PRACTICING YOGA BENEFITS YOUR HEALTH AND WELL-BEINGCategory:
For thousands of years, yogis have been touting yoga’s mental and physical powers. Luckily, you don’t have to be an expert to reap the benefits — adding just a few yoga poses to your daily routine can help your daily health in all kinds of unexpected ways.
“On a physical level, yoga helps improve flexibility, strength, balance, and endurance,” says Linda Schlamadinger McGrath, the founder of YogaSource Los Gatos in Los Gatos, California, who is certified by Yoga Alliance, the world’s largest nonprofit yoga association that certifies teachers and schools. “And on a psychological level, yoga can help you cultivate mindfulness as you shift your awareness to the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that accompany a given pose or exercise.”
And there’s also a growing body of science showing that a regular yoga practice may benefit people with a host of chronic health conditions, including asthma, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS).
Yoga Boosts Emotional Health and Relieves Stress
Exercise boosts energy and mood, and yoga is no exception. Many who practice yoga do so for its benefits in terms of relaxation and stress management. Research from 2022 shows that yoga, as well as mindfulness, is associated with reductions in perceived levels of stress. Additionally, research has shown yoga interventions are linked to improved objective measures of stress levels in the body, like reduced evening cortisol levels, reduced waking cortisol levels, and lower resting heart rate.
Yoga can yield emotional health benefits because it’s an exercise that works both the body and the mind, says Manuela Kogon, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford Medicine and an internal medicine doctor at the Stanford Center for Integrative Medicine in Palo Alto, California.
“Yoga practice comprises not just movement, but dynamic movements tied to breath,” Dr. Kogon says. “Focusing on body postures can shift attention away from negative thinking.”
And individuals with and without mental health conditions can benefit, she says. Research has shown that yoga can benefit people with depression and schizophrenia.
Yoga May Help You Get a Good Night’s Sleep
The relaxation associated with yoga can be beneficial for sleep, Kogon says. Gentle yoga before bed is recommended as a lifestyle change that can help people with insomnia, but it can be a great pre-bed routine for anyone.
Practicing relaxing asanas, or postures, such as forward fold (Uttanasana) or lying on your back with your feet up the wall can be great ways to help you relax shortly before bedtime, says Tamal Dodge, the founder of Yoga Salt in Los Angeles. “They’ll help calm your body and, most importantly, your mind.”
Yoga May Help With Chronic Back Pain
“Back pain is eased with yoga because the practice helps improve flexibility and muscular strength,” says Kogon. Research suggests that yoga is a more effective treatment for chronic back pain than the usual care for improving back function.
If you do have back pain, opt for gentler types of yoga, like hatha or Iyengar, rather than more vigorous practices, to avoid injury, Kogon says. And remember, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before starting a new type of physical activity if you do have an existing back problem or other medical condition.
Yoga Can Help People With Multiple Sclerosis Manage Symptoms
The loss of muscle function, coordination, and other issues that come with multiple sclerosis can be frustrating, but some research indicates that yoga might help with MS by improving both physical function and mood. Practicing yoga can help with day-to-day functioning by improving balance and muscle alignment, strengthening muscles, and promoting relaxation, which helps with overall stress levels, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Research has found that for people with MS, yoga can improve walking speed, pain, fatigue, and concentration, among other quality-of-life markers.
Gentle Yoga Movements Can Ease Arthritis Pain
Regular exercise can help keep joints flexible, muscles toned, and weight under control, which is what people with arthritis need to manage pain. Yoga can be a great way for people with arthritis to stay active, because the gentle pace of movement can be less stressful than other types of workouts, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Studies have shown practicing yoga is linked to less pain and improved joint function in people with different types of arthritis.
“We speculate that the increase in flexibility, increased muscle strength, and stress reduction are modifying factors in arthritis pain,” Kogon says. So it would make sense that yoga may help with symptoms. There isn’t hard evidence that one form of yoga is better than another for pain. As always, if you have a medical condition, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before trying a new type of physical activity.
Check out Chair Yoga with April Jones as part of our monthly line-up of Zoom support groups and exercise classes. For yogis of all levels. Join us Wednesday November 8th and 22nd at 11 AM! RSVP at www.parkinsonsresource.org/groups