“Yoga is a healing system of theory and practice. The purpose of yoga is to create strength, awareness and harmony in both the mind and body,” explains Natalie Nevins, DO, a board-certified osteopathic family physician and certified Kundalini Yoga instructor in Hollywood, California. “As an osteopathic physician, I focus a lot of my efforts on preventive medicine and practices, and in the body’s ability to heal itself. Yoga is a great tool for staying healthy because it is based on similar principles.”
The benefits of yoga provide both instant gratification and lasting transformation. In the fitness world, both are extremely important. Too much time with too few results can be incredibly discouraging, and monotonous routines week after week can lead to stagnation. Yoga can change your physical and mental capacity quickly, while preparing the mind and body for long-term health.
1. Perfects Your Posture
Your head is like a bowling ball—big, round, and heavy. When it’s balanced directly over an erect spine, it takes much less work for your neck and back muscles to support it. Move it several inches forward, however, and you start to strain those muscles. Hold up that forward-leaning bowling ball for eight or 12 hours a day and it’s no wonder you’re tired. And fatigue might not be your only problem.
Poor posture can cause back, neck, and other muscle and joint problems. As you slump, your body may compensate by flattening the normal inward curves in your neck and lower back. This can cause pain and degenerative arthritis of the spine.
2. Relieves Chronic Neck Pain
Assessment of the effects of a 9-week yoga intervention on chronic nonspecific neck pain found that neck-related disabilities were improved for at least 12 months after intervention completion. Sustained yoga practice was deemed the most important predictor of long-term effectiveness.
3. Relieves Migraines
Research shows that migraine sufferers have fewer and less painful migraines after three months of yoga practice. The cause of migraines isn’t fully understood, but it could be a combination of mental stressors and physical misalignment that create migraines and other issues. Hunching over a computer or cell phone with your shoulders up and head forward causes overlifting of your trapezius and tightening of the neck. This pulls the head forward and creates muscle imbalances that can contribute to headaches and migraines.
4. Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease
A case report assessed the effects of yoga on gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD). The researchers indicate regular and proper use of yoga along with over-the-counter or prescribed proton pump inhibitors (PPI) can control the severe symptoms of GERD and can avoid or delay the necessity of invasive procedures.
The case report showed that with the regular practice of Kapalbhati and Agnisar kriya along with PPI, patients with hiatal hernia had improvement in severe symptoms of GERD which were initially refractory to PPI alone.
5. Inner Peace
We all love to visit peaceful, serene spots, rich in natural beauty. Little do we realize that peace can be found right within us and we can take a mini-vacation to experience this any time of the day! Benefit from a small holiday every day with yoga and meditation. Yoga is also one of the best ways to calm a disturbed mind.
6. Relieves Low Back Pain
Several studies suggest yoga may be effective for chronic low back pain and have shown that yoga intervention in populations with chronic low back pain may be more effective than usual care for reducing both pain and medication use.
A randomized controlled study investigating medical yoga, exercise therapy and self-care advice concluded that 6 weeks of uninterrupted medical yoga therapy is a cost-effective early intervention for non-specific low back pain, when treatment recommendations are adhered to.
The effect of yoga on pain, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and serotonin in premenopausal women with chronic low back pain was investigated in a study. Participants practiced yoga three times a week for 12 weeks. The researchers propose that brain-derived neurotrophic factor may be one of the key factors mediating beneficial effects of yoga on chronic low back pain.
A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials regarding the use of yoga for chronic low back pain agrees that yoga may be an efficacious adjunctive treatment for chronic low back pain. However, the researchers add that before any definitive conclusions can be drawn, a number of methodological concerns need to be addressed to determine whether yoga has specific treatment effects or offers any advantages over traditional exercise programs.
7. Increases Blood Flow
Yoga gets your blood flowing. More specifically, the relaxation exercises you learn in yoga can help your circulation, especially in your hands and feet. Yoga also gets more oxygen to your cells, which function better as a result. Twisting poses are thought to wring out venous blood from internal organs and allow oxygenated blood to flow in once the twist is released.
Inverted poses, such as Headstand, Handstand, and Shoulderstand, encourage venous blood from the legs and pelvis to flow back to the heart, where it can be pumped to the lungs to be freshly oxygenated. This can help if you have swelling in your legs from heart or kidney problems. Yoga also boosts levels of hemoglobin and red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues. And it thins the blood by making platelets less sticky and by cutting the level of clot-promoting proteins in the blood. This can lead to a decrease in heart attacks and strokes since blood clots are often the cause of these killers.
8. Lowers Blood Sugar in Diabetics
Certain yoga asanas, if practiced regularly, are known to have beneficial effects on human body. Researchers at the University College of Medical Sciences, in Shahdara, New Delhi evaluated 24 patients aged 30 to 60 year old who had non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, also called Type II diabetes. Diabetics who require insulin are called Type I, while Type II diabetics are treated with diet, exercise, and oral medicines that lower blood sugar. The researchers evaluated the baseline fasting blood sugar levels of the patients, and they also performed pulmonary function studies. These pulmonary function studies measure lung capacity and the amount of air that can be exhaled within the first second of a rapid exhale.
