Yoga and Health
With a history that stretches back for thousands of years in ancient India, one would wonder why it took so long for modern medicine to take notice of yoga’s health benefits. Traditional yoga, as it has been practiced for millennia, focuses on mental tranquility and spiritual insight. Today, the Western world has embraced yoga for its physical and mental health benefits.
One of the many areas where the health benefits of yoga is widely studied is on heart disease. It is a well-known and accepted fact that yoga can lower blood pressure and reduce the heart rate. A slower heart rate helps protect the heart by reducing its workload. This leads to lower blood pressure and can protect against stroke and heart disease. Studies also indicate that yoga may have antioxidant effects and can boost the body’s immune system. Regular yoga practice is also associated with lower cholesterol levels.
Other diseases that can be prevented by yoga are osteoporosis, type II diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. Many yoga poses include weight-bearing exercises that help strengthen the bones. Also, yoga has the ability to lower cortisol levels and may help prevent calcium from leaching out of the bones, which could weaken them. Likewise, yoga helps regulate organ functions in the body, including insulin production in the pancreas. This reduces glucose levels in the blood and can prevent type II diabetes from occurring or can be the catalyst for reversing an existing condition.
For those suffering from certain diseases or disorders, the practice of yoga can alleviate or reduce the symptoms. Carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful disorder that affects the wrists and hands, can be relieved by doing yoga. A study showed that individuals who suffer from carpal tunnel and who practiced yoga twice a week for a period of two months had less pain than similarly affected people who went without treatment but wore a splint. It is believed that improved grip strength in those who did yoga may have been responsible for pain reduction.
Yoga poses that stretch the muscles and tendons, lubricate the joints, and relieve stress help alleviate the painful symptoms associated with migraines, arthritis, sciatica and back pain. Pranayama or breathing exercises also help relieve chronic bronchitis and allergies by clearing the nasal passages and improving lung capacity.
With the growing popularity of yoga in the West, medical researchers have begun conducting studies on the therapeutic effects of yoga. Chronic conditions like back pain and constipation are often relieved by yoga. It has also been used successfully as an adjunct in the treatment of clinical depression, insomnia and heart disease.
In some instances, the benefits of yoga cannot be scientifically studied because there is simply no way of measuring its purported effects. For example, how can researchers measure an increase in spiritual awareness? Nevertheless, there are numerous anecdotal accounts of the benefits of yoga on a person’s physical, mental and emotional well-being.
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