- Yoga is an embodiment of physical, mental and spiritual disciplines.
- It is a systematic effort to attain perfection, through the control of the different elements of human nature.
- Yoga helps to attain a sense of balance and union between the mind and body.
"Yoga is the journey of the Self, through the Self, to the Self"- The Bhagavad Gita
The benefits of yoga are being researched and explored at various universities, medical/clinical centers and hospitals across the United States of America.
The research projects explore the possibility of yoga in the treatment of various illnesses, according to a database published on US National Institutes of Health (NIH) website.
NIH website also points out that "NCCIH is currently supporting research on how practicing yoga may affect: HIV, immune function, menopausal symptoms, multiple sclerosis, diabetes risk and so on."
About 37 million Americans (which included many celebrities) now practice yoga, according to a "2016 Yoga in America Study".
The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word Yug, which means union or joining. It holds techniques for transformation of individual consciousness to universal consciousness, to make the soul fit for union with the Atman-Brahman or God, for the purpose of attaining moksha or liberation from the cycle of birth and re-birth.
The origins of yoga trace back to around 10,000 years ago to the Indus-Saraswati Civilization. Yoga was first described by Patanjali in the classical Hindu text, Yoga Sutras (300-200 B.C.).
According to Patanjali, the father of Yoga, it is a methodical effort to attain perfection, through the control of the different elements of human nature, physical and psychical.
Yoga helps to attain a sense of balance and union between the mind and body, by producing a physiological state opposite to that of the flight-or-fight stress response thus interrupting the stress response.It helps to create a positive self image.
The project includes studying the benefits of yoga in the treatment, relief, intervention, management or care of various conditions including PTSD, anxiety disorder, depression, sleep disturbance, insomnia, symptom management for breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, chronic pain, pain perception and pain control etc.
The benefits of yoga for various condition are described below:
Yoga and Mental Health
People tend to suffer from a host of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, stress, PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder and insomnia. These conditions have become quite common. Some people might resort to alternatives like yoga and meditation for respite.
Various physical and psychological demands trigger the HPA or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis as a result of the release of cortisol and catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinephrine). To combat the demand through the classic "fight or flight" response is initiated.
Over time, the constant state of hypervigilence can lead to diseases such as obesity , diabetes, autoimmune disorders, depression, substance abuse, and cardiovascular disease.
Yoga mainly acts by modulating stress response. It encourages the technique of relaxation, slow breathing and helps to focus on the present. It helps to shift the balance from the sympathetic nervous system and the flight-or-fight response, which is responsible for stress and anxiety, by suppressing it, to the parasympathetic system and the relaxation response.
This shift helps to create a calming and restorative effect by slowing breathing and heart rate, decreasing blood pressure, lowering cortisol levels, and increasing blood flow to the intestines and vital organs.
Yoga practice inhibit the areas responsible for fear, aggressiveness and rage, and this inhibition results in lower anxiety, heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and cardiac output in students practicing yoga and meditation.
Yoga helps to achieve tranquility of the mind and create a sense of well-being, feelings of relaxation, improved self-confidence, improved efficiency, increased attentiveness, lowered irritability, and an optimistic outlook on life.
Consistent yoga practice significantly increases the serotonin levels and helps in improving depression.
Yoga and Insomnia
Medications for insomnia or other sleep disorders often have side-effects like daytime sleepiness, impaired intellectual function and states of confusion, especially in older adults. As a result, many people opt for alternative, non-pharmacological approaches to improve sleep.
Yoga helps to improve sleep by inducing relaxation and bringing about a balance in the mental state.
Yoga and Diabetes
Yoga is particularly beneficial to those suffering from non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). In diabetics who practice yoga regularly, a significant reduction in the frequency of hyperglycemia occurs and there the need for oral hypoglycemic to maintain adequate blood sugar control also decreases.
Long-term yoga practice is associated with increased insulin sensitivity. This increased sensitivity is likely to be a sustained change resulting from progressive long-term effect of yogasanas.
Yoga and Aches & Pains
Aches and pains, mostly in the joints are caused by reduced flexibility and increased stiffness which restricts movement. This restricted motion inhibits the supply of oxygen, blood and other nutrients to the surrounding muscles and cartilages. The cartilages will eventually wear out and expose the underlying bone.
