Here are the top scientifically-backed reasons why everyone should consider yoga as a means to improve their mental and physical health.
1. Yoga Is Good for Weight Loss
According to the NIH and Harvard Health, yoga helps with weight loss. Yoga can be an important part of your weight-loss program by helping you manage stress, increasing awareness and mindfulness about your eating habits, and providing a community of like-minded individuals. For more info, see the Harvard.edu article Yoga for Weight Loss: Benefits Beyond Burning Calories.
As featured in the National Library of Medicine, the International Journal of Preventive Medicine states that managing stress through yoga can reduce the need for medications known to increase body weight (see the 2012 article titled Health Impacts of Yoga and Pranayama: A State-of-the-Art Review).
Yoga also improves eating behaviors through mindfulness. Not only does yoga decrease the need to overconsume food as a response to stress, but the lifestyle changes associated with yogic practice will also often lead toward a generally better diet. Source: Feasibility of Integration of Yoga in a Behavioral Weight-Loss Intervention: A Randomized Trial published in the journal Obesity (see NIH.gov)
2. Yoga Is Shown to Improve Heart Health
Since yoga is often included in the realm of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), its ability to impact heart health may come as a surprise to many. Rarely do scientists acknowledge that a form of “alternative” medicine is shown to have proven results for heart health. But, the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine did just that in its 2021 literature review consisting of over 300 studies related to yoga and health. The review stated that yoga shows “improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, body mass index, and quality of life.” Because a decline in heart health is one of the leading causes of death around the world, this article may provide one of the primary reasons why yoga should be taken seriously by everyone.
3. Yoga Reduces Chronic Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is one of the most prevalent health concerns for people over the age of 30. In the United States, back pain and other musculoskeletal issues are one of the primary reasons for doctors’ visits. Many scientific journals have published positive results related to yoga and back pain.
Yoga may reduce “mild to moderate” chronic lower back pain (LBP), says the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Internal Medicine (see Yoga, Physical Therapy, or Education for Chronic Low Back Pain). As little as seven days in an intensive yoga program “reduces pain, anxiety, and depression” in patients with chronic lower back pain, according to Complimentary Therapies in Medicine (Source: NIH.gov).
Which Yoga Is Best for You?
While the practice of yoga offers numerous opportunities to improve one’s physical, mental, and spiritual health, there are several popular styles of yoga from which to choose. Selecting the right style and teacher is one of the most important parts of starting a new practice. Below are the most common styles with the exception of Kundalini Yoga, which has a strong global following but is a more specialized form of practice.
1. Hatha Yoga: Hatha yoga serves as the foundation for all modern and classical styles of yoga, incorporating physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. This practice promotes balance between the body and mind, resulting in physical, mental, and spiritual equality. It has been shown to positively affect anxiety, stress, and depression, and can enhance positive mental states through the regulation of emotions. In addition, Hatha yoga can increase flexibility, range of motion, and joint mobility.
2. Vinyasa Yoga: Commonly called “Vinyasa flow”, this style promotes sequences of poses and breathwork that are performed in a continuous movement. The dynamic and challenging nature of Vinyasa yoga results in improved muscle strength, stability, and balance, and it has been found to provide the benefits of a light-intensity cardiovascular workout. Past research showed that Vinyasa yoga may be an effective tool in cognitive behavior therapy for those who wish to quit smoking.
3. Iyengar Yoga: With emphasis on proper body alignment and balance between flexibility and strength, this style has its foundations in traditional Ashtanga yoga. Popularized by props such as blocks, bolsters, and blankets, this style of yoga is often used to facilitate proper alignment for individuals of varying ages, abilities, and levels of flexibility. The practice of Iyengar yoga has been shown to improve energy levels, strength, and emotional well-being, as well as decrease physical pain and prevent disease.
4. Bikram Yoga / Hot Yoga: Popularized by its namesake, Bikram yoga consists of a specific and unchanging sequence of 26 poses performed in a “hot yoga” room heated to 105 degrees. This style provides a challenging, sweat-soaked environment requiring minimal clothing and one or more water breaks during practice. Hot yoga is thought to enhance heart health and aid in body detox and weight loss through the process of dehydrating and rehydrating the body. Hot yoga is generally rooted in the style Hatha or Ashtanga yoga and provides all of the benefits of traditional yoga, plus the added bonus of heat.
5. Ashtanga Yoga: One of the original yoga styles to be adopted by the west, Ashtanga has three levels of difficulty, called “series”: primary, intermediate, and advanced. Each series involves poses performed in a specific, unchanging sequence, with progress to the next series determined by an individual’s readiness. The repetition of the same order of poses with the same breath count sets Ashtanga apart from other yoga styles. This style of yoga emphasizes endurance, and a commitment to regular practice, which makes it preferential for students seeking a serious daily routine. Despite its challenges, Ashtanga yoga has been shown to improve self-esteem, increase strength, and calm the mind by promoting control over movements and breath patterns. As with other yoga styles, dedicated Ashtanga yogis strive to maintain healthy eating habits through increased mindfulness of daily habits.
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