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Active Travels: 7 Health Benefits Of Yoga

By Lisa A. Beach

If you think practicing yoga simply means twisting yourself into a pretzel, think again. Far beyond “doing poses,” yoga takes a holistic approach to your mental and physical well-being — and it’s accessible for people of all ages and abilities. Best of all, it’s a great way to stay active while you’re traveling.

National Yoga Month

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) describes yoga as an ancient, mind-body practice rooted in spiritual origins that emphasizes physical movements and postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and relaxation or meditation (dyana). Because it melds physical and mental disciplines, yoga can help enhance a peaceful state of body and mind.

Over the years, many research studies have suggested that practicing yoga contributes positively to your health — but how, exactly? Since September celebrates National Yoga Month, take a look at how practicing yoga can boost your health from head to toe.

1. Manage Stress, Anxiety, And Depression

Yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system (aka the body’s “rest and digest” system). The deep breathing and relaxation infused into a yoga session may halt the body's stress response. According to the American Psychological Association, more clinicians are “encouraging yoga as a tool clients can use … to cope with stress and anxieties, and even heal emotional wounds.”

2. Boost Heart Health

Thanks to its relaxation effects on mind and body, yoga can help reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, decrease stress, and reduce body mass index, says the American Heart Association.

3. Improve Flexibility

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, engaging in slow movements and deep breathing can warm up muscles and increase blood flow, and holding a pose builds strength. Yoga can vary in intensity, form, and style. But regardless of how you practice yoga, it can increase your flexibility — especially helpful for older adults who lose flexibility as they age.

4. Relieve Chronic Pain

With its slow movements and gentle stretching, yoga provides an accessible way to ease common aches and pains (including the discomfort of tender, swollen joints due to arthritis) and improve mobility. In fact, the American College of Physicians recommends treating low back pain with yoga.

5. Help You Sleep Better

Yoga can increase levels of melatonin (the hormone that helps regulate sleep), enhance endorphins (the hormones that boost mood and lower stress) and reduce heightened anxiety, says the American Sleep Association. All of this helps improve your sleep quality.

6. Improve Balance And Strength

The Mayo Clinic says that practicing yoga can help improve your balance, stability, flexibility, strength, and range of motion — all of which can help support good posture and reduce your risk of falling or injury.

7. Manage Chronic Diseases

Research shows that yoga offers a practical intervention to lower inflammation in many chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and Crohn’s disease, thanks to its ability to decrease inflammatory biochemical markers. In fact, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says that yoga “helps people with chronic diseases manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.”

Ready to get your Zen on? Look for registered yoga teachers and studios through the Yoga Alliance. If you’re traveling, many resorts offer yoga classes as part of their amenities, so consider trying a class while you’re on vacation.