What Does Science Say About Yoga?

With the emergence of higher quality yoga research, there is evidence that yoga has sizable and replicable effects for many health conditions.

Yoga is the physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India. Today, the practice has moved from the East to the West and become a popular form of physical exercise and meditation.

As the demand for alternative and holistic healthcare continues to grow, yoga offers a great way to relax naturally.

In a world that demands substantive clinical research evidence to support different approaches to health care, yoga is gaining attention.

Despite rapid advances in medical technology and continuing pharmaceutical research into using medication to relieve symptoms, in the past few years, experts have seen a significant growth in research addressing the impact of yoga on health and wellbeing.

Multiple health benefits

According to yoga research reviews and meta-analyses published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, the field of yoga research has grown exponentially in the past 5 years, with nearly 200 studies being published annually.

As we continue to gain evidence into how yogic principles and practices can be used to maintain and restore health, we will be more equipped to use these technologies in our daily lives, and incorporate them into mainstream health care.

The word yoga originates from ‘yug’ in the ancient Indian language Sanskrit. It means to ‘yoke’ or ‘bind and unite’. It is a system that sees the body, the breath and the mind as a union of the multi-dimensional aspects of human beings. Through this union of physical postures, breathing techniques and meditation, humans strive to achieve better health, happiness and a higher level of consciousness.

With all the hurry-scurry of modern life so hard on our bodies, national survey results from 2012 show that many people who practice yoga believe that it improves their general well-being, and there is beginning to be evidence that it actually may help with some aspects of wellness including stress management, balance, positive aspects of mental health, and promoting healthy eating and physical activity habits.

Scientific studies have established a myriad range of health benefits from the practice of yoga. These range from helping in the case of simple headaches and insomnia to heart ailments, bone or joint disorders, mental disturbances, eating and digestive disorders to reducing stress and weight.
Increases calmness

Reviews of the literature suggest that yoga practice can impact multiple systems within the body to affect wellness and increase resilience.

The strongest evidence in both quality and quantity is related to yoga’s positive effects on hormone regulation, including modulating salivary cortisol – an indicator of stress - elevating mood through increased serotonin production, and released oxytocin and melatonin, both of which are related to improved sleep quality and immunity.

Yoga has been shown to reduce cortisol, a key hormone in the stress response which increases blood pressure, blood sugar, and suppresses the immune system.

Scientists also reported that yoga practice brings about a significant decrease in anxiety – even in people with post-traumatic stress disorder. For example, after 10 weeks, as many as 52% of the participants who practiced yoga once weekly, no longer met the criteria for PTSD at all!

It’s not yet entirely clear exactly how yoga is able to reduce symptoms of anxiety. However, it emphasizes the importance of being present in the moment and finding a sense of peace, which could help treat anxiety.

Yoga isn’t just beneficial for improving core strength, flexibility, and stress levels; it can also help you sleep better—especially if you suffer from insomnia.

When people who have insomnia perform yoga on a daily basis, they sleep for longer, fall asleep faster, and return to sleep more quickly if they wake up in the middle of the night. This is also true for older people who have insomnia —those who are 60 and older experience better sleep quality, sleep for longer, and feel better during the day when they perform regular yoga.

Healing even chronic pains

We’ve long known that yoga is mind-body “medicine”, affecting individuals holistically rather than changing discrete elements of their anatomy, physiology, or mind. In addition to improving your mental health, yoga also has a significant impact on improving people’s condition even on a purely physical level.

Some studies suggest that practicing yoga may reduce inflammation, help improve heart health and reduce several risk factors for heart disease.

Hypertension is due to a constriction of blood vessels, and heart disease is due to blockage in the coronary arteries. When relaxation sets in, yoga therapy relaxes blood vessels and reduces blood pressure while increasing the blood flow to the heart muscle.

Conclusions from a 2011 study of adults with chronic or recurring low-back pain suggested that yoga classes resulted in better function than usual medical care. In the January issue of Israel's Medical Association journal, researchers reported that yoga may be a valuable tool to treat chronic neck and low-back pain.

Physicians explain that herniated discs and spinal stenosis don't cause pain. They cause irritation of a nerve which causes a contraction of the muscle. The muscle tightness or spasm then causes the pain. In yoga therapy, when you hold a pose, your muscles contract and then slowly relax as you breathe in and out. When relaxation sets in, back pain starts to go away.

Mostly great effects

With few exceptions among all of the research that has been conducted, findings indicate that yoga rarely has harmful effects and is well received by participants.

There may be certain poses or types of yoga that are not good for certain health conditions, and good research is done in collaboration with clinical experts and certified yoga instructors who can guide the choice of the style of yoga that will produce the most benefit.

Like other exercise activity, the risks of injury from improperly performing yoga postures vary depending on how, where, and with whom the yoga is practiced.

The initial practice of yoga under the direction of experienced yoga instructors is thus recommended, as is following a program that has been modified specifically for people with the afflicting health condition. For optimal safety, individuals with specific health concerns should consult their physician before starting a yoga program.

In any case, finding the time to practice yoga just a few times per week may be enough to make a noticeable difference when it comes to your health.

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