Dr (Brig) Man Mohan Harjai
Derived from the Sanskrit word “yuji,” meaning yoke or union, yoga is an ancient practice that brings together mind and body. It incorporates breathing exercises, meditation and poses designed to encourage relaxation and reduce stress.
Practicing yoga is said to come with many benefits for both mental and physical health, though not all of these benefits have been backed by science.
Modern-day science confirms that the practice also has tangible physical benefits to overall health benefits that can include improved brain function and denser bones.
Can Decrease Stress
Yoga is known for its ability to ease stress and promote relaxation. In fact, multiple studies have shown that it can decrease the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone.
One study demonstrated the powerful effect of yoga on stress by following 24 women who perceived themselves as emotionally distressed. After a three-month yoga program, the women had significantly lower levels of cortisol. They also had lower levels of stress, anxiety, fatigue and depression. Another study of 131 people had similar results, showing that 10 weeks of yoga helped reduce stress and anxiety. It also helped improve quality of life and mental health.
Thus, the studies show that yoga can help ease stress and lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
In one study, 34 women diagnosed with an anxiety disorder participated in yoga classes twice weekly for two months. At the end of the study, those who practiced yoga had significantly lower levels of anxiety than the control group.
Another study followed 64 women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is characterized by severe anxiety and fear following exposure to a traumatic event. After 10 weeks, the women who practiced yoga once weekly had fewer symptoms of PTSD. In fact, 52% of participants no longer met the criteria for PTSD at all.
Thus, all these studies show that practicing yoga can lead to a decrease in symptoms of anxiety.
Could Improve Heart Health
One study found that participants over 40 years of age who practiced yoga for five years had a lower blood pressure and pulse rate than those who didn’t.
A study followed 113 patients with heart disease, looking at the effects of a lifestyle change that included one year of yoga training combined with dietary modifications and stress management. Participants saw a 23% decrease in total cholesterol and a 26% reduction in “bad” LDL cholesterol. Additionally, the progression of heart disease stopped in 47% of patients.
Alone or in combination with a healthy lifestyle, yoga may help decrease risk factors for heart disease.
Improves Quality of Life
In one study, 135 seniors were assigned to either six months of yoga, walking or a control group. Practicing yoga significantly improved quality of life, as well as mood and fatigue, compared to the other groups.
One study followed women with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy. Yoga decreased symptoms of chemotherapy, such as nausea and vomiting, while also improving overall quality of life. A similar study looked at how eight weeks of yoga affected women with breast cancer. At the end of the study, the women had less pain and fatigue with improvements in levels of invigoration, acceptance and relaxation.
Other studies have found that yoga may help improve sleep quality, enhance spiritual well-being, improve social function and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in patients with cancer. Some studies show that yoga could improve quality of life and may be used as an adjunct therapy for some conditions.
May Fight Depression
Some studies show that yoga may have an anti-depressant effect and could help decrease symptoms of depression. This may be because yoga is able to decrease levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that influences levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter often associated with depression.
In one study, participants in an alcohol dependence program practiced Sudarshan Kriya, a specific type of yoga that focuses on rhythmic breathing. After two weeks, participants had fewer symptoms of depression and lower levels of cortisol. They also had lower levels of ACTH; a hormone responsible for stimulating the release of cortisol.
Based on these results, several studies have found that yoga may decrease symptoms of depression by influencing the production of stress hormones in the body and yoga may help fight depression, alone or in combination with traditional methods of treatment.
Could Promote Sleep Quality
In a 2005 study, 69 elderly patients were assigned to either practice yoga, take an herbal preparation or be part of the control group. The yoga group fell asleep faster, slept longer and felt more well-rested in the morning than the other groups.
Another study looked at the effects of yoga on sleep in patients with lymphoma. They found that it decreased sleep disturbances, improved sleep quality and duration and reduced the need for sleep medications. Though the way it works is not clear, yoga has been shown to increase the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness.
Yoga also has a significant effect on anxiety, depression, chronic pain and stress – all common contributors to sleep problems. To, summarise, the Yoga may help enhance sleep quality because of its effects on melatonin and its impact on several common contributors to sleep problems.
Could Help Improve Breathing
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.
In one study, 287 college students took a 15-week class where they were taught various yoga poses and breathing exercises. At the end of the study, they had a significant increase in vital capacity. Another study in 2009 found that practicing yogic breathing improved symptoms and lung function in patients with mild-to-moderate asthma.
Improving breathing can help build endurance, optimize performance and keep the lungs and heart healthy.
May Relieve Migraines
Traditionally, migraines are treated with medications to relieve and manage symptoms. However, increasing evidence shows that yoga could be a useful adjunct therapy to help reduce migraine frequency.
(The author is Chief Administrative Officer SMVD Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Katra)
Dr (Brig) Man Mohan Harjai