14 Scientific Benefits of Yoga for Physical & Mental Health

14 Scientific Benefits of Yoga for Physical & Mental Health

Yoga is a meditative practice in motion that originated in the ancient Indian religion and tradition. While it started as a spiritual practice, currently there are many scientific studies that confirm the health benefits of yoga. Read on to learn more. What is Yoga?

Yoga is a meditative practice in motion with its roots going back to ancient India. Yoga is a Sanskrit word which means union . It combines physical postures, deep breathing techniques, meditation , and relaxation.

There are many different forms of yoga, including Hatha, Pranayama, Ashtanga Vinyasa, Kundalini, Bikram, etc. Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga focuses on physical and mental strength building poses. Many westernized types of Hatha Yoga are used today to improve overall health and wellbeing.

One variation of Hatha yoga is Iyengar , which focuses on the detail, precision, and alignment of posture and breath control. It helps develop stability, strength, and stamina [ 1 ].

Another Hatha variation, called Pranayama , is also known as breathing exercises that benefit your entire body. Pranayama has shown to increase the blood flow and release toxins from the body. Releasing toxins through deep breathing has shown to promote better sleep [ 2 ]. Ashtanga Vinyasa

Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga is a physically demanding yoga practice that involves sequences of yoga postures that are synchronized with the breath. It is physically more demanding than other types of yoga [ 3 ]. Kundalini Yoga

On the other hand, Kundalini Yoga includes many meditation techniques. It is mostly used as a tool to treat anxiety disorders or for meeting mental challenges [ 4 ]. Bikram Yoga

Bikram yoga is an intense type of yoga that is practiced in a room heated to 105 °F with 40% humidity. Although it can improve strength and balance in healthy adults, beginners should be careful due to its intense nature [ 3 ]. Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra , also called yogic relaxation therapy, is a form of gentle yoga that typically comprises maintaining a Shavasana pose (corpse pose or simply lying comfortably) and guided meditation [ 5 ]. Heart Rate Variability and the Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve has broad and far-reaching effects on the human body. Yoga can stimulate the vagus nerve by movement, chanting, and breathing exercises. Some researchers have argued that the vagus nerve may be responsible for some of the positive effects that yoga practice has on the brain and emotions [ 6 ].

By stimulating the vagus nerve, yoga may increase parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity. Increased PNS activity, some researchers argue, may result in an increase of γ-Aminobutyric acid ( GABA ) levels in the brain [ 6 ].

Yoga may increase heart rate variability (HRV) and vagus nerve tone, according to the authors of a meta-analysis of 15 studies. However, the authors also noted a relative lack of high-quality research [ 7 ].

Note: HRV is used for health and fitness and is an indicator of autonomic regulation and vagus nerve health. High HRV is associated with fitness, strength, and resilience to stress.

Several small-scale studies in diverse subject types (e.g., Air Force Academy trainees, healthy young men, university students, and menopausal women) have consistently shown that yoga helps reduce oxidative stress. In these studies, compared to control subjects, those who practiced yoga had [ 8 , 9 , 10 , 11 ]: decreased nitric oxide levels

decreased lipid peroxides levels

increased total glutathione levels

In a study of 218 adults, regular yoga practitioners had lower TNF-α and IL-6 levels, both before and after the practice [ 12 ]. Health Benefits of Yoga

Yoga is considered a very safe and broadly beneficial type of physical activity. However, it should never be used in place of something your doctor recommends or prescribes. If you have any conditions which may make exercise dangerous, talk to your doctor before joining a yoga class. 1) Stress

Yoga includes meditation, relaxation, and exercise . In many studies, it reduced heart rate, improved breathing, and lowered blood pressure. Some researchers have argued that all of these effects are relevant to the HPA axis and sympathetic nervous system, which can reduce stress [ 2 ], which in turn positively affects overall health.

Yoga practice successfully reduced stress among 419 students with high workloads and increased their overall perception of joy [ 13 ]. 2) Cognitive Function

Researchers have identified many ways that yoga could potentially help with cognitive function, such as: reducing oxidative stress and inflammation

reducing the response to stress

As a novel physical activity involving forms of movement which the new practitioner has not yet encountered, yoga may stimulate the nervous system to acquire new connections [ 15 , 16 ].

Some researchers have suggested that yoga may increase cognitive function by activating the default mode network (DMN), the part of the brain that is active when the individual is not focused inward to the self nor to the outside world (e.g., during yoga or meditation). Increased DMN function has been associated with improved memory performance in young adults and executive-function tasks in older adults [ 16 , 17 ].

A single session of yoga was associated with moderate improvements in attention and processing speed in a meta-analysis [ 18 ]. Yoga also improved executive function and memory in a meta-analysis of 22 studies [ 18 ]. 3) Chronic Pain Patients who suffer from chronic back pain, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, neck pain, or severe migraines and do not wish to take conventional painkillers may turn to yoga and similar practices. According to some studies, yoga had pain-relieving effects when done correctly [ 19 ].39 patients with fibromyalgia showed improved strength, balance, and pain tolerance during yoga therapy and 3 months after treatment [ 20 ].Women suffering from pelvic pain may not find relief through normal channels. According to a meta-analysis, yoga helped alleviate pelvic pain and reduced the stress and anxiety associated with this kind of pain [ 21 ].In patients addicted to opiate painkillers, group medical visits including yoga provided […]

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