By Sally Holland
Those who practice yoga regularly probably find this title a little surprising in itself. Practitioners often speak of the many benefits that yoga brings to their lives – a greater sense of calmness, new opportunities for social interaction, a boost in self-confidence or enhanced physical fitness, and many more. But beyond our personal experience with yoga, there are many documented benefits for body, mind and spirit as well. The next time you speak to someone who doubts the extent to which yoga can change their life, mention these recent scientific findings:
1. Yoga reduces stress
Studies have shown that the regular practice of yoga reduces stress hormone levels, improves mood and battles fatigue, even in life-changing challenges such as breast cancer. Yoga is currently recommended for those who experience chronic stress and is a popular supplemental therapy in a wide range of settings, including rehabilitation centers and counseling sessions for individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and eating disorders.
2. Yoga encourages compassion for others and ourselves
In Buddhism, there is no distinction between compassion for others (being kind and understanding with someone, no matter the circumstances) and self-compassion (being kind and forgiving with ourselves). The yogic frame of mind involves self-acceptance, which elevates us to a higher plane than mere self-confidence. Confidence enables us to be proud when we achieve great things, yet self-compassion is more important because it encourages acceptance even when we have failed to meet our own or others’ standards.
3. Yoga can help with back pain
A recent study published in January 2017 in the Cochrane Library found that yoga may lead to a reduction of pain and increased functional ability in people with chronic, non-specific back pain. Other studies have shown it can help with chronic neck pain, and even migraines.
4. Yoga can help battle anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most common mental conditions on a global scale, and is characterized by the constant arousal of the fight of flight reaction. During an anxiety attack, individuals can feel dizzy, think they are having a heart attack, or have a full-blown panic attack which involves hyperventilation. Hyperventilation is caused by rapid inhalation (flooding one’s system with oxygen). This is why someone having a panic attack is often given a paper bag to breathe into. Yoga can help with this because it places great importance on controlled breathing (pranayama). This type of breathing instantly lowers the heart rate, thus being of great use to stop a panic attack from arising. An interesting report published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, shows that yoga helps those who suffer from anxiety, who also tend to worry constantly and get locked in patterns of negative thinking. These types of thoughts are often linked to the past or the future. Yoga is very much a mindful activity, which involves ‘being in the here and now’, focusing on aspects such as breathing and the correct performance of asanas.
5. Yoga can help stave off depression
One study shows that Sudarshan Kriya yoga (which is centered around breathing) can alleviate symptoms of severe depression in individuals who do not respond well to antidepressant medication.
6. Yoga can help with arthritis
Studies have shown that yoga is safe and effective for people with arthritis, bringing significant improvement in mood and symptoms. In one study carried out by scientists at John Hopkins Medicine, it was found that eight weeks of yoga classes improved the physical and mental health of people with knee and rheumatoid arthritis. Compared to a control group which did not practice yoga, those who attended the sessions had a 20% improvement in pain, mood, physical functions and vitality! They were also able to increase their walking speed and complete more physical tasks at work and at home. Chair yoga in particular is very useful for those with limited mobility, since it provides them with the support and sense of safety.
A considerable body of scientific research has focused on the many benefits of yoga. Over the past decade, many more findings have been made. These include yoga’s ability to stimulate brain function, improve the quality of life of people with certain types of heart disease, encourage mindful eating, reduce pain associated with fibromyalgia and so much more.
If you have never tried yoga before, discover how it can change your own life after just a few sessions.