The seeds of Yoga were sown in India. Yoga is an ancient practice originated from the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda and is derived from the Sanskrit word “yuji,” which means union (1). Yoga practise is based on the union of mind, body and soul together and hence has various physical , mental and spiritual health benefits. With its several health benefits this practise was spread widely across the globe and practise was adopted readily, though it lacked scientific backup. As we moved ahead, there started a growing research on YOGA and its health benefits, which raised the value of Yoga as a part of life. And on 21st June 2020 we celebrate the 6th International Yoga Day with the theme, Yoga for Health – Yoga at Home (2). On this occasion, let us have a quick look at the various evidence based health benefits.
Yoga is based on breathing exercises pranayama, meditations and yogic poses done at a slow pace which emphasizes on union of mind, body and soul. Various researches have indicated long lasting health benefits of Yoga but the results are seen only if you make Yoga a part of your daily routine. Many people start practising yoga for better mental health. Yes, Yoga does have mental health benefits:
- Reduces stress and promotes relaxation: Evidence based research suggested that 10-12 weeks of yoga practise reduced the stress hormone (cortisol) level, which reduce stress and mental fatigue. This power could be amplified if used in conjuction with other stress reducing techniques.
- Improves concentration: With the breathing and being present in the moment it improves focus and attention.
- Reduces anxiety and depression: There is a positive association between yoga and reducing anxiety, fatigue and depression, though the mechanism is less explored (3).
However, it could be used as adjunct therapy to meditation, mental exercises and diet for better results.
In addition to that, Yoga also offers physical health benefits such as:
- Increases Flexibility and Balance:. Research indicated that yoga asanas improve flexibility and balance of muscle groups. Many people add yoga to their fitness routine to improve flexibility and balance. Practicing about 1 hour of yoga biweekly for 6 weeks improves flexibility and balance of the body (4).
- Weight Loss: About 4 weeks of suryanamaskar in obese people showed significant reduction in weight of about 4 kgs (5). In fact, there are specific poses in yoga that are designed to increase strength and build muscle. About 24 weeks of suryanamaskar can significantly increase upper body strength, endurance and weight loss with a drop in body fat percentage (6).
- Improves Breathing And Lung And Heart Health: Pranayama, or yogic breathing, is a practice in yoga that focuses on controlling the breath through breathing exercises and techniques. Most types of yoga incorporate these breathing exercises, and several studies have found that practicing yoga could help improve breathing. VO2 max (maximum amount of air that can be expelled from the lungs) improved (7). It is especially important for those with lung disease, heart problems and asthma. This promotes cardiovascular endurance, good lungs and heart health and hence optimum performance.
- Reduces Inflammation: Pro-inflammatory state in the body can lead to several chronic inflammatory diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer. Research indicated that practising yoga can reduce inflammatory markers and thereby reduce inflammation and slow down disease progression (8).
- Increases Immunity: Certain yogasanas help in reducing oxidative stress and thereby protect and improve activity of immune cells, boost immunity (9).
- Improves Heart Health: Research evidence suggests that if yoga is practised for long – 1 year and more, then it helps in keeping blood pressure and pulse rate under control and improves lipid profile by reducing cholesterol and LDL cholesterol and reduce risk factors for heart disease (10,11). Caution: Heart patients have to avoid some yogic poses, hence consult an expert yoga trainer before trying out yoga .
- Reduce Chronic Pain and Improve Activities of Daily Living: Chronic pain is a common issue affecting millions of people due to various caused from injuries to arthritis. Research has shown that practicing yoga reduced pain and improve function in knee osteoarthritis, low back pain carpal tunnel syndrome, and migraines (12).
- Promotes Better Sleep Quality: Poor sleep quality has been associated with obesity, high blood pressure and depression, among other disorders .Yoga may help improve sleep quality by improving melatonin levels, and reducing anxiety, depression, chronic pain and stress which are contributors to sleep problems (13).
- Promotes Mindful Eating: Yoga encourages mindful eating which means being the present moment while making a food choice and eating. Yoga may be beneficial in disordered eating behaviors (14).
- Improves Quality of life: With improved physical and mental health and function, pain reduction, good sleep quality and improved performance of daily functions, yoga improves the overall quality of life (15).
Take-Away: Several studies have confirmed the many mental and physical benefits of yoga such as increase strength and flexibility and reduce symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety, and reduce the risk of inflammation, pain and chronic diseases. Making the time to practice yoga of about 30-45 minutes 3 times a week may be enough to make a noticeable difference when it comes to your health. Yoga along with good nutrition can lead us to a holistic balance of mind, body and soul and a healthy life .
Dr. Monal Velangi