Why Yoga?

What is yoga?

Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years to improve physical and emotional well-being.  It’s a combination of breathing exercises, physical postures, and meditation used to calm the nervous system and balance the body, mind, and spirit.

  • According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which included a comprehensive survey on the use of complementary health approaches by Americans, yoga is the sixth most commonly used complementary health practice among adults. More than 13 million adults practiced yoga in the previous year, and between the 2002 and 2007 NHIS, use of yoga among adults increased by 1 percent (or approximately 3 million people). The 2007 survey also found that more than 1.5 million children practiced yoga in the previous year.

Who can do yoga?

  • Anyone! No matter your age, fitness level, or mobility, you can practice yoga.
  • Because there are so many different kinds of yoga practices, it is possible for anyone to start. “Whether you’re a couch potato or a professional athlete, size and fitness levels do not matter because there are modifications for every yoga pose and beginner classes in every style,” says Dr. Nevins on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association.
  • Yoga is generally low-impact and safe when practiced appropriately under the guidance of a well-trained instructor.

What are the benefits of yoga?

From Harvard Medical School:

  • Available reviews of a wide range of yoga practices suggest they can reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and may be helpful for both anxiety and depression.
  • By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems.  There is also evidence that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body’s ability to respond to stress more flexibly.
  • Further controlled trials of yoga practice have demonstrated improvements in mood and quality of life for the elderly, people caring for patients with dementia, breast cancer survivors, and patients with epilepsy.
  • Indeed, the scientific study of yoga demonstrates that mental and physical health are not just closely allied, but are essentially equivalent. The evidence is growing that yoga practice is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health.

From National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (US Dept of Health and Human Services):

  • Recent studies in people with chronic low-back pain suggest that a carefully adapted set of yoga poses may help reduce pain and improve function (the ability to walk and move).
  • Studies also suggest that practicing yoga (as well as other forms of regular exercise) might have other health benefits such as reducing heart rate and blood pressure, and may also help relieve anxiety and depression.

According to a study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke, yoga can help stroke survivors regain their balance.  Read the Time Article here.  See the actual Stroke Journal Study results here.

From American Osteopathic Association:

“The relaxation techniques incorporated in yoga can lessen chronic pain, such as lower back pain, arthritis, headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome,” explains Dr. Nevins. “Yoga can also lower blood pressure and reduce insomnia.

Other physical benefits of yoga include:
  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased muscle strength and tone
  • Improved respiration, energy and vitality
  • Maintaining a balanced metabolism
  • Weight reduction
  • Cardio and circulatory health
  • Improved athletic performance
  • Protection from injury

Mental Benefits:

  • Aside from the physical benefits, one of the best benefits of yoga is how it helps a person manage stress, which is known to have devastating effects on the body and mind. “Stress can reveal itself in many ways, including back or neck pain, sleeping problems, headaches, drug abuse, and an inability to concentrate,” says Dr. Nevins. “Yoga can be very effective in developing coping skills and reaching a more positive outlook on life.”
  • Yoga’s incorporation of meditation and breathing can help improve a person’s mental well-being. “Regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness; increases body awareness; relieves chronic stress patterns; relaxes the mind; centers attention; and sharpens concentration,” says Dr. Nevins. Body- and self-awareness are particularly beneficial, she adds, “because they can help with early detection of physical problems and allow for early preventive action.”

Benefits of Yoga from Yoga Health Foundation:

