Yoga is an ancient Indian mind and body practice that has become increasingly popular throughout the world because of its innumerable health benefits.
…and the list goes on!
Each has its own distinct emphasis regarding the different physical practices, encompassing the different physical postures (yoga asana) and breathing techniques (pranayama) with the optimum coordination of breath and movement. They also include meditation techniques that cultivate mind-body awareness and stimulate the body’s own natural healing process.
A complete yoga program will address health in totality on the principle of a healthy mind in a healthy body.
After all, Yoga is a holistic lifestyle that encourages physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
In fact, it is listed as a form of complementary and alternative medicine by the National Institutes of Health.
This article summarizes the existing findings by reflecting on the evidence presented in research papers on the clinical effects of yoga treatments on different components of mental and physical health.
Yoga Benefits For The People
Yoga is an integrated system of self-culture that aims for the harmonious development of the body and mind, and covers all aspects of human life in between. It can lead to immense physical benefits and mental harmony culminating in positive thinking, happiness, and peace.
Practicing yoga has been associated with many positive outcomes in various aspects of mental and physical well-being. A few of the important health outcomes that have been observed through clinical trials in many people include:
- A decrease in blood glucose, lower blood pressure and heart rate
- A decrease in blood lipid values/cholesterol
- A decrease in body mass index/weight loss
- Improves lung function, the strength of inspiratory and expiratory muscles as well as skeletal muscle strength and endurance
- Decrease mild lower back pain as well as chronic low back pain
- Delay the onset of muscle soreness following strenuous activity
- Increase flexibility and balance
- Improve cardiovascular performance
With a secondary impact on the mental state, yoga asanas especially have a positive effect on health and physical flexibility, while pranayama practices and relaxation/meditation techniques can contribute to greater mindfulness, less tension, and greater well-being and quality of life.
An increasing body of research shows that stress reduction, emotion control, improved mood, and well-being, improved cognitive functioning, improved respiratory function, improved physical flexibility, muscle strength, and neuromuscular performance are some of the most reliable and reproducible effects of yoga practice.
The impact of yoga has also been linked to a reduction in cortisol levels and improvements in mental health. Such positive influences include
Do Different Groups Of People Have Different Experiences With Yoga?
The National Health Interview Survey report examined the changes over time in the percentage of adults who used yoga, meditation, and chiropractors in the past 12 months, as well as variations by sex, age, and race, and Hispanic origin. The report suggested that women were more likely than men to use yoga, meditation, and chiropractors.
Additionally, the use among non-Hispanic white adults was generally higher than among Hispanic and non-Hispanic black adults. Thus, the pattern of use by age varied for each approach. However, irrespective of this difference, yoga workout does benefit all age groups.
There are several forms of yoga that exist to meet the needs of varying age groups. A critical factor to consider is the selection of different yoga asanas based on the age group of an individual. Accordingly, different groups of people may have different yoga-related experiences.
The biggest issue for adults today is managing stress, a cause of all ailments. The practice of yoga with regulated breathing technique balances the body, mind, spirit and ensures complete well being. Research experts have investigated the therapeutic effects of yoga on adults to provide a comprehensive review of the benefits of regular yoga practice. Results from the studies show that yogic practices in adults have several benefits such as:
- Different yoga pose improves the core strength and improves muscular strength, body flexibility, and posture
- Promote and improve respiratory rate and cardiovascular function
- Promote recovery from and treatment of addiction
- Helps in strengthening the nervous system
- Reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain
- Improve sleep patterns
- Enhance the overall well-being and quality of life
A woman’s body is unique as it has to undergo transitions of the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause, and post-menopause. Yoga along with the different relaxation techniques, can maintain a balanced and harmonious reproductive system and provide a woman’s body with the necessary strength to face these transitions.
Women are also more prone to depression. According to study reports, the prevalence of major depression is higher in women than in men. In 2010 its global annual prevalence was 5.5% and 3.2%, respectively, representing a 1.7-fold greater incidence in women. A study was thus carried out to investigate the effects of yoga on stress, anxiety, and depression in women. Observations from the study showed that 12 sessions of interventions such as regular hatha yoga exercise significantly reduced stress, anxiety, and depression in women.
