Science is proving that yoga is even more beneficial than previously suspected. The practice of yoga may be thousands of years old, but doctors and researchers are still uncovering its positive impact on a wide range of health problems.
Yoga — which combines physical postures, focused breathing, and meditation —strengthens the body, makes it more flexible, reduces stress, and enhances emotional resilience. It can also increase lung capacity and heart health, as well as improve overall physical fitness. Yoga improves cardiorespiratory performance and melatonin levels (associated with restful sleep), and has a positive impact on hypertension and cholesterol.
Researchers in Seattle found that obese individuals learn to manage their weight better through the body awareness that yoga teaches.
In medical studies of specific groups or conditions, yoga has shown significant improvements in:
- Psychopathology and quality of life in schizophrenic adults
- Distance walked, self-reported functional performance, muscle strength, and quality of life in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Chronic lower back pain, depression, and energy in military veterans
- Fibromyalgia pain
- Preterm labor time in mothers and birth weight in their babies
- Nervous system health in older adults
- Antioxidant levels
The stress reduction that yoga brings can help cancer patients through difficult radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
Early scientific studies conducted on people with osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis show promising results, with improvement in joint health and emotional well-being.
One study, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, compared two exercise regimens: yoga and walking. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy scans done after exercise sessions saw greater decreases in anxiety levels and greater improvements in mood in the yoga versus walking groups.
The National Institutes of Health recognizes the financial impact yoga might have. For instance, Americans spend $50 billion yearly on low back pain, and yoga reduces this pain while also improving movement and flexibility.
Although yoga has long been considered an alternative type of exercise, it is becoming more mainstream. Over 13 million Americans practice yoga, and more healthcare providers are recommending it to their patients.
Yoga is a low stress, low intensity exercise that, nonetheless, improves physical performance and endurance. Its postures and intensity levels can be tailored to sedentary individuals, or increased in frequency and duration for those more physically fit.
For those who still think of yoga as just sitting on the floor in a pretzel position, science is telling us otherwise. Yoga is so much more, and can benefit almost everyone.
[As with any exercise program, consult your physician before beginning.]