What are the benefits of Yoga?
Yoga is derived from the word “Yuji.” Yuki is of Sanskrit origin and it means “union” or “yoke”. Yoga is an ancient practice – one that unites the mind and the body (1).
Yoga incorporates meditation, breathing exercises, and various poses all targeted at reducing stress and encouraging relaxation.
Yoga benefits physical and mental health in several ways – although not all the benefits are proven by science.
This article discusses some of the evidence-based health benefits of yoga.
Yoga decreases stress
Yoga is well-known for its stress-relieving potentials and its ability to promote relaxation.
A particular study investigated the effect of yoga on 24 emotionally stressed women.
After three months of intense yoga sessions, it was discovered that cortisol levels had reduced significantly in all subjects. They also had low levels of depression, fatigue, anxiety, and stress (4).
Another study involving 131 people showed similar results. In the study, 10 weeks of yoga resulted in a significant reduction of anxiety and stress. It also improved the subjects’ mental health and overall quality of life (5).
When used on its own or together with other methods of stress alleviation, yoga can be a very potent way to keep stress in check.
Yoga relieves anxiety
Many people who practice yoga do so as a way of coping with anxiety.
Interestingly though, several pieces of research show that yoga has reducing effects on anxiety.
In a study involving 34 women diagnosed with a particular form of anxiety, it was discovered that two months of yoga significantly reduced the levels of anxiety in these women (6).
Another study investigated the effects of yoga on 64 women suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition characterized by extreme fear and anxiety due to prolonged exposure to traumatic events.
After 10 weeks, those who were involved in a weekly session of yoga had their symptoms of PTSD reduced. Frankly, 52% of the subjects were completely released from PTSD (7).
We do not fully understand the mechanisms by which yoga reduces the symptoms of anxiety. However, it emphasizes the importance of being conscious of the moment and having a sense of peace, which can help relieve anxiety.
Yoga may have anti-inflammatory effects
Apart from improving one’s mental health, several studies have shown that yoga also has anti-inflammatory effects.
Inflammation is a physiological response by the immune system. However, chronic inflammation can trigger or enhance the development of pro-inflammatory medical conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease (8).
A 2018 research investigated the effects of yoga on inflammatory markers in the body. 218 subjects were involved in the study. The subjects were divided into two groups – those who practiced yoga regularly, and those who did not. both groups were then subjected to moderate exercises as well as strenuous exercises.
After the study, those who had practiced yoga had very low levels of inflammatory markers compared to those who did not (9).
In a similar conducted in 2014, a 12-week yoga session causes a significant reduction in inflammatory markers in survivors of breast cancer (10).
Even though there’s a need for more research to verify the anti-inflammatory benefits of yoga, results from these studies indicate that yoga may be protective against some inflammatory diseases.
Yoga improves heart health
The heart is a very important organ of the cardiovascular system and is a vital component of your overall health. It takes charge of the pumping and circulation of blood and nutrients throughout the body.
Studies have shown that yoga does have the potential to improve heart health, as well as reducing the risk factors for heart disease.
A particular study discovered that subjects above the age of 40 who had practiced yoga for over 5 years had low blood pressure and pulse rate compared to those who did not (11).
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart issues, like stroke and heart attacks. Reducing your blood pressure can minimize the risk of these conditions (12).
Some studies suggest that including yoga as part of a healthy lifestyle can impede the progression of heart disease.
A study involving 113 heart disease patients, examined the effects of yoga training, stress management, and dietary modifications on risk factors of heart disease.
Results from the study showed a 23% reduction in total cholesterol level, a 26% reduction in LDL cholesterol, as well as cessation of heart disease progression in 47% of patients (13).
We do not fully understand the exact effects that yoga has on heart disease compared to other factors such as diet. But we know that it can reduce stress, and stress is a major risk factor for heart disease (14).
Yoga has analgesic effects
Millions all over the world are affected by chronic pain. It is a persistent problem that has several causes, including injuries, as well as arthritis.
Current research shows that yoga has relieving effects on many forms of chronic pain.
In a particular study involving 42 patients with carpal tunnel syndrome, it was found that yoga had effective pain-reducing effects on the patients (15).
Another study conducted in 2005 found that yoga had very potent pain-relieving effects and could improve physical function in osteoarthritis patients (16).
Even though there is a need for more research, making yoga a part of your daily routine may be helpful for people with chronic pain.
Other benefits of yoga include:
- Increases strength, flexibility, and endurance
- Encourages mindfulness which in turn promotes healthy eating habits (mindful eating)
- Relieves migraines by stimulating the vagus nerve
- It incorporates several breathing exercises which can improve lung function and breathing