For example, when you’re doing Tree pose, which involves balancing on one leg, you’re actively firing your inner thighs, quads, and core to help you stand upright and avoid falling over. This also makes you more aware of the placement of your ankle, hips, and shoulder joints, and how they are supported by tendons and tissues to help you maintain alignment and balance.
When you move—like by doing some yoga stretches during the day—your heart pumps more oxygen-rich blood to the muscles and organs in your body. This can help reduce fatigue and tiredness, according to the International Sports Science Association.
According to a small August 2017 study in the Journal of Science in Medicine in Sport, practicing Bikram yoga is linked to better energy and stress levels. When sedentary and chronically stressed adults followed a 16-week Bikram yoga program, they reported improved perceived stress, energy, and fatigue levels and better overall health-related quality of life. Researchers also found similar fatigue-fighting benefits to hatha yoga.
Inversion poses—where your heart is at a higher level than your head—may be particularly helpful at increasing energy, says Courtney. These include poses like Forward Fold and Downward Facing Dog.
Balancing yoga poses, such as Warrior III, Chair, Eagle, Tree, and Crow, help challenge your stability, since removing a base of support (say, by standing on one leg) requires you to activate certain stabilizing muscles. This helps improve your balance, which is particularly important as you get older.
As people age, they tend to lose mobility due to inactivity, arthritis, and other age-related disease. But research shows that doing some yoga-based exercises is associated with better balance and mobility in adults over the age of 60.
Better balance can mean a reduction in injury risk and an improvement in athletic performance, says Dr. Yang. That’s because when you have better balance, you have better awareness to fire up the right muscles to help you maintain stability. Think of doing a single-leg deadlift: If you’re able to fire up the correct muscles—your core, lats, and the glutes on your working leg—you’ll be able to complete the move more efficiently, helping you build strength.
If you’re new to exercise—or are easing back into a workout routine after a break—vigorous exercise may not seem to be the most appealing. That’s why many people looking to get started exercising turn to yoga: It’s a low-impact workout that’s easy on the joints, is accessible for most fitness levels, and requires no special equipment.
This all makes yoga a type of exercise you’re more likely to stick with and make a regular practice. In fact, according to a small study of physically inactive adults published in Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine, taking yoga classes twice a week significantly improved adherence to physical activity, something that persisted even after the participants stopped taking classes as part of the study.
A 2014 review in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology concluded that yoga has shown some promising benefits for improving cardiovascular disease risk, by lowering heart rate, blood pressure, and even cholesterol. It’s likely due to both the physical aspects of yoga as well as the focus on breath.
That’s because yoga trains the vagus nerve, which is the main nerve that directs the parasympathetic nervous system—the part of the nervous system responsible for lowering heart rate and promoting relaxation—to be more responsive to your breath, Dr. Yang says. “The very function of your heart may improve.”
Follow a yoga flow for as little as five minutes, and you’ll realize just how calming and relaxing it can be to sync movement and breath. As you deepen the stretch in each pose, you’ll rely on your breath to hold them with proper form.