Daily yoga practice seems daunting at first, but over time, it can become as habitual as brushing your teeth. Never missing a day on the mat gives you the flexibility and strength benefits you seek. You'll also receive much in terms of mental and emotional clarity.
Even if you practice the same sequence day-in and day-out, you'll notice that your body never quite feels the same — and neither does your mind. Some days, yoga comes with ease, while other days it's a struggle to get to the mat. In this way, your daily practice becomes a metaphor for life.
1. Yoga Is Linked to Better Brain Health
In today's always-on-the-run world, your mind may be constantly spinning — thinking about what happened previously, what's currently going on and what's next on your to-do list. Yoga can help you stay in the present moment and clear your head, says Jessica Ray, yoga teacher at Back Bay Yoga Studio in Boston.
Not only can a daily yoga practice help you think straight, it can also help protect your brain. Indeed, yoga can have a positive effect on the structure and function of certain brain regions associated with age-related atrophy, according to a November 2019 systematic review published in Brain Plasticity. In other words, hitting the yoga mat may help to alleviate age-related and neurodegenerative declines as you get older.
2. It May Ease Anxiety
Yoga has been shown, as noted in an April 2015 paper in Ancient Science, to stimulate feel-good neurotransmitters to help improve your mindset and reduce nervous worry. What's more, practicing daily yoga and breathing exercises may decrease symptoms of anxiety and boost positive feelings in the short- and long-term, according to a November 2019 study in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice.
On days when you're feeling especially fretful or uneasy, try poses that open the front of the body or forward bends, which can stimulate the vagus nerve complex (part of the parasympathetic system that calms your fight-or-flight response), says Brendon Abram, author of Teaching Trauma-Sensitive Yoga and founder of Get Yoga in Ontario, Canada.
3. It's a Good Cross-Training Workout
Yoga complements a ton sports and fitness activities that don't incorporate stretching or emphasize balance training, such as golf or baseball. "Many professional sports teams now include yoga as part of their practice," says Laura Burkhart, yoga teacher and founder of Yoga Reach International in San Francisco.
"It helps them with the sporting activity in areas like balance, focus and endurance." If you're already a fitness buff — be it a runner, cyclist, tennis player or weight-lifter — try taking a page from the pros and add some yoga to the mix.
4. Yoga May Help You Sleep Better
If you find yourself tossing and turning at night, yoga may help you sleep more soundly. In fact, a national survey conducted in 2012 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 55 percent of Americans who practiced yoga reported improved zzzs.
So, how can yoga solve your issues with shut-eye? Through breath and movement, yoga teaches you how to regulate your energy state. "Mindful yoga practices can activate the parasympathetic nervous system to initiate the relaxation response which in turn drains off excess nervous energy and lowers arousal levels," Abram says.
The result? When your head hits the pillow, your mind and body are properly prepped for slumber.
5. It Can Be Customized for All Fitness Levels
Yoga allows you to move at your own pace and push yourself as little or as much as you'd like. Most poses have several variations, from basic to advanced, and modifications for a wide range of injuries.
"No matter your age, weight, strength or flexibility level, yoga is for anyone and everyone," Burkhart says. "It's an activity you can do even into old age."
Unlike many sports or fitness activities, in which the focus is on going farther or doing better, yoga respects — and celebrates — your physical strengths and limitations, so there's no need to be intimidated by anyone else in the class, Burkhart says. "It's a lot more kind to the body."
Read more: 10 Best Yoga Poses for Beginners
6. Yoga Improves Flexibility
For those who struggle to touch their toes, yoga may gradually ease stiff muscles. "Flexibility is something I have to consistently work on. It isn't something that comes naturally to me, so I fully understand the difficulty people have with this," says Ray, who adds that the key to enhanced flexibility is practicing yoga regularly.
And you don't even need to do it every day to see results. One small study found that a single yoga session a week for six weeks led to significant improvements in lumbar and hamstring flexibility, per the July 2014 issue of the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.
7. It Builds Community and Friendships
Any group workout can be a good way to meet others who share your interests. Burkhart has discovered yoga to be a healthy way to build community. "I've met my current best friends through yoga," she says. "Also, going to class is healthier than going to a bar. That doesn't mean you shouldn't go out, but it's nice having friends who are into healthy activities."
8. Yoga Inspires Self-Confidence
Mastering new poses expands your confidence in your physical strength and ability to learn something new. "As the practice builds strength in our bodies and minds, we start to become more confident in ourselves and our decisions," Ray says.
"The practice is a great reminder of how we are stronger than we think, both physically and mentally." You get a self-esteem boost while engaging in an activity that benefits your body and mind.
9. It Helps Relieve Stress
If you feel stressed from work or other demands, Ray recommends releasing your worries through yoga. "Just the simple act of taking a few deep breaths can help ease the mind and reduce stress as your body moves through poses," she says.
And there's science to prove it. A regular yoga practice (in this case three times a week for four weeks) can relieve stress, boost your mood and improve your overall sense of wellbeing, according to a February 2018 study published in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine.
"As you incorporate breath into each movement, the muscles in the body begin to relax and the places we hold our stress and tension start to release." Have a big presentation coming up? Roll out the yoga mat and run through a few sun salutations or simply sit quietly and meditate, focusing on the in and out of each breath.
10. Yoga Teaches You How to Breathe Properly
Deep breathing can relax you and help you deal with stress better. And a large part of yoga centers on the breath. "Yoga teaches you to breathe not only when it's easy, but also when things are difficult," Burkhart says.
You may not realize it, but when you're constantly on the go or in stressful situations, you sometimes forget to breathe — at least productively. The slow, deep-breathing techniques you learn in yoga can help in tense circumstances when you might find yourself taking quick, shallow breaths.
