Yoga is widely accepted as a healthy practice. Surveys focused on yoga practitioners routinely show a high level of satisfaction with the results. As many as 20% of adults practice yoga at least once a year. (Learn More — Yoga)
Yoga help support overall health in three key ways. First, it helps reduce stress through a combination of physical activity, meditation, and breathing exercises. Second, it increases a person’s fitness level, improving their strength, flexibility, and more.
Finally, it can help with a variety of chronic conditions, such as chronic pain. It can even reduce your risk of developing some conditions altogether. (Learn More — Yoga’s Known Benefits)
The risks associated with yoga are comparable to other forms of moderate exercise. Yoga should be safe for most people to practice, although if you are older or have certain health conditions, you should ask your doctor before trying it out. (Learn More — Risks of Yoga)
Yoga is a healthy, beneficial practice for most people. It can be easily adapted to the level of intensity you need and your individual limitations. (Learn More — Is Yoga Worth It?)
Yoga and similar meditative movement practices have been around in some form for centuries – or longer. While at least some of yoga’s history may be more modern than some people think, the actual practice of yoga has enough known benefits that it is worth learning about.
In the United States, yoga generally focuses on three pillars:
- Physical postures (asanas)
- Breathing techniques (pranayama)
- Meditation (dyana)
A 2017 survey reported that about one in seven adults practiced yoga at least once that year, while about one in 12 children (ages 4 to 17) did the same. The practice has proved immensely popular and, at least anecdotally, seems to be viewed by practitioners as highly valuable.
A 2012 survey found that:
- 86% of practitioners felt it reduced stress
- 82% claimed it improved their overall health and made them feel better
- 67% said it helped them feel better emotionally
- 63% reported it motivated them to exercise more regularly
- 59% said it helped them sleep better
While self-reported data can certainly be of value, this sort of praise may leave some people wondering what medical professionals and scholarly research say about yoga. While not without its risks, yoga is generally seen in quite a positive light by professionals in the medical field.
Yoga’s Known Benefits
Yoga has a wide range of benefits. Your results will vary based on how often you practice, and the length and intensity of your routines.
The three most common benefits of yoga are:
- Stress reduction. It is fairly well-known that physical activity can reduce stress. Yoga essentially combines physical activity with meditation and breathing techniques, helping you center yourself and feel calm.
- Improved fitness. Yoga can improve your balance, flexibility, strength, and more, depending on the poses you choose and the intensity of your workout. Bear in mind that if fitness and flexibility are your goals, you will want to make sure your routine is not too calm and easy. If you have a chronic health condition or are elderly, talk to a doctor about the ideal level of intensity for you.
- Chronic condition management. There is some evidence that suggests yoga can help diminish the effects of some chronic conditions, such as chronic pain. It also helps many people deal with depression and anxiety disorders, thanks to its stress-reducing abilities. Yoga can also decrease your risk of developing heart disease and high blood pressure.
Yoga can also help you lose weight, as long as you choose the right type of routine. Similarly to cardio or weight-based workouts, longer and more intense routines are an important component of weight loss. Additionally, you need to keep up with your routines. Weight loss is likely to be moderate and gradual, but yoga can help you meet your goals.
Interestingly, yoga may also be able to help people quit smoking. Based on 10 studies (with a total of a relatively small group of 484 participants), it was found that yoga can reduce smoking cravings and the number of cigarettes people smoked.
Risks of Yoga
While its risks are about the same as any other form of physical activity, it is possible to harm yourself during yoga. The practice is not especially dangerous, and its risks are lower than those associated with high-impact physical activity.
The most common injuries among yoga practitioners are strains and sprains. Unless you know what you’re doing, you should practice yoga under the guidance of a qualified instructor. If you are new to yoga, avoid more difficult postures like headstands.
Older people and those with vision problems, balance problems, uncontrolled blood pressure, a herniated disk, or people at risk of developing blood clots should talk to a doctor before doing yoga. It’s generally a good idea to speak to a doctor before doing yoga if you are pregnant, though it is generally safe for pregnant women.
Some injuries, such as sprains or broken bones, can potentially be exacerbated by exercise, including yoga. While many people simply take a break when recovering from such an injury, talk to your doctor if you decide to continue exercising.
Some types of yoga are more intense than others. For example, hot yoga is practiced in a studio that is generally heated to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This type of yoga should not be practiced if you have problems staying hydrated, heat intolerance, a history of heat-related illness, or heart disease.
If you choose to practice hot yoga, make sure to stay hydrated. Stop immediately if you feel sick, dizzy, or lightheaded, as it could be a sign that you are dehydrated or experiencing the early symptoms of heatstroke.
Is Yoga Worth It?
The vast majority of people benefit from adopting a yoga routine. It can easily be scaled up or down to a level of intensity that suits you, and it offers myriad benefits with very few downsides.
The risks associated with yoga are about the same as any other moderate form of exercise, although they may be higher if you engage in particularly intense yoga. As long as you are careful not to overextend yourself, especially with the help of a qualified instructor, the net positives will outweigh the risks for most individuals.
Yoga has the potential to improve both your physical and mental health. While larger studies focusing on more specific benefits would be helpful, there is enough evidence available to confirm that yoga is a good choice overall.
Those Yoga Poses May Not Be Ancient After All, And Maybe That’s OK. (June 1, 2015). NPR.
Yoga: What You Need To Know. (May 14, 2019). National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).
Yoga: Fight Stress and Find Serenity. (September 12, 2019). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).
Prenatal Yoga: What You Need to Know. (January 17, 2019). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).
What Is Hot Yoga? (October 26, 2018). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).
Association of Yoga Exercises and Vertebral Compression Fractures. (September 15, 2018). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).
Physical Activity Reduces Stress. Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).