How Yoga Helps You Off the Mat

Published on September 08, 2023

By Gaia Herbs

Gaia Herbs

While practicing your vinyasas, you probably don’t think much about the benefits you’re getting from yoga. If you’re a dedicated yogi, you’re too busy matching your movements to the strong rhythms of your breathing. However, knowing the benefits can make your practice that much more enjoyable.

Yoga has skyrocketed in popularity. In a study conducted by the Yoga Alliance, there were 37 million yogis in the United States, compared with just 20 million in 2012.REF#2800 Between 2010 and 2021, the number of people getting the benefits of yoga increased by 63.8 percent.REF#2801 

For people who have never done a downward dog, understanding the draw of this semi-meditative practice can seem confusing. Bikram yoga, for instance, is practiced indoors in high temperatures with the specific goal of sweating profusely. 

Whether you’re an experienced yogi or a novice, the goal of this piece is to help you become familiar with yoga’s benefits outside of the studio or the mat where you practice. The survey taken by the Yoga Alliance outlined four reasons why people start yoga:

  1. Increased Flexibility REF#2800
  2. Stress support REF#2800
  3. General fitness REF#2800
  4. Support for overall health REF#2800

We’ll talk about these benefits and how recent research into yoga corresponds to these motivating factors. We’ll also consider how yoga is linked to a healthy mood, a more balanced stress response, and a reliable remedy for occasional joint aches and muscle soreness, as well as better breath control.REF#2802

First, let’s discuss what the practice of yoga is, what it involves, and who can do it. 

What is Yoga?

Although yoga has grown in popularity, it’s so much more than just a trendy workout. Yoga has been practiced worldwide for thousands of years.REF#2808 In fact, it’s such an old practice, we aren’t exactly sure when it began. 

Early tablets showing figures in yoga-like postures have been uncovered in Pakistan, dating back 5,000 years.REF#2808 The Rig Veda, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Sutras (texts that include information about yoga) all date back between 5,000-2,000 years ago.REF#2808 Modern yoga as we practice it now is likely traceable to Yoga Sutras. 

Understanding Western Yoga

Western yoga differs from practices of yoga in the East. What we call yoga is referred to in the East as Asana, which is one of the eight limbs of the practice of yoga. 

The eight limbs of yoga practice include:

  • YAMA: ethical standards REF#2809
  • NIYAMA: self-discipline REF#2809
  • ASANA: Postures REF#2809
  • PRANAYAMA: Breathing Techniques REF#2809
  • PRATYAHARA: Sensory withdrawal REF#2809
  • DHARANA: Concentration REF#2809
  • DHYANA: Meditation REF#2809
  • SAMADHI: Enlightenment REF#2809

Understanding these limbs helps give us insight into our yoga instructors’ gentle reminders that yoga is not about what happens on your mat during yoga class but rather the preparation of the mind and body for challenges off the mat. 

How Yoga Prepares You for Challenges Off the Mat

During your yoga practice, you’ll learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. By holding certain yoga poses, you learn to train your mind to the present moment, focusing on your breathing exercises, releasing negative thoughts about your physical activity, and concentrating instead on embracing the discomfort. 

This teaches that adaptability is more important than flexibility. It doesn’t matter that you can put your foot behind your head or if you can’t touch your toes. What matters is how you react and adapt as you try these positions.

How Yoga Helps You Build Connection

Yoga means “to yoke,” which can be translated to finding unity and alliance between the mind and body as you embrace deep breathing and different poses. Yoga encourages us to find balance in the literal and metaphysical sense, encouraging the creation of space to find our breath, connect with it, and even connect with nature. It allows us to fully realize our place in the greater cycle of plants and people. 

What to Expect

If you’ve never taken a yoga class, you might assume you won’t be capable of taking any of the poses. That isn’t true. Yoga is for everyone, and as most yoga instructors will tell you, you always have the option to take a child’s pose or savasana (two poses that are easy to assume and give the body rest). 

Who Should Practice Yoga?

Your local yoga studio is likely open to all adults and may offer children’s classes. Most studios will have beginner classes and intermediate classes so that you can find the perfect fit. 

The benefits of yoga can help everyone. Studies show the importance of yoga in helping caregivers and students with stress management.REF#2807 Additionally, yoga can be enjoyed by older adults to support bone health, increased flexibility, and continued balance.REF#2807

Anyone can enjoy yoga's health benefits, even those with physical limitations. Here, we’ll discuss some foundational ways yoga supports your well-being.

