If you've practiced yoga for a while you know it makes your body feel great. You might also feel mentally, even spiritually uplifted. Scientific analysis is now explaining how it all works.
Balances the nervous system
Yoga practice affects the autonomic nervous system that causes the “fight or flight” response to stress. Nowadays our stress response stays in the “on” position at times it shouldn’t. Yoga helps balance the body’s stress response by reducing levels of the hormone cortisol.
As well as suppressing the stress response, yoga actually stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which calms us down. When the parasympathetic nervous system switches on blood is directed toward endocrine glands, digestive organs, and lymphatic circulation, while the heart rate and blood pressure are lowered. With the parasympathetic nervous system in gear our bodies can better extract nutrients from the food we eat, and more effectively eliminate toxins because circulation is enhanced. Through Yoga the body naturally enters into a state of restoration, healing and balance.
Researchers have also discovered that yoga improves health by reducing a major adversary of the body: inflammation. Chronic inflammation, even low grade, is responsible for a number of problems from heart disease to diabetes to depression. These effects have been seen in studies of heart failure patients at a molecular level not just muscular or skeletal.
Improves your mood
Yoga also boosts levels of the feel-good brain chemicals like GABA, serotonin, and dopamine, which are responsible for feelings of relaxation and contentedness, and the way the brain processes rewards. All three are the targets of various antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. Who needs drugs when you've got yoga?
Boosts immune system
This benefit is probably due to the reduction of cortisol, mentioned earlier: too much of this hormone can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system by immobilizing certain white blood cells. Reducing cortisol removes this barrier to effective immune function.
If you want even more reasons to practice yoga, read 77 Reasons why yoga is good for you.