Yoga has been practiced for centuries, but only introduced to the West over the past 200 years. It has not only become a “trendy” sport but also one that is popular among athletes, improving their balance, muscle strength, and bone strength. On top of being a great exercise method, yoga has the ability to heal the body. Here are seven of its health benefits.
1. Relieves Lymphatic Congestion
The lymphatic system is tied to the immune system and functions as a means to remove toxins from the body. Lymph, a transparent fluid containing white blood cells and proteins, circulates the body, draining interstitial fluid that contains accumulated wastes. When lymphocytes—white blood cells in lymph—are actively destroying harmful bacteria or toxins, we experience painful, swollen glands. If the swelling persists, yoga can be applied to help direct lymph through the body. Lymph moves as a result of the body’s general muscle activity. Therefore, inversions, abdomen twists, and dynamic flow practices in yoga drain lymph build-up and stimulate its flow by invigorating organs and muscles.
2. Helps Regulate Respiratory System
There are several forms of yoga, and most of them incorporate breathing techniques and meditation. A study by the B.J. Medical College revealed that the tidal volume, vital capacity, and breath holding of both long and short-term meditators were significantly higher than those of non-meditators. Additionally, due to yoga’s influence over the immune system and its ability to reduce stress, yoga is capable of regulating allergic reactions. Other chronic illnesses, such as asthma and bronchitis, can also be controlled and be improved by the improvements in breathing that result from yoga and proper meditation.
3. Lowers Blood Pressure
In the aforementioned study by the B.J. Medical College, meditators also had significantly lower diastolic blood pressure levels and heart rates than non-meditators. Additionally, the lipid profile of meditators revealed lower serum cholesterol levels. While physical exercise can similarly improve cardiovascular health, Dr. David Friedman (chief of Heart Failure Services at North Shore-LIJ Plainview Hospital) notes that the deep-breathing exercises, meditation, and inner reflection encouraged by yoga are also integrative cardiovascular approaches to improving health. Many are often discouraged by the vigor of high intensity workouts or by the stamina needed for running, and yoga is a low intensity, relaxing type of exercise that provides similar results.
4. Balances the Nervous System
The parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems (PNS and SNS) work inversely like a seesaw: when one goes up, the other goes down. Daily stresses can easily activate the SNS, leading to imbalance, but yoga can encourage balance by stimulating the PNS (the base state of the mind). Certain poses may encourage the SNS, but the PNS is promoted as the pose can be mastered through a calm state of mind and a focus on breathing. Yoga encourages awareness of bodily sensations, allowing you to be more mindful of your body’s reactions in times of stress. It encourages individual maintenance of a PNS baseline, promoting mental stability and even serving as a trauma treatment.
5. Relieves Stress
Yoga may decrease the release of the stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) and increase the release of the hormone that controls feelings of well-being (melatonin). Chronic stress triggers the adrenal glands to overproduce stress hormones, leading to increased risks for heart disease, depression and sleep problems. Relaxation and breathing methods in yoga can encourage healthy responses to stress, helping you avoid both the short term and long term detriments of stress.
6. Relieves Joint Pain
Yoga encourages mobility and strength through its fluid movements, allowing painful joins to glide smoothly over one another. In contrast to weight lifting, yoga strengthens muscles around weak joints, increasing mobility and reducing tension. Yoga poses that help with aches and pains include cobra, butterfly, and supported warrior.
7. Can Improve Psychological Health
The National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience in India has conducted research that shows up to a 73% success rate when using hatha yoga to treat depression. Hatha yoga is self-soothing, and its postures improve mood by moving energy through the places in the body where grief or anger are stored. Additionally, University of Toronto psychiatry professor Zindel Segal (Ph.D) studied the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program (SRRP) when used with cognitive therapy. Like yoga, SRRP emphasizes meditation, and can significantly reduce anxiety and depression. In his own study, Segal found that participants receiving both types of therapy were less likely to relapse into depression after eight weeks of treatment. His work demonstrated that participants were able to understand how their emotions were expressed in their bodies—a result that supports the influence of practices like yoga and mindfulness on psychological health.