A Few Benefits of A Healthy Yoga Practice

I get asked a lot about the benefits of practicing yoga. "Is it as good for you as people say?" Or, "I hear it's good for you, but what does it actually do?" YES! But past that it's such a big answer, and sometimes I talk to people about it only to realize just after the conservation that I forgot to mention one of its many benefits. So, I decided that I needed to compile a comprehensive list from as many sources as I could so that people can check it out without me forgetting to mention things.

In my opinion, the benefits tend to be dictated in part, by why you're practicing yoga. If you're practicing because you want to increase your running time, or want to stay flexible even though you're weight training your benefits could be different from someone who is practicing to help reduce pain from arthritis, or someone who is trying to combat depression. Your benefits could be different because perhaps you're looking for different things, and that's okay. There's no right or wrong to a practice, and everyone may get different things out of it. But, I thought I'd look for a bit of variety on who thought yoga could benefit people and how.

So I launched into my search. My first stop was at Yoga Alliance, home of the national yoga teacher (and school) registry.

"There are many benefits of yoga, including:
  • Stress relief: The practice of yoga is well-demonstrated to reduce the physical effects of stress on the body. The body responds to stress through a fight-or-flight response, which is a combination of the sympathetic nervous system and hormonal pathways activating, releasing cortisol – the stress hormone – from the adrenal glands. Cortisol is often used to measure the stress response. Yoga practice has been demonstrated to reduce the levels of cortisol. Most yoga classes end with savasana, a relaxation pose, which further reduces the experience of stress.
  • Pain relief: Yoga can ease pain. Studies have shown that practicing yoga asanas (postures), meditation or a combination of the two, reduced pain for people with conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, auto-immune diseases and hypertension as well as arthritis, back and neck pain and other chronic conditions.
  • Better breathing: Yoga includes breathing practices known as pranayama, which can be effective for reducing our stress response, improving lung function and encouraging relaxation. Many pranayamas emphasize slowing down and deepening the breath, which activates the body’s parasympathetic system, or relaxation response. By changing our pattern of breathing, we can significantly affect our body’s experience of and response to stress. This may be one of the most profound lessons we can learn from our yoga practice.
  • Flexibility: Yoga can improve flexibility and mobility and increase range of motion. Over time, the ligaments, tendons and muscles lengthen, increasing elasticity.
  • Increased strength: Yoga asanas use every muscle in the body, increasing strength literally from head to toe. A regular yoga practice can also relieve muscular tension throughout the whole body.
  • Weight management: While most of the evidence for the effects of yoga on weight loss is anecdotal or experiential, yoga teachers, students and practitioners across the country find that yoga helps to support weight loss. Many teachers specialize in yoga programs to promote weight management and find that even gentle yoga practices help support weight loss. People do not have to practice the most vigorous forms of yoga to lose weight. Yoga encourages development of a positive self-image, as more attention is paid to nutrition and the body as a whole. A study from the Journal of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that regular yoga practice was associated with less age-related weight gain. The lifestyle study of 15,500 adults in their 50’s covered 10 years of participants’ weight history, physical activity, medical history and diet.
  • Improved circulation: Yoga helps to improve circulation by efficiently moving oxygenated blood to the body’s cells.
  • Cardiovascular conditioning: Even a gentle yoga practice can provide cardiovascular benefits by lowering resting heart rate, increasing endurance and improving oxygen uptake during exercise.
  • Presence: Yoga connects us with the present moment. The more we practice, the more aware we become of our surroundings and the world around us. It opens the way to improved concentration, coordination, reaction time and memory.
  • Inner peace: The meditative effects of a consistent yoga practice help many cultivate inner peace and calm." - https://www.yogaalliance.org/LearnAboutYoga/AboutYoga/Benefitsofyoga

My next stop was a bit more medical with the American Osteopathic Association. There was quite a bit of overlap with Yoga Alliance with what they had to say.

"Physical Benefits
“The relaxation techniques incorporated in yoga can lessen chronic pain, such as lower back pain, arthritis, headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome,” explains Dr. Nevins. “Yoga can also lower blood pressure and reduce insomnia.”
Other physical benefits of yoga include:
  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased muscle strength and tone
  • Improved respiration, energy and vitality
  • Maintaining a balanced metabolism
  • Weight reduction
  • Cardio and circulatory health
  • Improved athletic performance
  • Protection from injury
Mental Benefits
Aside from the physical benefits, one of the best benefits of yoga is how it helps a person manage stress, which is known to have devastating effects on the body and mind. “Stress can reveal itself in many ways, including back or neck pain, sleeping problems, headaches, drug abuse, and an inability to concentrate,” says Dr. Nevins. “Yoga can be very effective in developing coping skills and reaching a more positive outlook on life.”
Yoga’s incorporation of meditation and breathing can help improve a person’s mental well-being. “Regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness; increases body awareness; relieves chronic stress patterns; relaxes the mind; centers attention; and sharpens concentration,” says Dr. Nevins. Body- and self-awareness are particularly beneficial, she adds, “because they can help with early detection of physical problems and allow for early preventive action.” "- http://www.osteopathic.org/osteopathic-health/about-your-health/health-conditions-library/general-health/Pages/yoga.aspx

Staying within the medical community, but changing my focus a bit I hoped over to the Mayo Clinic next to see about Prenatal Yoga.

"What are the benefits of prenatal yoga?
Much like other types of childbirth-preparation classes, prenatal yoga is a multifaceted approach to exercise that encourages stretching, mental centering and focused breathing. Research suggests that prenatal yoga is safe and can have many benefits for pregnant women and their babies.
Research suggests that prenatal yoga can:
  • Improve sleep
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Increase the strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth
  • Decrease lower back pain, nausea, carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, headaches and shortness of breath
Prenatal yoga can also help you meet and bond with other pregnant women and prepare for the stress of being a new parent." - http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-yoga/art-20047193

I also found an awesome article at http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression about the benefits of Yoga for Anxiety and Depression.

In short, yoga can help you feel better no matter who you are, how fit you are, or where you're at in your life. But don't just take my word for it! Look around, see what others have to say about it.

-Leta (The Yogi)