10 Ways Yoga Actually Changes Your Body

A woman standing in front of a building Yoga

Yoga is a practice that links physical practice (postures) with meditative breathing to achieve length, strength, and overall well-being. But what specifically does that mean? What benefits will you experience when you take up a regular yoga practice?

Keep in mind: a “regular” yoga practice is generally a total of at least 2 hours per week – that doesn’t need to be two 1-hour classes; it can be four 30-minute classes, or 15-20 minutes daily here and there. If that’s not possible, that’s totally OK too – any yoga is better than no yoga!

The Visible Changes of Yoga

Do you ever see someone super limber and think “yeah, (s)he does yoga…” These are the physical benefits you’ll enjoy that you’ll notice in the mirror (and others may just notice in the grocery checkout line…)

1. Improves Flexibility

10 Ways Yoga Actually Changes Your Body

Think you can’t touch your toes? A consistent yoga practice will prove to you that you can. In fact, one study has proven that a practice of 90 minutes just one time per week for 4 months resulted in the participants reaching an average of 4 cm closer to the floor/their feet. Imagine what practicing 2-3 times a week could do!

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2. Tones the Body & Helps you Lose Weight

10 Ways Yoga Actually Changes Your Body

Yoga is not easy – and it’s not just due to flexibility constrictions. Many yoga postures are meant to build strength, especially ones like Chair, the Warrior series, Chaturanga, and more. When you tone the body, you build more muscle. Muscle burns more calories at resting than fat does – so your “resting” calorie burn will be higher, resulting in weight loss (as long as your caloric consumption remains the same).

You’ll experience toned biceps and triceps as a result of chaturangas, chiseled leg muscles as a result of balancing postures along with deep squats and lunges, and a whittled waist as a result of constant core engagement.

Keep in mind – muscle does weigh more than fat – if you’re a slave to the scale, you may allow yourself to be frustrated by the number not changing, when in fact, your body is changing. If your goal is to lose a few pounds, consider switching that goal to losing centimeters or inches, and measure your progress by how your clothes fit and how you feel – not by that number by your toes.

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3. Improves Mobility

10 Ways Yoga Actually Changes Your Body

Isn’t this the same as flexibility? Nope. Flexibility is the ability of the muscle to lengthen – it’s predominantly about muscle; mobility is the ability for a joint to move through its socket’s full range of motion – it’s about your tendons, ligaments, fascia, and bones.

Your joint’s mobility is how you get from point A to B, whereas flexibility is how far you’re able to go into point A or point B. Think of it as how you’re able to get in and out of a position comfortably – do you find yourself struggling to stand up from seated, or struggling to bend down and pick something up? That’s a lack of mobility.

4. Improves Posture

10 Ways Yoga Actually Changes Your Body

Yoga trains you to be hyper-aware of where you body is in space, teaching you cues to bring your bones into proper alignment. As you become more aware of your skeletal alignment, you re-train your muscles to “hold” the body in that correct space. The more you practice, the more you break the bad posture habit and replace it with a good posture habit.

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Good posture doesn’t just benefit you physically – it also benefits you internally; when you’re in proper form, all of your internal organs are in their optimal position as well – meaning better digestion!

5. Improves Balance

10 Ways Yoga Actually Changes Your Body

Proper posture + the strength to hold them = better balance; it’s yoga math!

Practicing yoga biweekly for 10 weeks will allow you to balance an average of 4 seconds longer in each balancing posture!

Keep in mind: a majority of your balance stems from your core strength – when you have an activated core, your body is stable, so your brain sends your muscles the “go-ahead” to enter different and new ranges of motion, because it feels that it’s safe to do so. The best, and fastest, way to improve your balance is by strengthening your core (so that’s why my yoga teacher is always making us hold Plank and Boat…)

 The Invisible Changes of Yoga

These are the changes that occur inside your body– you may not see them in the mirror, but you’ll feel your life and health change as a result.

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6. Decreases Stress & Anxiety

10 Ways Yoga Actually Changes Your Body

Just 12 weeks of yoga practice (2-3 times per week) shows marked reduction in depression and anxiety – but how/why?

