March 3, 2011

Myth: Yoga Has No Tangible, Measureable Benefits

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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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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