For those who want a healthy body, eating right and exercising regularly seem to be the key practices to adopt. However, many people fail to realize that complete fitness must also involve the mind. There is a deep mind-body connection that most exercise enthusiasts fail to recognize as they pump iron and run laps. To correct this common oversight, more and more people are acknowledging the varied benefits of incorporating yoga into their healthy lifestyle.

One of the greatest fitness benefits of yoga is improved flexibility. In fact, one study showed that just eight weeks of yoga can improve flexibility by 35%. As you move through yoga’s many poses, you stretch your muscles in new, interesting ways. Stretching allows muscles to release lactic acid, which builds up during exercise and can cause stiffness and pain. Lactic acid is also the leading cause of muscle fatigue, so stretching can actually help you work out longer and harder. Plus, increased flexibility improves your range of motion. This means you can participate more fully in other exercises and limit your risk of injuries, especially those caused by hyperextension.

Yoga is also a great way to strengthen your core muscles. As your body works to hold itself in various positions, your abdominal, lower back, and upper leg muscles work hard to keep you stable. This is especially true for yoga poses requiring balance, such as those where the participant stands on one leg. Over time, this can lead to improved muscle tone, which means a more impressive physique. Plus, a strong core leads to improved posture and decreased back pain over time.

Yoga’s emphasis on deep, centered breathing is also beneficial as it can improve your overall lung capacity and expand your chest wall. This is an excellent way to boost endurance in other physical activities. Steady, controlled breathing is actually a vital component of weight training and cardiovascular exercise, but many people fail to learn proper technique. Thus, the controlled breathing you learn doing yoga can be applied during other physical activities to improve performance. Yoga’s emphasis on breathing can also provide relief for those suffering from a respiratory condition, like asthma.

Of course, what yoga is best known for is perhaps relieving stress. Through yoga, the body enters a relaxed state of controlled breathing and mental relaxation. This naturally diminishes the body’s stress response and aids the release of beneficial hormones. As such, yoga has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. It can lower blood pressure, slow your heart rate, and even improve cholesterol levels. Diminished stress levels are also important preventing injuries during other physical activities. The more stress your body is under, the less likely it is to recover from a workout, which increases your odds of being hurt. Furthermore, stress can prevent proper sleep, and rest is essential for a full recovery after an intense workout.

Ultimately, yoga has much to offer those who practice it. You can do yoga every day, or start small with only 1 to 2 days per week routine. Plus, yoga can be done virtually anywhere. It requires no equipment and limited space, which makes it ideal for a home exercise routine. The benefits of yoga are too great to ignore, and which is also why a yoga routine is built into the P90X program. Another great routine is from Tony Horton’s One on One program called the Fountain of Youth. If you have yet to take up a yoga routine in your workout program, I encourage you to get started today. The rewards will be worth the time spent away from lifting weights and cardio.