It's not just the crazily contorted, gravity-defying poses than make yoga awesome.
Photo: Getty Images / Sarawut Doungwana / EyeEm
It's no secret that the benefits of yoga transcend just getting a great body. Regular downward dogs and warriors can transform the rest of your life, too. Your posing practice can transform your life on—and far from—the mat in many ways.
Read on, yoginis, as we’re counting down the top 10 unexpected body and brain benefits of yoga.
#10 Benefit of Yoga: It Fights the Flu...
...and any other bug you're trying to beat. By influencing gene expression, yoga strengthens your immune system at the cellular level, according to research out of Norway. The best part? The benefits of yoga come quickly. Your immunity enjoys a boost even before you leave the mat. (Related: Is it OK to Work Out When You’re Sick?)
#9 Benefit of Yoga: It Scores You Dates
Practice yoga, get more dates. When Wired, OkCupid, and Match combed through the 1,000 most popular words used by men and women in dating profiles, they found that people who mention yoga are ranked among the most attractive of online singles.
#8 Benefit of Yoga: You Can Practice It With Your Pet
Thanks to "doga"—which started in New York in 2002, according to The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America—you can practice yoga with your dog. Pups can pose alongside you, or you can use them as furry props. While a few feline yoga classes exist, cats seem to be more fond of interrupting yoga. Mrrow. (Puppy Pilates is pretty darn cute, too.)
#7 Benefit of Yoga: You Can Do It in the Nude
Naked yoga classes—in which practitioners strip down to the buff before down-dogging with fellow practitioners—are popping up everywhere. Offered as male, female, and coed classes, they're meant to take yoga's love-your-body mantra to the next level. Check out how one woman overcame her naked-yoga fears, gained some confidence, and shrugged off her so-called "imperfections."
#6 Benefit of Yoga: It Encourages Body Positivity
In more #LoveMyShape news, there's no one "yoga body," and curvy gals are proving they can rock inversions, too. They're sharing photos of themselves performing yoga poses with the hashtags #curvyyoga, #curvyyogi, and #curvygirlyoga. Jessamyn Stanley, a self-proclaimed "yoga enthusiast and fat femme" for instance, now has more than 410,000 Instagram followers and counting. By taking this benefit of yoga to heart, you’ll find yourself being nicer to yourself in class. As a result, you may find that you won't be so hard on yourself in the real world when you slip up. (Related: Body-Pos Yogi Jessamyn Stanley Has a New Goal to Get Strong As Hell)
#5 Benefit of Yoga: It Seriously Slashes Stress
Anyone who has ever settled into child's pose knows yoga is calming. "The tensing and relaxation of muscles during yoga—along with mindful awareness of physical sensations—helps us relax," explains physician Jamie Zimmerman, M.D., a Sonima meditation instructor. That may be one reason why just eight weeks of daily yoga significantly improves sleep quality in people with insomnia, according to a Harvard University study.
#4 Benefit of Yoga: It Makes Sex So Much Better
While it's natural to feel sexier as you become stronger and more confident (no matter the exercise), yoga's sex-enhancing ways go beyond those of other workouts, says ob-gyn Alyssa Dweck, M.D., coauthor of V Is for Vagina. It not only tones your muscles, but it improves your flexibility, increases your core stability, and strengthens your pelvic floor muscles—which translates into a tighter down-there grip and stronger orgasms, she says. (Try these yoga moves for better sex.)
#3 Benefit of Yoga: It Can Help You Eat Better
Research from the University of Washington shows that people who regularly practice yoga eat more mindfully compared to other exercisers. "Yoga encourages you to focus on your breathing, and the sensations in your body," explains Dr. Zimmerman. "This trains your brain to notice what's happening your body, helping you pay more attention to sensations of hunger and satiety." The result: You see food as fuel. No more emotional eating, stuffing yourself silly, and food-related guilt.
#2 Benefit of Yoga: It Makes You Smarter
Twenty minutes of yoga improves the brain's ability to quickly and accurately process information (even more so than running does), says a study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. "While most exercise gives you a choice to either zone in or zone out, yoga encourages you to return to the present and pay attention," Dr. Zimmerman says. "This mindful awareness has been correlated with structural changes in the brain, including growth in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with executive function, working memory, and attention."
#1 Benefit of Yoga: It Protects Your Heart
Your yoga instructor is always talking about "opening your heart" for a reason. "Yoga can reduce high blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and stress, all risk factors for heart disease, says Larry Phillips, M.D., a cardiologist at the NYU Langone Medical Center. And it's not just the chill factor: Performing savasana (here’s how to get the most out of this “corpse pose,” BTW) is associated with greater improvements in blood pressure compared to simply lying on the couch, according to research published in The Lancet.