5 Health Benefits of Yoga

Yoga gives you more than flexibility…

 

We all see yoga as a healthy thing to do… but why?

Apart from stretching the hamstrings, what ACTUALLY does it do for us?

You may know that I looove a bit of science about exercise and health, so I enjoyed reading this literature review by Ross and Thomas (1).

In this mini blog I will summarise the complicated scientific findings collected by these authors. This is by no means a thorough review, so if you’re interested, find this study on Google Scholar, and get your nerd-glasses on!

(You’ll find all the study reference down below).

For those of us with only a few spare minutes (and mind-space)… here is a whistle-stop tour!

 

1. Relaxing the nervous system

It’s highly likely that you’ve heard of the ‘fight or flight’ state, and of the ‘rest and digest’ state. These to states of our nervous system are called Sympathetic (the fighting one) and para-sympathetic (the resting one).

Studies show that yoga quiets down the Sympathetic nervous system (the fighting one). This seems apparent both immediately after a yoga session, and after an 8-week yoga course.

I mean…. Have YOU ever wanted to fight someone right after a yoga class???

I didn’t think so. 😉

Not only does yoga reduce your urge to ‘fight’ immediately after a class, but this more chilled-out state seems to persist a little longer as well.

For the physiology nerds out there, yoga lowers salivary cortisol (2,3), blood glucose (4,5), blood rennin, and blood norepinephrine and epinephrine levels (two forms of adrenaline) (6). Basically, yoga lowered the indicators of stress.

All these changes show that the body is in a lower state of physiological stress. And a less stressed body is related with a whole host of other health benefits, described in points 2-5 below!

 

2. Heart rate & blood pressure

We all know that it’s good for our health to have healthy blood pressure and resting heart rate. In fact, high blood pressure is one of the leading causes of damage to the hearts blood vessels, which can lead to a heart attack!

So, we basically want to do EVERYTHING we can to keep our blood pressure in a healthy range.

Aaaaaaaaaand you guessed it! Yoga helps you do that. Studies show that heart rate and blood pressure are lower after a yoga intervention (7-8).

This was true for both the diastolic and systolic blood pressure. These are the lower and higher number you see when you have a blood pressure reading. (E.g. 120/80).

 

3. Immune system benefits

After the Covid pandemic we are all VERY aware that it’s nice to have a good immune system. Personally, I also LOVE my immune system for getting me through the first few months when our toddler went to nursery and brought home every cold ever created!

Well….. guess what yoga does for the immune system?

It helps it! Studies find that yoga reverses the negative effect of stress on the immune system by increasing levels of Immunoglobin A (9) as well as Natural Killer cells (10).

Immunoglobulin A plays an important role in maintaining a healthy lining of our gut, our urinary tract and lungs! These places make contact with the outside world and need a good defence system for viruses and other unhealthy particles.

Natural killer cells are white blood cells that destroy infected and diseased cells, like cancer cells. They are crucial in preventing viruses and cancer cells from spreading.

Yoga helps with all that??? And there’s more…

 

4. Decreasing inflammation

You know that bloated feeling you get after eating something that doesn’t agree with you? Or that skin rash you get after a weekend of drinking? That’s inflammation.

Inflammation increases when there is damage somewhere in the body (e.g. in the gut, on your skin, or a twisted ankle). Inflammation ITSELF isn’t the bad guy. It actually helps to fix the damage! It’s what’s CAUSING the damage in the first place that needs to be avoided.

Studies find that yoga decreases markers of inflammation such as high sensitivity C-reactive protein as well as inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-6 (11) and lymphocyte-1B (12).

These are a collection of proteins and white blood cells that increase in the blood because they are working to repair damaged tissues.

So yoga helps to reduce inflammation, which means that it is helping to avoid some of that initial damage to the tissues of the body in the first place.

 

5. Mental health

Here is a concept that doesn’t include complicated scientific terms. Mental health! And it’s relevant to ALLLLLL of us.

If you’ve attended a yoga class (or done one online) you’ll be the first to testify that yoga is calming for anxiety. This is a major reason why I practice it. When I am feeling stressed, I turn to yoga and it really helps me. And luckily enough the science seems to agree!

A range of studies show that yoga has immediate psychological effects: decreasing anxiety (2,3,13,14) and increasing feelings of emotional, social, and spiritual well-being (15).

 

Is it JUST exercise?

Ross and Thomas (1) posed an important question. Are the health benefits of yoga just because of the EXERCISE that people get from it? Exercise itself (be it walking, running, swimming, Zumba or cross-fit) will help improve almost EVERY aspect of physical and mental health as well.

Or is there a special something in yoga?

To answer this question Ross and Thomas performed a comprehensive search of all intervention studies comparing the effect of yoga vs. exercise on health, and selected 81 that were of high enough quality. After reviewing these studies they concluded that…

“Overall, the studies comparing the effects of yoga and exercise seem to indicate that, in both healthy and diseased populations, yoga may be as effective or better than exercise at improving a variety of health-related outcome measures including [Heart-Rate Variability] HRV, (16) blood glucose, (17, 18) blood lipids, (18, 19) salivary cortisol (3), and oxidative stress (18, 20).

“Furthermore, yoga appears to improve subjective measures of fatigue (21,22), pain and sleep in healthy and ill populations (23).

