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10 health benefits of yoga — and easy moves to try now

TODAY spoke with some of the top yoga teachers about why yoga has become such a beloved exercise worldwide.

Today, June 21, is the first day of summer and International Yoga Day! To celebrate the longest day of the year and one of the most popular forms of exercise, TODAY spoke to several yoga experts about what they think has made it such an enduring, beloved form of exercise.

1. Yoga can help you relax.

Rod Stryker, founder of ParaYoga in Carbondale, Colorado, has been studying the practice since 1978, and he's found that the real benefit comes from how yoga can help people shift into a more relaxed, settled state, which makes most of the exercise's benefits possible.

"The real value is in yoga's ability to help the body and mind relax," he explained. "When a rhythm of relaxation is established, much of the healing that we associate to yoga becomes possible."

2. Some people experience mental health benefits from yoga.

Alison West, the New York-based director of the Yoga Union and the Yoga Union Backcare and Scoliosis Center, notes that yoga can have mental health benefits.

"It took me a while to appreciate how deeply [yoga] could alleviate my own anxiety and depression, but the results were significant," she said.

3. Yoga can boost your cardiovascular health.

Yoga's health benefits are twofold: in addition to mental health benefits, it also has physical benefits. Some studies show that Bikram yoga may help with cardiovascular health, and one of the more common benefits can be a decrease in high blood pressure.

4. Yoga can help people with back pain and spinal issues find relief.

West said that she emphasizes a focus on flexibility and posture, which can help with back pain and related spinal issues. Some yoga poses or stretches are great for reducing these types of pains.

5. The practice is adaptable for all experience levels.

Some people may prefer a more active, physical routine, but yoga can also be a less strenuous activity for newer practitioners.

"There are many styles to choose from, so depending upon your goals, personality, capabilities, physical capacities and intention, there is a style for you," said Stryker.

6. Anyone can do it.

Eddie Stern, a New York-based teacher of Ashtanga Yoga, said that he's found it's pretty easy to determine which yoga routines and styles will work for you, based on how they make you feel.

"You’ll know pretty quickly if something is too hard, or doesn’t make you feel good," said Stern. "If you have some schools near you, it’s OK to try a few different styles until you find one that you like — or more importantly, a teacher that you like."

7. There are countless types of yoga to try.

The increasing popularity of yoga means that there are a lot of styles and options to choose from. While it may be hard to choose where to start, you're sure to find a style that works best for you.

"Some people are very active by nature, so they may enjoy lots of yoga poses and breathing exercises," said Sri Dharma Mittra, who was one of the first independent yoga teachers on the East Coast. "Some people are calm already. Maybe they prefer to do lots of Yoga Nidra to charge up and get some answers."

8. You can practice at home.

There are YouTube yoga videos and home tutorials that mean you can work on your skills without ever leaving the house.

9. There's no complex equipment

There's also not a need for a lot of equipment — in fact, the only things you need are comfortable clothes to work out in and a yoga mat.

10. You can reap the benefits without a complicated routine.

It's possible to get some of the benefits from yoga from parts of the practice, like breathing exercises or basic stretches.

"Five minutes of correct breathing while waiting for someone can totally help," said Maty Ezraty, 55, who has been teaching yoga since 1985 and is currently based in Hawaii. "You can even learn how to do a few stretches, and nobody would notice that you're leaning in a certain way on the subway, releasing tension in your shoulders. I do this all the time on planes."

There are also some basic mental tricks that you can try that help reinforce some of yoga's main ideals, such as remaining at peace and being relaxed. Stryker recommended some basic exercises like mentally walking through your day at the end of the night, remembering what you were doing, thinking and feeling, a technique that he said can be decluttering and peaceful. He also recommended taking slow, deep breaths with your eyes closed, a technique that can help shift your nervous system into a calmer state.

"The true benefits of yoga come from its ability to help us relax," said Stryker. "I would recommend that people seek out guided relaxation techniques either in a class setting or at home. The bottom line is that by helping the body relax, you strengthen its healing capacity. In this day and age, there is nothing more valuable than relaxation."


This article was originally published in 2019.