Time to get limber

Yoga is good for the mind, body and soul. With more than 3,000 years of evidence to draw from, the argument for yoga is clear: Improved flexibility, mental acuity and stress relief are just a few of the reasons you should take up the practice today.

The American Osteopathic Association offers a concise list of the benefits of yoga:

  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased muscle strength and tone
  • Improved respiration, energy and vitality
  • Metabolic maintenance
  • Weight maintenance or reduction
  • Cardiovascular and circulatory health
  • Improved performance
  • Injury prevention

While all of these benefits are real and helpful, the experience goes much deeper than a simple, clinical list. For example, increased flexibility results in better range of motion. A better range of motion results in better balance. Better balance results in improved coordination, and improved coordination results in a spry, youthful existence, even with age. Individuals with a keen sense of balance and coordination are less likely to experience falls and fall-related injuries, a major factor in healthy aging.

Check out a few of the other unheralded benefits of yoga.

Improved digestion

Yoga poses involve a lot of bending, twisting and stretching. All of these moves result in a palpation of core muscles and soft internal organs, like the stomach and intestines. This internal massage encourages peristalsis, the wave-like movements of the intestines that aid digestion. Yogic breathing also reduces stress and increases the flow of oxygen to the cells, all of which enables your body to work more effectively. The result is improved digestion and waste management, both of which help flush toxins from your system in a timely fashion.

Improved sports performance

Participation in sports is a multifaceted beast requiring mind and body awareness. Talented athletes are only able to offer up peak performance when they appropriately manage stress and prevent injuries. Yoga teaches athletes to focus on breathing and tune out external distractions that could hinder performance. Yoga also improves flexibility, coordination and body awareness, all of which are key factors for athletes.

Leslee, a runner, yogi and blogger at Her Happy Balance, says, "I recently took up yoga and have really noticed a benefit in keeping my legs spry and healthy for running. Hot yoga especially has loosened up my muscles. I find the pigeon pose particularly helpful in keeping my hamstrings flexible."

Whether you're a runner, basketball player or archer, you can take advantage of the mind-body benefits of yoga.

Better circulation

While all physical activity improves circulation by increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery to the cells, yoga improves circulation in ways not every activity can. Unlike running or traditional sports, yoga incorporates inverted poses, such as shoulder stands and down dogs, which place the head below the heart. Many of these poses actually place the legs above the head, and because circulation typically requires your blood to flow against gravity as it returns to your heart from your extremities, these upside-down poses make it easier for your circulatory system to return blood to your heart in a process termed "venous return." Inverted poses also increase blood flow to the brain, improving concentration and mental function. Essentially, inversions allow your body to take advantage of gravity, rather than work against gravity, in ways that improve body, mind and soul.