Many people attribute improvements in their physical and mental health to the practice of yoga. But until recently, research on the health benefits of yoga was sparse. As the body of rigorous yoga research grows, more and more work shows the many health benefits of a yoga practice.
What is yoga?
The name “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit word “Yuj” which means to unite, unite or connect the mind, body and soul. The first text on yoga was written by the sage Patanjali over 2,000 years ago in India. Patanjali described yoga as “citta-vrtti-nirodhah” or “calming the mind”. This was achieved through a blend of breath work, meditation, physical movement and body purification practices, as well as ethical and moral codes for living a healthy and purposeful life.
Over the years, various yoga teachers have modified Patanjali’s original yoga, resulting in different styles that vary in intensity and focus. For example, some styles of yoga, such as Vinyasa, focus more on intense movements similar to an aerobic workout. Restorative yoga includes more relaxation poses. Iyengar yoga uses props and emphasizes precision and proper alignment of the body. These different styles provide options for individuals with different physical abilities.
Generally speaking, yoga instructors in the United States today teach styles that incorporate postures, breathing exercises, and sometimes meditation.
What does the search show?
As yoga’s popularity has grown in recent years, researchers have begun to study its effects and have found that it has great benefits for both mental and physical health. Yoga involves physical movement, so it’s no surprise that most types of yoga can help improve a person’s strength and flexibility. In a study of healthy, untrained volunteers, researchers found that eight weeks of yoga improved muscle strength in the elbow and knee by 10% to 30%. Flexibility in the ankle, shoulder and hip joints also increased from 13% to 188%.
There are a number of less obvious but significant benefits of yoga as well. Research has shown that practicing yoga can reduce risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and abdominal obesity. Studies in older adults have shown significant improvements in balance, mobility, cognitive function and overall quality of life.
Yoga also appears to be effective in managing pain. Research has found that yoga can improve symptoms of headaches, osteoarthritis, neck pain and lower back pain. In fact, the American College of Physicians recommends yoga as one of the initial non-drug treatment options for chronic low back pain.
Yoga also offers many mental health benefits. Researchers have found that regular practice for eight to 12 weeks can lead to moderate reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms, as well as help with stress management.
More than physical exercises
Yoga is a type of exercise in that it is a form of physical exertion that helps build physical fitness. Many of the benefits found by the researchers are due to the physical activity component and are similar to the benefits of other forms of exercise, such as running, weight lifting or gymnastics.
But unlike these other activities, the practice of yoga incorporates mindfulness as a fundamental aspect. With a focus on breath control, postures and meditation, yoga increases how much a person pays attention to their body’s sensations and the present moment. This mindfulness leads to many benefits not found in other forms of exercise.
Studies have shown that mindfulness training alone can increase a person’s self-awareness, along with the ability to skillfully recognize and respond to emotional stress. It may even give a person greater control over long-term behavior. One study found that increased mindfulness from yoga can help people better recognize and respond to feelings of fullness when eating, decrease food cravings, and alleviate concerns about their body appearance.
My colleagues and I observed a similar effect in a pilot study of the benefits of yoga for individuals with type 2 diabetes. After practicing yoga twice a week for three months, several participants reported paying more attention to their diet, eating less, and eating more. healthier way, even without any nutritional intervention. Our patients also reported less stress and greater willingness to engage in other types of physical activities.
Yoga is clearly different from Western exercise in the way it addresses mental health. With further research, it may be possible to understand the biological mechanisms as well.
Things to know if you want to start doing yoga
Yoga may not be helpful for all medical conditions or suitable for all people, but people of all age groups, body types, and physical abilities can practice yoga. It can be a form of mental and physical exercise for people who don’t like to break a sweat during strenuous forms of exercise or for individuals with medical or physical conditions who find training in the gym challenging.
It’s important to consider that while yoga is generally safe, just like any other form of exercise, there is some risk of injury. Individuals with medical conditions who are new to yoga should initially practice it under the supervision of a trained instructor.
If you decide to give yoga a try, talk to your yoga instructor first to assess whether the style they offer suits your preferences and fitness levels. Remember, you may need to practice for a few weeks to feel the benefits, physically and mentally.
(The article was distributed by the AP via The Conversation)