The question that always ran through my mind when I heard the word Yoga is what is Yoga? So one day I decide to find out and what I found was absolutely surprising, the health benefits were amazing!
What is yoga and how does it work?
Yoga is an ancient and complex practice, rooted in Indian philosophy. It began as a spiritual practice but has become popular as a way of promoting physical and mental well-being.
Although classical yoga also includes other elements, yoga as practiced in the United States typically emphasizes physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dyana).
There are many different yoga styles, ranging from gentle practices to physically demanding ones. Differences in the types of yoga used in research studies may affect study results. This makes it challenging to evaluate research on the health effects of yoga.
Yoga and two practices of Chinese origin—tai chi and qi gong—are sometimes called “meditative movement” practices. All three practices include both meditative elements and physical ones.
What are the health benefits of yoga?
Research suggests that yoga may:
- Help improve general wellness by relieving stress, supporting good health habits, and improving mental/emotional health, sleep, and balance.
- Relieve low-back pain and neck pain, and possibly pain from tension-type headaches and knee osteoarthritis.
- Help people who are overweight or obese lose weight.
- Help people quit smoking.
- Help people manage anxiety or depressive symptoms associated with difficult life situations.
- Relieve menopause symptoms.
- Help people with chronic diseases manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Although there’s been a lot of research on the health effects of yoga, many studies have included only small numbers of people and haven’t been of high quality. Therefore, in most instances, we can only say that yoga has shown promise for particular health uses, not that it’s been proven to help.
What does research show about yoga for wellness?
Studies have suggested possible benefits of yoga for several aspects of wellness, including stress management, mental/emotional health, promoting healthy eating/activity habits, sleep, and balance.
Can yoga help with pain management?
Research has been done on yoga for several conditions that involve pain. Studies of yoga for low-back pain and neck pain have had promising results, and yoga is among the options that the American College of Physicians recommends for first-line treatment of chronic low-back pain. Preliminary evidence suggests that yoga may also be helpful for tension headaches and knee osteoarthritis pain.
How does yoga affect mental health?
There’s evidence that yoga may be helpful for anxiety associated with various life situations, such as medical conditions or stressful educational programs, and for depressive symptoms. The evidence on yoga’s impact on diagnosed mental health conditions is less promising.
Can yoga help with menopause symptoms?
Yoga seems to be at least as effective as other types of exercise in relieving menopause symptoms. A 2018 evaluation of 13 studies (more than 1,300 participants) of yoga for menopause symptoms found that yoga reduced physical symptoms, such as hot flashes, as well as psychological symptoms, such as anxiety or depression.
Is yoga helpful for people with chronic diseases?
There’s promising evidence that yoga may help people with some chronic diseases manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Thus, it could be a helpful addition to treatment programs.
What does research show about practicing yoga during pregnancy?
Physical activities, such as yoga, are safe and desirable for most pregnant women, as long as appropriate precautions are taken. Yoga may have health benefits for pregnant women, such as decreasing stress, anxiety, and depression.
Does yoga have benefits for children?
Research suggests that yoga may have several potential benefits for children.
- A 2016 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that yoga appears to be promising as a stress management tool for children and adolescents, with very low reports of adverse effects. It also said that yoga may have positive effects on psychological functioning in children coping with emotional, mental, and behavioral health problems. The report noted, however, that studies of yoga for children have had limitations, such as small sample sizes and high dropout rates.
- A 2020 review of 27 studies (1,805 total participants) of yoga interventions in children or adolescents found reductions in anxiety or depression in 70 percent of the studies, with more promising results for anxiety. Some of the studies involved children who had or were at risk for mental health disorders, some involved children with physical illnesses, and others involved groups of children in schools. The quality of the studies was relatively weak, and the results cannot be considered conclusive.
- A 2021 review evaluated 9 studies (289 total participants) of yoga interventions for weight loss in overweight or obese children or adolescents. Some of the studies evaluated yoga alone; others evaluated yoga in combination with other interventions such as changes in diet. The majority of the yoga interventions had beneficial effects on weight loss and related behavior changes. The studies were small, and some did not use the most rigorous study designs.
- A 2016 review looked at 47 studies that evaluated school-based yoga programs. The evidence indicated that implementing yoga in school settings is feasible. However, most of the studies were preliminary, so definite conclusions could not be reached about whether the programs were beneficial.
What are the risks of yoga?
Yoga is generally considered a safe form of physical activity for healthy people when performed properly, under the guidance of a qualified instructor. However, as with other forms of physical activity, injuries can occur. The most common injuries are sprains and strains, and the parts of the body most commonly injured are the knee or lower leg. Serious injuries are rare. The risk of injury associated with yoga is lower than that for higher impact physical activities.
Older adults may need to be particularly cautious when practicing yoga. The rate of yoga-related injuries treated in emergency departments is higher in people age 65 and older than in younger adults.
To reduce your chances of getting hurt while doing yoga:
- Practice yoga under the guidance of a qualified instructor. Practicing yoga by self-study without supervision has been associated with increased risks.
- If you’re new to yoga, avoid extreme practices such as headstands, shoulder stands, the lotus position, and forceful breathing.
- Be aware that hot yoga has special risks related to overheating and dehydration.
- Pregnant women, older adults, and people with health conditions should talk with their health care providers and the yoga instructor about their individual needs. They may need to avoid or modify some yoga poses and practices. Some of the health conditions that may call for modifications in yoga include preexisting injuries, such as knee or hip injuries, lumbar spine disease, severe high blood pressure, balance issues, and glaucoma.
About one in seven U.S. adults practiced yoga in the past 12 months, according to a 2017 national survey. Among children age 4 to 17, it was about 1 in 12. The percentage of people who practice yoga grew from 2007 to 2012 and again from 2012 to 2017.
This was true for both adults and children. national survey data from 2012 showed that 94 percent of adults who practiced yoga did it for wellness-related reasons, while 17.5 percent did it to treat a specific health condition. Some people reported doing both.
Much of the research on yoga in the United States has been conducted in predominantly female, non-Hispanic White, well-educated people with relatively high incomes. Other people—particularly members of minority groups and those with lower incomes—have been underrepresented in yoga studies.
Different groups of people may have different yoga-related experiences, and the results of studies that did not examine a diverse population may not apply to everyone.
Facts compiled from an article publshed by The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. This article is for informational purposes only not intended to diagnose or suggest you use yoga in place of a doctor’s advice.