As you stretch into warrior pose and inhale and exhale, you’re not just stretching those hamstrings and lungs; you’re also doing good for your brain with a practice that can stave off or relieve problems such as stress, depression and anxiety.
Yoga “gives some sense of sanity,” says Sat Bir Khalsa, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School in Boston. “You’re no longer washed away by the avalanche of your emotions. You are more in control.”
Yoga practice can also lower heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure, and may make people less sensitive to pain.
In some cases – particularly for anxiety, depression and stress – yoga might be more effective than medication, though this hasn’t been proved, says Dr. Murali Doraiswamy of the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. While it won’t get rid of whatever is causing you distress, it could make it easier for you to deal with the issues. Doraiswamy compares learning yoga to learning to surf: Once you’ve got the skills, you can ride the wave instead of drowning underneath it.