WASHINGTON, September 8, 2016 – A July 2015 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine uncovered a swell in clinical research on the impact of yoga practice on overall health. The last decade has seen the number of yoga studies double as researchers look at how this practice affects things such as mental health, cardiovascular disease, and emotional well-being.
With one in 10 Americans regularly engaged in some sort of yoga practice, the availability of subjects is plentiful for researchers everywhere, including those at Harvard Medical School.
The extensive research performed at Harvard has identified a multitude of potential benefits from yoga which they have compiled into a book which will be available in 2017. Their findings about the benefits of yoga can be classified into 4 main areas.
Here are 4 things that Harvard researchers are saying about the healing power of yoga.
Yoga Improves Physical Health
The practice of yoga begins with slowing down and paying attention to breath. This is the beginning point in a chain reaction of mindfully meeting goals for physical health. Breathing deeply and intentionally improves respiratory health.
It also carries over into the choices we make about what goes into our bodies such as food and chemical substances.
Yoga also enhances overall muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility. Yoga’s most interesting benefits, however, are in the area of cardiovascular health. A number of small studies have shown that yoga can lower blood pressure, improve one’s cholesterol profile, and stabilize blood sugar in regular participants.
Yoga Improves Mental Health
The strong mind-body connection which is emphasized in the practice of yoga serves to improve mental health as much as it does physical health. There is a body of evidence which shows that yoga’s ability to strengthen the body’s relaxation response is equally impactful in regulating the mind’s stress response.
In addition, the non-judgmental attention to experience which is part of a yoga practice can be an effective component of substance abuse treatment by reducing stress and anxiety, training a person to notice uncomfortable situations without reacting negatively to them, reducing cravings, and naturally improving mood.
Yoga Improves Spiritual and Emotional Health
Research has shown that yoga can provide a pathway to a more purposeful life and a grounded sense of well-being. It can help the practitioner become more self-aware and in tune with personal needs and priorities.
It has been shown that yoga’s emphasis on balance and acceptance can lead to deepened empathy, compassion, and gratitude for oneself and for those in the external world.
In many ways, yoga is a practice of acknowledging life’s complexities without reacting to them negatively. Studies have shown that frequent practice leads to more positive emotions and greater overall satisfaction with life.
Yoga Improves Economic Health
It is estimated that approximately 80 percent of doctor’s office visits can be attributed to stress-related health problems. These visits make up the third highest health care expenditures behind heart disease and cancer.
Given yoga’s positive impact on the body’s stress response, emotional well-being, cardiovascular and respiratory disease, substance abuse, and weight, it could potential reduce the need for medical intervention and reduce the incidence of many common diseases in the United States. Looking at it this way, yoga may be a powerful, yet untapped, tool for lowering healthcare costs for individuals and for society as a whole.
In short, yoga is an easy and convenient activity which yields physical, mental, emotional, and economic benefits. It doesn’t require special athletic clothes, can be done practically anywhere, and can yield the above mentioned benefits in as little as 15 minutes a day.
For more information, connect to the Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga blog.