Yoga is a practice that combines the body, breath, and mind to balance and energize the complete person. This practice consists of breathing exercises, physical postures as well as meditation to improve general wellbeing.
Yoga originated in ancient India, and these days millions of Westerners of any age and fitness level practice yoga on a regular basis. Even though yoga is a spiritual practice to many people, most Westerners make use of yoga for exercise or to lower stress.
There are 3 major techniques used in yoga: exercise (asana or postures), breathing and meditation:
- In yoga, breathwork is referred to as pranayama, which reduces oxygen consumption and increases blood circulation. Breathing exercises could also boost how much air can be drawn into the lungs. Getting a lot of air into the lungs helps one feel focused and alert.
- Asanas, or postures, give a gentle to intense work out which enhances strength, balance and flexibility.
- Meditation stills the mind and leads to both emotional and physical relaxation, which will help lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, anxiety and chronic pain.
1. Does yoga help with depression?
There is ample scientific evidence proving the positive effects of yoga for depression. Yoga helps in increasing brain GABA levels, a neurotransmitter with antidepressant properties.
Depression is linked to low GABA levels, and GABA level boosting medications have been successfully used for treating depression. Just two 1-hour yoga classes a week can help reduce fatigue and boost mood.1✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
Making use of magnetic resonance spectroscopic (MRS) imaging, a study compared the GABA levels of 8 people before as well as after 1 hour of yoga practice, with 11 people who did not practice yoga but rather spent the 1 hour reading.2✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
They found a 27% rise in GABA levels in the group that practiced yoga right after their session, yet no change in GABA levels in the other group right after their time of reading.
Another study discovered that yoga for depression could be better than other types of physical exercise. The researchers compared the brain GABA levels of people practicing yoga with those of people who walked.3✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
They followed 2 randomized groups of healthy people for 12 weeks. While one group of people practiced yoga 3 times per week for 1 hour, the other group of people went walking for the same length of time. Making use of MRS imaging, the peoples’ brains were checked before the start of the study.
After 12 weeks, both of the groups’ GABA levels were compared before as well as after their last 60-minute session. Each person had also been asked to evaluate her or his psychological state at a number of points during the entire study, and people who had practiced yoga noted a more significant reduction in anxiety as well as a greater improvement in mood than people that walked.
It is not a secret that pregnancy hormones dampen mood, but it’s also much worse for some expectant moms, 1 in 5 suffer from major depression. Research has shown that mindfulness yoga helps to reduce perinatal depression for these women.4✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
Mindfulness yoga is a combination of meditative focus and physical poses, which has proven to be a powerful solution to combat stress as well as boost energy. The term perinatal depression includes a wide range of mood disorders that can affect a woman during pregnancy and after the birth of her child.
It includes prenatal depression, the ‘baby blues’, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. If untreated, these symptoms are major health threats for both the mom and the baby, including pre-eclampsia, poor weight gain, and premature labor as well as bonding problems with the newborn baby.
Another study has revealed that yoga can also help in improving bipolar disorder symptoms. Some bipolar patients who participated in the study reported yoga practice to be “life changing.”5✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
2. Does yoga help with stress?
Researchers believe that yoga increases what’s known as vagal tone, the ability of the body to effectively respond to stress. The positive impact that yoga has on vagal tone helps regulate the nervous system, and helps to increase well-being and resilience to stress.6✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
Vagal tone is the state of the the largest cranial nerve called the vagus nerve, which helps with the regulation of all the major functions of the body. A relationship has been shown with an increase in vagal tone and a reduction in allostatic load (amount of stress accumulated over time).
Individuals who have high vagal tone have a healthy functioning vagus nerve, and are more stress resilient. Those who have low vagal tone are more sensitive to stress.
3. Yoga for high blood pressure
It has been proven that yoga is useful for reducing blood pressure. One study has revealed that practicing simple yoga exercises at home can be a useful supplementary therapy for high blood pressure.7✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
Another study observed that a form of Hatha yoga has a modest but beneficial effect on blood pressure and is as effective as other lifestyle modifications designed to reduce blood pressure.8✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
4. Yoga for asthma
Some studies have found yoga to improve symptoms and quality of life in asthma patients. The emphasis that yoga places on posture and deep, long breaths improves the efficiency and capacity of the lungs, which in turn helps to reduce the severity and frequency of asthma attacks.
The results of one study showed a 66.7% reduction in the use of asthma inhalers after 4 weeks of daily 50 minute yoga sessions. The study participants also had much fewer asthma attacks.9✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
5. Yoga for concentration and memory
Just one 20-minute Hatha yoga session has been shown to improve accuracy and speed on tests of inhibitory control and working memory, two measures of brain function responsible for the capability of remaining focused and absorbing as well as retaining information.11✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
The participants of this study performed better on the tests after yoga practice in comparison to after an aerobic exercise session.
The yoga session entailed a 20 minute progression of standing, seated and supine yoga postures which included isometric contraction and relaxation of various muscle groups as well as controlled breathing.
The session ended with deep breathing and a meditative posture. Individuals also performed an aerobic exercise workout in which they jogged or walked on a treadmill for 20 minutes.
Every individual exercised at an appropriate incline and speed of the treadmill, with the objective of maintaining 60 – 70% of their maximum heart rate during the exercise workout.
After yoga practice, the individuals were better able to process information quickly and more accurately, focus their mental resources, and also learn, keep and update bits of information better than after an aerobic exercise workout.
The meditative and breathing exercises aim at keeping the body and mind calm and keep distracting thoughts away while focusing on the body, posture and breath.
6. Yoga for sleep
Researchers have shown that yoga helps relieve chronic insomnia. Study participants completed an 8-week yoga treatment which consisted of breathing, meditation and mantras in a single session before bedtime.12✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
After the 8 weeks, the participants had significantly improved insomnia symptoms in comparison to before the treatment.
Another study has shown that yoga helps alleviate sleep problems in postmenopausal women diagnosed with insomnia. A lot of women go on hormone therapy mainly because they need to sleep.13✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
This study proved that yoga can be an effective alternative to hormone therapy for the treatment of insomnia during menopause. According to the study, participating in a yoga class for 12 weeks and practicing yoga at home was associated with less insomnia during menopause.
7. Yoga for back pain
It is usually very difficult to treat chronic low back pain. A study has shown that Iyengar yoga sessions twice a week for 24 weeks reduced pain and improved physical function in individuals with chronic low back pain.14✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
8. Yoga for arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can be improved with yoga. The results of a study showed that rheumatoid arthritis patients who participated in 12 Raj yoga sessions improved significantly in scores of disease activity.17✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
Raj yoga is one of the gentler kinds of yoga which combines breathing and exercise techniques. The majority of individuals having rheumatoid arthritis don’t exercise on a regular basis in spite of the fact that people who do, report less pain and are as a result more physically active.
9. Yoga for migraine
Research has shown that yoga can help reduce the frequency of migraine and headache episodes as well as reduce the need for medication. Yoga helps to improve vagal tone and reduce sympathetic activity. Stimulation of the vagus nerve can be effective for treating chronic migraine.18✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
DOI: 10.4103/0973-6131.13389119✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
10. Yoga for osteoporosis
It has been well established that yoga improves coordination and balance, which helps in protecting against falls, a major contributor to bone fractures. Research has also shown that yoga increases bone density in the spine and hips and can even reverse bone loss in osteoporosis patients.