How Can Yoga Benefit You?

You may already be aware of some of the obvious health benefits of yoga. Its history and origin in Indian Ayurvedic Medicine has always suggested it as a core tenant to maintain great health. Recently, Western based scientific research has studied the effects of yoga and have found it to be a helpful treatment program to improve the condition of your heart, prevent joint conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis, and combat stubborn weight gain and diabetes. Read on to learn about the myriad of ways yoga can help you achieve optimum health and wellness!

While the prevalence of yoga studios across New York City continues to grow, so does the scientific body of research connecting yoga with more tangible health benefits. In the past two decades, studies conducted by prominent Western physicians have demonstrated the benefits of yoga to long-term health. The recent scientific research both confirms and goes beyond the generally accepted benefits of yoga, including increased muscle tone and greater flexibility. Studies have found yoga to be helpful treatment program for a wide range of conditions from heart disease to arthritis.

Past Meets Present

Historically the benefits of yoga were generally accepted and appreciated in the area of its origin – India. The definition of the word ‘yoga’ in Sanskrit means union and has been thought to symbolize the union of the physical body with the mind and spirit, but it is much more – it is a way of life. Yoga is a core component to the ancient Indian practice of medicine of Ayurveda. Similar to Traditional Chinese Medicine through acupuncture, Ayurvedic medicine, through the practice of yoga, manual manipulates and stimulates the body by massaging internal organs, enhancing processes like digestion and, ultimately, creating greater overall health. Creating harmony throughout the body enables it to tap into its innate desire to heal and promote wellness. Fortunately, the scientific curiosity of the Western medical field has spurred research identifying scientific connections between yoga and improved health.

Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Mehmet Oz, both regularly featured in the New York Times and on the Oprah show, have published some of the most widely dispersed and influential research on the effects of yoga. In 1990, Dr. Ornish commissioned a study of the effects of hatha yoga, the most widely practiced form of yoga in the U.S., combined with dietary changes and group support on patients with heart disease. The findings of the study, which were published in the British Medical Journal, The Lancet, found the program reduced blockages in the hearts main arteries, something believed within the field to be impossible to change.[1] In addition, the experimental group experienced changes in cholesterol levels equivalent to those taking prescription medications. Dr. Mehmet Oz, co-author of the New York Times best seller, You: On A Diet, has studied the beneficial impacts of yoga on overall immune function. His work supports incorporating Hatha yoga postures to massage the lymph system, promoting the flow of lymph and filtering waste through the body more efficiently. [2] Postures such as Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) may be particularly effective in stimulating the lymphatic system and enhancing the natural healthy state.

Combating Chronic Conditions

Additional research has proven yoga to be beneficial for a very common, growing malady of our technological age – stiffness and pain in the lower back, wrists, hands and hips. Long days sitting in front of a computer can lead to improper alignment of the back, which can lead to stiffness and pain. The incessant use of PDAs and text messaging overtaxes the small carpal bones, ligaments and tendons in our hands and wrists leading to increased risk of injury. This damage commonly manifests itself in the form of ganglion cysts or carpal tunnel syndrome. According to a study published in 1998 by the Journal of American Medical Association, regular practice of Iyengar yoga, known for using belts and blocks to aid in yoga postures, decreased the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.[3] Many traditional yoga postures help ensure adequate blood and fluids flow into the wrists and hands, as well as improve the strength and flexibility of the lower arms and hands, ultimately minimizing damage and injuries. The wrists and carpal joints aren’t the only joints that can benefit greatly from yoga. Tight hip joints can contribute to pain in joints below the pelvic girdle, especially the knees and ankles. Women who walk in high heels and carry heavy shoulder bags are even more susceptible to tight hips. Yoga poses such as Pigeon’s Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) help to increase flexibility in the hip joint.

Research is finding yoga and exercise to help with a range of common ailments throughout the United States. The typical American diet, which is often filled with high levels of sugar and induces inflammation, contributes to conditions such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. It has been found that diabetic patients who practiced yoga for 40 minutes for 40 days were found to have decreases in blood sugar levels, as well as a 10% increase in lung capacity.[4] Middle age can often be a time of stubborn weight gain, increasing the risk of Type II Diabetes, with estimations that individuals between the ages of 45 and 55 add a pound per year. A 2005 study found participants who participated in regular yoga practice over four years not only did not gain the average pound per year, but actually lost weight! [5] [5]Yoga has also been found to effectively treat some of the chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and chronic pain. Rheumatoid arthritis patients practicing yoga demonstrated increased hand-grip strength[6] and in a 2001 study on chronic pain at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, every single patient experienced a decrease in pain and reduction in pain medication after only four weeks of practicing yoga.[7] Overall, the beneficial effects of yoga appear to be limitless in supporting higher states of health.

Personalized Path Towards Health

Looking for a personalized yoga practice to help you lose weight, build strength or gain greater flexibility while simultaneously receiving these important health benefits? Or perhaps you want to support your body in achieving its highest potential for physical activity to ensure you can hit the slopes and the softball diamond as you age? Help your body rediscover the health and flexibility with which you were born. Contact Fine Balance Wellness today to schedule a complimentary consultation to learn more about developing a yoga plan customized for you.

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[1] Ornish D, et al. “Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? The Lifestyle Heart Trial.” Lancet 1990; 336(8708):129-33.
[2] Corliss, Richard. “The Power of Yoga.” Time 2001 April 23;,9171,999731-4,00.html
[3] Garfinkel MS, Singhal A, Katz WA, Allan DA, Reshetar R, Schumacher HR Jr. “Yoga-based Intervention for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Randomized Trial.” Journal of the American Medical Association 1998 Nov 11; 280(18): 1601-3.
[4] Jain, SC, Uppal A, Bhatnagar SO, Talukdar B, “A study of response pattern of non-insulin dependent diabetics to yoga therapy.” 1993 Diabetes Residency & Clinical Practice 19:69-74.
[5] Kristal et al, “Yoga Practice is Associated With Attenuated Weight Gain in Healthy Middle-Aged Men and Women,” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, July/Aug 2005. 11 (4): 28-33.
[6] Dash M, Telles S. “Improvement in Handgrip Strength in Normal Volunteers and Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients Following Yoga Training.” Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology 2001 Jul; 45(3): 355-60.
[7] Yoga May Help Those With Chronic Pain. New York: Reuters. 22 August 2001

Additional Sources
John PJ, Sharma N, Sharma C, Kankane A, “Effectiveness of Yoga Therapy in the Treatment of Migraine Without Aura: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain 2007 May; 47 (5): 654–661.
Manjunath NK, Telles S, “Influence of Yoga & Ayrveda on Self-Rated Sleep in Geriatric Population.” 2005 Indian Journal of Med. Res. 121(5):683-90.
Manocha R, Marks GB, Kenchington P, Peters D, Salome CM. “Sahaja Yoga in the Management of Moderate to Severe Asthma: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Thorax Journal 2002 Feb; 57 (2): 110-15.
Ornish D, et al. “Intensive lifestyle changes may affect the progression of prostate cancer.” Journal of Urology 2005. 174:1065-70.
Ramaratnam S, Sridharan K. “Yoga for Epilepsy.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Review 2000; (3): CD001524.
Ray US, Mukhopadhyaya S, Purkayastha SS, Asnani V, Tomer OS, Prashad R, Thakur L, Selvamurthy W. “Effect of Yogic Exercises on Physical and Mental Health of Young Fellowship Course Trainees.” Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology 2001 Jan; 45 (1): 37-53.