Yoga reduces:

  • Your stress hormone levels – adrenaline and cortisol
  • C-reactive proteins in the blood that contribute to inflammation – which affects you physically and mentally

Yoga increases:

  • Your “happiness hormones” – serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine
  • GABA– neurotransmitters in the brain that basically signal your brain and body to relax. In fact, compared to 12 weeks of walking, 12 weeks of yoga for the same amount of time increases GABA significantly more.

7. Improves Cognition & Focus

10 Ways Yoga Actually Changes Your Body

Your brain structure literally changes with a yoga practice– both in the short-term and long term.

In the short term: after just 20 minutes of yoga practice, study participants had better speed and accuracy scores on working memory and inhibitory control tests than after they tried an aerobic exercise session of the same length.

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In the long term: yoga practitioner’s brain scans show markedly higher grey matter in the brain than non-yogis, specifically in the prefrontal cortex (responsible for decision making and cognitive behavior). Additionally, after 6 months of practice, yogis’ hippocampi (responsible for emotional regulation and memory storage) increased in size compared to non-practitioners.

The in-a-nutshell version: Basically, in the short-term, you can focus better; in the long-term, your brain gets smarter, faster, and stronger (just like your muscles!), you’ll have better memory, and you’ll make better decisions.

8. Increases Energy

10 Ways Yoga Actually Changes Your Body

The main way yoga increases energy is simply by bringing you back to your breath– we don’t realize how often we are holding our breath, or simply not taking quality breaths. Breath is our life force that allows energy to move through our bodies– even simply breathing better, without any poses, will energize you.

Additionally, since yoga regulates your hormones and changes your neuroplasticity, you’ll sleep better (so you wake up well rested) and focus better (so you get more things done in less time– leaving energy for other things!).

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What’s more, your physical practice will improve your stamina and strength– were you someone that always took the elevator? You’ll notice you now have energy to take the stairs, and the more you build on this brain and body stamina, the more your energy will expand to fulfill it!

 9. Lowers Blood Pressure

10 Ways Yoga Actually Changes Your Body

There are many factors effecting blood pressure, some that are modifiable and some that are not. But things like stress, diet, weight, and lifestyle choice are all modifiable factors and have been shown to show great improvement with yoga.

Here are some studies and their results to back these claims up:

1 year of yoga practice 3 times a week (60 minutes each practice) caused 50% of participants who started the study experiencing high blood pressure and additional MetS cluster characteristics no longer met the MetS criterion– in other words, their blood pressure was lowered.

6 months of yoga practice 3 times a week reduced LDL cholesterol by an average of 12 points.

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6 weeks of yoga practice improved heart rate and blood pressure variability.

After 6-12 weeks of yoga practice, it also:

  •       Lowers heart rate by an after of 5 BPM
  •       Reduces BMI by approximately 1 point
  •       Reduces diastolic blood pressure by an average of 5 points

10. Reduces Pain

10 Ways Yoga Actually Changes Your Body

Yoga reduces both chronic and acute pain when practiced correctly:

Chronic pain improvement: remember that gray matter in the brain we discussed up in #7? Turns out that more gray matter also helps your brain’s ability to regulate the pain response, which is especially helpful for people who experience chronic pain, arthritis, and/or fibromyalgia.

Acute pain improvement (lower back): the biggest improve people experience after practicing yoga is in their back. Did you know that 80% of adult Americans experience, or will experience, back pain at some point? Yoga is an excellent solution– in fact in a 3-month long study of practicing yoga 2-3 times per week (60 minutes each practice), 70% of the yogis reported a reduction in back pain!

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This is mainly as a result of more flexible hamstrings, which allow you to release tension in the lower back (recall # 1 on our list? These go hand in hand.)

Acute pain improvement (as a result of sitting): the neck, shoulders, pelvis, and back are often compromised as a result of long periods of sitting throughout the day (4 hours or more at a time); yoga’s expansive stretching has proven to reduce this pain, and counteract the slouching, by up to 40%.

 

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