Derived from the Sanskrit word “yuji,” meaning yoke or union, yoga is an ancient practice that brings together mind and body. It’s not surprising that science now proves that yoga has so many physical and emotional benefits.
YOGA REDUCES STRESS AND ANXIETY
Research demonstrates that yoga reduces stress by reducing the levels of serum cortisol, a stress hormone. In fact, sometimes the stress reduction can be very dramatic and rapid. In this representative study, the researchers found that “Compared to waiting-list, women who participated in the yoga-training demonstrated pronounced and significant improvements in perceived stress (P<0.02), State and Trait Anxiety (P<0.02 and P<0.01, respectively), well-being (P<0.01), vigor (P<0.02), fatigue (P<0.02) and depression (P<0.05).” In a related study, researchers followed 64 women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is characterized by severe anxiety and fear following exposure to a traumatic event. After 10 weeks, 52% of participants no longer met the criteria for PTSD at all. In fact, the National Institutes of Health have found that practicing yoga may also reduce symptoms of depression.
YOGA IMPROVES HEART HEALTH AND DECREASES INFLAMMATION
A study followed 113 patients with heart disease. Participants who included yoga in their lifestyle changes demonstrated a 23% decrease in total cholesterol and a 26% reduction in “bad” LDL cholesterol. The progression of heart disease stopped, amazingly, in a full 47% of patients! In addition to improving heart health, a reduction in chronic inflammation often associated with other diseases including heart disease have been demonstrated. A 2015 study divided 218 participants into two groups: At the end of the study, the individuals who practiced yoga had lower levels of inflammatory markers than those who didn’t.
YOGA IMPROVES FLEXIBILITY AND BALANCE: REDUCING INJURIES
There is considerable research that backs this benefit, demonstrating that it can optimize performance through the use of specific poses that target flexibility and balance.
A recent study looked at the impact of 10 weeks of yoga on 26 male college athletes and found that yoga significantly increased several measures of flexibility and balance. Another study assigned 66 elderly participants to either practice yoga or calisthenics. After one year, total flexibility of the yoga group increased by nearly four times that of the calisthenics group. As a result of increased flexibility and balance, yoga has the potential to significantly decrease the likelihood of injuries during everyday life.
The body of scientific research supporting the use of yoga for physical and emotional health is growing rapidly, but let’s face it. Yoga just FEELS GOOD.