Many of us are aware that yoga is good for our health and wellbeing because it can increase strength and flexibility, and help us unwind. But not all of us are aware just how healing yoga can be.

Yoga was invented over 5,000 years ago, in India, and modern science is only now catching up with what the ancients knew.

So how specifically does yoga heal the mind and body, and which poses are best for doing so?

How does yoga heal?

How does yoga heal

Yoga uses a combination of physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation to create harmony and balance.

The postures not only foster strength, stamina, and flexibility, but they also encourage our organs and systems to function more effectively. And when these poses are practised mindfully with a focus on breathing, they can help us to grow and develop on an emotional level too.

While yoga isn’t a cure-all, its focus on slow movements, long deep breathing, and conscious relaxation can help to stimulate and support the body’s own ability to heal itself.

We’ll look at this in more detail below…

Yoga can reduce stress and help with emotional release

Because yoga is about connecting the mind and body through physical poses and breathing exercises, it can be an effective form of mindfulness – helping us to quiet mental chatter, release stress, and find a sense of peace and calm.

In fact, a recent study showed that practising yoga for three months decreased the level of the cortisol (a stress hormone) in the participants’ blood.

Yoga also reduces stiffness and tension in our muscles through poses that stretch, strengthen, and improve blood flow. For many, this can not only provide a physical release but an emotional one too – as unexpressed emotions can be stored as tightness in the body. It’s not unusual for people to find themselves crying during yoga or Pilates.

Yoga may reduce aches and pains

Yoga strengthens our muscles, and increases flexibility and range of motion. It also improves our posture by stretching, lengthening, and reinforcing the correct alignment of the spine. Therefore, yoga can be effective in managing aches and pains.

For example, a study found that yoga was linked to better back function and reduced symptoms of chronic back pain. Another study showed that it was as effective as physiotherapy in improving back function, and the benefits lasted longer.

Yoga can help to strengthen body systems

The twisting, compressing, and upside down movements that happen in yoga can help to stimulate, strengthen, and improve the efficiency of the body’s internal systems.

For example, by practising poses and postures that move and stretch the lymph nodes, yoga can help to improve immune function, and make our waste removal processes more efficient. To demonstrate this, we can look at this study, which showed an improvement in lymphatic drainage in 98 breast cancer patients.

Yoga can also strengthen the cardiovascular system, and play a role in preventing heart disease. One study showed that yoga was effective in reducing the risk factors for heart disease, such as lowering body mass index (BMI), cholesterol, and blood pressure.

Plus, yoga can help to improve digestion by gently massaging the stomach, and reducing stress and gut inflammation. For example, this study revealed that in people with IBS who took part in a 12-week course of yoga, symptoms were reduced.

Yoga can be good for the brain

Research suggests that the connection between conscious breathing and movement in yoga may help to improve brain health.

For example, in this review of 11 different studies focussing on the link between yoga and brain health, researchers found that those who practised yoga regularly had more grey matter volume and cortical thickness in their brains – which have been linked to better mental function and higher intelligence, respectively.

Yoga can also have a positive impact on memory – specifically, its potential ability to increase the size of the hippocampus (the part of the brain involved in memory).

Yoga can also stimulate the release of feel-good hormones (endorphins) from the brain. Therefore, research suggests that yoga can be beneficial for people with anxiety and depression.

Yoga may improve quality of life for people with chronic conditions

If you’re going through an illness, recovering from surgery, or living with a chronic condition, yoga may help to increase healing.

For example, doing yoga during radiation treatment for prostate cancer was shown to reduce fatigue and improve sexual and urinary function; to help reduce flare-ups in people with ulcerative colitis; and improve symptoms in those with rheumatoid arthritis.

Yoga has also been found to improve balance after a stroke – even in those who started six months (or more) afterwards.

7 healing yoga poses for the body and mind

So, now we know more about how yoga can benefit our body and minds, what steps can we take to reap the healing benefits?