11. It May Ease Joint Pain
Those with arthritis might find themselves especially inspired to take up yoga. Studies of people with various types of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, indicate that practicing yoga regularly can help reduce joint pain, plus enhance joint flexibility and function, per the Arthritis Foundation.
Yoga's gentle, slow movements are an ideal activity for those suffering from these conditions and can also provide relief from painful symptoms for a more comfortable life. If you have arthritis — or any other joint issues — ask your doctor or yoga teacher for pose modifications.
12. Yoga Provides a Wide Variety of Options
The practice of yoga provides endless options in difficulty level and type. From toasty warm Bikram and hot yoga to more traditional Ashtanga and Iyengar to the trendy Vinyasa and power yoga, there are many different styles to explore.
Even within each kind there are endless possibilities to master increasingly difficult poses, and every yoga teacher brings his or her own style to the class.
For example, with Vinyasa yoga, there are hundreds of poses and variations that can be combined into a 60- or 90-minute class, so you're never doing the same flow twice. Tired of the treadmill? Feeling "blah" about bodybuilding? It might be time to give yoga a go.
13. It Helps Fight Osteoporosis
From a very tangible standpoint, a short daily practice may also reverse bone loss that leads to osteoporosis. An April 2016 issue of Topics of Geriatric Rehabilitation published a study of more than 700 women showing that 10 years of a near daily yoga practice consisting of 12 poses actually reversed bone loss that had reached the stage of osteopenia and osteoporosis. The practice took the participants just 12 minutes per day to execute.
14. Yoga Builds Better Balance
Practicing yoga is a great way to develop better balance. And, as you age, being steady on your feet is particularly important to help prevent serious falls. Indeed, for older people, yoga can lead to important improvements in balance (and mobility), according to a January 2016 systemic review and meta-analysis published in Age and Aging.
That's because good balance depends upon proprioception, says Abram. "Proprioception is the ability to sense where our body is in space, whether we are moving or standing still." Yoga not only builds better body awareness, but it also strengthens and tones the muscles that support and stabilize you.
15. It Improves Your Posture
Having perfect posture isn't just for show. Believe it or not, good posture plays a primary role in your overall health. In fact, carrying your body incorrectly can cause pain, injuries and other health issues, including musculoskeletal, digestive and respiratory problems, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Luckily, an active yoga practice can prevent you from falling prey to poor posture, per the NIH. That's because yoga helps you develop body awareness and strengthen your core, i.e., the stabilizing muscles around your back, abdomen and pelvis which work together to you hold your body in proper alignment.
16. Yoga May Ward Off Depression
More than 7 percent of American adults experienced a major depressive episode in 2017, according to the most recent data from the National Institute of Mental Health. Even if you don't currently live with clinical depression, yoga can help make those days when gloominess sets in a little more tolerable.
The same research in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice that found that yoga helps reduce anxiety also showed that it can improve depressive feelings. And a small January 2020 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine may start to explain why. Researchers found 90 minutes of Iyengar yoga led to an increase in gamma aminobutyric acid or GABA — a brain chemical that's often low in people with depression — and eased depression symptoms in people with the condition.
Better still, those benefits lasted for eight days, according to the study, meaning even a weekly yoga session could lift some of the fog. Focus especially on energizing poses, like back bends, Abram says.
Incorporate Yoga Into Your Daily Routine
New to yoga? Below, Abram offers his top tips for beginning a daily yoga practice, so you can start reaping all the major mind and body benefits.
- Dive in. "The main thing is just to start. If you are a beginning yoga student and find you're distracted at home or need more guidance, then go to a class."
- Experiment. "There are many different flavors of yoga — from very gentle to very vigorous. Try a few different styles and teachers and see what feels best for you."
- Carve out 20 minutes a day. "I have learned that 15 or 20 minutes is all it takes to realize some pretty significant benefits especially when it comes to releasing stress and relaxing."
- Squeeze in practice whenever you can. "Transition times are great times to sneak in a mini practice. You can do some great yoga standing on any horizontal surface or sitting in a chair."
- Have fun. "Don't judge yourself. Think of those balance poses as 'play for adults.' Enjoy the challenge of learning something new. Smile, and don't take yourself too seriously."
- Learn about yourself. "Practicing yoga can reveal a lot of things we may not have considered before. Each person in the room will be having a different experience based on their own strengths and needs. The more we study ourselves in a non-judgmental way, the more we can learn to be the very best versions of ourselves."
- Keep practicing. "So many people try yoga one or two times and then never go back even if they really liked it. Growth comes with time and commitment. Those people you see in class nailing every single pose have probably been practicing yoga for years."
- Brain Plasticity: “Yoga Effects on Brain Health: A Systematic Review of the Current Literature.”
- Journal of Psychiatric Practice: “Psychological Function, Iyengar Yoga, and Coherent Breathing: A Randomized Controlled Dosing Study.”
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Use of Complementary Health Approaches in the U.S.: National Health Interview Survey.”
- Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies: “The effects of selected asanas in Iyengar yoga on flexibility: Pilot study.”
- Mayo Clinic: “Yoga: Fight stress and find serenity.”
- Arthritis Foundation: “Yoga Benefits for Arthritis.”
- Age and Ageing: “Yoga-based exercise improves balance and mobility in people aged 60 and over: a systematic review and meta-analysis.”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: Medline Plus: “Guide to Good Posture.”
- National Institute of Mental Health: “Major Depression.”
- Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: "Thalamic Gamma Aminobutyric Acid Level Changes in Major Depressive Disorder After a 12-Week Iyengar Yoga and Coherent Breathing Intervention"