20 Health Benefits of Yoga for Daily Life, and They're all Clinically Proven!
Diving into data from over three hundred medical studies, YogaClicks has identified 20 clinically proven benefits of yoga for daily life – from anxiety and fatigue to memory and sex.
The science behind the health benefits of yoga
I’ll admit it, I am a secret science geek. Much as I can wax lyrical about how yoga benefits me, I like to understand the broader context; the science of why and how something works – perhaps not surprising as the daughter of an engineer.
So when I found out that there were lots of clinical studies on the health benefits of yoga I decided to make it my mission to understand them and share what I had learnt. I would read them, assimilate them, categorise them by health condition, and identify the patterns across the studies. I wanted to know: “How does yoga work and why is yoga so good for you?”
The clinical studies
Fittingly, the first mention of yoga in a science journal was in 1948 – the year both the National Health Service and the World Health Organisation was founded. The first recorded trial was in 1969 – the year that man stepped on the moon.
Since then there has been an explosion in clinical studies – especially in the last ten years. I have categorized them by health condition for you – follow this link to read more http://www.beginnersyogaguide.com/YogaMeds.
I collected information from over 300 yoga studies, dating from the psychedelic sixties straight through to the present day. Reading through the Abstracts, many of the recorded and verified health benefits were familiar – a reduction in anxiety and depression, an improvement in strength, flexibility and mood, even joy! There were also many more benefits that weren’t familiar – relating to the treatment of very specific conditions.
Here’s what I learnt
Yoga is proven to work in 247 ways and provides 247 health benefits.
Yoga has proven health benefits for the brain, the body, and mood.
Yoga is proven to be good for at least 35 health conditions including Cancer, PTSD, OCD, disability and weight gain.
Yoga has at least 20 health benefits for daily life.
I have categorised all the clinical studies by health condition.
Click here to check out the health benefits of yoga for all 35 conditions, from Alcoholism to Stress. http://www.beginnersyogaguide.com/YogaMeds/
But reading through the clinical studies it occurred to me that many of the findings were actually relevant to the aches and pains of normal, daily life, not just to diagnosed health conditions. So I have organised and cross-referenced the results and findings to produce a broad retrospective of the science behind the health benefits of yoga for day to day life. Here's what I learnt.
The 20 proven health benefits of yoga for day to day life
Anxiety creates shallow, choppy breath that stimulates the release of more stress hormones and increases feelings of agitation. The practice of yoga helps to create deep, slow rhythmic breathing, which can break this vicious cycle – reducing the production of stress hormones and calming the mind. This can bring fast relief to an acute situation like a panic attack or a racing heart and, if practiced regularly, can help us create a more lasting mental oasis.
Through meditation we can learn to stay in the power of the present moment rather than attaching ourselves to anxious thoughts about the future.
Asana (physical poses), especially the more introverted and passive postures, can help by calming the nervous system – making breathing easier, and stretching out tense muscles, helping to release anxiety held in the neck and spine.
Find out more about yoga for anxiety here - http://www.beginnersyogaguide.com/YogaMeds/anxiety/3
Yoga decreases cortisol levels. This means that blood pressure is reduced, which can help with those who diabetes, and those who suffer with high blood pressure.
With increased cardiovascular function, and increased lung function, more blood and oxygen is pumped to the brain. The benefits are improved spatial memory, social wellbeing and spiritual wellbeing.
Moving the body through stretching and bending can help improve cerebral flow. With an improved cerebral flow, more blood is sent to the brain, so yogis can think better, and act more rationally.
Stretching out your muscles can help relieve tension and balance your mood, and building physical strength can also build confidence in your ability to deal with whatever the world may throw at you. Backbends and other dynamic postures that open the heart have been found to be particularly useful.
If you go to a class, there’s also the simple fact of being around other people, which can be a real tonic when you’re lonely.
Then, there’s the deeper stuff – the training of the mind. Mindfulness and meditation can be effective ways to focus the mind on the present, and break the cycle of depressing thoughts concerning a past we can’t change and a future we can’t know.
Find out more about yoga for depression here - http://www.beginnersyogaguide.com/YogaMeds/depression/9
Yoga has been found to reduce gastrointestinal symptoms like heartburn and indigestion, as well as belching. Other than helping you avoid embarrassing burps at the dinner table, this means that yoga benefits us, as it makes the body more comfortable, and relaxed – pressure is reduced, so you can go through your day more comfortably.
Another benefit is that it can reduce bloating. With a more relaxed body, tension is released and then the body can digest food better.
Yoga can lower triglycerides – the main constituents of body fat in humans. Yoga can also reduce obesity-related inflammation and create a reduction in the Body Mass Index score.
Yoga and meditation can also help naturally regulate our eating patterns That’s because yoga decrease levels of serum leptin - the hormone made by cells that regulate energy balance by bringing on feelings of hunger.
The physical practice of yoga was found to improve cardiovascular rhythm, reduce cravings and reduce binge-eating. That’s because yoga can improve glycaemic control, which avoids blood sugar dipping. It can also reduce glucose levels to a stable point.
Yoga students in the clinical studies reported increased enjoyment of exercise, so it’s no surprise that weight loss is one of the many benefits of yoga.
Many studies also report that yoga helps to improve body satisfaction and lowers self-objectification.
