concentration and mood
Harder to pin down and research scientifically, concentration and the ability to focus mentally are common benefits you will hear yoga students talk about. The same is true with mood. Nearly every yoga student will tell you they feel happier and more contented after class. Recently, researchers have begun exploring the effects of yoga on depression, a benefit that may result from yoga's boosting oxygen levels to the brain. Yoga is even being studied as an adjunct therapy to relieve symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Perhaps one of the most studied areas of the health benefits of yoga is its effect on heart disease. Yoga has long been known to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. A slower heart rate can benefit people with hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. Yoga was a key component to the heart disease program designed by Dean Ornish, MD. This was the first program to partly reverse heart disease through lifestyle and diet rather than surgery. On a biochemical level, studies pont to a possible anti-oxidant effect of yoga. Yoga has been associated with decreased cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as a boost in immune system function.
With increased flexibility and strength comes better posture. Most standing and sitting poses develop core strength. That's because you're counting on your deep abdominals to support and maintain each pose. With a stronger core, you're more likely to sit and stand "tall". Another benefit of yoga is the increased body awareness. This heightened awareness tells you more quickly when you're slouching or slumping, so you can adjust your posture.
less stress, more calm
Even beginners feel less stressed and more relaxed after their first class. Some yoga styles use specific meditation techniques to quiet the constant mind chatter that often underlies stress. Other yoga styles use deep breathing techniques to focus your mind on the breath. When this happens, your mind becomes calm.
Among yoga's anti-stress benefits are a host of biochemical responses. For example, there is a decrease in catecholamines, the hormones produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Lowering levels of neurotransmitters (dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine) creates a feeling of calm. Some research points to a boost in the hormone oxytocin. This is the so-called "trust" and "bonding" hormone that's associated with feeling relaxed and connected to others. That may be why so many romances start in the yoga studio...