16 Surprising Things That Happen To Your Body When You Do Yoga

Time to hit the mat.

by Sadie Trombetta and Kathleen Ferraro
Originally Published: 
16 surprising health benefits of yoga to know about.

Charlize Theron swears by yoga, Gisele Bündchen loves to Instagram it, and Christy Turlington even wrote a book about it. But celebrity endorsements aren't the only reason you should consider unrolling your mat. Outside of the standard health perks you get from most forms of exercise, like muscle strength and improved endurance, there are some surprising health benefits of yoga that just might give you a reason to make your way into downward dog.

The good news is there's no right way to reap the benefits of yoga, says certified yoga instructor Abi Humber. Her tip? Start by finding the style that works best for you, from powerful vinyasa flows to a more gentle restorative sequence or sweat-inducing hot yoga classes. Research shows that yoga of any kind can help build strength, flexibility, and coordination. And that's not to mention the ways it can benefit your emotional health, too: Yoga builds a connection between your physical and mental worlds, which can help you release stress and feel more calm.

That's not all, though — a yoga practice can serve your body and mind in ways you'd never expect. Whether you're trying yoga for the first time or dusting off your mat after a hiatus, here are 16 surprising benefits of yoga to motivate your practice.

1. It Reduces Risk Of Heart Disease

Yoga gets your body moving and blood pumping, which can help regulate your blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress levels to reduce risk for heart disease, according to 2014 research published in the Indian Heart Journal.

Plus, working yoga into your routine can be the catalyst to living a healthier, more conscious lifestyle overall, says Halle Miroglotta, a certified yoga and meditation instructor. Feeling great after one class might be all the convincing you need to start a regular practice, and frequent exercise is a major contributing factor when it comes to reducing heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.

2. It Helps You Sleep Better

It's a well-known fact that regular exercise helps you get better sleep, but if you really want to improve your bedtime routine, try yoga. Yoga often focuses on controlled breathing, meditation, and gentle, full-body stretches, which science shows can help calm down your body and mind just in time for you to drift off into dreamland.

3. It Can Help Cure A Hangover

The last thing you want to do after a heavy night of drinking is wake up and exercise, but it turns out that yoga can actually help ease the pains of a hangover. Certain postures like mountain pose and cobra pose can help relieve that stiff neck you got from falling asleep on the couch, according to research published in the International Journal of Yoga. Science also shows that exercise can help your body process alcohol, and lower-impact activities like yoga can do just that while going easier on your touchy tummy than more higher-intensity sports like running. Forget the Gatorade and greasy breakfast sandwich: Yoga is the hangover cure you didn't know you needed.

4. It Relieves Stress And Anxiety

Yoga is often cited for its calming effects, and those feelings go well beyond the hour you spend on your mat, says Miroglotta. Research shows regular yoga can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression in your life overall. And yoga's mind-body practice, which combines controlled breathing and meditation with movement, can even lower your blood pressure and heart rate to de-stress you physically. Doesn't that sound relaxing?

5. It Can Improve Memory Problems

Yoga can also set you up for a healthier brain as you age, according to a 2016 study from neuroscientists at UCLA. The research showed that a 3-month yoga and meditation program can help reduce thinking and memory problems linked to developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease. The study also found that yoga works better than brain trainers like puzzles and crosswords when it comes to cognitive problem management. Take that, Sudoku.

6. It Boosts Your Self-Image

It can be exhilarating to nail a pose or inversion for the first time, and even more satisfying when you realize that simple tricks like deep breathing helped you get there, says Humber. And those tools can power self-confidence off your mat, she tells Bustle. "You can meet everyday challenges with purposeful breath and tender acceptance rather than gritting your teeth and plowing through," she says. "In-class cues like 'notice what's happening and breathe through it, without trying to change it' become powerful tools of self-regulation and self-trust during a mind-meltingly frustrating situation at work, for example."

7. It Can Help You Find Your Imbalances

You typically flow through a yoga sequence on both sides of your body. Doing the same thing on each side can help you notice differences between seemingly identical body parts, says Humber. Maybe your left shoulder is tighter than your right, or you balance better on one foot than the other. Whatever your asymmetries are, noticing them can help you build the awareness necessary to better understand, appreciate, and take care of your body, she explains.

8. It Soothes Arthritis

People suffering from arthritis often have a limited range of motion, so you might think yoga isn't an option. Think again. Gentle yoga can help rebuild arthritis patients' strength, flexibility, and balance, and relieve tender and swollen joints, according to research published in the journal Rheumatic Diseases Clinics of North America.

9. It Supports Your Immune System

Everybody could use an immune system boost these days, so say hello to the disease-fighting power of yoga. Science shows that a regular practice can lower inflammation to help your immune system work its best. Doing yoga can also boost your blood flow to better circulate disease-fighting immune cells throughout your body to keep you healthy.

