Authentic East Yoga Studio

Six Surprising Physical Benefits of Yoga

When we first bring yoga into our lives, many of us don’t realize that there is far more to the ancient practice than bending and moving our bodies around on a rubber mat. Of course it certainly feels like it’s all about the physical body. After our first yoga class, we may notice some tenderness in our legs, openness in our joints, and a feeling of enhanced circulation.

There are subtle differences too. Maybe we’re standing a bit straighter than before our practice. Perhaps our breath flows in and out more gently and with greater ease. Our senses are sharper.

To an extent, at its introductory stage, yoga is all about our bodies. Many of us take up yoga to get more fit and–truth be told–stretching, lengthening, and building our strength have obvious fitness benefits. It increases our stamina, makes us leaner, and improves our overall health.

 

Developing Body Awareness  

A primary way yoga benefits us physically is by deepening our awareness of our bodies. For example, an area of tightness may not indicate inflexibility but rather a weak, undeveloped muscle. The transition from upward dog (ūrdhva mukha śvānāsana) into downward dog (adho mukha śvānāsana) may signal a tendency to move weight with our shoulders or legs rather than our core.

With continuous practice, yoga also makes us more mindful of all our physical habits and biomechanics. The way we sit when we’re working for long periods of time. The foods we eat. The habitual way we hold our breath when we’re concentrating on something. The way we move our bodies through space, from one activity to the next, with routine unconsciousness.  

For each of us, yoga brings attention to our unique physiological structure and functioning and the way all our moving parts work together to “yoke” or unite. It points out our painful areas, or those dead of sensation altogether. It shows us how deeply vital breath is to our physical health and expansion. Yoga deepens our gratitude for the miraculous temples that our bodies are.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga  


The great sage Maharishi Patanjali, considered the Father of Yoga, organized the once discursive philosophy of yoga into eight branches*. These integrative aspects of yoga position it as a holistic discipline, benefiting the mind, body, and soul. Two of these limbs, yogasana and pranayama, help us establish greater insight into the physical workings of our bodies.

Yogasana, the third limb of yoga, is the series of poses we assume that maintain the strength and health of the physical body. Pranayama, the fourth limb, literally means breath control. It directs the movement of prana, our vital life force, throughout the body.

In most yoga classes in the West, the teacher will lead us through these two vital aspects. At the beginning stage of yoga, we may not feel like an hour on the mat is going to deliver all the benefits for which yoga is so popular. Indeed, yoga is a commitment to the self that takes time and practice–and it’s worth it. Below are a few fundamental physical benefits of yoga you’ll experience whether you’re just starting out or already on your journey.

Yoga connects us to nature.  


Unless we’re practicing beach-front yoga or in a forest nook, it seems unlikely that yoga could make us feel closer to nature. But it does–and it goes beyond that too. Yoga reminds us that we are nature. It connects us to ourselves and our internal experience.

Five elements of nature comprise the human body: ether (space), air, fire, water, and earth. These elements work in harmony to ensure optimal functioning. Practicing yoga increases our awareness of these elements within our bodies and enhances our connection to nature.

Here is an example:

Pranayama and yogasana support the movement of air throughout our body tissues, simultaneously creating space in knotted-up areas.

Specific yogic breathing techniques stimulate our metabolic fire, improving digestion and elimination.

The flow of blood and sweat, examples of the water element, is enhanced with movement, improving circulation and supporting the removal of toxins.

As we bring attention to the different parts of our bodies, we recognize the earth quality of our bones and tissues: strength, groundedness, and firmness.

Yoga fights fatigue and improves sleep.

These two benefits of yoga might appear contradictory. We should feel tired if we are to sleep, right? The synchronization of movement and breath mobilizes trapped energy (prana) and redistributes it throughout the body. This produces a feeling of toned, relaxed body tissues and a sense of peacefulness. You know that feeling you get after a good run or gym workout, or even an invigorating day gardening when, as you get into bed at the end of the day, your body becomes one with your mattress? It’s kind of like that–but better. Gentle yoga in the evening is one of the healthiest, most effective sedatives.

Yoga Calms Our Inherent Restlessness.

