Although yoga originated thousands of years ago, science is still discovering its health benefits. Numerous medical studies have recently pointed out that yoga may help with several health conditions such as stress, pain and depression.
Yoga and elevated cortisol:
The stress hormone, cortisol, should be at its peak early in the morning, around one hour after our wakeup time, so we can energetically accomplish our daily chores. However, levels should drop through the day until they reach their lowest around 9 pm, giving us a chance to have a good night's sleep. Problems, whether sleep-related or other health problems, begin when we're under constant stress and our cortisol levels remain high when they should be low.
Chronically elevated cortisol levels may lead to:
- Poor sleep.
- Immune suppression.
- High blood pressure.
- High blood sugar.
- Insuline resistance.
- Weight gain, especially around the abdomen and stomach.
- Weak bones.
A PubMed study revealed that individuals practicing yoga experienced significant reduction in their cortisol levels.
If you're suffering from sleepless nights try doing a yoga session followed by an Epsom salt foot bath before your bedtime. Don't forget to add a few drops of a relaxing essential oil such as lavender, chamomile or ylang ylang!
Yoga and chronic low back pain:
Low back pain is considered chronic if it lasts more than 3 months. Treatment options include pain killers, muscle relaxants, local heat applications and exercises to strengthen the low back and abdominal muscles.
To study whether yoga helps alleviate pain and improve movement for people, a team led by Dr. Robert Saper at Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center studied 320 predominantly low-income, racially diverse adults with moderate to severe chronic low back pain. The researchers carried out a trial to assess whether yoga is as effective as physical therapy.
The participants were randomly divided into three treatment groups. One group received 12 weekly yoga classes designed specifically for people with chronic back pain; one received 15 physical therapy visits over 12 weeks; and one was given an educational book and newsletters about self-care for chronic low back pain. The researchers then continued to track the participants for an additional 40-week maintenance phase. During this phase, people in the yoga and physical therapy groups were randomly assigned to either continue to practice at home or with a professional—at yoga classes or physical therapy sessions.
The researchers found that all three groups reported improvement in physical function and pain reduction. However, people in the yoga and physical therapy treatment groups were significantly more likely than those in the education-only group to stop taking pain relievers after one year. These findings suggest that a structured yoga program may be a reasonable alternative to physical therapy for people with chronic low back pain.
Yoga and depression:
A study, carried out in The Netherlands, revealed that yoga may also be beneficial for chronic depression, as well as stress and anxiety. Twelve adults who had been living with depression for an average of 11 years were required to take part in a yoga program, which involved a 2.5 hour yoga session once per week for 9 weeks.
Levels of depression, anxiety, stress, rumination, and worry were assessed before and just after the yoga program, as well as 4 months later.
Interestingly, the researchers found that levels of depression, anxiety, and stress decreased throughout the course of the yoga program, and these results remained 4 months after the program ceased.
Yoga and the quality of life of cancer patients:
Yoga was found to have a positive impact on the quality of life of newly diagnosed early breast cancer patients. According to the study, symptoms that improved over time were fatigue, nausea and vomiting, pain, dyspnea, insomnia, appetite loss and other gastrointestinal symptoms. Breast-specific symptoms that became less troublesome over time were systemic therapy side effects, breast and arm symptoms and distress at hair loss.
Do you practice yoga? Have you experienced any health benefits? Tell us what you think!
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