Yogis, hippies, and holistic medicine specialists have been touting the health benefits of yoga for years: it can improve your fitness level, fight cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and a variety of other disorders, they’ve argued.
But when it comes to the science backing up these claims, a lot is still left unresolved. For example, research has shown that yoga doesn’t necessarily help at all in treating asthma compared to other breathing exercises. And while yoga and mindfulness can improve quality of life, and reduce chemotherapy side effects, it hasn’t been proved to treat cancer in any way, according to the American Cancer Society.
That being said, let’s take a look at all the conditions or disorders yoga does treat — according to the scientific evidence that’s out there, at least. Maybe this way, you can give yoga a try, and better understand how it may benefit you.
Some 80 percent of adults will experience back pain at some point in their lives, and it’s something that can cause a lot of distress and distraction. But research has shown that yoga or simply stretching can alleviate chronic back pain. A 2011 study found that both yoga and stretching helped people with chronic pain — they were considered “safe options” for a condition that is normally treated with a regimen of painkillers. As long as you focus on yoga’s therapeutic effects (and don’t push yourself too much trying to perfect the crazy poses), yoga may relieve your chronic back pain.
Doctors still aren’t certain whether yoga directly improves arthritis; several studies have yielded different and conflicting results. However, it’s generally agreed that yoga can and does assist in reducing the stress and frustration caused by arthritis — and that incorporating yoga into an arthritis treatment program can only enhance it.
“While there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence of the benefits of yoga (just visit any yoga studio), to date only a handful of scientific studies have been conducted on persons with [arthritis],” Johns Hopkins University states. “These early studies have shown promising results with some improvement in joint health, physical functioning, and mental/emotional well-being… People with arthritis may also enjoy yoga more than traditional forms of exercise, and exercise enjoyment is an important predictor of adherence.”
A recent study out of Erasmus University Medical Center found that yoga was beneficial for cardiovascular health. While yoga mainly works on flexibility and muscular strength, it’s not considered an aerobic exercise like running — so it’s an interesting finding.
The researchers note they’re not sure exactly how yoga improves cardiovascular health. “Also unclear, are the dose-response relationship and the relative costs and benefits of yoga when compared to exercise or medication,” Myriam Hunink, lead author of the study, said. “However, these results indicate that yoga is potentially very useful and in my view worth pursuing as a risk improvement practice.”
Indeed, yoga is unlike other types of physical activity in that it focuses more on slower poses, meditative breathing, and a calm approach. This trifecta can assist in reducing stress and lowering blood pressure, which can all have a good effect on your heart health.
Anxiety Disorders, Depression
You may enter a yoga class, your body tensed and tight from weeks and even months’ worth of accumulated stress. Our body holds emotion in it — and yoga can help unravel that. Just an hour’s worth of yoga can force you to leave all your stresses and anxiety behind, and this “yoga high” effect can last for hours afterwards.
Though there aren’t too many studies on this yet, one study found that “several studies of exercise and yoga have demonstrated therapeutic effectiveness superior to no-activity controls and comparable with established depression and anxiety treatments” such as cognitive behavioral therapy, sertraline, and imipramine. “High-energy exercise and frequent aerobic exercise reduce symptoms of depression more than less frequent or low-energy exercise. For anxiety disorders, exercise and yoga have also shown positive effects.”
Chemotherapy Side Effects
While there is no evidence that yoga can fight cancer, or lower a person’s risk, it has been shown to reduce inflammation and alleviate chemotherapy side effects in cancer patients.
In one recent study, scientists gathered breast cancer patients who were suffering from debilitating chemotherapy effects, and placed them in 90-minute yoga classes twice a week. They found the cancer patients had more energy, less fatigue, and slept much better than the patients who didn’t do yoga.
This brings us to yoga and sleep: like most exercise, yoga can improve your sleeping patternsand fight insomnia. Stress and the “buzz” of external anxieties — and yes, a sedentary lifestyle — can keep us lying awake at night. Learning to breathe more slowly and deeply in yoga classes can ultimately improve our sleep. A 2004 study found that yoga treated chronic insomnia in patients,