It doesn't take much to see real physical and mental benefits.
I used to think of yoga as being good for relaxation and improving flexibility. Beyond that, I didn't think it served much purpose. How wrong I was! Research into the benefits of yoga has expanded greatly in recent years, with hundreds of studies now revealing the way in which it improves physical health, stabilizes emotions, focuses attention, and promotes overall peacefulness.
In their 2017 book, The Two Most Important Days: How to Find Your Purpose – and Live a Happier, Healthier Life, Harvard medical professors Sanjiv Chopra and Gina Vild can't say enough good about yoga, even calling it a "direct route to finding contentment, joy, and peace." First they debunk the notion that you must be flexible in order to do it:
"To say that you are not flexible enough to do yoga is like saying you are too dirty to take a bath."
They point to scientific evidence that shows that practicing yoga for as little as seven minutes per day has significant benefits. "Seven minutes! We can all fit seven minutes into our day to bring greater calm and joy in the rest of our days." There are apps and online videos that can guide you through a seven-minute daily practice.
If you do this, you could experience improvements in any of the following ways, all of which have been linked to yoga practice:
- Increased muscle strength
- Improved posture and spinal protection
- Increased blood and lymph flow
- Decreased cortisol levels (a hormone released in response to stress)
- Lower blood sugar
- Better quality sleep
- A balanced digestive system
- Reduced pain in the body
- More stable emotions
There is no single posture that seems to be the key to happiness. Anecdotal wisdom suggests that certain poses are better for relaxing and others for energizing/invigorating, but it's the correlation between having a daily practice and feeling less mood disruption and more happiness overall that is most valuable. The authors write,
"We know there is a connection, just like we know that jutting your chest forward will make you feel more confident and crossing your arms will make you feel less confident... We're confident that yoga researchers will continue to understand how different postures alter the biochemical pathways that support all these biopsychosocial benefits."
The scientific evidence will continue to roll in, but in the meantime, it sounds as if we'd be crazy not to get on our mats and put in a few minutes of yoga practice each day.