If you're familiar with the odd asana or two, you probably already know that practicing yoga leaves one feeling more relaxed, sprightly, and ready to take on the world! And given the uncertain times we are living in, one can no longer take their health lightly. This is particularly true of those whose health conditions may prevent vigorous exercise, or those who may be recovering from a moderate-to-severe injury. Fortunately, many yoga asanas (or poses) offer a way out! From increased strength to flexibility to cardiovascular health, yoga has something for everyone!
Although the discipline of yoga was not developed with the scientific precision and temperament that are applied to modern exercise, it benefits immensely from practical development over thousands of years! What's more, many of these benefits have now come to be universally accepted by the scientific community! The U.S. military, the National Institutes of Health and other large organizations are listening to — and incorporating — scientific validation of yoga’s value in health care.
Numerous studies show yoga’s benefits in arthritis, osteopenia, balance issues, oncology, women’s health, chronic pain and other specialties. So let's examine just a few of the many health benefits that are offered by yoga!
No prizes for guessing! Improved flexibility is probably the best known of yoga's physical health benefits. To a novice, it may seem like quite the task to be able to even touch your toes. However, flexibility is in fact a core aspect of human health. Rigidity is frequently associated with deterioration of connective tissue, and persistent aches and pains, especially in old age. Yoga postures are designed to stop this degeneration, and indeed reverse the process to ensure that you remain supple as ever!
Yoga, is of course, not the only way to build strength. But strong muscles serve more than just an aesthetic purpose. While muscles can no doubt be built in a gym, isolation training often comes at the expense of flexibility. Yoga by its very nature offers integrative training. So while you may not develop guns like Arnie on the mat, you will learn to work with your body and keep it free of physical stress and wear and tear. Think of it like keeping your car well oiled! Except that it's a lot easier to replace a car than it is a spine!
In all likelihood, you’ve heard it before from a friend, colleague or relative. That ever since they have begun to practice yoga, they get angry less often, are in better control of their emotions, and live a more stress free life. Before you roll your eyes, however, it has in fact been scientifically proven that yoga does indeed ease stress and promote relaxation! In fact, multiple studies (exhibits A, B and C) have shown that practicing yoga, even for as little as ten weeks, has a noticeable reduction in the secretion of cortisol, the pesky stress-inducing hormone secreted by the adrenal glands.
It is not completely clear how, but Yoga has a proven effect on coping with anxiety. In a time of global pestilence, it has been easy to overlook mental health. But world over, we have been seeing a sharp and sustained increase in anxiety over the past decade, something experts have suggested may have worsened significantly with the rise of covid-19, and its associated loss of lives and livelihoods. Fortunately, studies have shown yoga to have a significant impact on anxiety. One ten-week case study examined 64 women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), characterized by severe anxiety in the aftermath of a traumatic event, and found that a whopping 52% of participants no longer met the clinical criteria to be diagnosed with PTSD.
The mental health benefits of Yoga are not limited to stress and anxiety. Perhaps because yoga has been shown to reduce the levels of cortisol in one’s body, it has also been linked to serotonin, the neurotransmitter most often associated with depression. Yoga, particularly in combination with meditation, can have remarkable and surprisingly beneficial effects on mental health.
So there you have it. Practicing yoga is a great way to embark on a healthier lifestyle today, one that holistically combines physical and mental well-being. Finding the time to do so, whether by itself or by incorporation into a pre-existing health regime can produce a marked improvement in one’s quality of life.