"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Yoga may even be healthier than you thought. Here's why

February 6, 2024 – What if there was a simple option to improve your brain function, reduce stress, improve your mood and protect yourself from a wide range of health problems – and anyone could do it, even you?

Science says it's not too good to be true: Recent research has linked yoga to all of those advantages and more.

Evidence is accumulating that yoga has a therapeutic effect on a wide range of ailments and illnesses, including heart diseaseDiabetes, asthma, Parkinson's, Irritable bowel syndromeAnd menopause. Research shows that it may improve heart health, flexibility and strength. It has also been shown to cut back anxiety and stress and aid in treatment depression.

Granted, any exercise is nice in your health, but yoga is uniquely accessible. Although it may be intense, it may even be made protected for individuals with limited mobility or joint problems. Yoga can bring about improvement in individuals with osteoarthritis Knee function and painand in older adults with features of frailty, it may increase walking speed and Lower body strength.

“Unlike traditional workouts, which often involve pushing the body to its limits, yoga encourages gentler movements and mindful awareness,” he said Donna NobleYoga teacher and writer of Teach body positive yoga. “I like to describe yoga not as a workout, but as a ‘work-in’.”

Why does yoga have so many health advantages?

Yoga combines movement with respiration and meditation – a novel combination which will explain its far-reaching advantages. Unlike, say, jogging a well-known route or lifting weights, following a yoga flow and guided meditation tends to require more concentration. This makes it a workout for body and mind.

“Yoga activates many regions of the brain and trains attention,” he said Helen Lavretsky, MD, a psychiatry professor at UCLA who studies integrative mental health using mind-body interventions. “You pay attention to your breathing or practice visualization.” Just as curling a dumbbell flexes your biceps, yoga exercises your brain, increases blood flow and promotes recent growth.

In a small one study In the book Lavretsky co-authored last yr, women with self-reported memory loss and risk aspects for Alzheimer's practiced a delicate type of yoga on daily basis for 3 months, combining respiration techniques, chanting and visualization. At the tip of the study, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies showed improved connectivity in subregions of the hippocampus, an element of the brain answerable for learning and memory. The women also reported less stress and forgetting.

“Yoga serves as a kind of brain fertilizer,” he said Sean Mullen, PhD, associate professor of kinesiology and community health on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Like other exercises, yoga “leads to the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a chemical that supports brain growth as well as learning and memory.” This molecule – BDNF for brief – promotes neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to alter and reply to recent information.

Yoga can even release vascular endothelial growth factor, a “signaling protein that promotes the growth of new blood vessels and likely increases cerebral blood flow,” Mullen explained. These brain enhancers may help explain yoga's potentially mitigating effects on Alzheimer's risk and Parkinson's symptoms, Mullen said.

How yoga boosts your mood

Engaging the brain also helps you stay within the moment – ​​key to emphasize management and mental health. In one Study 2023 Under Mullen's guidance, individuals who practiced “sun salutations,” sequences of yoga poses that depict the rising and setting of the sun, for 50 minutes 3 times every week, reported reduced stress and anxiety.

“Sun salutations are like a dynamic, rhythmic dance for stress relief,” Mullen said. Doing some more singing and chanting can allow you to chill out much more, as these activities stimulate the vagus nerve and activate it Parasympathetic nervous system“It calms you down,” Lavretsky remarked.

There is evidence that yoga can relieve depression. In one study Starting in October, adults with depression who did Bikram yoga (practiced in a 105°F room) weekly for 8 weeks experienced significantly greater symptom reduction than a waitlist control group. Most individuals who did yoga experienced a 50% or greater decrease in depression symptoms, and nearly half achieved remission.

The reasons are likely multidimensional, Mullen said. People who usually practice hot yoga can turn into accustomed to greater physical strain and psychosocial stress. Immersing the complete body in heated environments releases inflammatory cytokines – markers of inflammation – and increases core temperature some hours before returning to homeostasis. Regular exposure to heat could make an individual “more acclimated to the same heat stress,” Mullen said. It's as if athletes who train at high altitudes turn into acclimated to the conditions, thereby maximizing their performance for competition.

