If I were to mention the words ‘relaxation’ and ‘mindfulness’, and then proceed to ask you to name an activity that encompasses both of these, I am confident that 90% of you would say Yoga. Yoga, after all, is synonymous with peacefulness, calmness and tranquillity – three states of mind (and body) that I feel most people in today’s society could benefit from.
While there is no doubt that Yoga can have a positive effect on both the body and the mind, the question that many people ask is whether there are any scientific studies that back up the positive health claims made by proponents of Yoga.
In today’s article, we will delve into this topic head-first to provide you – our beloved readers – with the answers.
Yoga and Science – Is there any evidence?
There are many purported health benefits that Yoga can induce, so we will tackle each in turn and discuss the evidence (or lack of) for each. While the following list certainly isn’t exhaustive, it covers all the primary health perks associated with Yoga.
Stress: It has often been claimed that Yoga can reduce stress levels – but is this merely psychological or is there actual scientific proof that adds weight to this claim?
Surprisingly, yes. A three-month study conducted on ’emotionally distressed’ women showed that performing Yoga decreased levels of cortisol – the primary stress hormone. This resulted in improved quality of life, in addition to reduced stress, depression and anxiety. Other studies have also shown Yoga to reduce stress and improve overall mental health.
Inflammation: Although Yoga is intrinsically linked with improving mental health, there is some evidence that suggests it may also have positive effects on physical health. A study carried out in 2015 on over 200 people examined the impact of Yoga on inflammation levels. The results? Those that practised Yoga had a lower level of inflammatory enzymes than those who didn’t.
Why is reducing inflammation so important? Because chronic inflammation can promote pro-inflammatory diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
Cardiac health: We are all aware of how important heart health is – but can Yoga make our hearts even healthier and help to decrease risk factors that increase the chance of heart disease?
A 2003 study discovered that its participants (over the age of 40) who had practised Yoga for five years or longer had a lower resting heart rate and blood pressure when compared to those that didn’t.
Similarly, a study from 2004 showed that Yoga, in combination with a healthy diet and reduced stress, can decrease the levels of LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol) and halt the development of heart disease by up to 50%. Of course, this wasn’t solely down to Yoga (and we’ll never know how much of a part Yoga played), but it is interesting nonetheless.
Quality of life: With more and more people utilising Yoga as a form of ‘life therapy’, it is essential to examine whether or not Yoga can have a positive effect on the everyday life of those that practice it – and luckily for us, there are several studies in this area.
One study looked into the effects of Yoga on older people. The results? You guessed it! Practising Yoga had more of a positive impact on quality of life, mood and fatigue than other activities such as walking.
Two studies (here and here) have examined how Yoga impacts upon those who have breast cancer and those receiving chemotherapy treatment. Both concluded that practising Yoga increased relaxation and overall quality of life, as well as decreasing the symptoms of chemotherapy – pretty powerful stuff, hey!
Sleep: Is there anything better than an undisturbed night’s sleep and waking up fully refreshed, invigorated and ready for the day ahead? In our humble opinion, no, there isn’t! As human beings we need sleep, yet with so many distractions in today’s world, it is no surprise that we are getting less and less of it. Can Yoga assist with this?
Yes! Several studies have shown that Yoga can have a positive effect on both those that have sleep disturbances and those that don’t, i.e. it can decrease the frequency of disturbances in those who suffer from them, and improve overall sleeping patterns and sleeping duration in those that don’t.
Headaches & migraines: Being a sufferer of migraines from an early age I know just how much they can affect day-to-day life. Although there are a plethora of medications out there that can assist with the problem, a more natural and organic approach to pain relief is the best option for long-term health and longevity. Is Yoga one of these?
A study conducted in 2007 split migraine-suffering participants into two groups – a yoga therapy group and a self-care group – for 12 weeks. Those in the former group experienced reduced migraine frequency and intensity compared to the latter group.
Strength & body condition: Those who practice Yoga for the physical performance and aesthetic aspects will love this!
Several studies have categorically shown that performing Yoga regularly can increase (mainly upper) body strength, endurance and flexibility, in addition to decreasing body fat levels. So, if you’re looking to achieve any of the above, then Yoga is indeed one way to do to so!
There you have it, folks – proof that Yoga has many positive health benefits, encompassing mental health, physical health and physical performance. What more is there to say? Yoga is an excellent tool for keeping in shape and being healthy – just don’t forget to eat a healthy diet too!