Yoga is a meditative movement practice that stems from ancient Indian religion and tradition. Read more below to learn about yoga.
- Introduction to Yoga
- Health Benefits of Yoga
- 1) Yoga Improves Heart Rate Variability and Vagal Nerve Tone
- 2) Yoga Reduces Stress
- 3) Yoga Helps Reduce Oxidative Stress and Increase Cellular Antioxidants
- 4) Yoga Helps with Pain from Chronic Illnesses
- 5) Yoga Reduces Inflammation
- 6) Yoga Helps with Weight Loss and Cardiovascular Health
- 7) Yoga Improves Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms
- 8) Yoga Helps Relieve Asthma
- 9) Yoga Reduces Diabetes Symptoms
- 10) Yoga Helps with Depression
- 11) Yoga Helps with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- 12) Yoga Helps with Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms
- 13) Yoga Helps with Rehab from Stroke
- 14) Yoga May Help with Menopausal Symptoms
- 15) Yoga Improves Strength, Bone Density, Balance, and Flexibility
- 15) Yoga Improves Sleep Quality
- 17) Yoga Helps with Fertility
- 18) Yoga is Beneficial for Cancer Patients
- Potential Harm/Side Effects from Yoga
- The Yoga That I Do
Introduction to Yoga
Yoga is a moving meditative practice with roots going back to ancient India. Yoga is a Sanskrit word which means union. It combines physical postures, deep breathing techniques, meditation, and relaxation.
There are many different forms of yoga, including Hatha, Pranayama, Ashtanga Vinyasa, Kundalini, Bikram, etc.
Hatha yoga focuses on physical and mental strength building poses. There are many westernized types of Hatha Yoga that are used today to improve overall health and wellbeing.
One variation of Hatha yoga is Iyengar, which focuses on the detail, precision, and alignment of posture and breath control. It helps develop stability, strength, and stamina (R).
Another Hatha variation called Pranayama, also known as breathing exercises teaches you to take deep breaths that are beneficial for your entire body. Pranayama has shown to increase the blood flow and release toxins from your body. Releasing toxins through deep breathing has shown to promote better sleep (R).
Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga is a physically demanding yoga practice that involves sequences of yoga postures that are synchronized with breathing. It is more physically demanding than other forms of yoga (R).
Bikram yoga is an intense form of yoga that is practiced in a room heated to 105°F with a humidity of 40%. Although it can improve strength and balance in healthy adults, beginners should be careful due to its intense nature (R).
Yoga Nidra, also called yogic relaxation therapy, is a form of gentle yoga that typically comprises of shivasana (corpse pose or simply laying comfortably) and guided meditation (R).
Health Benefits of Yoga
1) Yoga Improves Heart Rate Variability and Vagal Nerve Tone
Yoga can stimulate the vagus nerve through stimulating movement, chanting, and breathing exercises. The vagus nerve stimulation may be responsible for some of the positive effects yoga has on the brain and emotions (R).
By stimulating the vagus nerve, yoga increases parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity. The increased PNS activity then results in an increase of γ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels in the brain (R).
Yoga can increase heart rate variability (HRV) and vagus nerve tone (R).
Note: HRV is used for health and fitness and is an indicator of autonomic regulation and vagus nerve health. High HRV is associated with fitness, strength, and resilience to stress.
2) Yoga Reduces Stress
Yoga includes meditation, relaxation, and exercise. It reduces stress and anxiety and helps control the stress response systems. Yoga reduces heart rate, improves breathing, and lowers blood pressure. All of these effects help control the HPA axis and sympathetic nervous system, thus reducing stress (R), which is good for overall health.
Yoga practices successfully reduce stress among students who have high workloads and increases their overall perception of joy (R).
3) Yoga Helps Reduce Oxidative Stress and Increase Cellular Antioxidants
Several small-scale studies in diverse types of subjects (Air Force Academy trainees or healthy young men, university students, and menopausal women) have consistently shown that yoga helps reduce oxidative stress.
- Decreased oxidized glutathione levels
- Decreased nitric oxide levels
- Decreased lipid peroxides levels
- Increased total glutathione levels in the blood
- Increased antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione peroxidase in the blood
4) Yoga Helps with Pain from Chronic Illnesses
Patients who suffer from chronic pain due to back pain, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, neck pain, or severe migraines who do not wish to take conventional painkillers find that yoga and similar practices have pain-relieving effects when done correctly (R).
Patients suffering from fibromyalgia had improved strength, balance, and pain tolerance during yoga therapy and 3 months after treatment (R).
