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, certified yoga teacher, trainer, and cofounder of the Green Yoga Association. “They all require discipline and dedication to reach them.”
1. Asthma: The American College of Sports Medicine found a 43% 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.
2. Arthritis: 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.
3. Back pain: A study at the West Virginia University School of Medicine found that, after practicing yoga for three months, people reported 70% less lower-back pain, and 88% 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.
4. 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.
5. Depression and anxiety: Boston University’s School of Medicine discovered a 27% 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.
6. Insomnia: 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.
7. Nutrition: 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.
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, certified yoga teacher and author of Mindfulness Yoga: The Awakened Union of the Breath, Body, and Mind. “Yoga offers freedom from fear.”
Excerpted from 27 Things to Know About Yoga by Victoria Klein ©2010 by Victoria Klein. Used with permission from Turner Publishing & author Victoria Klein.