There are around 20 million yoga practitioners in the United States, or roughly 6% of the total population. Considering how widespread it seems to be, this number is actually quite low, but between 40% and 45% of adult Americans class themselves as “aspiring practitioners”.
In other words, they know about it and they want to do it, they just haven’t been able to make the leap. Many Americans struggle to make the transition because they don’t quite understand how beneficial it can be, or because they have been deterred by the many myths surrounding it.
So, let’s clear up some of those yoga myths and get to the bottom of the real reasons to practice.
All of the following health benefits have actually been confirmed by a host of scientific studies. One of the biggest mistakes yoga advocates make is to focus on the myths and the obvious lies, even though there are a host of genuine benefits, such as:
At first glance this is one of those benefits that sounds like it should be listed under “Myths”, but believe it or not, there is a lot of scientific research out there to back it up.
We’re as surprised as you are, but the truth is, yoga can be an effective solution for chronic pain caused by inflammatory conditions of the muscles and joints. One 2005 study found that yoga could reduce pain and discomfort felt by patients with osteoarthritis (1) while a 1998 study found it to be more effective than wrist-splints at treating carpal tunnel syndrome (2).
It’s not just about building muscle mass and tendon strength either; it seems to be have a direct and immediate affect on the levels of pain and discomfort, and that’s nothing short of astounding.
As any yogi will tell you, the main benefit of yoga is the instantaneous impact on stress levels, but these effects are more than just anecdotal.
A 2016 study found a direct link between yoga and reduced cortisol levels (3), also known as the body’s main stress hormone. Cortisol is part of your “fight or flight” response and excessive amounts of this hormone can lead to high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and even low energy.
Stress has a hugely negative impact on your physiology, which makes yoga a viable cure for a host of physical and psychological issues.
A meta analysis on the effects of yoga on anxiety found it to be as effective as relaxation, and even more effective on overall mental health (4). Not only is yoga incredibly effective at reducing anxiety and stress when compared to regular exercise and no exercise, but it’s also more effective than basic relaxation techniques.
There are a number of reasons for this:
Not only are these effects instant, but they are profound, and the more you practice, the more benefits you will get and the longer they will last.
We have already touched upon the ways that yoga can benefit cardiovascular health, so it will come as no surprise to learn that regular practice can protect individuals from heart disease.
One study compared 50 subjects who did no exercise or yoga to 50 subjects who did, noting that the yoga practitioners displayed significantly reduced pulse rates and blood pressure.
Another study went as far as to suggest that regular yoga could reverse the effects of ischaemic heart disease (5), especially when performed in combination with a healthy diet and lifestyle.
The more you stretch, the more flexible you will become. This is a benefit you probably saw coming, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless.
Stretching stimulates blood flow to the muscles, it makes you more supple and agile, and is particularly effective for anyone who spends their days behind a desk. Your muscles need to work, they need to be stimulated, and this could be the perfect way to do that.
Now it’s time for the so-called “yoga benefits” that have no basis in truth, as well as a few misconceptions that are putting many aspiring practitioners off, such as:
Yoga can do a lot of things for your health, but this isn’t one of them. We’re not sure where this belief came from or why it exists, but it’s simply not true.
A healthy diet and lifestyle that includes some form of exercise can certainly help to keep your liver healthy, but simply practicing yoga and making no other change is not going to help.
If you want an effective detox, something that can support liver health and offset some of the damage done by a diet rich in refined sugars, processed foods and alcohol, try taking Detox Organics, drinking lots of water, and doing a little exercise every day.
There are many forms of yoga and many thousands of poses and routines. Some of these involve twisting yourself into all kinds of weird and wonderful shapes, and this can be off-putting to inexperienced outsiders looking in.
It perpetuates the belief that you need to be flexible to practice yoga, which simply isn’t the case. Experienced practitioners are incredibly flexible, but they probably weren’t like that when they struck their first pose.
As discussed under our list of health benefits above, Yoga helps you to become flexible, it doesn’t require you to be that way before you start. Most basic poses require minimum flexibility, and others can be adapted—can’t touch your toes? Your ankles or shins will do; can’t do the Lotus Pose? Just cross your legs.
Men and women can reap the benefits of this revitalizing practice. Many men dismiss yoga as something “just for women” on the basis that it doesn’t increase muscle mass, it doesn’t increase strength, and the benefits are strictly for females.
None of this is true.
Men are more likely to develop heart disease, and millions of American men suffer with anxiety, stress and depression. Yoga can help with all of this, which makes it just as viable—if not more—for men as it is for women.
Yoga also has a significant impact on body composition, endurance and strength (6), contrary to what many seem to believe.
You don’t need to do yoga every day to reap the benefits. It certainly helps, and the more you do the more benefits you will experience, but even occasional practice can be beneficial to your health.
Just because experienced practitioners are doing it two or three times a day and bestselling books are recommending it at least once a day, doesn’t mean that you need to take the all or nothing approach.
Do what you can, when you can. If you can only make time to practice once or twice a week, that’s a great place to start. You can progress to daily practice once you are more experienced.
This myth is spread by many fans of yoga as a way of bringing others into the practice. They argue that yoga is as effective as calisthenics and other intense, aerobic exercises, but it’s not.
Yoga is great for relaxation, flexibility, strength and overall health, but it doesn’t work your body as much as a cardio or HIIT. That doesn’t mean that you should dismiss it altogether, but rather that you should be more realistic in your expectations.
Yoga is a practice that can help you to lead a healthy, happy, stress-free life; it’s something you can do in addition to other workouts, and not necessarily in place of them. Unless, of course, you simply want a workout that provides light stimulation, doesn’t stress your body too much and still offers a wealth of benefits, in which case yoga is perfect.
For every American that practices yoga on a regular basis, there are many more who want to practice it. Hopefully this article will help some of those people to take the leap.
The most important thing to remember is that while yoga is not the ultimate answer for all of your physical ailments, it is an easy, relaxing way to boost your health, improve muscle tone, and make your stronger and fit.
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