Improving Health and Body Image

Science is finally proving what yoga practitioners have known all along; yoga is good for your mind, body and soul. Now there are a number of interesting studies backing up those benefits.

The practice of yoga can be traced back over 5,000 years but it is only in modern history, the late 19th and early 20th century that it was introduced to the Western world, and did not really catch on to popular culture until the 1980s. Since then, it has gained the attention of modern medicine and has been the subject of several studies that highlight its benefits.

Current research suggests that practicing yoga regularly may improve your health in a number of ways. One NCCIH-funded study of 90 individuals with chronic low-back pain found that participants who practiced yoga had significantly less disability, pain, and depression after 6 months.

Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State University, and husband and research partner  Ronald Glaser of the university’s department of molecular virology, immunology, and medical genetics, led a recent expansive study to gain laboratory proof of yoga’s benefits. Published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the study reports that after three months of yoga practice all three markers for inflammation were lowered by 10 to 15 percent.

Yoga can also be a mood elevator. While science has yet to discover why, it certainly confirms that it does. In a 2005 German study, women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed” took two yoga classes a week for three months while a control group maintained normal activities which did not include stress reduction techniques or exercise. The study showed that women who practiced yoga saw improvement with depression scores improving by 50%, anxiety scores by 30% and overall well-being scores improved an astounding 65%. Those practicing yoga also reported fewer headaches, and improved sleep quality.

Several studies note yoga’s role in lowering the heart rate and blood pressure, but it has an added bonus, says Sarah Dolgonos, MD, who taught at Yoga Society of New York’s Ananda Ashram. Research also shows that yoga stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us calm down after a stressor.

Not only can yoga make you feel better, it can also make you feel better about yourself. According to a study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, which compared women who practiced yoga to those that did other forms of exercise as well as women who did not exercise, can improve your body image. The study revealed that women who performed yoga expressed a healthier attitude about their bodies and had fewer disordered eating behaviors. Conversely, the study showed that spending more time on aerobic exercise was associated with greater disordered eating attitudes. This understanding backed by further research may help prevent and treat eating disorders, say researchers.

As research continues, it will be interesting to see how science unfolds the benefits of yoga which practitioners have enjoyed for centuries.


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