And then there's this: “Simply put, people enjoy things that are fun,” Mullen said. “Sometimes the struggle for balance, achieving personal success, or being in a quiet room with a quirky yoga teacher inspires laughter and socializing.” This could make anyone feel good.

How yoga fights diseases

Yoga's stress-relieving effects can also explain its far-reaching physical advantages. “You often hear that all illnesses are due to stress, and that is not too far from the truth,” Lavretsky said. Chronic stress results in chronic inflammation, which “plays a role in most physical, neurological and psychological disorders of aging.”

Managing stress properly can reduce blood pressure and heart rate. Calming respiration techniques can improve lung capability and performance. Gentle movements can improve mobility and relieve pain.

“Stress worsens symptoms like irritable bowel syndrome and menopause, and yoga's ability to relieve stress may help with these conditions,” Mullen said.

Stress reduction might be the rationale for yoga's blood sugar advantages. In one Meta-analysis 2023, People with type 2 diabetes who took medication and began a mind-body practice experienced greater reductions in blood sugar than those that received medication alone. Of all of the mind-body exercises, yoga offered the best profit: a 1 percent reduction in hemoglobin A1c – much like the effect of metformin, essentially the most commonly prescribed diabetes drug, the researchers said.

Physiologically, less stress means less stress hormone cortisol, which increases blood sugar levels, said the study's lead writer Fatima SanogoResearcher on the Keck School of Medicine on the University of Southern California.

But Sanogo also noted that this mood boost can improve treatment adherence, “and make it easier for someone to choose an apple over a donut.”

Such behavior change may also be helpful in addiction treatment. In one randomized trialPeople in an 8-week smoking cessation program who practiced yoga had higher probabilities of quitting smoking than those in this system who took general wellness classes as an alternative.

Maximize the advantages of yoga

All forms of yoga have advantages. Therefore, it's best to decide on the kind that appeals to you. But there are just a few easy suggestions that may allow you to get essentially the most out of it.

Embrace the mind-body aspect.

Consider classes or programs that include respiration cues, meditations, and visualizations. Some offer vagus nerve stimulation (which normally means chanting or saying “Om”), and others use mind-body connection techniques—cues to extend awareness of various parts of your body.

Other suggestions: Look for beginner classes that can allow you to learn the postures and progress at a cushty pace, and see if the studios offer props (straps, blocks, chairs, pillows) to allow you to adapt movements to your body can, said Noble.

Start at home

If you favor not to go away the home, that's okay too. “There are a lot of free yoga resources online,” said Mullen, who uses them Boho beautiful yoga on Youtube. A more technically demanding (and expensive) option is virtual reality. Meta Quest offers one VR yoga App that works with their immersive headsets. Other popular yoga teachers – like Yoga with Cassandra And SaraBethYogafor instance – also offer free online courses, a lot of that are suitable for beginners.

Be consistent

Noble recommends starting with one yoga session per week. Consistency is vital, Mullen said. Returning to the mat usually will let you construct on what you've learned and improve.

Push it in

No time for lessons? Try short sessions of yoga throughout the day. In a small one studyHealthy individuals who interspersed 7.5 hours of sitting with 3 minutes of yoga every half-hour lowered their blood sugar without affecting concentration or well-being.

Make sure you make progress

You need to challenge yourself, but that doesn't at all times mean pushing your body harder. “You might progress by spending more time practicing, doing the routines faster, holding poses a little longer, changing your routine, starting with a different goal or intention, or trying a new teacher,” Mullen said. “Think about aiming for a 1-2% improvement each time.”

Be interested in the history and philosophy of yoga

Did you understand that the origins of yoga date back hundreds of years to India and Africa, where it began as a spiritual discipline? His basic scripture is that this The Yoga Sutraswhich outline the eight “limbs” of yoga – restraint, attention, posture, regulation of respiration, abstraction of the senses, concentration, meditation and trance – a sequential path to this enlightenment.

“If you understand the roots of yoga, you will better understand its transformative power,” Noble said. “It's about connecting first with ourselves and then with the world around us and creating community. Yoga can also influence how we appear in the world.”