Myth: Yoga Has No Tangible, Measureable Benefits

Via on Mar 3, 2011

Can yoga help you live a healthier life? You better believe it! Medical studies are beginning to prove the many constructive benefits of yoga that experienced practitioners have long heralded. “All of yoga’s medical benefits are a result of a heightened sense of self-awareness,” says David Lurey. “They all require discipline and dedication to reach them.”

Asthma

The American College of Sports Medicine found a 43 percent improvement in patients’ symptoms after ten weeks of yoga practice. Yoga’s emphasis on posture and deep, lengthened breaths improves lung capacity, efficiency, and overall airflow, which can reduce the frequency and severity of asthmatic attacks.

Arthritis

The slow, controlled movements of a yoga practice have been shown to decrease chronic pain and joint swelling in both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis sufferers at Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center.

Back pain

A study at the West Virginia University School of Medicine found that, after practicing yoga for three months, people reported 70 percent less lower-back pain, and 88 percent of them reduced or stopped taking pain medication. Alignment and body awareness during yoga practice has been shown to reduce numerous types of acute and chronic back pain, including scoliosis, sciatica, and herniated discs.

Blood pressure

Yale School of Medicine found “significantly reduced” systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels in hypertension patients who practiced yoga and meditation therapies—results that were comparable to drug therapy. Increased circulation and oxygenation of the blood are important outcomes of a continuous yoga practice.

Cancer

While there is still no cure for cancer, yoga has been shown to reduce physical symptoms, mental stress, treatment side effects, and quality of life in both sufferers and survivors. Studies dating back as far as 1962 have proven the benefits of complementary stress-reduction therapies like yoga for many types of cancer. Significant results include regained strength, nausea reduction, and a rise in red blood cells.

Depression and anxiety

Boston University’s School of Medicine discovered a 27 percent increase of the neurotransmitter GABA within the brain after just one sixty-minute yoga practice. Low levels of GABA have been tied to anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s. Yoga’s mood-enhancing benefits are similar to those for asthma—slowing the breath and heart rate to reduce the body’s stress response.

Diabetes

Along with its stress-reduction and strength-building benefits, yoga may help reduce and manage glucose, while possibly encouraging insulin production, especially for those with Type 2 diabetes. Medical studies from India, Nepal, and Canada have all found similar benefits for those with diabetes who maintain a regular yoga routine.

Flexibility

This may seem obvious, but no matter your range of motion, yoga can improve it. You won’t see benefits after just one class, but sticking to a regular practice helps release the lactic acid built up in your muscles. This natural acid is what causes stiffness, tension, and pain. Along with the muscles, the body’s soft tissues (tendons and ligaments) are stretched and massaged during yoga, helping you see greater overall flexibility.

Insomnia

Regular physical activity has been proven to improve sleep, and yoga is no exception. Calming for both the body and the mind, restorative yoga poses are often recommended for those finding it difficult to fall or stay asleep. A small study on yoga practitioners at Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found “statistically significant improvements” in all aspects of falling, staying, and awaking from sleep.

Memory and concentration

Yoga and meditation have been proven to increase concentration, motivation, and memory in as little as eight weeks, thanks to a rise in blood circulation to the brain and overall stress reduction. These benefits extend to help ward off the effects or advancement of Alzheimer’s.

Menopause

Studies at both the University of Washington and the University of Pittsburgh have produced the same results: yoga can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes for women in all stages of menopause. In turn, yoga may reduce the need for hormone replacement therapy and strengthen the body against future osteoporosis.

Nutrition

The Journal of the American Dietetic Association reported a unique connection between a regular yoga practice and eating healthier. Yoga is believed to increase mindful eating: being aware of why you eat and when to stop. Curiously, no other type of physical activity produced the same mindful eating effects.

Posture

Thanks to increased flexibility and strength from practicing yoga, your posture naturally improves. Development of the body’s core muscles and general self-awareness are key slump-defying benefits of yoga. Good upright posture is directly connected to positive increases in heart, lung, spine, and digestive functions.

Sexuality

Do yoga—your love life will thank you. With better control over your mind and body, you can truly relax and enjoy your more intimate encounters. Along with your new awareness, you may possess increased self-confidence, sensuality, and physical energy—your turn to take control!

Stress

One of the top reasons many seek out yoga is to relax, and for good cause. Deep breathing and conscious focus during your practice help bring you into the moment, thereby quieting the mind and releasing unnecessary tension from your body. Both yoga and meditation have proven in countless studies to be potent forces against the many stresses that bombard us in modern society, pulling us out of the primitive fight-or-flight mentality.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. No matter your physical or mental capacities, there is surely a benefit to adding a yoga practice into your life. “The greatest benefit yoga can offer is how to live a full, rich, joy-filled, compassionate life in the face of reality,” says Frank Jude Boccio. “Yoga offers freedom from fear.”

Adapted with permission from 27 Things to Know About Yoga by Victoria Klein ©2010 by Victoria Klein.

[Photo credit: Andrew Kalat]

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About Victoria Klein

Introduced to Yoga in 2000 at a gym in Connecticut, my personal practice has taken me through a crippling post-high-school era of depression and anxiety, 3 cross-country relocations, + the general rollercoaster of life. In 2012, I fulfilled a major item on my bucket list by graduating from the True Nature School of Yoga 200-Hour program in Oceanside, CA + eagerly began teaching as an RYT 200. In 2013, I've continued my dedication to education by taking True Nature's 500-Hour program, progressing toward the RYT 500 designation. Also a professional freelance writer since 2005, my first book, 27 Things to Know about Yoga, was published in 2010. I previously worked the front desk at the well-known Yoga Tree studios in San Francisco + in the production department at Yoga Journal Magazine. In my spare time, you’ll find me cooking, running, taking lots of pictures, being a Marine Corps spouse, and infusing Yoga into my entire life. My Yoga classes are a dynamic blend of effort + ease, sweating + relaxation, with numerous opportunities + options given to make each individual class easier or harder, depending on how you feel that day. As a teacher, I strive to help my students find clarity, compassion, + patience, both on + off the mat. FYI: you should join my newsletter so you don't miss any of the fun! You can also connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, + Pinterest!

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4 Responses to “Myth: Yoga Has No Tangible, Measureable Benefits”

  1. amy annis says:

    Great article. As a cancer survivor and yoga teacher I can attest to the power of yoga in the process of recovery. Despite the side affects of chemo, including weakness, cancer patients can practice restorative yoga. Its speeds the healing process both emotionally and physically. In addition, cancer patients can regain range of motion from the practice. Very recently, medical research has even suggested that cancer patients who practice yoga have fewer problems with lymphedema( swelling of extremities due to the removal of axcill nodes). Thanks to yoga, one year post treatment I feel stronger than ever.

  2. Hi, Victoria. Great to see this all together in one place. It's pretty overwhelming.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

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