What are the Health Benefits of Yoga?

Depending on the type of yoga you take, you can expect a great workout (and maybe even a little aerobic activity) and mental health benefits that will leave you feeling stress-free and more balanced. 

Let’s dive deeper into the physical benefits and mental health benefits of yoga.

1. Increased Flexibility

Pulled muscles can sideline you from life. As we age, it’s easier for muscles to become tight and tendons to feel shorter. Yoga can help lengthen the fascia, heat the muscles, and stretch tight tendons for increased flexibility that can keep you protected from injuries.REF#2800

2. General Fitness

Yoga can provide a great workout, and it’s easy to customize your intensity based on the type of yoga you wish to practice. 

  • If you want to work up a sweat, Vinyasa yoga and Bikram yoga are good options. These are usually more intense, and Bikram is practiced in a heated room. 
  • For restorative stretching and a focus on deeper breathing, restorative yoga or hatha yoga are good options. 
  • When you’re ready for a challenge, give aerial yoga a try, which uses poses and silks to defy gravity. 

Yoga is a wonderful option for those with physical limitations, as most poses can be scaled to fit specific needs. 

3. Overall Health Support

From lower blood pressure to increased endorphins, yoga can help support your overall health and wellness. It can even be a good solution for helping with lower back pain.REF#2805 Hitting the yoga studio a few times a week helps you get in plenty of physical exercise, which experts agree is critical to supporting total health.REF#2810

4. Weight Control

Any weight loss journey will include an exercise component, and yoga can be a good fit for almost anyone.REF#2803 Studies show that adding a yoga routine to your healthy diet plan can help you lose weight steadily and healthfully.REF#2803

5. Recovery

People who have suffered injuries, including strokes, can benefit from yoga. Yoga helps these individuals regain balance and can also help the brain remember connections between nerves and muscles as you cycle through cross-body poses.REF#2804

6. Muscle Soreness

You may find smart weightlifters in your yoga class. They know the secret — that practicing yoga after a particularly grueling lifting session can attenuate muscle soreness.REF#2806 

Delayed onset muscle soreness (also known as DOMS) can sideline athletes and weightlifters, making it too painful to return to their activities. Throwing in a yoga session can help reduce these symptoms and help them return to the gym faster.REF#2806

7. Stress Support

It’s no secret that practicing yoga can help you find stress relief. The impact of yoga on stress has to do with the conscientious, slow breathing that accompanies the physical component of the practice. It’s the simple science of our body’s natural stress response.

  • Fast, rapid breathing triggers fight-or-flight responses in our sympathetic nervous system. 
  • Slow, deep breaths engage the rest and digest system known as the parasympathetic nervous system. 

The intentional breathing in yoga engages the parasympathetic nerves, including the vagus nerve which controls heart rate and connects the gut and brain. By engaging this nerve, you can return your body to a calm state, even when taking a side crow pose. 

How Adaptogenic Herbs Can Support a Healthy Stress Response

The stress response triggers the release of hormones, like cortisol, from the adrenal glands. These adrenal glands can become fatigued when our stress response stays “powered on” too long. Nourishing the adrenals can support them, help recalibrate cortisol levels, and ensure your stress response remains balanced. 

Herbs that help support the adrenals are called adaptogens.REF#2811 They can help balance the stress response by acting like a thermostat, dialing up or down to help maintain balance so your stress levels stay balanced, too.REF#2811 Ashwagandha and Holy Basil are two of the most popular adaptogens you can use to complement your yoga practice.


This herb is said to turn “a worrier into a warrior.” It is a regulating, calming, and restorative herb that can work to help balance adrenal function and support the body’s circadian rhythm.REF#2811 It can support a healthy stress response and helps you conserve energy stores.REF#2811

Holy Basil

The herb that “keeps you in the eye of the hurricane” is also referred to as Tulsi. It can support your body against daily stressors and also offers circadian rhythm support. It helps nourish the mind and body and helps keep your stress response balanced.REF#2812

Life Off the Yoga Mat

Your lifestyle includes yoga, and that’s wonderful news. You can enjoy the benefits of yoga for an entire lifetime and dive deeper into your ability to grow and respond to stressful situations. While you’re at it, take a complementary adaptogen. These can help you enjoy deeper benefits and a regulated stress response.


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