Starting with the bottom line:
If you needed convincing, then the science backs the physical and mental benefits for practicing Yoga.
Studies have confirmed the mental and physical benefits of Yoga. Incorporating it into your routine can help enhance your health, increase strength, flexibility and reduce symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety. Hence, finding the time to practice Yoga just a few times per week may be enough to make a noticeable difference when it comes to your health.
Can Decrease Stress
Yoga is known for its ability to ease stress and promote relaxation. Multiple studies have shown that it can decrease the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. One example study has demonstrated the effect of Yoga on stress by following 24 women who perceived themselves as emotionally distressed. After a three-month Yoga program, the women had significantly lower levels of cortisol. They also had lower levels of stress, anxiety, fatigue and depression.
Many people begin practicing Yoga as a way to cope with feelings of anxiety, and many studies have shown it can help reduce anxiety. In one study, 34 women diagnosed with an anxiety disorder participated in Yoga classes twice weekly for two months. At the end of the study, those who practiced Yoga had significantly lower levels of anxiety than the control group.
May Reduce Inflammation
In addition to improving mental health, some studies suggest that practicing Yoga may reduce inflammation as well.
A 2015 study divided 218 participants into two groups, those who practiced Yoga regularly and those who didn’t. Both groups then performed moderate and strenuous exercises to induce stress. At the end of the study, the individuals who practiced Yoga had lower levels of inflammatory markers than those who didn’t.
Could Improve Heart Health
The health of your heart is an essential component of overall health. Studies show that Yoga may help improve heart health and reduce several risk factors for heart disease. One study found that participants over 40 years of age who practiced Yoga for five years had a lower blood pressure and pulse rate than those who didn’t. The significance being that high blood pressure is one of the major causes of heart problems, such as heart attacks and stroke.
Improves Quality of Life
Yoga is becoming increasingly common as an adjunct therapy to improve quality of life for many individuals. One study followed women with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy. Yoga decreased symptoms of chemotherapy, such as nausea and vomiting, while also improving overall quality of life. A similar study looked at how eight weeks of Yoga affected women with breast cancer. At the end of the study, the women had less pain and fatigue with improvements in levels of invigoration, acceptance and relaxation.
May Fight Depression
Some studies show that Yoga may have an anti-depressant effect and could help decrease symptoms of depression. This may be because Yoga is able to decrease levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that influences levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter often associated with depression.
Could Reduce Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is a persistent problem and has a range of possible causes, from injuries to arthritis. There is a growing body of research demonstrating that practicing Yoga could help reduce many types of chronic pain. In one study, 42 individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome either received a wrist splint or did Yoga for eight weeks. At the end of the study, Yoga was found to be more effective in reducing pain and improving grip strength than wrist splinting.
Could Promote Sleep Quality
Poor sleep quality has been associated with obesity, high blood pressure and depression. In a 2005 study, 69 elderly patients were assigned to either practice Yoga, take an herbal preparation or be part of the control group. The Yoga group fell asleep faster, slept longer and felt more well-rested in the morning than the other groups. Suggesting that incorporating Yoga into your routine could help promote better sleep.
Improves Flexibility and Balance
Many people add Yoga to their fitness routine to improve flexibility and balance. A study looked at the impact of 10 weeks of Yoga on 26 male college athletes. Doing Yoga significantly increased several measures of flexibility and balance, compared to the control group.
Could Help Improve Breathing
Pranayama, or yogic breathing, is a practice in Yoga that focuses on controlling the breath through breathing exercises and techniques.
In one study, 287 college students took a 15-week class where they were taught various Yoga poses and breathing exercises. At the end of the study, they had a significant increase in vital capacity, a measure of the maximum amount of air that can be expelled from the lungs. It is especially important for those with lung disease, heart problems and asthma.
May Relieve Migraines
Migraines are severe recurring headaches that are treated with medications to relieve and manage symptoms. A 2007 study divided 72 patients with migraines into either a Yoga therapy or self-care group for three months. Practicing Yoga led to reductions in headache intensity, frequency and pain compared to the self-care group.
Promotes Healthy Eating Habits
Because Yoga places an emphasis on mindfulness, some studies show that it could be used to encourage healthy eating behaviours. Mindful eating (intuitive eating), is a concept that encourages being present in the moment while eating, paying attention to the taste, smell and texture of your food. At the same time noticing any thoughts, feelings or sensations you experience while eating.
This practice has been shown to promote healthy eating habits that help control blood sugar, increase weight loss and treat disordered eating.
Can Increase Strength
There are specific poses in Yoga that are designed to increase strength and build muscle. In one study, 79 adults performed 24 cycles of sun salutations six days a week for 24 weeks. They experienced a significant increase in upper body strength, endurance and weight loss. Women had a decrease in body fat percentage, as well.
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