Yoga, a mental, physical, and spiritual practice that originated with the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago, has evolved over time and is practiced today by millions of people around the world for a variety of reasons. Some yogis tout yoga as a cure or treatment for cancer, asthma, or other conditions, but these claims are not supported by scientific evidence. Yoga has, however, been scientifically shown to reduce anxiety and depression for some, increase flexibility of the spine, and alleviate the symptoms of some health issues.
Arthritis is one medical condition that may improve with yoga. Though researchers studying the benefits of yoga for people who have arthritis have obtained differing results, the studies generally found yoga to be helpful for reducing the frustration and stress experienced by many people with arthritis. Studies also showed yoga to have promising effects on joint health improvement and physical function as well as mental and emotional well-being. These effects were still evident nine months after study participants finished the eight-week program.
Yoga and stretching may also be beneficial to those experiencing back pain or chronic pain. A 2011 study found yoga classes to have some benefit in the treatment of chronic back pain, though they were not found to be more effective than stretching classes. The study concluded yoga was promising as a form of exercise because its mental aspect is likely to enhance its physical benefits. Individuals wishing to reduce or avoid painkiller use may find yoga and stretching to be good alternative options.
No research shows yoga has the ability to treat cancer or lower one’s risk for cancer, but it does show yoga can reduce fatigue, inflammation, and negative side effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients. In one study, female breast cancer patients who had recently received cancer therapy experienced reduced rates of fatigue and inflammation (up to 57% and 20%, respectively) within only 12 weeks. Researchers believe these findings could apply to any individuals coping with fatigue and inflammation.
A key aspect of the effectiveness of yoga therapy for cancer may be its improving effects on sleep patterns: People who sleep well each night and do not experience fatigue are likely to see improvement in all areas of life and may find themselves able, over time, to increase participation in a range of activities.
Enjoying your exercise program is considered to be an important predictor of adherence to said program, and many people may find yoga to be more enjoyable than other forms of exercise, especially those who experience health conditions such as arthritis that make movement difficult and painful.
The positive effects of yoga on heart health have been more recently studied. Research conducted by the Netherlands’ Erasmus University Medical Center and America’s Harvard School of Public Health suggested yoga may improve cardio-metabolic health. These findings were considered to be somewhat surprising, as yoga is not a form of aerobic exercise (which is known to improve cardiovascular health). Unlike other forms of physical activity, yoga emphasizes calm, meditative breathing, and slow movements and poses—all of which can help lower blood pressure and relieve stress—and it may be these effects that provide cardiovascular benefit.
Enjoying your exercise program is considered to be an important predictor of adherence to said program, and many people may find yoga to be more enjoyable than other forms of exercise, especially those who experience health conditions such as arthritis that make movement difficult and painful. According to the 2015 National Health Interview Survey, 94% of yoga users do so for wellness. Sixty percent report being motivated to exercise more frequently, while 40% reported motivation to pursue healthier eating habits. Over half of those who practiced yoga reported better sleep, and 85% saw a reduction in stress levels.
If you’re interested in seeing what yoga can do for you, your first step should be to get approval from your doctor (although I can’t imagine many cases where a doctor would say no). Then you might start a search for local yoga classes (often offered at gyms and community centers), watch videos online, or find how-to lessons on your cable provider’s programming. You might also consider searching for classes that specifically target medical conditions. The options are endless, and the physical and emotional benefits are abundant, so channel your inner yogi to find physical and emotional relief. (Note: It is possible to do yoga on your own at home, but some experts recommend your first yoga experience be with an instructor.)
- Bushak, K. (2015). Take a deep breath to good health: 6 conditions yoga can treat. Medical Daily. Retrieved from http://www.medicaldaily.com/take-deep-breath-good-health-6-conditions-yoga-can-treat-327352
- Chu, P. et al (2016). The effectiveness of yoga in modifying risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, 23(3), 291-307. Retrieved from http://cpr.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/12/02/2047487314562741.abstract
- Ericson, J. (2014). Yoga helps breast cancer survivors sleep, reduce inflammation after taxing treatment. Medical Daily. Retrieved from http://www.medicaldaily.com/yoga-helps-breast-cancer-survivors-sleep-reduce-inflammation-after-taxing-treatment-267995
- Moonaz, S. et al (2015). Yoga for arthritis. Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. Retrieved from http://www.hopkinsarthritis.org/patient-corner/disease-management/yoga-for-arthritis/#studies
- Sherman, K. et al (2011). A Randomized Trial Comparing Yoga, Stretching, and a Self-care Book for Chronic Low Back Pain. JAMA Internal Medicine, 171(22). Retrieved from http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1106098
- Wellness-related use of natural product supplements, yoga, and spinal manipulation among adults. (2015). Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/NHIS/2012/wellness?nav=chat
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