Health Wellness

Yoga as complementary medicine: How yoga can support your mental and physical health

Yoga, an ancient practice with origins stemming from ancient Indian philosophy, has become an increasingly popular trend in today’s society. A survey conducted by the Yoga Journal and the Yoga Alliance revealed that the number of Americans practicing yoga increased from 20.4 million to 36 million between 2012 and 2016. Many people use yoga as a relaxing refuge from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Others practice yoga to enjoy its various research-backed health benefits. In fact, the scientific literature on the therapeutic health effects of yoga has led to the development of a new kind of yoga: therapeutic yoga.

Relax and enjoy the health benefits of therapeutic yoga

Therapeutic yoga makes use of traditional yoga postures to treat chronic physical and mental health conditions like anxiety, back pain, hypertension and joint pain and stiffness. Practitioners of therapeutic yoga are often given additional training on subjects like psychology, anatomy and physiology to further help their patients with their troubles. (Related: Yoga takes away stress, pounds, toxins, cholesterol and cravings.)

A study published in the International Journal of Yoga aimed to provide a comprehensive review of the benefits of regular yoga practice. According to the study author Catherine Woodyard from the University of Mississippi, regular practice of yoga promotes strength, endurance, flexibility, as well as facilitates characteristics of friendliness, compassion and a greater sense of self-control. Continued practice of this therapeutic art may also lead to various changes in life perspectives, increased self-awareness and an improved sense of energy to live life to the fullest.

After a thorough research and analysis of various studies and databases about yoga, the study showed that therapeutic yoga provides plenty of means to improve various health conditions. Practicing yoga encourages relaxation, which slows the breath and allows the individual to focus on the present. This shifts the balance from the sympathetic nervous system and the fight-or-flight response to the parasympathetic system and the relaxation response.

“The latter is calming and restorative; it lowers breathing and heart rate, decreases blood pressure, lowers cortisol levels, and increases blood flow to the intestines and vital organs,” Woodyard wrote.

One of the primary reasons behind practicing yoga is to reduce stress. According to Woodyard, yoga can inhibit the posterior or sympathetic area of the hypothalamus. The inhibition of this area allows for the optimization of the body’s sympathetic responses to stressful stimuli and even restore reflex mechanisms associated with stress.

Yoga practice was also found to improve depression by increasing the serotonin levels in the body. Serotonin is a chemical that impacts a large range of bodily functions such as motor skills and emotions. It is also considered a natural mood stabilizer that regulates anxiety and happiness. This increase in serotonin is coupled with a decrease in levels of monoamine oxidase, which is an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters.

On the physical side, yoga was found to improve flexibility. The researchers posited that continued yoga practice can loosen the muscles and connective tissue around the bones and joints – a factor that can be associated with reduced pain in the body and joints. Regular yoga can also improve muscle mass and maintain muscle strength, which helps protect against diseases like arthritis, back pain and osteoporosis.

Woodyard concluded that yoga can enhance a person’s overall well-being and quality of life.

“By acknowledging the unity of mind, body and spirit, mind-body fitness programs (i.e. yoga) can assist people in their pursuit of peace, calmness, and greater wholeness and integration in their lives,” said Woodyard. “Health care professionals, health educators and the like, need to be aware of the potential of yoga as an important component of a personal wellness plan.”

While there is no indication of guidelines regarding how often you should practice yoga, taking up this healing art may do wonders for your overall health and well-being.

Sources include: [PDF]

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