There’s a moment in each one of my hot yoga classes, usually as I contort my body into some Cirque du Soleil-like pose, where I think “why exactly am I doing this to myself?” While other diehards appear to down-dog and deep breathe in style, I often feel as if one more chaturanga might actually kill me in a pool of my own perspiration. The ancient Indian practice has repeated benefits for flexibility, strength building, and overall peace of mind, which likely get most devotees in the door. But what are the lesser-known perks to saying Namaste? Read on, because according to research, the red carpet keeps rolling out for yoga.
You don’t need a marathon session for results.
While practicing several times a week yields faster results, even hitting the mat for one minute of steady breathing can have an impact. “One minute in meditation can have a frustrated, angry, terrible-feeling person feeling resourceful, kind, and fun,” notes Loren Fishman, a back pain specialist who incorporates yoga in his practice. Since the perks keep multiplying over time, becoming a chronic yogi is certainly a winning move. Sixty seconds obviously won’t grant you the flexibility of an Olympic gymnast, but it’s a start. For long-term results, commit to a single one-hour session per week. “Your flexibility will improve over time, leading to fewer injuries, and you will experience toning in all of your muscles,” notes yoga instructor Heidi Kristoffer. Itching to get started? Famed yogi Tara Stiles offers sessions as quick as ten minutes.
It can ease headaches.
“I love headaches!” said No One Ever. Good news for yoga enthusiasts: A 2007 study assigned 72 migraine-sufferers to three months of yoga treatment. In addition, participants were required to jot down specific factors like the frequency and severity of their head pounders. The outcome resulted in “a significant reduction in migraine headache frequency.” While the study failed to mention the ideal length of each yoga session, we’re already breathing a sigh of headache relief.
It can boost mood similar to prescription drugs.
Yet another reason to ditch the pills. Research has found that gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain chemical that regulates nerve activity, goes into overdrive during a yoga session. Because people with mental illnesses have lower GABA levels, they’re usually prescribed medication to increase this chemical activity. But research has shown that adopting a yoga practice can nix the need for meds by sending GABA levels into overdrive. “The authors [of this study] suggest that the practice of yoga stimulates specific brain areas, thereby giving rise to changes in endogenous antidepressant neurotransmitters such as GABA.”
It can provide sinus relief
Step aside, netipot. Whether it’s chronic allergies or a pesky cold, specific yoga poses can alleviate symptoms of sinusitis. Yogic breathing and inverted poses can keep nasal passages clear and help break up mucus by sending a rush of blood flow to the affected area (hello, headstands!). Feeling too lousy to even move? Try Amuloma Viloma, a breathing pattern involving blocking one nostril with your finger while taking deep inhales and exhales, then continuing on the other side.
It can kick insomnia to the curb
Insomnia can be linked to high blood pressure, obesity, and depression, not to mention the fuzzy effect it has on the brain. Turns out a daily yoga practice can leave you feeling well-rested come morning. A Harvard Medical School study found that people who practiced yoga for 8 weeks reported better sleep patterns. Participants documented factors like amount of sleep time, number of times woken up during the night, and quality of sleep. While medication is a common treatment for insomnia, yoga’s deep breathing and muscle relaxing techniques can be an effective, drug-free intervention for quality shut-eye. Try these yoga poses and you’ll be asleep faster than you can say “Namaste.”