The health benefits of yoga are often cited by practitioners of holistic and alternative medicine. Many people claim that yoga can fight cancer, help manage diabetes and obesity, reduce your risk of heart disease, and have a positive impact on many other diseases and disorders. But what is the science behind these claims, and does it actually work?
While there are a lot of unsubstantiated claims about the healing powers of yoga, there are also a lot of situations where yoga has been scientifically proven to help.
1. Yoga Helps With Back Pain
Back pain is a problem that plagues a significant amount of people – roughly 80 percent of all adults – and it can cause significant distress in some patients. But according to a 2011 study, yoga can help markedly improve back pain, even with little or no pain medication. Even doing simple stretches, the researchers on the study found, could have therapeutic effects on patients suffering from chronic back pain.
2. Yoga Can Relieve Arthritic Pain
While studies on this subject have yielded conflicting results, it’s common knowledge that yoga can help manage the stress and frustration caused by chronic pain and limited mobility. Early studies have shown “promising” results, according to John Hopkins University. Getting exercise is important for people living with arthritis, but the limited mobility associated with the disease can make it difficult for some people. Yoga offers a low-stress, high-impact means of exercise, which can only add to treatment regimens.
3. Yoga Improves Heart Health
Although yoga is not considered an aerobic exercise like jogging or cycling, studies have shown that it does have a beneficial impact on heart health. While researchers aren’t sure exactly how yoga has such a positive impact on cardiovascular health, what is clear is that yoga can greatly reduce your risk of developing heart disease by lowering blood pressure and reducing bodily stress.
4. Yoga Alleviates Depression and Anxiety
While there aren’t many studies examining the effects of yoga on depression and anxiety, one recent study reports that “several studies of exercise and yoga have demonstrated therapeutic effectiveness superior to no-activity controls, and comparable with established depression and anxiety treatments”. Many yoga practitioners speak of a “yoga high” – the feeling of elation that comes from releasing built- up stress and emotion in your body – that can do wonders for your mood.
5. Yoga Helps Manage Chemo Side Effects
While yoga may not prevent cancer, it absolutely can help people struggling with the disease manage the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. A recent study showed that chemotherapy patients who participating in 90-minute yoga classes twice a week had more energy and better quality of sleep than patients who didn’t.
6. Yoga Helps You Sleep
According to a 2004 study, yoga can be an effective treatment for insomnia and other sleep disorders. It works by improving your sleeping patterns through exercise, and is especially effective in those who lead a relatively sedentary lifestyle.