Ross and Thomas finish with a call for more research to better understand how exercise and yoga differ. But regardless of whether it’s the exercise benefit, or a special something from the mindful and spiritual aspects…

…it is clear that yoga is good for you!

 

Did this surprise you?

With our social media influences these days, it’s normal to associate yoga only with impossibly bendy poses, hand-stands and skinny bodies.

While these sorts of outcomes may appear for many, I hope you now have a wider appreciation of what yoga can do for you.

Let’s practice!

I invite you to start a SUPER SHORT regular yoga practice.

Just 10 minutes a day is enough to get started!

My online library has LOTS of short recorded classes to help you.

Start today!

Your 80-year old self will thank you.

Learn more!

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in comments below!

Jolanthe x

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x


References

  1. Ross A, Thomas S. The health benefits of yoga and exercise: a review of comparison studies. The journal of alternative and complementary medicine. 2010 Jan 1;16(1):3-12.
  2. West J, Otte C, Geher K, Johnson J, et al. Effects of Hatha yoga and African dance on perceived stress, affect, and salivary cortisol. Ann Behav Med 2004;28:114–118.
  3. Michalsen A, Grossman P, Acil A, et al. Rapid stress re- duction and anxiolysis among distressed women as a con- sequence of a three month intensive yoga program. Med Sci Monit 2005;11:555–561.
  4. Khatri D, Mathur KC, Gahlot S, et al. Effects of yoga and meditation on clinical and biochemical parameters of meta- bolic syndrome. Diabetes Res Clin Pract 2007;78:e9–e10.
  5. Gokal R, Shillito L. Positive impact of yoga and pranayam on obesity, hypertension, blood sugar, and cholesterol: A pilot assessment. J Altern Complement Med 2007;13:1056–1057.
  6. Selvamurthy W, Sridharan K, Ray US, et al. A new physi- ological approach to control essential hypertension. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 1998;42:205–213.
  7. Damodaran A, Malathi A, Patil N, et al. Therapeutic po- tential of yoga practices in modifying cardiovascular risk profile in middle aged men and women. J Assoc Physicians India 2002;50:633–639.
  8. McCaffrey R, Ruknui P, Hatthakit U, Kasetsomboon P. The effects of yoga on hypertensive persons in Thailand. Holist Nurs Pract 2005;19:173–180.
  9. Stuck M, Meyer K, Rigotti T, et al. Evaluation of a yoga- based stress management training for teachers: Effects on immunoglobulin A secretion and subjective relaxation. J Medit Medit Res 2003;1–8.
  10. Rao RM, Telles S, Nagendra HR, et al. Effects of yoga on natural killer cell counts in early breast cancer patients un- dergoing conventional treatment. Comment to: recreational music-making modulates natural killer cell activity, cyto- kines, and mood states in corporate employees Masatada Wachi, Masahiro Koyama, Masanori Utsuyama, Barry B. Bittman, Masanobu Kitagawa, Katsuiku Hirokawa. Med Sci Monit 2007;13:CR57–CR70. Med Sci Mon 2008;14:3–4.
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  12. Schultz PE, Haberman M, Karatha K, et al. Iyengar Yoga Can Promote Well-Being in Women Breast Cancer Survi- vors. Spokane, WA: Washington State University, 2007.
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  14. Telles S, Naveen K, Dash M, et al. Effect of yoga on self-rated visual discomfort in computer users. Head Face Med 2006; 2:46.
  15. Moadel AB, Shaw C, Wylie-Rossett J, et al. Randomized controlled trial of yoga among a multiethnic sample of breast cancer patients: Effects on quality of life. J Clin Oncol 2007;25:1–9.
  16. Bowman AJ, Clayton RH, Murray A, et al. Effects if aerobic exercise training and yoga on the baroreflex in healthy el- derly persons. Eur J Clin Invest 1997;27:443–449.
  17. Gordon LA, Morrison EY, McGrowder DA, et al. Effect of exercise therapy on lipid profile and oxidative stress indi- cators in patients with type 2 diabetes. BMC Complement Altern Med 2008;8:article21.
  18. Sinha S, Singh SN, Monga YP, Ray US. Improvement of glutathione and total antioxidant status with yoga. J Alternat Complement Med 2007;13:1085–1090.
  19. Yurtkuran M, Alp A, Yurtkuran M, Dilek K. A modified yoga-based exercise program in hemodialysis patients: A randomized, controlled study. Complement Ther Med 2007;15:164–171.
  20. Hagins M, Moore W, Rundle A. Does practicing hatha yoga
    satisfy recommendations for intensity of physical activity which improves and maintains health and cardiovascular fitness? BMC Complement Altern Med 2007;7:1–9.
  21. Oken BS, Kishiyama S, Zajdel D, et al. Randomized con- trolled trial of yoga and exercise in multiple sclerosis. Neu- rology 2004;62:2058–2064.
  22. Oken BS, Zajdel D, Kishiyama S, et al. Randomized, con- trolled, six-month trial of yoga in healthy seniors: Effects on cognition and quality of life. Altern Ther Health Med 2006; 12:40–47.
  23. Yurkuran M, Alp A, Yurtkuran M, Dilek K. A modified yoga-based exercise program in hemodialysis patients: A randomized controlled study. Complement Ther Med 2007; 15:164–171.