All yoga poses can positively affect our health when practised on a regular basis. Many are focussed on stretching out our spine, strengthening our core, and relieving stress.

However, some poses are known to be particularly beneficial for healing, and can be done by almost anyone – so they make a good place to start.

1. Mountain pose

Mountain pose

Mountain pose is the foundation for all standing postures. It strengthens the legs, core, and back muscles, and can help to improve posture and breathing.

Doing mountain pose at the beginning of a yoga practice can improve focus and alertness; and because it’s an empowering pose, it can build self-confidence – helping you to feel ready to tackle your day.

How to do mountain pose…

  1. Stand in a neutral position with your feet hip-distance apart. Make sure that your toes are pointing forward and your weight is equally distributed across the four corners of each foot.

  2. Lift your toes and spread them apart, then press the four corners of each foot into the ground to support your weight.

  3. Engage your core and stand tall. Draw your tailbone down and in towards your feet, and draw your shoulder blades down your back. Reach the crown of your head towards the sky.

  4. Stay in the pose for 5-10 breaths and focus on your breathing. Release any tension and allow your body to relax into the pose.

To see how to do mountain pose, check out the video below.

2. Downward facing dog

Downward facing dog

Downward facing dog is one of the most famous poses in yoga. It creates length through the whole body and builds strength in the shoulders and arms.

Because it’s an inverted posture – meaning your heart is elevated over your head – it also changes the direction of flow of your blood and lymph, which helps it to move more easily throughout your entire body.

How to do downward facing dog…

  1. Begin in a tabletop position, with your hands and knees planted firmly on the ground.

  2. Spread your fingers wide and press your hands into the ground.

  3. Lift your knees off the ground, and slowly stretch your arms, chest, and legs out into an upside-down V shape.

  4. Lift your hips even higher, press your chest towards your thighs, and actively press your heels down towards the ground.

  5. Try to hold this pose for 30 seconds to one minute, keeping your breath steady and your core engaged. Remember to relax your neck and shoulders and focus on your breath as you move through the pose.

To see how to perform downward facing dog, have a watch of the video below.

3. Legs up the wall

Legs up the wall

Legs up the wall is considered to be the queen of restorative yoga poses – and it gently stretches your hamstrings, glutes, spine, hips, and back.

This pose is often recommended by yoga teachers and health experts as a good way to improve circulation and lymph flow, relieve back pain and sciatica, and reduce varicose veins and leg cramps. It can also help to let go of stress, tension, and anxiety – especially if it’s causing sleepless nights.

How to do legs up the wall…

  1. Start by lying flat on your back and bring your hips as close to the wall as possible.

  2. Lift your legs and place the back of your legs against the wall. Your heels should be close to your bum. Your legs should be bent at the knee.

  3. Straighten your legs and press them against the wall. Make sure your bum is as close to the wall as you can get them.

  4. Place your arms alongside your body in a relaxed position. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and stay in this pose for 10 minutes or longer.

To see how to do legs up the wall pose, check out the video below.

Note: This pose isn’t recommended for people with glaucoma, unmanaged high blood pressure, hernia, or excessive fluid retention, as it can place additional strain on your body and may exacerbate these conditions.

4. Cobra


Cobra pose stretches the muscles in the chest, abdomen, and hips, while strengthening the arms, shoulders, and upper back.

It allows for a deep stretch of the spine, without putting strain on your lower back, and encourages good spinal alignment. Cobra pose also helps to open the chest and lungs, allowing for more efficient breathing and improved oxygenation of the body.

Doing cobra pose daily can help to reduce lower back pain, and improve posture – which can be especially useful if you sit at a desk all day.

