For years, yoga has been hailed as a cure for just about every ailment under the sun, to the extent that some skeptics view yoga’s claims of holistic healing as New Age quackery. The fact is, however, while yoga’s benefits are not supernatural, it’s fairly hard to exaggerate the pervasiveness of its positive effects. And at universities from New Haven to New Delhi, the scientific community is coming forth with peer-reviewed numbers to back up the “ancient wisdom.” Here is just a cross-section of the ways that regular yoga practice can benefit your total well-being:
At first glance, this might seem like an unlikely claim, but as yoga is at its core a discipline of breathing more than of stretching, the connection is not just credible – it’s almost inevitable. Yoga’s regulated breathing works to counteract the inflammation of the bronchi that is at the root of asthma attacks. A team of researchers in Ludhiana, India, for example, found that after an eight-week regimen of yoga, asthmatics demonstrated higher pulmonary levels than before the study. In the U.S., the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality was not as affirmative, but did imply that long-term yoga practitioners “may find benefits of asthma-targeted practice.”
While the findings on the effectiveness of yoga in the treatment of menopause are still not fully conclusive, the data are highly suggestive. According to researcher Helena Hachul at the Universidade Federal de São Paulo, yoga may not fully cure all of the symptoms of menopause, which include hot flashes, insomnia and irritability, but it can curtail them. A study at the University of California in San Francisco found that in particular, a mere two months of restorative yoga reduced hot flashes by 30%. Given that the most prevalent treatment for menopausal suffering – hormone treatment – boosts the risk of cancer, even these tentative findings are more than welcome.
Here’s one area where the positive evidence for yoga is undeniable. Yoga is so effective for combating both stress and its physical manifestations, the Cedars-Sinai’s preventative and rehabilitative center has offered it for over a decade. When the brain’s levels of the neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) are low, subjects are more likely to succumb to stress and depression. (Not coincidentally, researchers are discovering that these two ailments are linked at a core level.) Recently, a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Contemporary Medicine stated that a one-hour yoga session boosted subjects’ GABA levels by 27%, compared to a control group who were given the task of reading for an hour instead.
Yoga and Diabetes
Over time, diabetes is debilitating to the nervous system due to chronically inflated blood sugar levels. This damage, in turn, causes atrophied sensations, numbness in the extremities and even impaired bowel functioning. To find out if yoga could stave off these complaints, Indian researcher B.K. Sahay performed studies to test both the long- and short-term effects of yoga on blood sugar levels. Not only did Sahay find that after 90 days of yoga, there was a significant drop in blood glucose levels among diabetics, he also observed decreased blood pressure among non-diabetics included as controls. Virtually every physical or mental malady imaginable is currently under examination, from ADHD to multiple sclerosis, and the positive results continue to pile up. Admittedly, the levels of endorsement vary among studies, and some voices raise the worthy question of why many of the most conclusive facts come from India, yoga’s birthplace. If there is one single point of consensus, however, it’s that regular yoga is a source of overall well-being: One way or another, yoga can make your life better.