Benefits of Yoga
Yoga is a practice which traces its history back at least 5,000 years. Throughout those thousands of years, yoga has been refined and improved, tested and re-tested. Yoga’s system was designed to work for every body in every situation, regardless of age, gender, race, or other factors.
Now medical science is adding its voice to the praise of yoga. Study after study find that yoga provides a wealth of benefits for the body, mind, and spirit.
Here are just some of the amazing benefits provided by yoga.
Improved Flexibility and Balance
Being able to balance while we move, and to remain flexible, are both critical components of staying healthy. Especially as we age, it can often be those falls and slips which break bones and set us back months.
Yoga provides the solution, and it does it in a way which can reach every person. For example, one study supported by National Institutes of Health grants worked with healthy seniors aged 65-85. It found that after six months of yoga, the participants noticeably improved on forward flexibility and balancing on one leg. These improvements could mean the difference between someone making it down a flight of stairs fine or tumbling down and breaking a bone.
Decreased Back Pain
With all the news about opioid addictions, it’s wise to find non-medical solutions to pain when possible. Yoga has been shown to help practitioners ease their back pain. A study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, done with researchers at the Boston Medical Center. It found that yoga was just as good as physical therapy for helping with back pain.
So you could spend your time doing specific physical therapy which brings that one particular improvement, or you could spend your time doing yoga, which helps your entire body in a myriad of ways.
Naturally Lowered Blood Pressure
A high blood pressure level causes a cascade of other problems with the body. By simply lowering one’s blood pressure, one eases the burden on organs, tissues, and related systems. A University of Connecticut team reviewed 49 different trials which examined the relationship between yoga and blood pressure. It found, if the patient did yoga three times a week and included breathing and relaxation components in their practice, their systolic blood pressure went down an average of 11 mmHG. Their diastolic reduced an average of 6mmHG.
Inflammation is a sign that something’s wrong with the body. While we might tend to ignore minor signs of inflammation, those can then lead to related diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Several studies find that a few months of yoga can build the body’s health system to a level of strength that it is better able to deal with inflammation issues. One study done by the UCLA Department of Psychology specifically worked with breast cancer survivors, to help them find better outcomes.
Improved Attention and Focus
A study done at the University of California, Davis examined participants of all ages to see if yoga would help their mental abilities. The study followed them for three months of yoga plus meditation. Those who maintained their program for those three months saw marked improvements in their ability to focus and tune out distractions.
The impact didn’t stop there. Those who felt those benefits tended to stay with the meditation and yoga. Even seven years later, in follow-up testing, those who continued on with their program beyond the initial test period had measurably healthier brans than their non-yoga community members.
Our modern world bombards us non-stop with negative news, social media, and any number of other challenges. It can send us into spirals of worrying and sleep loss. A study by the Georgia State University found that yoga could help undo that cycle. It could ease worry levels so participants could sleep more fully, which then helped them cope more easily with stress, and so on.
With over sixteen million adults having encountered depression in their lives over the past year, depression ranks high on the list of issues many people would want help with. Most doctors push antidepressants as a pill-based fix. But large swaths of patients do not respond well to those. This issue is so key and prevalent across society that numerous studies have been done to see if yoga can help.
The answer – it can help immensely.
One study worked with male veterans at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Another worked with long-term depressed patients at the Center for Integrative Psychiatry in the Netherlands. There are studies just with women. Studies just with older people. In case after case, a regular yoga practice was found to ease those symptoms of depression.
You might think, compared with the far more tangible impacts of issues like balance, pain, mental focus, blood pressure, anxiety, and depression, that compassion wasn’t a concern to spend too much time on.
However, the way we think about compassion and empathy can impact every relationship we have. It can impact our communications with our family, friends, and community. It can impact how well (or poorly) we take care of ourselves. Without healthy levels of compassion and empathy, our relationships can deteriorate. Our concern for our own health can plummet. These cycles can self-feed and send us into a spiral of despair.
Fortunately, many studies from many different groups find that yoga raises empathy and compassion levels in a variety of ways. For example, one study in the Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo worked with caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s. These caregivers often suffer enormous amounts of burnout and stress. After eight weeks of yoga with meditation, the group had bolstered their self-compassion levels measurably. This can help them take better care of themselves, which then gives them more energy and focus when caring for their loved one.
A healthy amount of compassion in our lives, both for ourselves and for others, can become the glue which holds our support network together. It can ensure we take the time to get ample sleep, healthy food, and the health care we need in order to be fully present for those around us.
Yoga is not just a series of physical exercises to help you lose weight, although that is a nice side effect for those who are on that quest. Rather, yoga is about creating a healthy balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Yoga reminds us to slow down. To appreciate with gratitude all the blessings we have. To breathe in, deeply, bathing our body in nutrients and oxygen. To savor the moment we have before us. To treasure every day we have available to us on this Earth.
So much of how our body works is interrelated. If we aren’t sleeping well, our body isn’t able to repair and heal itself properly. If we are exhausted, we are trained by evolution to reach for high-sugar, high-starch food. If we are anxious and worried, we have trouble falling asleep. When we are tired, our body reacts more strongly to pain signals. Everything feeds into each other in a negative cycle which can feel hard to stop.
But with yoga, we have the tools to create a positive health cycle. We sleep better. We have more energy to deal with challenges. We realize through mindfulness that our problems really aren’t that bad after all, all things considered. We have fewer stress hormones rampaging in our system, damaging our health. We have less pain. We’re better able to contemplate eating healthier foods. Which all helps us to sleep better.
Take that first step. Get your cycles moving in a positive, healthy, and supportive direction.