Yoga is a term that means different things to different people. For some people, yoga is an exercise – a way to strengthen and tone the body and improve flexibility and coordination. For other people, yoga is a spiritual discipline – a way of life that includes but is not limited to the physical postures. For still others, yoga represents a combination of these factors.
For Harvard researchers, however, yoga is increasingly showing itself to be a source of significant health benefits quantifiable through the latest cutting-edge research practices. In this article, learn about four important things Harvard researchers have discovered while studying yoga.
Yoga is Heart Healthy
Yoga is showing itself to be very beneficial for one of the nation’s top health crises: heart disease. Participants in research studies found that regular yoga practice helped to reduce blood pressure, bad cholesterol and excess weight. All three of these benefits can help to reduce the risk of contracting heart disease at any stage of life.
One of the biggest potential benefits yoga has to offer is the many different types of classes that are available. This means that even people with significant physical limitations can find a gentle yoga class that can meet their needs.
Yoga is a Mood Booster and Pain Reducer
Yoga has shown positive results for people who are suffering from depression, stress, anxiety, carer fatigue and more serious diseases such as bipolar disorder, cancer and schizophrenia.
A series of research studies have yielded up to 50 percent improvement in depression, 65 percent improvement in well being and 30 percent improvement in anxiety and stress for participants. As well, participants with fibromyalgia who participated in regular yoga practice showed significantly less activity in the region of the brain known to indicate pain response.
Yoga is also recognized to increase body image and improve body satisfaction, to the point where it is now a recommended component for serious health and weight management conditions like eating disorders. Participants can improve body image by immersing themselves in yoga culture, learning and trying new poses, wearing yoga capris and most of all, feeling their body move with strength and confidence in the absence of mirrors and being in a positive setting where everyone is working to master the same set of poses together without competition or comparison.
Yoga Improves PTSD Symptoms
PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder, is a serious problem in America today, with up to 30 percent of all returning veterans expressing significant symptoms.
The U.S. military and Harvard did a study to see if yoga could help. What they found is that yoga works to un-stick the fight or flight response system that has become frozen in the wake of the traumatic experience. It is this frozen response that causes PTSD.
To date, the positive impact yoga can provide is measurable enough that the U.S. military now uses yoga as one type of treatment to ease symptoms for veterans.
Yoga Reduces Health Care Costs
Yoga is part of a suite of options that are now known to reduce the body’s stress response, leading to a lower incidence of health issues. Ion one study, Harvard researchers found that participants who attended yoga regularly (at least weekly and also at home for self-practice) had 43 percent less need for medical and health attention, translating to a savings of $2,360 per person in baseline emergency costs.
Here, yoga demonstrates great potential to reduce the hormone cortisol, which the body produces automatically in response to states of stress. Over time, cortisol can build up in the body, causing health conditions as diverse as bone loss, impotence, weight gain, increase in blood sugar (leading to diabetes) and suppressed immune system function.
By continuing to study yoga’s many benefits for emotional, mental and physical health, Harvard researchers continue to learn more and more about this ancient practice and its many beneficial applications to modern-day life.