After performing these basic tests, yoga experts gave these patients training in yoga asanas. The yoga practice was done 40 minutes a day for 40 days. These asanas consisted of 13 well known and common postures, done in a sequence. After 40 days of yoga asanas regimen, the testing was repeated. The results indicate that there was significant decrease in fasting blood sugar levels from about 190 initially to 140 after the 40 day period of yoga activity. Fasting blood sugar in people without diabetes is usually below 120. The lung studies showed an average improvement of about 10 percent in lung capacity. These findings suggest that better blood sugar control and pulmonary functions can be obtained in type I diabetics when they stick to a daily schedule of yoga asanas and pranayama.
The exact mechanism as to how these postures and controlled breathing interact with physio-neuro-endocrine mechanisms affecting blood sugar and pulmonary functions remains to be worked out.
9. Fights Food Cravings
Researchers from the University of Washington found that regular yoga practice is associated with mindful eating, an awareness of physical and emotional sensations associated with eating. By causing breath awareness, regular yoga practice strengthens the mind-body connection. The awareness can help you tune in to emotions involved with certain cravings, and yoga breathing exercises can help you slow down and make better choices when cravings strike.
10. Bipolar Disorder
In a study of the benefits and risk of yoga in individuals with bipolar disorder, the participants reported positive emotional effects, particularly reduced anxiety, positive cognitive effects (e.g., acceptance, focus, or “a break from my thoughts”), or positive physical effects (e.g., weight loss, increased energy). Some respondents considered yoga to be significantly life changing. The most common negative effect of yoga was physical injury or pain.
Five respondents gave examples of specific instances of a yoga practice that they believed increased agitation or manic symptoms; five respondents gave examples of times that yoga increased depression or lethargy.
Yoga is used for a variety of immunological, neuromuscular, psychological, and pain conditions. Recent studies indicate that it may be effective in improving pregnancy, labor, and birth outcomes.
The breathing and meditation techniques keep pregnant mothers healthy and relaxed, and provide the mental focus to aid childbirth. Some postures are chosen specifically to help encourage an optimal fetal position.
12. Better Relationships
Yoga can even help improve your relationship with your spouse, parents, friends or loved ones! A mind that is relaxed, happy and contented is better able to deal with sensitive relationship matters. Yoga and meditation work on keeping the mind happy and peaceful; benefit from the strengthened special bond you share with people close to you.
13. Better Sleep
Researchers from Harvard found that eight weeks of daily yoga significantly improved sleep quality for people with insomnia. And another study found that twice-weekly yoga sessions helped cancer survivors sleep better and feel less fatigued. This can be attributed to yoga’s ability to help people deal with stress. Sleep issues are like anxiety. Your head can’t stop spinning, you don’t know how to relax. Breathing and mental exercises allow the mind to slow down, so you’re going to start to see yourself sleep better.
14. Helps Keep You Drug Free
If your medicine cabinet looks like a pharmacy, maybe it’s time to try yoga. Studies of people with asthma, high blood pressure, Type II diabetes (formerly called adult-onset diabetes), and obsessive-compulsive disorder have shown that yoga helped them lower their dosage of medications and sometimes get off them entirely. The benefits of taking fewer drugs? You’ll spend less money, and you’re less likely to suffer side effects and risk dangerous drug interactions.
15. Weight Management
A comparative controlled trial compared the effects of yoga and walking for overweight and obese adults. Both groups showed a significant decrease in BMI, waist circumference, hip circumference, lean mass, body water, and total cholesterol. The yoga group increased serum leptin and decreased LDL cholesterol. The walking group decreased serum adiponectin and triglycerides. Both yoga and walking improved anthropometric variables and serum lipid profile in overweight and obese persons.
The prevalence of yoga research in western health care is increasing. The marked increase in volume indicates the need for more systematic analysis of the literature in terms of quality and results.
16. Arthritis Fighter
When it comes to the benefits of different types of yoga, a study indicated that iyengar yoga, known for its use of props like belts, blocks, and other positioning aids, might help people with rheumatoid arthritis. This pilot study of eight people with rheumatoid arthritis showed that a six-week yoga program improved pain, pain disability, mental health, depression, vitality, and self-efficacy. Other types of yoga might help arthritis symptoms, too.
17. Supports Connective Tissue
As you read all the ways yoga improves your health, you probably noticed a lot of overlap. That’s because they’re intensely interwoven. Change your posture and you change the way you breathe. Change your breathing and you change your nervous system. This is one of the great lessons of yoga: Everything is connected—your hipbone to your anklebone, you to your community, your community to the world. This interconnection is vital to understanding yoga. This holistic system simultaneously taps into many mechanisms that have additive and even multiplicative effects. This synergy may be the most important way of all that yoga heals.
Side Effects of Yoga
Even though in most cases yoga is safe, there are times that certain positions could lead to low back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, hip or knee problems. For instance, should stands could aggravate neck problems. Back bends could aggravate back problems. If you have a musculoskeletal injury, take it slow and don’t try to do every position the yoga instructor recommends to the class.