If you practice yoga five days a week you’ll just turn into a Gumby doll, right? Eh, maybe. Though a regular yoga practice does increase flexibility and help strengthen and lengthen your muscles, there are some not so obvious benefits to getting your “om” on regularly. From better bowel movements to steamier sex, you might be surprised what a little time on the mat can do for you.
There are plenty of high-fiber and probiotic-rich foods that can help get things moving, but practicing yoga can also benefit your digestive system. "There are many postures, especially twists, designed to massage the internal organs and keep food moving along," says Yoga Means Business co-founder and yoga director Jen Kluczkowski. "Easier digestion equals more energy for the body. In yoga, we always twist right first, then left, to follow the path of the digestive system.”
Sometimes you can’t help but shovel food into your mouth, especially post-workout when your body is desperate for some fuel. However, yoga can build up your defenses against the urge to go overboard. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that a steady yoga practice is tied to mindful eating, particularly through breath awareness, which strengthens the mind-body connection. “The quality of the breath is a direct reflection of what is going on in the body. [Through yoga you learn to read it and work with it]," says Genevieve Gilbreath, founder of Herbal Zap L.L.C.
You may have heard that exercising can improve brain function, but yoga specifically has some very real mental benefits. “Yoga uses the body and breath as tools to create equanimity and clarity in the mind," says Kluczkowski. "By synching movement with steady, conscious breath, we feel less stress and can better focus. A study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that 20 minutes of Hatha yoga stimulates brain function more than walking or jogging on the treadmill for the same amount of time."
According to a study published in the journal PLoSOne, yoga has been found to boost immunity at the cellular level through changes in gene expression. According to the research, these benefits can be experienced rather quickly—while you’re still on the mat. In addition, by simply improving your overall health, yoga is able to strengthen your internal defense system.
Yes, you read that correctly. Time spent on the mat can greatly enhance your time spent between the sheets. There are a few avenues in which yoga can improve your sex life. One, it makes you more flexible—enough said. Two, it helps reduce anxiety and increases body awareness and confidence. Finally, on a physical level, it speeds the release of hormones that boost arousal and increase blood flow to the genital area, which is important for erections. May want to make sure she's into yoga, too. A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found yoga to seriously enhance a woman’s experience in the bedroom via greater lubrication, and more powerful orgasms as a result of strengthening the pelvic floor muscles.
“It's becoming better known that insights, creativity, and ideas only come by giving yourself space and stillness," says Kluczkowski. "And yoga and meditation are becoming increasingly essential to success in today's business world. Yoga moves the body, creating physical space and stirring up energy. Then, when we sit in meditation, we observe that energy settle so we feel deep stillness. This extra 'head space' leads to better decisions, better work relationships, and increased productivity.”
“One of the biggest benefits of yoga is that it can activate the parasympathetic nervous system," notes Gilbreath. This offsets the fight-or-flight responses associated with the sympathetic nervous system. "Yoga also helps to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Most people have too much stress in their lives and thus too much cortisol in their bodies. Excess cortisol can suppress thyroid function, decrease muscle tissue, increase blood pressure, lower immunity, and increase inflammatory responses." So by practicing yoga, you help counteract those effects.