The overall benefits of Yoga for Women include:
- Improved body postures
- Reduces stress, anxiety, and depression
- Beneficial for natural childbirth
- Prenatal yoga may help reduce pelvic pain. It may also improve the mental condition (stress, depression, anxiety, etc.), physical condition (pain and pleasure at the delivery, etc.), and perinatal outcomes (obstetrical complications, delivery time, etc.)
- Helps alleviate symptoms of menopause
- Helps alleviate symptoms of medical conditions such as fibromyalgia
Aging influences one’s mood, social behavior, physical status and also brings about adverse changes in cognitive behavior, perceived sensation, and thinking processes. Although regular physical activity can alleviate many health problems, results from previous studies have reported the positive effects of yoga on multiple health outcomes among the elderly folks.
The relatively low impact, modifiable design of yoga can provide a middle ground for people with movement disabilities, clinical diagnosis, and is especially appropriate for aging populations, compared to conventional types of aerobic and anaerobic exercise. In line with the observation, researchers also carried out a study to examine the effects of yoga intervention on quality-of-life (QOL) and sleep quality among the elderly living in old age homes. The study result showed that subjects in the yoga group had significant improvement in all the domains of QOL and total sleep quality.
The overall benefits of Yoga for the elderly include:
- Subjective well-being
- Improvement in health outcomes such as sleep quality, pain, depression anxiety, mood, and stress
- Yoga improves core strength and balance
- Yoga improves cognitive function
- Increase in the flexibility and mobility of joints in people with arthritis
- Yoga may cause a significant decrease in heart rate , lower heart disease risk and improves the heart health
- Improvement in the cardio-metabolic measures such as high blood pressure, blood glucose, and blood lipids and on cortisol, and other inflammatory markers.
It’s not surprising that there is a high prevalence of low sperm counts in young men across the world today is a cause of concern. Yoga triggers neurohormonal mechanisms that reduce the levels of stress hormone, and thus helps with anxiety, improves autonomic functions, and thus, improves reproductive health. However, there is a definite need for more directed scientific research to be carried out to elucidate the effects and the mechanisms of such impacts of yoga on male reproductive physiology.
The overall benefits of Yoga for Men include:
- Yoga can be beneficial in the prevention of male infertility
- Yoga can account to improved sperm count and male reproductive health
- Yoga can be a good therapeutic alternative in the treatment of Premature ejaculation
- Yoga can be helpful in the management of various sexual dysfunctions in men
Teenage years could be the most interesting as well as the most challenging phase of our lives. Teens commonly struggle with self-esteem issues and need a physical outlet to stay fit and energized. During the teen years, most boys and girls become self-conscious about the changes in their bodies that go with sexual development. The physical practice of different yoga pose, helps tone and balance the sex glands while improving energy.
Benefits of Yoga for Teens include:
- Improves flexibility, stamina, and concentration
- With the practice of a range of motion, yoga can help build endurance
- Regular practice of yoga builds muscle tone and strength and improves energy and balance to enhance physical fitness and performance
- Yoga helps to keep organs healthy despite everyday stresses.
- It also assists in balancing out the mood swings and eliminating the body aches resulting from the hormonal imbalances experienced during sexual maturing [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4605219/]
- During this growth period, yoga is useful in easing the tension of tight muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and it can also help to strengthen bones
- Yoga practice in childhood and early adulthood is also found to be effective to avoid precocious puberty
- Adolescent participants in a study reported significant improvement in the feelings of happiness and enthusiasm, having clarity of thought, control over anger, and account to higher self-confidence at the end of the study period
- Helps prevent adolescent substance use risk factors
- Yoga training resulted in a significant increase in pulmonary function and exercise capacity in adolescents
With clearer evidence of its advantages, coaches and athletes can better see that yoga plays a key role in performance optimization. A study carried out to determine the impact of yoga on male college athletes demonstrated that regular yoga practice may:
- Increase the flexibility and balance as well as whole-body measures of athletes and may enhance athletic performances that require these characteristics
- Allows athletes to diversify their motor time-on-task by integrating a new functional range of generic movements with the solicitation of neuromuscular synergies related to the specificity of their sport.
