So here I am at Firefly Yoga Center, sitting with Kerry Quigg (one of our AMAZING INSTRUCTORS) at my very first Yoga Nidra virtual class, when I found myself floating in my mind with the reasons of why I love the practice of yoga, and how it can literally save us!
As a dedicated yoga practitioner, I have sometimes found it hard to explain the countless benefits of the exercise, and why it’s my life’s passion. Like many of my fellow yogis out there, I often find myself blurting out: “It changed my life!” as a response to the benefit question we so often get, which I’m sure falls on deaf ears or gets the occasional eye roll.
However, with our current climate, and being the data nerd that I am, I decided to dig a little deeper into the science-backed ways that yoga is exactly what the world needs right now.
Researchers (you know, the people that are smarter than me and you) reviewed 15 randomized controlled trials to examine whether the regular practice of yoga postures could strengthen the immune system and reduce chronic inflammation.
These brainiacs concluded: yoga reduces pro-inflammatory markers and has a promising anti-inflammatory effect in the body.
Now, you may be wondering: “How long do I have to practice to see these results?” Well, most of the studies implemented the programs between 8 to 12 weeks, with a program frequency that alternated between daily and weekly participation. The classes ranged in duration from 30 to 90 minutes, with the end conclusion being that regular and consistent practice yielded the best results.
2. Eases anxiety.
It is no secret that a vast majority of people are drawn to the practice of yoga as a way of dealing with anxiety. So, it should, therefore, come as no great surprise to find there are many scientific studies to back up this previous statement.
For example, the National Institute of Health detailed a study where 34 women who were diagnosed with anxiety disorder practiced yoga twice a week for a duration of two months. At the study’s end, it was found that those who had participated in yoga experienced significantly lower levels of anxiety than those who had not.
An article from healthline.com also outlined an NIH study that followed 64 women with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) which is a form of severe anxiety and fear following a deeply traumatic event. After 10 weeks of the study, the women who practiced yoga weekly had fewer symptoms of PTSD, and an even more surprising 52% of the women no longer met the criteria for PTSD at all!
Practicing yoga has the ability to make you more present and bring peace of mind, and this is what is attributed to the reduction in anxiety and fear.
And here’s another little nugget for you: the NIH is part of the U.S. Govt Health & Human Resources, which is our nation’s medical research agency made of 6,000 research scientists aiming to improve health and save lives.
3. It can help relieve respiratory ailments such as asthma.
With so much discussion on respiratory issues and ailments during the current coronavirus epidemic, it is worthwhile to sort through some research on the topic. According to a study carried out by the American College of Sports Medicine, there was a 43% improvement of asthma symptoms in participants who practiced yoga regularly for 10 weeks.
Why might you ask? Well as it turns out they did not give an in-depth explanation as to why, however, yoga practice includes an emphasis on deep breath work, with an intentional focus on inhalations and exhalations, which can promote healthy lung function with increased capacity, efficiency, and overall airflow.
4. Can help alleviate depression.
Boston University School of Medicine conducted a study with 30 clinically depressed patients in which they practiced Iyengar-based yoga and breathing exercises. Over a three month period, the group was divided in half, with the only difference being the number of hours each group practiced yoga. One group was labeled the “high-dose group” (practicing for 123 hours) and the other was the “low-dose group” (practicing for 87 hours).
After one month of practice, study results showed that, BOTH groups experienced a significant improvement in:
It is also worth noting that practicing yoga has been found to help decrease levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone that influences serotonin, the neurotransmitter often associated with depression per the NIH.2
5. Yoga is a fitness unicorn!
I can testify personally with this one! I was always active as a kid (soccer, swimming, tennis, racquetball) and I continued this active lifestyle to my adulthood by participating in every form of fitness I could get my hands on (HIIT classes, triathlons, kickboxing, weightlifting, and Pilates just to name a few). That being said, I never saw true gains in physical strength, flexibility, balance, and stamina until I started practicing yoga diligently.