How to do cobra pose…

  1. Start by lying on your stomach with your legs stretched out behind you.

  2. Place your hands directly beneath your shoulders, palms facing down.

  3. Push into your palms to lift your chest off the ground, arching your spine as you do so.

  4. Hold for a few seconds before slowly lowering yourself back down.

Remember to keep your breath steady and your neck and shoulders relaxed as you hold the pose. With practise, you’ll be able to hold the pose for longer, eventually reaching your desired level of flexibility.

To see how to do cobra pose, have a watch of the video below.

5. Pigeon pose

Pigeon pose

Pigeon pose helps to open up the hips, release tension in the lower back, and strengthen and stretch many areas of the body – including the glutes and hamstrings. It’s also a great pose for improving posture because it encourages the spine to lengthen and strengthen.

Doing pigeon pose daily can help to ease lower back pain and is often used to relieve pain caused by sciatica.

Interestingly, research has also suggested that the hips may be a storage vessel for emotions because they’re closely connected to the adrenal glands, which process our flight or fight emotions. Therefore, it’s been suggested that stretching your hips may help to relieve stress or worry.

And finally, pigeon pose has been linked to improved digestion because it involves gentle stretching and movement of the lower tummy.

How to do pigeon pose…

  1. Start in a tabletop position on your hands and knees. Bring your right knee forward towards your right wrist and slide your right foot back until your ankle is near your left hip.

  2. Gently lower your hips to the floor as you keep your right leg extended behind you. If you feel comfortable, you can move your left leg further away from your right hip.

  3. Take a deep breath, and on your exhale, press your hips forward and down, leaning your torso over your right leg. You can stay here or continue to fold your torso over your right thigh.

  4. Hold the pose for up to five minutes, focusing on your breath and allowing your hips to relax. When you’re ready to come out of the pose, press your hands into the floor and push your torso away from your leg before returning to tabletop.

To see how to do pigeon pose, check out the video below.

6. Tree pose

Tree pose

Tree pose builds strength and balance – helping you to feel steady and grounded. It stretches your legs, glutes, core, and back, and can improve your posture and spinal alignment.

The focus on balance can also increase your focus and concentration, and help to calm the mind.

How to do tree pose…

  1. Begin in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart and your hands resting at your sides.

  2. Shift your weight to your right leg, and slowly raise your left foot off the ground. Bend your left knee and grab the sole of your left foot with your left hand.

  3. Place the sole of your left foot either against your inner right thigh or inner calf. Make sure your hips and shoulders are square, and focus your gaze on a spot in front of you to support your balance.

  4. Raise your arms above your head and press your palms together in prayer position. Hold the pose for up to a minute, and then slowly release your left foot and lower your arms back to your sides. Repeat the pose on the other side.

To see how to do tree pose, have a watch of the video below.

7. Warrior 2


Warrior 2 pose encourages a strong and upright stance and can be an excellent way to work on your posture and release pain and tension in the back, neck, and shoulders.

It can also improve strength and flexibility by stretching the hip flexors, hamstrings, calf muscles, and ankles – as well as working the core muscles, chest, shoulders, and arms.

Because the pose involves bending into each knee, one at a time, and engages the entire body, it can be useful in improving physical and mental endurance.

Symbolically, warrior 2 is considered to be an empowering pose, associated with courage and strength – which makes it a great mood booster too.

How to do warrior 2 pose…

  1. Start in a wide stance with your feet about three feet apart.

  2. Rotate your right foot out 90 degrees and your left foot in slightly.

  3. Bend your right knee while keeping your left leg straight and firm.

  4. Reach your arms out parallel to the floor, left arm out to the side, and right arm forward.

  5. Hold this position for at least five breaths before switching sides.

Final thoughts…

Yoga offers many benefits to both our body and mind, perhaps more than many of us realise. Not only can it improve mood, circulation, and digestion, but it can also reduce aches and pains, and improve spine health.

While we can’t expect to transform our health overnight, yoga can help to set you on a positive path, one stretch and calming breath at a time.

For more guidance on yoga, you might be interested in our articles; An introduction to yoga and Five exercises to improve your posture.