I know we have all heard yoga is good for you and it has become very popular, but how is it good for you? When I was doing my yoga teacher training one of the things I wanted to know is what scientific studies have shown the benefits of yoga. Not only did I want to know for myself, but I wanted to be truthful and accurate with my students as a teacher. So I set about finding studies that demonstrated or debunked common perceptions of yoga's benefits.
Here are the ones that I found the most interesting with the most thorough research:
1. Inflammation in the Body - Chronic inflammation is linked to numerous health problems, including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the frailty and functional decline that can accompany aging. A study published in 2015 on the effect of yoga on levels of inflammatory markers had 218 participants, divided equally into control group and then those that practiced yoga regularly for over five years for a period of one hour daily. The age range was 20-60 years and the people in the control group were matched with people in the participating group by gender, age and by body size & composition.
Result: Study found that regular practice of yoga lowers inflammatory markers more than seen in the non-yoga group. Also, in the non-yoga group, there is significant difference in inflammatory marker levels between baseline and post exercise. This difference was not seen in the yoga group which indicates that physical stress does not increase inflammatory markers in the yoga group. Physical stress effects the yoga group less as indicated by baseline and post exercise results in inflammatory markers between the two groups. Actually, I found yoga's effects on inflammation in the body to be one of the most studied benefits of yoga.
2. Lower Back Pain - A study published in 2005 by the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that of 101 participants that had chronic low back pain, after 12 week sessions of yoga the group that practiced yoga had better back related function than the participants that were told just to read a self-care book on back pain. At 26 weeks the yoga group had a significantly less measure of bothersome back pain than the self-care group.
3. Anxiety - A 2009 study sought to evaluate the influence of yoga in relieving symptoms of anxiety in women who were referred to a yoga clinic. Participants were randomly selected to join the experimental group and the control group. 34 women were assigned to the experimental group that would participate in 90 minute yoga classes twice a week for 2 months. The control group included 31 women who were told they were on a waiting list so did not participate in yoga classes. The result was that levels of perceived anxiety dropped significantly in the yoga group compared to the control group. Note that yoga is a complementary therapy (not a replacement for anxiety medications) and one should always consult with their doctor.
Other benefits of yoga that have been studied and shown to have positive benefits include carpal tunnel, heart health (specifically atrial fibrillation), and diabetes. I encourage you to do your own research if any of the mentioned conditions effect you. You should always consult with your doctor on whether yoga is something you can and should bring into your treatment plan and whether there are any movements or stretches that you should avoid with your condition.
Although I wanted to know the scientific side of it, on a personal level I know that I have benefited greatly from a yoga practice in alleviating back pain and anxiety. More on my own personal yoga journey in my next post........