In a study done by the NIH, 79 adults performed 24 sun salutations, six days a week, for 24 weeks. Sun salutations are a series of poses used for a warm-up in many Ashtanga, Power, and Vinyasa style yoga classes. Researchers found that the participants had a significant increase in upper body strength, endurance, and weight loss. Results also showed that women saw a decrease in overall body fat percentage as well.3
Another study looked at the impact 10 weeks of yoga had on 26 male college athletes. Practicing yoga significantly increased their flexibility and balance compared to the other group in the study.4
I can also assure you that it doesn’t take a ton of practice to start seeing results. Per Healthline, practicing yoga for just 15-30 minutes a day can make a big difference for seeing improvements in flexibility and balance. This, in combination with a regular exercise routine (and the practicing of specific poses and/or styles of yoga) can also help increase strength and endurance.
6. Helps you rest and improves sleep.
According to a Healthline article and the NIH, poor sleep quality has been directly linked to:
At the end of the study, the participants in the yoga group were found to: fall asleep quicker, sleep for longer periods, and feel more well-rested than the two other group studies.4 8
7. Makes you more self-aware.
Our bodies hold such a wealth of knowledge and information that we can learn so much just by practicing yoga. Perhaps most importantly, we can learn about our physical and mental limits, such as flexibility and focusing of the mind. Harnessing and mastering this skill of listening to your body and learning from it can help you become more self-aware, thus leading to a more joyful and healthy life.
Scientists have found that high levels of self-awareness have been linked with personal development, healthy relationships, and effective leadership.9
In a study conducted by the American Management Association, of 72 senior business executives, a high self-awareness score was found to be a strong predictor of overall success. It was concluded that those who had a higher sense of their strengths and weaknesses were better able to hire complementary team members to assist in areas they lacked.
Yoga is an essential tool in helping you achieve this higher level of self-awareness.
8. It’s a powerful healer.
I could write a book for this section alone as it’s often one of my go-to responses for the many benefits of yoga, and how it has helped me personally. Simply put, yoga promotes emotional healing from trauma and physical healing from pain, injury, and disorders.
In a 2010 study, researchers followed 42 people with carpal tunnel syndrome. The participants were given either a wrist splint or instructed to do yoga for eight weeks. The end results showed that yoga was more effective in reducing pain and improving grip strength than wrist splinting.
Another study in 2005 showed that yoga could help significantly decrease pain and improve physical function in participants with osteoarthritis of the knees.
According to Harvard Health, yoga can also provide support for those with chronic pain conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine, and lower back pain. A study from the Annals of Internal Medicine was outlined, where 313 participants with chronic lower back pain took part in a weekly yoga class. It was found that their regular participation in the classes increased mobility more than standard medical care for their condition. This increased mobility supported reduced pain.
Another analysis of 17 independent studies (with over 1,600 participants) showed that practicing yoga can improve the physical daily function of fibromyalgia patients that have a curvature of the spine. Furthermore, it was found that yoga also improved their mood and emotional well-being.10
9. Improves quality of life.
Many people are attracted to yoga in order to:
Several studies have been conducted to delve into just how much yoga promotes a better quality of life. One such study, for instance, followed 135 people, who were assigned either six months of yoga, walking, or a control group. Researchers discovered the participants who practiced yoga experienced an overall improvement in their quality of life, along with improved mood and fatigue, compared to the other groups.11
Another study observed how yoga affected the quality of life in cancer patients. Researchers found that a group of women with breast cancer (whom they’d followed for eight weeks) experienced less pain and fatigue with increased levels of invigoration, acceptance, and relaxation.12
10. Can enhance your sex life.
Let’s finish this list with some good stuff! Especially since many of you are locked up with bae, hubby, or wifey.
According to a study in the International Society of Sexual Medicine: practicing yoga for one hour, twice a week, for up to 12 weeks, resulted in increased sexual arousal. According to Dr. Vikas Dhikav, PhD (a neurologist at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in New Delhi, who studies yoga and sexual function) this is due to the fact that yoga reduces stress and increases blood flow, which includes the pelvic region.13
So there you have it, my friends! Research and science have spoken, yoga is a lifesaver, literally! The physical and mental health benefits of the practice are extraordinary in decreasing stress, building strength and flexibility, alleviating depression, and improving quality of life! And remember, this list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all the benefits of yoga.
Incorporating yoga into your health and wellness routine is a must! So, what should you do next? Well, that’s very simple love! Just show up to your mat:
Finding the time to practice yoga, even if for just a few times a week, is enough to make a noticeable difference in your overall health, especially during this time. I look forward to seeing you on your mat!
Love and light,
“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.” -Albert Einstein