Not convinced that Yoga is for you? WanderingYogi, Lee Carsley, outlines the physical, mental and emotional benefits of this ancient practice.

A google search on the benefits of yoga yielded 59 million hits. And a 2012 study that 8.7 percent of U.S. adults, or 20.4 million people, practice yoga, with 44.4 percent of current non-practitioners calling themselves “aspirational yogis”—people who are interested in trying yoga.

Might this yoga ‘trend’ be onto something?

For all the aspirational yogis out there in the ANZA community, read on for some of the scientifically proven, fair dinkum benefits of yoga.

Flexibility = strength

During your first class, you probably won’t be able to touch your toes, never mind do a backbend. But if you stick with it, you’ll notice a gradual loosening, and eventually, the ‘impossible’ poses become possible. Aches and pains start to disappear. That’s no coincidence. Tight hips can strain the knee joint due to improper alignment of the thigh and shinbones. Tight hamstrings can flatten the lumbar spine, which can cause back pain. Inflexibility in muscles and connective tissue, such as fascia and ligaments, causes poor posture.

Lean, strong muscles

Yoga creates muscles that are strong and lean – muscles that promote maximum joint movement. It reduces potential for arthritis and back pain. And helps prevent bone breaking falls for elderly people.

Build a powerful resilient immune system

Consistent yoga practice lowers cortisol levels. 100% guaranteed. Adrenal glands secrete cortisol when we have a crisis (that work deadline, an argument with your partner) which temporarily boosts immune function (this is the body’s way of helping us cope). But if the crises keep happening one after the other, these continual high hits start to destroy your immune system. Ever noticed that some people, the super-stressies, I call them – always get sick the moment they go on holidays?

While temporary boosts of cortisol help with long-term memory, consistent high hits undermine memory and also leads to permanent undesirable changes to the brain (including predisposition to depression, but worse, addictive and psychotic behaviours).

Happy as Larry

Consistent yoga practice improves depression, significantly increases serotonin levels (the chemical which makes us feel happy) and decreases the enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters (the enzyme found in large amounts with Alzheimer’s victims). At the University of Wisconsin, researchers found the left prefrontal cortex (responsible for distinguishing right from wrong) showed heightened activity, which is positively linked to greater levels of happiness.

A consistent yogi is a smart yogi

The part we love to hate about yoga – stillness. In Savasana, when we are seated with our eyes closed at the start. An important yoga practice is staying present. Studies in India and the US have found regular yoga mindful practice improves coordination, reaction time, memory, and even IQ scores. People who practice meditation demonstrate the ability to solve problems and acquire and recall information better than those who don’t.

And if all this is not enough, when you begin your practice, watch your family and friends comment on how much of a better ‘you’ you are becoming.