In this day and age, children can practice yoga to sustain the balanced growth of body and mind. Many of the yoga postures and breathing exercises have been developed to meet the needs of growing boys and girls combining the art of movement with the classical yoga asanas. Starting yoga early could have tremendous benefits for growing children including:
- Yoga helps children at an early age to develop strength, endurance, grace, and balance
- Weight-bearing posture of yoga help in the growth of strong bones, whereas bendings and twistings help to maintain flexibility
- Today, stress is endemic not only among adults but also in growing children, thus, practicing yoga practices can help children to learn at an early age how to manage stress. Yoga may help children cope with stress by teaching them self-regulation skills to control emotions and stress at a young age
- According to the National Institutes of Health, children who regularly attend yoga classes have an increased sense of self-awareness and self-confidence. Concentration skills are enhanced. This, in turn, may contribute to improved attention, self-esteem, empowerment, and good mental health
- According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), mind-body therapies, including yoga, were the most favored complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices among children with behavioral, emotional or mental health problems
Millions of veterans live with chronic mental and physical health conditions that often do not respond well to pharmacological treatments. Yoga is an increasingly common intervention of the mind-body connection that has growing research support for its effectiveness and safety.
Benefits of Yoga for Veterans include:
- Among veterans, estimates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) range from 9% to 31% a year after deployment. Yoga has been shown to reduce PTSD symptoms.
- Yoga may be suitable for Veterans with multiple comorbid conditions as different yoga programs have been associated with diverse positive impacts
- Yoga breathing techniques are also thought to promote psychological processes of concentration and mindfulness, decentering, and emotion regulation
- A wide spectrum of physical and mental health conditions can be improved. Studies have demonstrated that when practiced alone, yoga leads to improvements in both physical and psychological symptoms
In The Community
The community encompasses the coming together of people from diverse backgrounds, ages, and interests. Benefits of yoga in the community include:
- Helps foster vital and lasting connections
- Positively impact mood, psychological functioning, and focus
- Helps in socializing and sharing common experiences during the yoga sessions
- Promotes the flow of positive energy in your relationships, which further helps in strengthening ties with friends and family
- Amplifies feelings of safety and trust within the community
FAQ About The Health Benefits of Yoga
What Are The Main Physical Benefits Of Yoga?
- Physical exercises (asanas) can improve the physical flexibility, balance, and power of a person, while breathing and meditation practices can relax and concentrate the mind to gain greater concentration and decrease anxiety, resulting in a higher quality of life
- Studies have indicated that the benefits of yoga can surpass those of self-rated health status, aerobic fitness, and strength from traditional exercise interventions. In terms of enhancing gait, posture, body stability, body control, and weight loss, yoga tends to have tremendous benefits
What Does Research Say About Yoga As Disease Prevention?
Insights from clinical evidence on the benefits of yogaasana and breathing exercise against disease prevention suggest potential beneficial effects of yoga in the management of preventing diseases including influenza, tuberculosis (TB), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, wherein the status of the immune system is an important factor that determines the progression of the disease. The findings of the Meditation or Exercise to Prevent Acute Respiratory Illness Study (MEPARI) trial showed that yoga/meditation preparation resulted in a greater reduction in the incidence of global acute respiratory infection (ARI) compared to exercise or participants in the wait-list monitoring.
Can Yoga Help With Symptom Reduction in Chronic Diseases?
- Study findings indicate a potential complementary role for yoga in symptom reduction of chronic diseases. A prospective, randomized trial compared the efficacy of two programs (yoga and breath awareness) as an add-on to anti-TB treatment. At the end of 2 months, the yoga group showed a significantly better reduction in symptom score and an increase in weight and lung capacity with an improved level of infection control and radiographic image as compared to the non-yoga group
- Similarly, the effects of 1 month of integrated yoga (IY) intervention have reported significant improvement in the psychological states as well as in the viral loads in patients suffering from HIV-1 infection. In addition, yoga has also been reported to be an effective intervention among HIV/AIDS patients for stress management and improvement in psychological health
Can Yoga Help With Pain Management?
Several studies assess pain management as a primary outcome. A study shows that a yoga-based regimen was found to be more effective in relieving symptoms of conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Findings of a review study suggest yoga as a useful supportive intervention for a broad range of pain-associated diseases. Of the studies included, four studies described the strong effects of yoga on patients’ pain intensity/frequency.
With respect to chronic back pain and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, the respective studies had moderate effects in favor of the yoga intervention. However, particularly healthy individuals with labor pain, personal computer usage, or induced muscle soreness had the strongest beneficial effects in terms of pain management.