In patients who have become addicted to opiate pain killers, pain relief during withdrawal is relieved through group medical visits and yoga participation. Over time, the opiate need become nonexistence and pain relief can be handled through yoga (R).
5) Yoga Reduces Inflammation
Regular practice can reduce cytokine levels and protect against inflammation (R).
6) Yoga Helps with Weight Loss and Cardiovascular Health
In a meta-analysis which includes 2173 participants in 30 clinical trials, yoga as an intervention was only effective for weight loss in terms of BMI but not in terms of body fat or waist circumference in overweight/obese subjects. However, yoga had no significant effect on any of these parameters in normal weight people (R). Therefore, yoga alone may not be an effective way to reducing weight or body fat, but by reducing stress and inflammation, it can be very beneficial together with diet and increased physical activity in other ways.
There are many ways in which yoga helps with weight loss as part of a lifestyle intervention program. These include:
By reducing stress, yoga can reduce inflammation, which may help with leptin sensitivity (R).
Reducing Inflammation and Increasing Adiponectin
Inflammation can cause obesity. Yoga can reduce inflammatory cytokines and adipokines such as IL-6, IL-18, TNF-alpha and CRP, and increasing adiponectin in obese and post-menopausal women (R).
Improving Cardiorespiratory Fitness
7) Yoga Improves Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms
Integrated yoga and physical therapy improve auditory and visual reaction time, and reduce depression and anxiety symptoms in patients suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS) (R).
- improving cognitive dysfunction disabilities in patients suffering from MS (R).
- improving mood (R).
- increased physical function
- increased emotional function
- increased energy levels and reduce fatigue
- improved overall hygiene
- reduce pain and necessary hospital stay length due to MS symptoms (R).
- increase strength and balance
- increasing lower limb strength and core balance, thus helps with gait and walking capabilities (R)
- improves social functioning
8) Yoga Helps Relieve Asthma
Asthma is an inflammatory disorder that can be affected by the autoimmune system. Breathing, posture, and relaxation exercises during yoga can help asthma patients (R).
A Cochrane review involving 15 randomized controlled trials and 1048 participants found moderate-quality evidence supporting that yoga may help with quality of life and reduce symptoms in people with asthma. In some patients, this led tooga could help improve asthma symptoms and reduced medication usage. Practicing yoga, especially the variations that focus on breathing techniques, can help improve asthma symptoms (R).
9) Yoga Reduces Diabetes Symptoms
10) Yoga Helps with Depression
Yoga may help with depression through reducing HPA axis dysfunction and inflammation, and by increasing BDNF.
A randomized-controlled trial demonstrated some moderate evidence for short-term effects of yoga compared to standard treatments for depression (R).
Yoga alone or yoga, together with antidepressants, help decrease Hamilton Depression Rating Scale even more so than antidepressants alone. The decrease in the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale correlates with the rise in serum BDNF levels (R).
In premenopausal women with back pain, yoga increases serum BDNF levels and prevent the drop in serotonin levels (R).
Yoga Nidra appears to help with depression and anxiety symptoms associated with menstrual disorders (R).
11) Yoga Helps with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
The normalizing effect of yoga on the stress response system may help with PTSD.
Patients suffering from PTSD had reduced anxiety and stress when participating in a group yoga therapy program (R).
Women suffering from PTSD, primarily interpersonal violence involving intimate partners, had reduced symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety after participating in Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (R).
Long-term participation in yoga reduced chronic symptoms of PTSD in young adults. Yoga also decreased the chance of being diagnosed with PTSD (R).
Children suffering from trauma due to abuse or neglect in an urban setting found relief when participating in yoga-based psychotherapy over the course of 12-weeks. Their yoga focused on improving mental health alongside physiological health (R).
Yoga increased mindfulness and resilience and decreased PTSD symptoms in soldiers returning from and currently serving in the military (R).
12) Yoga Helps with Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms
Patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease had increased physiological and psychological function after participating in an 8-week yoga program (R).
13) Yoga Helps with Rehab from Stroke
After a stroke, patients who undergo eight weeks of yoga related rehabilitation have improved brain and muscle function (R).
14) Yoga May Help with Menopausal Symptoms
A meta-study showed that yoga may help with menopausal symptoms, including psychological, body-based (somatic), and vasomotor (i.e. hot flashes) symptoms. However, two randomized control trials in this meta-analysis found no effect (R).
15) Yoga Improves Strength, Bone Density, Balance, and Flexibility
Learning the proper way to perform yoga poses strengthens your bones and muscles. It increases your flexibility and coordination and all of this can help protect you from the injury.