  • Over the years, studies have linked yoga to a number of health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, beating fatigue and easing chronic pain. 
  • Yoga can improve chronic low back pain
  • Yoga can significantly improve mood and reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Yoga asanas have a beneficial effect on blood sugar control and improve nerve function in type 2 diabetics who have mild nerve damage.
  • Better blood sugar control and pulmonary functions can be obtained in type I diabetics when they stick to a daily schedule of yoga asanas and pranayama.
  • Alleviate symptoms of menopause.
  • Helps manage stress levels: “Stress sends the entire physical system into overdrive,” says Garrett Sarley, president and CEO of the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Lenox, Mass. “The muscles tense, the heart beats faster, breathing patterns change, and if the cause of stress isn’t discontinued, the body secretes more hormones that increase blood sugar levels, raising blood pressure. Yoga is one of the few stress-relief tools that has a positive effect on all the body systems involved.”
  • Yoga breathing exercises used adjunctively with standard pharmacological treatment significantly improves pulmonary functions in patients with bronchial asthma.
  • Several trials have found that yoga can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and resting heart rates, and help slow the progression of atherosclerosis—all risk factors for heart disease, says Erin Olivo, PhD, director of Columbia University’s Integrative Medicine Program.
  • While almost any exercise is good for the heart, experts speculate yoga’s meditative component may give it an extra boost by helping to stabilize the endothelium, the lining of the blood vessels that, when irritated, contributes to cardiovascular disease. Since the lining is reactive to stress, and meditation can lower stress hormones, yoga may be causing a cascade of events that could reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
  • Yoga Benefits for Cancer Patients:  Yoga’s gentle exercises have numerous well-known health benefits. Practicing yoga can lower blood pressure, improve coordination and reduce stress. For those coping with a chronic illness such as mesothelioma or other types of cancers, a yoga routine can be added to a treatment regimen, whether it is holistic or traditional treatment. Like any treatment, yoga should be individualized to meet specific needs.   A gentle form of yoga helps those with lymphoma sleep better.

YOGIC BREATHING EXERCISES HELP THOSE WITH COPD: From International Journal of Yoga, cited on National Center for Biotechnology Information’s website:

  • According to the global burden of disease study, COPD will be the fifth leading cause of disability and the third leading cause of death in the world in the first half of the twenty-first century.  COPD is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease; a disease state characterized by airflow limitation that is not fully reversible, like emphysema or chronic bronchitis.
  • Dyspnoea (difficult or labored breathing), the hallmark symptom of COPD, is the reason for which most patients seek medical attention and is a major cause of disability and anxiety associated with the disease. Chronic cough is often the first symptom of COPD to develop.
  • A scientific study was undertaken to determine the effects of yogic exercises in a group of 60 COPD patients by measuring pulmonary function tests along with diffusion capacity.
  • The groups were divided into a control group and a yoga group. The yoga practice given to COPD patients (for 2 months) included pranayama and asanas. Before putting the patients on yoga regimen, they were clinically examined to rule out any physical ailments. Patients were asked to perform yoga exercises for 40-50 min everyday for 2 months under the supervision and guidance of a yoga instructor. Yoga includes pranayama (30-35 min), asanas (10 min), meditation (10 min) and life style changes.
  • Yoga when practiced by patients with COPD results in improvement in their quality of life and lung function on a short-term basis. Through proper breathing exercises more oxygen is available for the exchange at tissue level, in turn muscles throughout the body to do their job efficiently. Breathing exercises and stretching postures are used to increase respiratory stamina, relaxation of the chest muscles, expansion of lungs, raising energy levels and calming the body.

  • Yoga improves the blood circulation; there is better perfusion of tissues also, which increases the strength of respiratory muscles. More oxygen binds with hemoglobin. So oxygen delivery increases. The further advantage of yogic breathing lies in the fact that it is more of a vertical breathing. By this vertical breathing, all the alveoli of both the lungs open up evenly. Due to the even expansion of all the alveoli, a vast expanse of alveolar membrane is available for exchange of gases.

  • With pranayama practice, there can be an increased intake of oxygen as much as five times. This means five times of carbon dioxide is gotten rid from the body. There can be great improvement in the health by doing pranayama.

  • The controlled breathing in yoga can ease anxiety, achieve relaxation, and provide more oxygen to the blood stream. The exercises help open blocked airways caused by bronchitis or emphysema, which are linked to COPD, and improve the function of air circulation. Simple yoga moves can even aid those with advanced COPD.

  • Studies conclude that yoga, especially the pranayamic breathing exercises when used adjunctively with standard pharmacological treatment, can significantly improve TLCO (transfer factor of the lung for carbon monoxide- basically, lung function) in yoga with mild-to-moderate grades of COPD.
  • It was concluded that yogic breathing exercises improve diffusion capacity. They are beneficial to COPD patients and they can be used as an adjunct therapy with the conventional medical therapy.

YOGA HELPS THOSE WITH Coronary Artery Disease:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death and refers to several types of heart conditions. The most common type is coronary artery disease.
  • (From another study:) Yoga regimen was found to improve lung functions and diffusion capacity in Coronary Artery Disease patients besides improving cardiovascular functions. Thus, it can be used as a complimentary or adjunct therapy along with the conventional medicine for their treatment and rehabilitation.

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