Yoga helps to improve flexibility. With continued practice the muscles and connective tissues surrounding the bones and joints get loosened gradually. This could be one reason why yoga is associated with reduced aches and pains.
Yoga provides protection from conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis and back pain by building muscle mass and/ or maintaining muscle strength.
During a yoga session, the joints are taken through their full range of motion, including areas of cartilage which are not often used thus bringing fresh nutrients, oxygen and blood to the area, which helps to prevent conditions like arthritis and chronic pain.
Many studies have shown that asana, meditation or a combination of both reduced pain in people with arthritis, Carpel Tunnel syndrome, back pain and other chronic conditions.
Yoga and Cancer
The growth of tumors and cancers is exacerbated by stress and it is important for people with cancer to reduce and manage stress effectively.
In people suffering from cancer, yoga is helpful in managing symptoms like depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, fatigue and in improving quality of life. Yoga along with breathing and meditation helps to promote healing and brings about a certain sense of peace in the cancer patients.
Among women with metastatic breast cancer, practicing yoga reduced pain and fatigue, increased the feeling invigoration, acceptance, and relaxation.
Other Benefits of Yoga
Yoga, Blood Pressure & Heart Health
Baroreflex is the body's homeostatic mechanism that helps to maintain blood pressure at near normal levels. Impaired baroreflex sensitivity is believed to be one of the major causes of hypertension.
Yoga practice has shown to restore baroreflex sensitivity.
Antihypertensive drugs have been associated with numerous side-effects. Yoga coupled with breathing, relaxation and meditation has convincing hypertensive effect.
Yoga improves heart health in the following ways:
- By reducing hypertension,
- By reducing serum cholesterol levels that are responsible for building of plaques that block the coronary arteries to the heart.
- By improving blood circulation.
- By lowering stress
- By improving respiration, energy and vitality
Yoga and PMS
Pre-menstrual syndrome consists of a group of symptoms that women experience a week of two before menstruation. The symptoms include irritability, fatigue, bloating, aches and pains, anxiety, depression, anger and confusion. Though there is no underlying pathology for this, it can be very bothersome and may interfere with the quality of life.
Yoga helps to ease the aches and pains by increasing flexibility and relaxes the mind and elevates mood by allowing the release of endorphins, which is the body's natural mood elevating compound.
Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, who is the President of Universal Society of Hinduism, called these state funded/administered research projects "a step in the positive direction".
Although introduced and nourished by Hinduism,yoga is a world heritage and liberation powerhouse to be utilized by all.
Yoga, referred as "a living fossil", is designed to bring balance and health to the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of the individual.
Yoga was the repository of something basic in the human soul and psyche, Zed added.
Funding and Undertakings
The projects are being funded and administered by National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute on Drug Abuse and National Cancer Institute.
The cost for some of these projects is listed at over half-a-million dollars each.
These projects are being undertaken at Indianapolis Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center, University of California-San Francisco, University of Minnesota, Duke University, NIH Clinical Center in Maryland, Providence Butler Hospital, Boston Brigham and Women's Hospital, Rhode Island Miriam Hospital, Alexandria University of Pennsylvania, University of Rochester, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston University etc.
- Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life - (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3193654/)
- Health Impacts of Yoga and Pranayama: A State-of-the-Art Review - (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3415184/)
- Yoga for anxiety and depression - (https://uk.edubirdie.com/blog/yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression)
- Yoga for Pre-Menstrual Syndrome and Menstrual - (http://www.artofliving.org/yoga/yoga-for-women/pms-pain-yoga)
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Dr. Meenakshy Varier. "Yoga and Its Effects on Various Health Conditions". Medindia. https://www.medindia.net/news/healthinfocus/yoga-and-its-effects-on-various-health-conditions-166442-1.htm. (accessed Sep 26, 2022).
Dr. Meenakshy Varier. 2021. Yoga and Its Effects on Various Health Conditions. Medindia, viewed Sep 26, 2022, https://www.medindia.net/news/healthinfocus/yoga-and-its-effects-on-various-health-conditions-166442-1.htm.