The popularity of yoga has grown tremendously over the past decade. More than 10% of American adults have practiced yoga at some point in their life. Yoga practitioners spend an average of $90 per month, and the yoga industry is worth more than 80 billion dollars worldwide.
Yoga is now a mainstream activity in the United States and is often described as a healthy lifestyle choice. I am a behavior specialist which studies how physical activity – and specifically yoga – can prevent and help manage chronic disease.
Many people attribute their improved physical and mental health to their practice of yoga. But until recently, research on the health benefits of yoga has been sparse. As the body of rigorous yoga research grows, more and more works show 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, join or connect mind, body and soul. The first text on yoga was written by sage Patanjali over 2000 years ago in India. Patanjali described yoga as “citta-vrtti-nirodhah” or “quieting the mind”. This was achieved through a blend of breath work, meditation, physical movement and body cleansing practices, along with 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 aerobic training. restorative yoga includes more relaxation poses. Iyengar Yoga uses props and emphasizes accuracy and proper body alignment. These different styles provide options for people 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 research show?
As yoga has grown in popularity in recent years, researchers have begun to study its effects and have found that it has great mental and physical health benefits.
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 with healthy, untrained volunteers, researchers found that eight weeks of yoga improved muscle strength in the elbow and knee from 10% to 30%. Flexibility in the ankle, shoulder and hip joints also increased from 13% to 188%.
There are also a number of less obvious but significant benefits of yoga. Research has shown that the practice of yoga can reduce risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and abdominal obesity. Studies in the elderly 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 shown that yoga can improve the symptoms of headache, osteoarthritis, neck pain and low back pain. In fact, the American College of Physicians recommends yoga as one of the initial non-drug options. treatment of 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 reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms as well as help with stress management.
More than physical exercise
Yoga is a type of exercise in that it is a form of physical exertion that helps build physical fitness. Much of the benefits researchers have found are due to the physical activity component and are similar to benefits from other forms of exercise such as running, weightlifting or calisthenics.
But unlike these other activities, the practice of yoga incorporates mindfulness as a key aspect. By emphasizing breath control, holding postures, and meditation, yoga increases a person’s attention to the sensations of their body 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, as well as their ability to recognize and respond skillfully to emotional stress. It can even give a person greater control over their behavior in the long run. A study found that increasing mindfulness through yoga can help people better recognize and respond to feelings of being full while eating, reduce binge eating, and allay concerns about the appearance of their body.
My colleagues and I observed a similar effect in a pilot study of the benefits of yoga for people with type 2 diabetes. After doing yoga twice a week for three months, several participants reported paying more attention to their diet, snack less and eat healthier, even without any nutritional intervention. Our patients also reported less stress and an increased willingness to engage in other types of physical activity.
Yoga is clearly different from western exercise in the way it addresses mental health. With more 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. yoga. It can be a form of mental and physical exercise for people who don’t like to sweat during strenuous exercise or for people with medical or physical conditions who find it difficult to work out in the gym .
It is important to consider that although yoga is generally safe, as with any other form of exercise, there are risk of injury. People with health conditions who are new to yoga should practice it first under the supervision of a qualified instructor.
If you decide to give yoga a try, talk to the yoga instructor first to assess whether the style they offer matches your preferences and fitness level. Remember that you may need to practice for a few weeks to feel the benefits, physically and mentally.