoga classes over the three months while others carried on with normal activities. At the end of three months, women in the yoga group reported improvements in emotional health including: less depression, less anxiety, better energy, less fatigue, and overall better well-being.

5. Improved sleep and sex.

Although these may go hand-in-hand, sleep and sex drive has been proven to show improvement after a regular yoga practice is started. Most studies show improvement within a few months. As with many forms of regular exercise, weight loss and body confidence seem to be a great side benefit. Anything that reduces anxiety/stress or elevates mood improves sexual function by aiding the deep relaxation fundamental to lovemaking. Yoga is for many is a relaxing form of exercise.  When the body relaxes, stress hormones drop and lower levels of the stress hormones, like cortisol, elevate mood. The stress cycle effects sexual performance and drive and then becomes yet more stressful. Yoga improves body confidence and reduces stress levels, so it enhances sex and helps prevent and treat sex problems.