It’s not just for the zen that many people practice yoga. Even though it has been popular for years now, the never-ending list of health benefits yoga provides is still being discovered today. A 2012 survey in Australia found that most of its respondents only started doing yoga for muscle tone and flexibility before realising that the practice has other positive effects on their overall health.
So, what are the health benefits of yoga? Let’s find out below!
Yoga: What It Truly Means
Rooted in Hindu philosophy, the term “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj“, meaning “to unite.” In short, yoga means the union of body, mind and soul.
Yoga originated centuries ago. As more studios, classes and institutions dedicated to yoga are open worldwide, it’s obvious that the practice has evolved in many ways. You may be familiar with modern-day yoga styles, such as hot yoga and vinyasa. Despite the differences, all types of yoga are based on the same principles — asanas (postures), prana (breath) and meditation.
Beyond the three principles, yoga also involves other non-physical aspects, like performing honourable deeds to cultivate karma. Only when every aspect of yoga is practised properly can one achieve the perfect union of body, mind and soul.
5 Health Benefits of Yoga
The unification of body, mind and soul can only happen when each of the three elements is healthy.
The health benefits of yoga include:
A 2012 Australian survey on yoga practitioners showed that a majority of people use it to manage their stress and anxiety. Indeed, since yoga isn’t strenuous on the body, it’s considered a relaxing exercise.
Another 2015 study conducted by researchers at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, proved that there’s a scientific reason why yoga can relieve stress. The study found that yoga can protect the brain’s volume of grey matter from the effects of ageing. While the brain normally shrinks with age, middle-aged yoga practitioners have shown to have similar brain volumes to younger people.
The neuroprotective properties of yoga occur mostly in the left hemisphere of the brain, which is associated with positive emotions like joy and happiness. This explains why yoga can reduce stress.
Menstrual pain relief
Yoga is believed to help eliminate menstrual pain. Several studies have investigated this claim and managed to discover the mechanisms behind this. A trial in India found that yoga postures can help with controlling hormonal imbalances, which cause menstrual pain.
Moreover, evidence shows that slower abdominal breathing in yoga induces an increase in alpha wave production in the brain. Alpha brain waves are connected to the sense of peace, mood elevation and serotonin release, all of which cause a person to feel more relaxed. One report suggests that yoga’s positive psychological effects can encourage women to be aware of mental and physical states, thus making them more willing to acknowledge and therefore, manage pain.
Easier pregnancy experience
Yoga postures require stretching different parts of the body. The twisting and unfolding during yoga stimulate blood flow, rejuvenate the organs and support the glands, while lubricating the joints, muscles and ligaments. As a result, when it’s practised regularly, it can help improve flexibility, balance and strength. This is why yoga can be beneficial for expectant women who are prone to body aches.
Some pregnancies also come with psychological distress. Yoga’s function as a stress reliever plays a huge role in maintaining the mental health of mothers-to-be. A 2019 study conducted on expectant participants from The Royal Women’s Hospital (RWH) in Melbourne revealed that doing prenatal yoga didn’t just provide relaxation to the women, but also prepared them for labour and parental bonding through social connections with other participants.
The psychological properties of yoga for expectant women might also work for ladies looking to conceive. Stress may cause difficulties in conception. It’s thought that the stress-relieving properties of yoga can help women to conceive.
Exercising the muscles and joints prevents arthritis, osteoporosis and chronic pain, which is one of many health benefits of yoga. Additionally, numerous studies have shown that the yoga poses, when combined with meditation, can ease the effects of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and other chronic conditions.
By stimulating the blood circulation, yoga can decrease the chance of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke.
As yoga improves a person’s physical health, it reduces fatigue at the same time. This proves to be especially beneficial for cancer patients. Furthermore, research on people with cancer suggests that yoga can help with tackling chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
Finally, by increasing relaxation and balancing the mind, yoga can also treat insomnia and poor sleep quality.
Yoga as a low-impact exercise
TCM physician Chu I Ta believes that boosting health and vitality is about the right timing. He explains that a person should exercise according to the sequence of the four seasons. Like flowers blooming in spring and summer, a person should move more during the warmer months. Meanwhile, like animals resting in autumn and winter, a person should move less and yoga is considered an exercise for these two seasons.
The benefits of yoga are varied and all-encompassing. For women, it can relieve menstrual pain and ensure a smoother pregnancy experience. For the emotionally distressed, it can treat insomnia and promote mental health. It can also protect everyone against various conditions like a heart attack. Though it’s considered a light exercise, yoga has big, impactful benefits on the body and overall health.
In TCM, it’s important to regulate qi flow with a low-impact exercise like yoga. Excessive exercises that overexert the body are not recommended. Physician Chu explains that they might harm yang energy, leading to cardiovascular diseases or even sudden death. For a better result, it’s advised to consume herbal supplements such as spirulina, which replenish qi and the blood after yoga.
This is an adaptation of an article, Healing Moves, which first appeared in Natura magazine.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2012. Yoga in Australia: Results of a national survey [Accessed 21 May 2022]
- Ministry of External Affairs. 2015. Yoga: Its Origin, History and Development [Accessed 21 May 2022]
- Frontiers. 2015. Neuroprotective effects of yoga practice: age-, experience-, and frequency-dependent plasticity [Accessed 22 May 2022]
- 4, National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2016. Effect of Yoga Exercise on Premenstrual Symptoms among Female Employees in Taiwan [Accessed 22 May 2022]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2008. Modulation of immune responses in stress by Yoga [Accessed 22 May 2022]
- BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 2019. Prenatal yoga for young women a mixed methods study of acceptability and benefits [Accessed 22 May 2022]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2011. Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life [Accessed 22 May 2022]
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