Yoga has been found to greatly reduce fatigue. (Measures called POMS and Chalder’s FS scores decreased significantly.) Yoga helps with fatigue because cardiovascular function is improved, and mindfulness can help with breaking the cycle of restless, depressive thoughts, which helps us feel calmer and more relaxed, which means less energy is wasted on overthinking, and more energy is available for enjoying life.
At a physical level yoga’s deep, slow movements can help relax tight muscles in the neck and shoulders, which can improve blood flow, build muscle strength and, over time, help correct the bad postural habits that can cause headaches and migraines.
Headaches are often caused by tension from stress. Yoga and mindfulness can reduce the frequency, intensity and duration of headaches, alleviate associated depression, stress, and anxiety, and improve feelings of wellbeing. This is why meditation and yoga have also been seen to reduce migraine duration, frequency and intensity, with pain ratings lowering after a yoga practice.
Yoga is good for the heart. While many of the clinical studies feature people with cardiovascular disease, the lessons for maintaining a healthy heart are clear. Yoga lowers the level of so called C-reactive proteins, lowering the risk of heart attack. It is also recorded as reducing age-related deterioration in cardiovascular function and reduce cholesterol. Further evidence comes from a recorded decline in diastolic blood pressure, and a reduction in antihypertensive (high-blood pressure) drug requirements amongst cardiovascular patients.
Yoga and Mindfulness have also been found to boost immunity. This is through the CD4 +T cells, which carry out multiple functions, including the activation of the cells of the innate immune system.
With a better immune system, the studies show perceived quality of life improves, especially for people suffering depression.
Yoga has been recorded to create improvements in oxygen uptake, which improves pulmonary function. One study recorded a 20% improvement in the mean Forced Expiratory Volume. The FEV score, or Forced expiratory volume (FEV) score, measures how much air a person can exhale during a forced breath, therefore these improvements would be beneficial for those suffering with Asthma. The benefits of yoga are particularly evident for those with lung conditions, with studies documenting a weekly reduction in Asthma attacks.
It’s not surprising that with increased brain function, yoga and mindfulness are recorded to improve memory.
More examples of the benefits of yoga come from the way yoga is able to reduce the salutary cortisol level – which means a greater control in blood sugar levels, a regulated metabolism and a reduction in inflammation.
Whether you’ve got a bad neck because you’re stressed, or because you work on a computer, yoga makes us aware of our bad posture.
Yoga poses can help us gently stretch muscles to release the tension that causes neck pain and improve our range of motion. Practiced consciously, these slow movements on the breath can also calm the nervous system.
A number of studies recorded significant improvement in Pressure Pain Threshold (PPT) for a wide variety of Trigger Points.
Several studies suggest that one of yoga’s gifts is an improved sex drive, as trial participants felt a renewed vigour and attitude after practicing yoga poses and meditation.
As mindfulness and yoga can help calm and relax us, lowering our heart rate, there were recorded increases in sleep duration and sleep efficiency – as well as increased work attendance amongst those studied.
Strength and stamina
Yoga’s ability to build muscle strength and flexibility was found to create improvements for walking speed and endurance, with improvements in lower limb strength recorded in many studies.
Yoga has also been seen to have great benefits in stabilising the autonomic nervous system (the body’s flight or fight system), and even moving the body towards a much more relaxed parasympathetic dominance.
That’s because yoga improves the functionality of the urinary catecholamines, which are a group of hormones produced in the medulla (central portion) of the adrenal glands. The main catecholamines are dopamine, adrenaline (epinephrine), and noradrenaline (norepinephrine). They help transmit nerve impulses in the brain, increase the release of glucose and fatty acid into the blood (for energy), widen the small air passages in the lungs, and widen (dilate) the pupils of the eye, improving our ability to combat whatever life throws at us.
The benefits of yoga for disability
Whilst yoga has been found to improve Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms and functioning, with significant improvements in rigidity and tenderness of the body, it has also been found to produce a renewed participation in an active life for many patients in studies. Therefore, the benefits of yoga can be especially helpful for those with disabilities.
Many reports found that practicing yoga meant that patients has a decreased level on the HAQ disability index, as many symptoms of bodily stiffness and limited function had improved.
Yoga and mindfulness improved existential wellbeing and created a more positive state of mind. As yoga and mindfulness can help improve symptoms of fatigue and health conditions, practice can be found to make changes in caregivers’ perceptions of patients. Meditation has been found to boost vigour, with mindfulness assisting in better seizure control.
With significant improvement in Disability of Arm, Shoulder and Hands (DASH) scores, a significant improvement in Cervical Range of Motion (CROM, and a significant improvement in Neck Disability Index (NDI) – yoga is able to help the body move more freely and reduce stiffness.
A parting note…
Fascinatingly, one of the benefits of yoga identified by several clinical studies was a decreased likelihood of criminal activities in certain patients. This was because mindfulness, meditation and yoga enable us to create better coping strategies in the face of temptation. So, if you've ever been tempted to steal your best friend’s yoga pants, get back on your yoga mat!
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is a yoga advocate and writer with three yoga books to her name, including the beloved travel memoir Yoga School Dropout. She writes regularly for the national press, has authored over 150 guides to types of yoga and yoga poses, discovered nearly 250 proven health benefits of yoga through her painstaking classification of 300 clinical studies, and collected more than 500 personal testimonials to the real life benefits of yoga. She is also the creator of our yoga shop – YogaClicks.Store – handpicking yoga brands that are beautifully made by yogis committed to environmental and social sustainability.