By Sarah Stevenson
Yoga is invigoration in relaxation. Freedom in routine. Confidence through self control. Energy within and energy without.
The economy is a mess, the unemployment rate is at an all-time sustainable high, and people are feeling more insecure than ever. It’s no surprise that the popularity of yoga is on the rise. Yes, this may be partly due to celebrity fads or the popularity of yoga pants and the resulting need to fit into them, but it may also be that people feel out of control in their outer worlds, so they’re seeking the internal balance only a consistent yoga practice can bring. At any rate, this rise in popularity has researchers buzzing. Check out all the new research that supports you de-stressing on the mat.
- Brain building. Yogis and yoginis alike are pretty hot and happy-looking people. The gift of walking around with a smile on your face while looking sexy in your hard tails is enough to win the attention of almost anyone. But it turns out yoga can help your brain as well. Researchers from Boston University, New York Medical College, and Columbia report that certain imbalances in the brain occur when a person suffers from depression or stress-related conditions. These imbalances include low activity of gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA), an issue linked to epilepsy, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. The researchers found that yoga increases the activity of GABA, which in turn significantly improves symptoms. They suggest that, “This has far-reaching implications for the integration of yoga-based practices in the treatment of a broad array of disorders exacerbated by stress.” In other words, you can treat depression while getting in shape at the same time.In January 2012, a study published in The Journal of Behavioral Health Services and Researchreported that yoga seemed protective/preventive for secondary school students when it came to controlling anger and feeling fatigue. Students were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The first did 11 weeks of physical activity and the second did 11 weeks of yoga. They found that the adolescents in the yoga group revealed “statistically significant differences over time relative to controls on measures of anger control and fatigue/inertia.” The results, according to researchers, “suggest that implementation of yoga is acceptable and feasible in a secondary school setting and has the potential of playing a protective or preventive role in maintaining mental health.”Smart cars. Smart water. Looks like yoga may join them as the Smart workout.
- Fighting fat. The average person is likely to practice yoga to increase flexibility, improve balance, relieve stress, and reduce pain. But did you know yoga can also help you lose weight? Yoga may not burn as many calories as cardio, but it does influence your mind to help you lose and maintain a healthy weight.Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle conducted a 15,550-person public health study measuring physical activity, including yoga and weight change. Those who practiced yoga for 4 years showed a 3-lb. lower weight gain among normal-weight participants (BMI of less than 25) and an 18.5-lb. lower weight gain among overweight subjects.In 2011, researchers from The Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, integrated yoga into eating disorder programs and weight management for obesity, at which point a small, randomized study of yoga for obese women was conducted. The subjects who practiced yoga for 16 weeks showed an impressive decrease in body weight, body fat percentage, BMI, waist circumference, and visceral fat area in comparison to those who didn’t.
Still not convinced? Researchers in Australia gathered data from 20 personal journals to examine the experience of a 12-week yoga treatment program for binge eating among a sample of 25 women who were obese. They noticed a positive shift experienced by the women during the program. “Specifically, women perceived an overall reduction in the quantity of food they consumed, decreased eating speed, and an improvement in food choices throughout the program.” The women were able to establish a healthy reconnection with food, demonstrate self-empowerment, and in turn lose weight.
Yoga literally changed these ladies’ relationship to food. Maybe it can do the same for you.
- Conquering chronic pain. Therapeutic yoga is beginning to rise in popularity for many health conditions, particularly for chronic pain sufferers. It attacks the problem on many levels by preventing, reducing, or alleviating structural, physiological, emotional, and spiritual pain, suffering, or limitations. Furthermore, people who suffer from chronic pain may find they are better able to relax easier, think clearer, and get healthier.At the West Virginia University School of Medicine, researchers found that people who suffered from chronic lower back pain had significant reductions in pain intensity, functional disability, and pain medication usage after practicing 3 months of Iyengar yoga therapy.In another study, researchers from Oregon Health and Science University evaluated the success rate of a program derived from Kripalu yoga for female fibromyalgia patients. They found that the yoga group (as compared to the control group who did not practice yoga) showed incredible improvements regarding their fibromyalgia symptoms. The same researchers conducted a similar study with patients suffering from menopausal symptoms due to recovering from breast cancer. They found that post-treatment, women who received the yoga program showed significant improvements. At a 3-month follow-up, the subjects maintained their level of improvement.
Lastly, researchers at Uludag University in Turkey found that, “A simplified yoga-based rehabilitation program is a complementary, safe and effective clinical treatment modality in patients with end-stage renal disease.” They found that a 12-week intervention significantly improved pain, fatigue, sleep disturbance, and grip strength. If yoga can help with situations as serious as these, imagine what it can do for your daily aches and pains.
Many people make the mistake of thinking yoga is for hippies and housewives, but as you can see, yoga is a well-rounded exercise with benefits backed by a growing body of research. If you’re looking for a relaxing, life-changing way to exercise, yoga might just be the thing for you. So give it a try. What have you got to lose? A cloudy mind? Excess weight? Chronic pain? Absolutely!