Why Does Yoga Work?

Woman laying down on back with eyes shut relaxed and doing a yoga stretch. Right leg is lifted and being held in her hand stretching her hamstring.

Pretty much everyone has heard that yoga is good for you – that it keeps you calm and limber. But have you ever wondered why it works? It’s not just that you’re stretching – if you’re a generally tight person, you know that just stretching every day doesn’t always do the job. So then what is it? Keep reading below to find out.

1. Linking Breath and Movement Forces You to Stay Present

If you’re in a flow class, you’ve likely heard the teacher cuing you to inhale on a particular part of a move, and exhale on another. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. It makes it easier to do the move on an exhale if it’s a hard and more strenuous movement.
  2. Focusing on when you’re breathing is going to force you to stay present. You can’t really be thinking about the next thing you have to do while simultaneously figuring out when you’re supposed to breathe in and out. This focused presence is what helps you calm down and relax – your brain has stopped focusing on the past or things to do in the future and just focuses on the here and now.
2. Focusing on Your Breathing Relaxes Your Nervous System

When you focus on your breath it has an impact on your nervous system. Your nervous system is the thing that amps up for fight or flight or any stressful situation. Your nervous system also has a huge impact on your physical body – tightness is often a result of the nervous system being in a high stress situation. It can also be the result of the nervous system not feeling safe. So if we can impact our nervous system by focusing on breathing, we’re more likely to get it to chill the F out and allow the work we’re doing to actually work.

If you want to read more about how the nervous system affects tightness, click here to check out my blog post about why you’re tight.

3. Moves You Through Different Planes of Motion

We need to move differently to maintain the health of our joints. Your hips move in 360 degrees. So does your shoulder joint. But how often are you stepping from side to side to impact that lateral movement of the hip? How often are you really stretching behind you with your arm? Yoga brings you into different planes of motion – which basically just means you’re moving in all the ways you can. Use it or lose it is real. Move differently and move daily = maintaining healthy mobile joints.

4. Consistency/Repetition = Impacts Your Nervous System

I mentioned in my 2nd point that the nervous system needs to feel safe in order to allow you to move in particular ways. One way you allow the nervous system to feel safe is to teach it that certain movements are familiar. The more familiar our nervous system is with something, the more it allows the body to relax and let go. It effectively says “you’ve done this before and survived, so now I’m going to loosen up and let you do it again cause I know you’ll be alive afterwards.”

This is why the repetition and consistency that comes with a yoga practice is so important. After 1 class you may not feel much more flexible, but after multiple sessions your body says “ok we can do this and survive” and it lets go of severe tightness because its familiar movements. 

Which of these ways do you feel yoga has impacted you the most? Drop me a comment in the comment section below and let me know!

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