The Science Behind Yoga: 10 Ways This Ancient Practise Can Improve Your Health.

The Science Behind Yoga: 10 Ways This Ancient Practise Can Improve Your Health.

In a world dominated by modern media and advertising, the true essence of yoga often gets overshadowed by images of physical poses. Yoga, however, encompasses a vast array of contemplative and self-disciplinary practices beyond the asanas, including meditation, chanting, mantra, prayer, breath work, ritual, and acts of selflessness.

The word "yoga" originates from the root "yuj," signifying "to yoke" or "to bind." It holds diverse meanings, ranging from astrological conjunctions to matrimony, all sharing the theme of connection. Yoga asana, the physical postures of yoga, represents just one facet of this ancient tradition.

While scientific research on the benefits of yoga is still evolving, the existing evidence largely supports what practitioners have intuitively known for ages: Yoga profoundly enhances overall well-being. Let's delve into some of yoga's scientifically validated advantages and explore how this ancient practise can help you.

  1. Enhanced Flexibility:

    A 2014 pilot study found noticeable improvement in participants' flexibility following just one yoga session per week over the course of six weeks.

  2. Stress Reduction:
    One of the most popular reason people may choose to practise yoga is stress relief, and for good reason: Yoga has been shown to be effective in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.

  3. Improved Mental Health:
    A 2017 meta-analysis of 23 interventions concluded that yoga can be considered an effective alternative treatment for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), after finding that even the shortest interventions had proven effective.

  4. Improved Cardiovascular Health:
    While yoga may not be the first thing that jumps to mind when you think about cardiovascular exercise, but a review of 1,400 studies on the overall effects of pranayama (also called "yogic breathing") found a significant impact on various aspects of health and well-being (such as cognitive functions, the autonomic nervous system, pulmonary functions, and biochemical processes). 

    It also revealed that pranayama can regulate cardiovascular functions, improve pulmonary health, aid weight management, enhance mood, reduce reaction times, manage anxiety and stress, modulate pain perception, and increase the quality of life in various medical conditions, including hypertension, bronchial asthma, pulmonary tuberculosis, smoking cessation, special needs, diabetes, and cancer.

    5. Increased Strength:
    Yoga probably also isn't the first thing that springs to mind when you think of strength training, but a 2015 study found that Hatha yoga has the potential to increase muscle strength and flexibility across various age groups, and can serve as a valuable tool in both preventing and mitigating the natural decline in these areas that often comes with aging. 

    6. Better Quality Sleep: 
    Yoga interventions have been found to offer advantages over non-active control conditions when it comes to addressing sleep issues and abnormalities. 

    7. Higher Self Esteem and Improved Body Image:
    Findings from a 2018 study suggest that yoga may be associated with improved body satisfaction, particularly among young adults with low prior body satisfaction.

    8. Stronger Bones:
    This study shows that a tiny 12 minutes of yoga each day can improve bone health significantly. So how does this happen? Yoga often involves isometric contractions where muscles remain engaged without changing length. These isometric exercises, especially when joints are flexed, have been linked to increased bone density.

    9. Boost Your Motivation:
    This review of 34 studies highlights that practicing yoga stimulates brain regions associated with motivation, executive function, attention, and neuroplasticity.

    10. Prevent Burnout:
    Yoga-based interventions have been found to significantly reduce burnout effects by enhancing our 
    ability to notice internal signals and respond appropriately — meaning yoga may help people become more in tune with, and even more likely to listen to, their body’s signals.

While research into yoga's benefits continues to evolve, the evidence overwhelmingly supports what yoga enthusiasts have long asserted: Yoga contributes significantly to overall health and well-being. With various yoga modalities to choose from, including those focused on meditation and selfless action, it's a practice accessible to everyone, offering an invaluable investment in one's self.
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