A guest post today on 2 of my favorite topics: yoga & health!
Many people practice yoga to improve their sense of well-being. With the postures, breathing exercises and meditation (all part of yoga), relaxation can be achieved, which brings with it benefits to the mind and body.
The reduction in stress and anxiety levels is widely appreciated, but not as many people realize that yoga can have a positive impact on a number of medical problems. From chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple sclerosis to asthma and allergies, yoga is undertaken to help manage these conditions.
Here we take a look at three of health issues that affect millions of Americans which can benefit from regular yoga participation: this includes the evidence that clinical benefit can be obtained. With so many classes run across the United States, it is likely there will be one in your neighborhood. Please do let your teacher know about your pre-existing health problems before you start. However, if there isn’t one nearby or you cannot attend, with a wealth of useful yoga information online, it is easy to get started, particularly with the help of pictures and videos of the various stretches and postures.
Chronic low back pain
Low back pain is one of the commonest health complaints affecting adults in the United States. While most people will experience the condition at some point in their lives, for some it becomes a chronic problem. While that doesn’t necessarily mean significant discomfort, it can impact everyday life and is associated with low mood.
Although back pain can be managed through medication, for those seeking a more natural approach, physical therapy is often prescribed and indeed there is scientific evidence that shows yoga can benefit the condition. A study conducted by the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine involving 90 participants with long-term low back pain found that after six months those participating in Iyengar yoga had less severe pain, disability and depression. Another piece of research by the institute from 2011, where the benefits of yoga was compared with more typical stretching exercises or use of self-care information in 228 adults with chronic back pain, showed both forms of stretching aided symptom relief and improved function more than using of a self-care book. Finally, a UK study of 313 adults with persistent or recurring back pain demonstrated that participation in yoga for 12 weeks resulted in better function than when standard medical care was followed.
It remains the leading cause of death in the United States and many other industrialized countries, so the fact that yoga appears to have a positive impact on heart disease is promising, providing a natural treatment to be used alongside more conventional approaches.
Through participation in yoga, the feelings of calm can help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, two of the main risk factors in coronary heart disease. This has been substantiated through a number of scientific studies. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine last year demonstrated that the 67 subjects who practiced Sahaja yoga experienced a considerable reduction in both anxiety and blood pressure compared to controls. Another from 2008 found that of 49 post-menopausal women, those participating in Raja yoga had significantly lower levels of total and LDL cholesterol. A reduction in heart failure symptoms and improved outcomes from cardiac rehabilitation has also been demonstrated in those who take part in yoga.
Around 10 million people in the United States have osteoporosis and another 18 million are at risk of developing this bone thinning disease. Those with the condition are more vulnerable to fractures that are debilitating and impair quality of life, not to mention shorten life expectancy.
While weight-bearing poses in yoga can help to reduce further losses of bone density, stretching can help to strengthen muscles, improve balance, increase agility and the range of movements of joints. The latter points are especially important for anyone unsteady on their feet, as seeing improvements in these areas can reduce their risk of falls and therefore osteoporotic fractures.
Yoga is mentioned as one of the muscle strengthening exercises that older adults should participate in at least twice weekly in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from 2008 for this reason. While the benefits of yoga for osteoporosis have not been widely researched, there is still some evidence to support its use. A study from 2009 where 19 post-menopausal women attended weight-bearing yoga classes three times weekly for three months found that their rate of bone loss had slowed at the end of the study compared to the control group. In 2010, the European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine found that among other positive effects, yoga significantly improved balance in the 26 women with osteoporosis who took part.
Although yoga should not replace the medical advice of a qualified practitioner this complementary therapy has the potential to improve your health outcome and quality of life.