Agitation is part of the human condition. With the way we live we’re prone to twitchy feet and the constant need to move. And on the contrary, sitting in an office for too long causes areas of our bodies to become stiff and stagnant. When our tissues aren’t regularly flexed, stretched, strengthened, and released, energy becomes trapped and creates a feeling of restlessness. Regular yoga alleviates this feeling because it causes us to slow down, to move with full awareness from one posture to another, to feel the spine bend, to notice each part of our bodies as the core leads us through dynamic sun salutations, seated postures, delicious backbends, twists, and eventually to stillness.

Yoga Improves Digestion And Cleanes The Internal Organs.

Traditional hatha yoga uses postures that help detoxify the internal organs. A series of twisting poses combined with yogic breath gently compress and massage the digestive organs, promoting the circulation of fresh blood, oxygen, and nutrients throughout the body and the removal of toxins when the twist is released. Regular yoga can alleviate IBS, chronic constipation and indigestion, and prevent toxins from accumulating in our body tissues.

Yoga Guides Us Through Aging.

Yoga is 100% accessible to everyone, regardless of age. Like a sapling is flexible in a storm, yoga helps us weather the changes that aging brings with grace, insight, and resiliency. As long as we continue moving we keep our bodies primed for movement. Makes sense, right? But the quality of movement counts. Excessive or repetitive motion puts the body at risk. Through the dynamic practice of yoga, we learn to glide our bodies through space with strength, softness, and agility, without the need for dumbbells or machines.

Yoga also supports proprioception, the relative position of your body parts in movement, which gradually decreases with age. The effect is one of acceptance and appreciation for all our moving parts and the limitations imposed by our unique bodies. We deepen our compassion not just for our own aches and pains, but for those of others too.

What About Fascia?

Myofascial release is getting a lot more attention recently, and yoga is one of the primary ways to accomplish it and experience the full range of benefits that yoga offers. Fascia is the cobweb-like fibrous tissue that both separates and connects our body tissues, kind of like the membrane surrounding the sections of an orange. Although not backed by Western medicine, fascia is considered the body’s primary emotion storehouse. This is why we often feel an emotion physically somewhere in our bodies–this intuitive connective tissue remembers. Healthy fascia relies on adequate hydration, movement, and release. Yoga provides all three.  

Myofascial release is getting a lot more attention recently, and yoga is one of the primary ways to accomplish it and experience the full range of benefits that yoga offers. Fascia is the cobweb-like fibrous tissue that both separates and connects our body tissues, kind of like the membrane surrounding the sections of an orange. Although not backed by Western medicine, fascia is considered the body’s primary emotion storehouse. This is why we often feel an emotion physically somewhere in our bodies–this intuitive connective tissue remembers. Healthy fascia relies on adequate hydration, movement, and release. Yoga provides all three.  

The Bigger Picture...

If we are to embark on the inner journey that yoga is, the physical body is the vehicle by which we travel. It must be in the best shape possible. This doesn’t demand a six-pack or slim thighs, or the ability to bend and twist into origami-like, photo-worthy statues. More often than not it requires the ability to be still, the most challenging state of all. This physical journey of yoga extends beyond appearances to the health of the internal organs, the hydration of our body tissues, the harmonious integration of movement and breath, and the experience of head-to-toe release and expansion.

And then it becomes something more. If we identify our experience only at the level of nature and the material body, we are missing out on a much bigger picture. Iyengar, one of the world’s leading yoga gurus, writes:

“As we perfect asana, we will come to understand the true nature of our embodiment, of our being, and of the divinity that animates us. And when we are free from physical disabilities, emotional disturbances, and mental distractions, we open the gates to our soul. To understand this, one must gain far more than technical proficiency, and one must do asana not merely as a physical exercise but as a means to understand and then integrate our body with our breath, with our mind, with our intelligence, with our consciousness, with our conscience, and with our core. In this way, one can experience true integration and reach the ultimate freedom” (from his book Light on Life).

1 thought on “Six Surprising Physical Benefits of Yoga”

  1. Pingback: How Yoga Helps the Mind: The Real Benefit of This Ancient Science - Authentic East Yoga Studio

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *