10 Benefits of Yoga That Are Supported by Science
Derived from the Sanskrit word “yuji,” meaning yoke or union, yoga is an ancient practice that brings together mind and body. It incorporates breathing exercises, meditation and poses designed to encourage relaxation and reduce stress. This article takes a look at 10 evidence-based benefits of yoga.
Improves your flexibility
Improved flexibility is one of the first and most obvious benefits of yoga. During your first class, you probably won’t be able to touch your toes, never mind do a back-bend. But if you stick with it, you’ll notice a gradual loosening, and eventually, seemingly impossible poses will become possible. You’ll also probably notice that aches and pains start to disappear.
Builds muscle strength
Strong muscles do more than looking good. They also protect us from conditions like arthritis and back pain and help prevent falls in elderly people. And when you build strength through yoga, you balance it with flexibility. If you just went to the gym and lifted weights, you might build strength at the expense of flexibility.
Can decrease stress
Yoga is known for its ability to ease stress and promote relaxation. In fact, multiple studies have shown that it can decrease the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. One study demonstrated the powerful effect of yoga on stress by following 24 women who perceived themselves as emotionally distressed. After a three-month yoga program, the women had significantly lower levels of cortisol. They also had lower levels of stress, anxiety, fatigue and depression.
Many people begin practising yoga as a way to cope with feelings of anxiety. Interestingly enough, there is quite a bit of research showing that yoga can help reduce anxiety. In one study, 34 women diagnosed with an anxiety disorder participated in yoga classes twice weekly for two months. At the end of the study, those who practised yoga had significantly lower levels of anxiety than the control group. It’s not 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.
Could Improve Heart Health
Studies show that yoga may help improve heart health and reduce several risk factors for heart disease. One study found that participants over 40 years of age who practised yoga for five years had lower blood pressure and pulse rate than those who didn’t. High blood pressure is one of the major causes of heart problems, such as heart attacks and stroke. Lowering your blood pressure can help reduce the risk of these problems.
Improves Quality of Life
Yoga is becoming increasingly common as an adjunct therapy to improve quality of life for many individuals. In one study, 135 seniors were assigned to either six months of yoga or walking. Practising yoga significantly improved quality of life, as well as mood and fatigue, compared to the other group. Other studies have looked at how yoga can improve the quality of life and reduce symptoms in patients with cancer. One study followed women with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy. Yoga decreased symptoms of chemotherapy, such as nausea and vomiting.
May Relieve Migraines
Migraines are severe recurring headaches, which are treated with medications to relieve and manage symptoms. However, increasing evidence shows that yoga could be a useful adjunct therapy to help reduce migraine frequency. One study treated 60 patients with migraines using conventional care with or without yoga. Doing yoga resulted in a greater decrease in headache frequency and intensity than conventional care alone.
Mindful eating, also known as intuitive eating, is a concept that encourages being present in the moment while eating. It’s about paying attention to the taste, smell and texture of your food and noticing any thoughts, feelings or sensations you experience while eating. This practice has been shown to promote healthy eating habits that help control blood sugar, increase weight loss and treat disordered eating behaviours. Because yoga places a similar emphasis on mindfulness, some studies show that it could be used to encourage healthy eating behaviours.
Pranayama, or yogic breathing, is a practice in yoga that focuses on controlling the breath through breathing exercises and techniques. Most types of yoga incorporate these breathing exercises, and several studies have found that practising yoga could help improve breathing. In one study, 287 college students took a 15-week class where they were taught various yoga poses and breathing exercises. At the end of the study, they had a significant increase in vital capacity. Vital capacity is a measure of the maximum amount of air that can be expelled from the lungs. It is especially important for those with lung disease, heart problems and asthma.
Poor sleep quality has been associated with obesity, high blood pressure and depression. Studies show that incorporating yoga into your routine could help promote better sleep. One study looked at the effects of yoga on sleep in patients with lymphoma. They found that it decreased sleep disturbances, improved sleep quality and duration and reduced the need for sleep medications.