10. It Helps Ease Treatment Side Effects

Treatments for serious illnesses, like chemotherapy for cancer patients, can ravage the body with side effects that can be as unpleasant as the disease itself. Luckily, yoga can help. Research shows that a regular yoga practice can help reduce fatigue, lower stress, and improve physical functioning to make your treatment journey a little easier to shoulder.

11. It Reduces The Occurrence Of Migraines

If you're prone to migraines, you'd probably do anything to get rid of one. So why not try some sun salutations? Yoga can help reduce the frequency and intensity of your migraines, according to a 2014 study published in the International Journal of Yoga. Hitting your mat can also help manage stress and other triggers that lead to awful headaches.

12. It Improves Your Sex Life

Yoga can improve your sex life in more ways than one. It can increase your energy, up your sex drive, and even help you have stronger orgasms, giving the phrase "namaste in bed" a whole new meaning.

13. It Can Help Improve Fertility

Women's fertility is a complicated science, but certain benefits of yoga can help promote the healthy functioning necessary for reproduction. Because yoga can help manage stress, having more balanced stress levels may in turn balance your hormone levels for improved reproductive function, according to research published in the journal Ancient Science of Life. So while yoga flows aren't a magic wand for fertility problems, this healthy habit can help set you up for success.

14. It Helps Balance Your Hormones

Even if you're not trying to have a baby, you can still benefit from the balanced hormone levels you'll experience from regular yoga. When your hormones are in check, it can help boost your mood, up your sex drive, improve your sleep, and increase your energy levels.

15. It Makes You A Better Athlete

Even if yoga isn't your main form of fitness, it can help improve your performance during your preferred sweat sesh, says Miroglotta. Research shows yoga can boost your balance, flexibility, strength, endurance, and coordination, all while taking it easy on joints and tissue tired from your usual activity. So whether you're a regular runner or a live for your beach volleyball team, integrating regular yoga can help you excel wherever it matters most.

16. It Gives You Insights Into Your Patterns

During a yoga class, your instructor will often call your attention to your breath or prompt you to release tension in different parts of your body. And this awareness can persist off your mat, too, says Humber. Maybe you'll start noticing that you tense your jaw when you're nervous at work, that you hold your breath while you doomscroll, or have a disparaging inner monologue. Discovering these patterns is the first step to changing them, she says. "The awareness that yoga invites you to embody starts to leak into your real life, which gives you the power to unlock major transformation."

Studies referenced:

Buffart, L. (2012). Physical and psychosocial benefits of yoga in cancer patients and survivors, a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. BMC Cancer, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3571972/

Bussing, A. (2012). Effects of Yoga on Mental and Physical Health: A Short Summary of Reviews. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3447533/

Ebnezar, J. (2012). Effect of integrated yoga therapy on pain, morning stiffness and anxiety in osteoarthritis of the knee joint: A randomized control study. International Journal of Yoga. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3276929

El-Sayed, M. (2005). Interaction between alcohol and exercise: physiological and haematological implications. Sports Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15730339/

Eyre, H. (2016). Changes in Neural Connectivity and Memory Following a Yoga Intervention for Older Adults: A Pilot Study. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease/jad150653

Falkenberg, R. (2018). Yoga and immune system functioning: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29429046/

Haaz, S. (2011). Yoga for Arthritis: A Scoping Review. Rheumatic Diseases Clinics of North America, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3026480/

Kisan, R. (2014). Effect of Yoga on migraine: A comprehensive study using clinical profile and cardiac autonomic functions. International Journal of Yoga, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4097897/

Krishna, B. (2014). Effect of Yoga Therapy on Heart Rate, Blood Pressure and Cardiac Autonomic Function in Heart Failure. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939525

Manchanda, S. (2014). Yoga – A promising technique to control cardiovascular disease. Indian Heart Journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4223195/

Mehling, W. (2011). Body Awareness: a phenomenological inquiry into the common ground of mind-body therapies. Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3096919/

Polsgrove, M. (2016). Impact of 10-weeks of yoga practice on flexibility and balance of college athletes. International Journal of Yoga, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728955

Rao, R. (2017). Role of Yoga in Cancer Patients: Expectations, Benefits, and Risks: A Review. Indian Journal of Palliative Care, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5545945/

Sengupta, P. (2012). Challenge of infertility: How protective the yoga therapy is? Ancient Science of Life, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3733210/

Wang, W. (2020). The effect of yoga on sleep quality and insomnia in women with sleep problems: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7193366/

Woodyard, C. (2011). Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. International Journal of Yoga, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3193654/


Abi Humber, RYT-200, Chicago-based yoga instructor

Halle Miroglotta, Chicago-based yoga and meditation instructor and host of the podcast Home Practice With Halle: Yoga Tools for Every Body

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