Interestingly, patients with headache/migraine indicated a beneficial effect on pain intensity due to yoga intervention. Thus, there is good evidence to support that yoga interventions might be useful for several pain-associated disorders.
Is Yoga A Good Way To Lose Weight?
A strategy for safe weight loss can be provided by yoga. Yoga can benefit patients with eating disorders. Yoga practice lowers the level of tension, which can strengthen food habits and help lose weight.
Results of a study indicate that yoga has been associated with less weight gain over time, particularly in young adults who are overweight. Daily practice of yoga can help prevent weight gain. In order to minimize body mass index in overweight or obese people, yoga can be considered a healthy and effective technique in advance.
What Are The Mental Health Benefits Of Yoga?
Historically, the practice of yoga was a spiritual discipline whose purpose was spiritual development, and these component practices were structured to achieve an ideal state of psychophysiological health and optimal functioning of body and mind in support of contemplative states of consciousness.
There is considerable evidence for the beneficial effects of yoga practice on mental health including:
- Beneficial effects of yoga interventions for treating depressive symptoms
- Reduction of anxiety and anxiety disorders
- Yoga relieve stress as effective as other active control interventions such as relaxation, cognitive behavioral therapy, or dance
- Cognitive enhancement
- Beneficial for the overall mental health
What Are The Benefits Of Yoga For The Brain?
Eleven studies examining the effects of yoga practice on brain structures, function, and cerebral blood flow were reviewed. The studies collectively show that yoga practice has a beneficial impact on the structure and/or function of the hippocampus, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex, and brain networks, including the default network mode (DMN).
The studies provide promising early evidence that behavioral interventions such as yoga can promise to reduce age-related and neurodegenerative declines, as severe age-related atrophy is known to be shown in many of the regions listed. Regular yogic practices may improve the brain and other neurocognitive functions.
Can Yoga Help You Quit Smoking?
There is evidence that Yoga may be helpful as an aid for smoking cessation. Yoga has been shown to decrease stress and negative mood and can help regulate weight, both of which have been shown to be obstacles to stopping smoking.
Yoga increases mindfulness as well. Mindfulness in turn may also reduce symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, improve coping with cravings, and increase the cognitive deliberation needed to make effective choices to avoid smoking in tempting situations.
Yoga has shown potential as an effective complementary therapy for smoking cessation. The outcome of a study showed that Yoga appears to increase the odds of successful smoking abstinence, particularly among light smokers.
Can Yoga Help With Menopause Symptoms?
Menopause is defined as the permanent cessation of ovarian function and is thereby the end of a woman’s reproductive phase. Studies have reported that yoga is an effective intervention for menopause. A recent systematic review study comprising of study results of 13 randomized controlled trials with 1306 participants demonstrated the beneficial effects of yoga on menopausal symptoms, particularly in alleviating :
- Psychological symptoms
- Somatic symptoms
- Vasomotor symptoms
- And/or urogenital symptoms.
What Are The Risks Of Yoga?
While yoga is being increasingly used for health purposes, its safety has been questioned. One in five adult yoga users reported at least one acute side effect and one in ten reported at least one chronic side effect, primarily musculoskeletal effects. Adverse effects were associated with hand-, shoulder- and headstands, and with yoga self-study without supervision. More than three-quarters of cases reached full recovery. However, based on the overall injury rate per 1000 practice hours, yoga appears to be as safe or safer when compared to other exercise types.
Researchers carried out a cross-sectional survey to analyze yoga-associated adverse effects and their correlates. The findings of this study have a number of practical implications for a safe yoga practice.
- Firstly people with pre-existing chronic conditions need to be careful and should choose licensed and qualified yoga instructors to teach yogic exercises. It would also be prudent to further check with their general practitioner or specialist.
- Individuals with particular disabilities are often advised to avoid specific positions (e.g. those with hypertension or glaucoma should avoid inversion pose, individuals with joint problems should avoid extreme twists, etc.).
- Studies also highlight the importance of a trained yoga practitioner, who seems to be reducing the risk of adverse effects on consumers of yoga. Beginners should learn under guidance of a yoga teacher and practice yoga, and only self-study when they feel confident and are able to properly and safely perform yoga postures.
- Finally, yoga tools such as a yoga mat, knee pads can be used to enhance protection.