Hatha Yoga is physiologically beneficial to any age group, as long as it is performed properly to reduce any chances of injury. It improves core stability and balance over the course of a 21-day program by improving standing-stork form and side plank form (R, R).
Young women participating in yoga programs had increased upper limb strength and increased abdominal muscle endurance (R).
Women suffering from increased bone deterioration had improved bone mineral density and bone formation without medication solely due to participation in a group yoga setting focused on improving strength and stability (R).
In sedentary healthy adults and older adults, daily yoga practices improved functional fitness outcome over normal strength and conditioning exercises without the need for extra equipment (R).
In healthy adults, a 12-week Hatha Yoga program increased lung function, decreased resting heart rate, increased muscle strength and endurance, and overall flexibility without any serious muscle strain (R).
Continued yoga practice improves the flexibility of the muscles and connective tissues surrounding the bones and joints. Yoga helps build and maintain muscle strength (R).
Yoga also improves balance in male college athletes, which helps them with sports performance (R).
15) Yoga Improves Sleep Quality
Older adults who practiced yoga regularly reported better overall sleep quality, less disturbed sleep, less use of medications, and they also felt more rested compared to the older adults who don’t practice yoga (R).
17) Yoga Helps with Fertility
Some causes of infertility in men include low sperm quality, anxiety, and obesity.
Yoga can improve sperm quality and motility. Practicing yoga can help improve the health of the prostate and other reproductive organs. It can also reduce anxiety levels, which can improve sex life and help with mild erectile dysfunction (R).
Obesity can be a contributor to male infertility. By practicing yoga, it can help regulate weight (R).
Mood can also affect fertility and sexual function. After three months of yoga, women reported improvements in stress, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and depression, which improve sex life and increase fertility. They also reported less back pain and headaches (R).
In combination with fertility treatments, yoga can help women by improving mental relaxation. By practicing yoga, women can lead a healthier lifestyle to help with fertility (R).
18) Yoga is Beneficial for Cancer Patients
In cancer resource centers, non-pharmaceutical intervention to pain, stress, and anxiety relief are crucial to the wellbeing of patients. Included in this treatment is yoga, which reduced stress and anxiety, improved mood, and increased patients’ perceived health (R).
Women undergoing treatment for breast cancer had improved psychological functions after participating in a Bali yoga program. Depression in patients decreased and the perceived quality of life increased over continuous yoga participation (R).
In patients undergoing chemotherapy for colorectal cancer, chronic side effects include fatigue, nausea, and muscle weakness. Individual yoga post chemotherapy is an unconventional method that alleviated side effects of the treatment in patients, boosting their motivation to continue with chemotherapy (R).
Children suffering from fatigue due to chemotherapy and blood stem cell transplantation had increased mobility and strength after participating in yoga that involved breathing exercises, warm-up exercises, yoga poses, and balancing poses (R).
Men suffering from prostate cancer undergoing 6 to 9-week radiotherapy had decreased fatigue, increased sexual health, decreased levels of urinary incontinence, and increased quality of life (R).
Vivekananda Yoga has beneficial effects on both patients suffering from lung cancer and family members of those patients. The mental health and sleep quality of patients increases, which in turn leads to decreased sleep disturbances of family members (R).
Potential Harm/Side Effects from Yoga
Practitioners can get injured during yoga, even when they are supervised by experts. Yoga teachers, who practice more intense stands, are more likely to suffer from adverse events (R).
In one survey of 110 Ashtanga Vinyasa practitioners, 62% of them reported at least one yoga-related injury, which was mainly muscle sprains and strains (R).
In traditional yoga, voluntary vomiting is a common cleansing technique. This technique can cause acid reflux symptoms or dental erosion. However, this style is rarely practiced in North America or Europe (R).
Pranayama, which focuses mainly on breathing techniques, is not appropriate for beginners. There are extreme breathing techniques that resemble hyperventilation which can cause problems in people who do not know how to control their breathing (R).
Bikram yoga is practiced in a room heated to 105°F with a humidity of 40% and is physically intense. The intensity and extreme heat during Bikram make it inappropriate for the elderly and people with medical conditions to practice (R).
Finally, people with high blood pressure, glaucoma, lower back pain, and pregnant women should modify or avoid some yoga poses as they may cause injuries or aggravate some conditions (R). Fortunately, most yoga poses can be scaled back or made easier to suit the practitioner, so you should consult your physician or qualified healthcare practitioner to determine the extent to which you can practice yoga or if there are any poses to avoid.
The Yoga That I Do
Watch and perform this video, which I find very helpful to do at night.