Health is more complex than the standard measurements of our physical condition like blood tests or routine check-ups suggest. Last year around the holidays we went into detail about the positive effect good interpersonal connections have on our overall wellbeing. It becomes increasingly more apparent that quality of life depends on previously unexpected factors like mindfulness, mental clarity, physical affection and a network of people who make us feel good about ourselves. 

Knowing this, we at FindMeCure want to take a look at recent evidence that health is more than a good diet and fitness routine, so we can bring you research-backed information you can use to improve your wellness. We already know that physical activity can significantly benefit our mental health and even alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression but cardio is not the only star of the show anymore. 

A physical practice that also engages your mind like yoga can have an astonishing impact on many aspects of your health and wellbeing. We had to look into some research done on yoga because its potential to improve quality of life even in people who live with chronic illness makes the practice a great addition to treatment plans for MG, IBD and many other life-altering diseases. So how exactly does yoga help? 

What is yoga?

Surprisingly, yoga is more than the physical aspect – the ‘asanas’ you get into during a yoga class. Yoga means “union” and it’s a practice that aims to unite the mind and the body (as well as the spirit if that’s your cup of tea). Far from downplaying our material reality and the importance of choosing the right treatment method, the mind has its own part in the way we experience symptoms like pain, fatigue, dizziness and limited range of motion. That’s not to say “it’s all in your head” but it is important to remember that physical sensations involve your mind as well. 

What are the health benefits of yoga?

You will most likely feel the positive impact of yoga on your body after the first one or two classes. However, some of the benefits listed here take a few months and even a couple of years because yoga works by altering certain processes in the body which in turn gives the start of a chain reaction of general health improvement. 

Yoga begins by improving the blood circulation which ensures the better distribution of nutrients to the organs. Better blood flow then leads to other changes like lowered blood pressure, as well as lowered pulse and respiratory rate. This means two things: a stronger heart and more efficient lungs. 

As per the chain reaction we mentioned above, lower pulse and respiratory rate, in turn, reduce symptoms of anxiety, though it takes a few classes to notice the difference. To be more exact, according to research, it may take two months of regular (twice a week) yoga classes to significantly lower anxiety levels. Another study even found out that yoga can be effective against symptoms of PTSD when 52% of the 64 female participants didn’t meet the criteria for PTSD by the end of the study. 

Good news for people who live with autoimmune disease is that several studies show yoga can also reduce inflammation. According to one of these studies, 12 weeks may be all it takes for inflammatory markers to go down. Although the study was done in breast cancer survivors, it seems that yoga can be a good tool for the prevention of diseases caused by chronic inflammation. More research could reveal the beneficial effect of yoga on people who battle IBD, rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory diseases. In fact, similar research concludes that yoga can reduce physical and psychological symptoms in people with RA by lowering levels of inflammation – if you’re someone looking for alternative ways to beat inflammation, this is a good reason to give yoga a chance. 

Yoga can be an adjunct therapy for women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, according to a study which concludes that nausea and vomiting can decrease as a result of a consistent yoga practice. Another study on the effects of yoga in women with breast cancer reported improvements such as lower levels of pain and fatigue. 

Research suggests another benefit of yoga for people who live with chronic conditions – alleviating pain. A 2005 pilot study found that yoga can reduce pain and disability resulting from knee osteoarthritis. Yoga is also effective against fibromyalgia, chronic low-back pain and it can even lead to higher levels of pain tolerance in general. 

Other perks of practising yoga

Apart from the observable ways in which yoga promotes health, the mind-body practice has other positive effects on the lives of those who regularly make the time for it. Improved quality of sleep, for example, may not initially sound like it’s going to result in dramatic health improvements but over time better sleep can lead to maintaining healthy body weight, better regulation of blood sugar levels, and even reduce symptoms of depression. Yoga fights insomnia and other sleep disturbances by increasing the secretion of melatonin and by introducing helpful relaxation techniques you can use to fight stress. 

This is not where the benefits end – according to The 2012 National Health Interview Survey people who regularly practise yoga feel more inclined to exercise, maintain healthy eating habits, reduce alcohol intake and smoking. These are all factors in a person’s general health condition and introducing such changes can reduce the risk of many diseases, including heart disease and cancer. 

By reducing stress and alleviating common symptoms of anxiety and depression, yoga can help people avoid self-destructive habits and behaviours that put their health at risk like binge eating or severe calorie restriction, poor sleep, alcohol overuse, etc. 

If you want to experience the benefits of yoga in your own life, all it takes is finding a beginners class near you. You can take your yoga practice a step further, however, by joining a research study on the positive effects yoga has on different health conditions as well as on the overall wellness of the people who regularly practise it. All of the benefits listed here have been tested in clinical trials first, so you can give your contribution to science by something as simple as joining one near you.

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