1970s, meditation and other stress-reduction techniques have been studied as
possible treatments for depression and anxiety. One such practice, yoga, has received
less attention in the medical literature, though it has become increasingly
popular in recent decades.
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. Classical yoga practiced in most of the regions
emphasizes physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama),
and meditation (dhyana).
Research into the
health benefits of yoga done by Yoga Australia
the practice of yoga has undergone hundreds of
years of research through the trialing of the ancient practitioners, who in
turn observed the effects upon their students. In recent years there have been
a growing number of well designed studies into the health benefits of yoga.
These show that the practice of yoga is safe, useful and very cost effective
for a wide range of conditions and life-stages Yoga Australia continues to keep
informed of the latest research and has compiled a representative list of some
of the areas of research undertaken in the past few years.
Loudon A, Barnett T, Piller N, Immink
MA & Williams AD.
Secondary arm lymphoedema continues to
affect at least 20% of women after treatment for breast cancer requiring lifelong
professional treatment and self-management. The holistic practice of yoga may
offer benefits as an adjunct self-management option. The aim of this small
pilot trial was to gain preliminary data to determine the effect of yoga on
women with stage one breast cancer-related lymphoedema (BCRL). This paper
reports the results for the primary and secondary outcomes.
An 8-week yoga
intervention reduced tissue in duration of the affected upper arm and decreased
the QOL sub-scale of symptoms. Arm volume of lymphoedema and extra-cellular
fluid did not increase.
Research into the
health benefits of yoga done by NIH National Centre for Complementary and
suggested possible benefits of yoga for several aspects of wellness, including
stress management, mental/emotional health, promoting healthy eating/activity
habits, sleep, and balance.
Of 17 studies (involving 1,070 total participants) of yoga for stress
management included in a recent review, 12 showed improvements in physical or
psychological measures related to stress.
In a recent review of 14 studies (involving 1,084 total participants)
that assessed the effects of yoga on positive aspects of mental health, 10
studies found evidence of benefits, such as improvements in resilience or
general mental well-being.
Promoting healthy eating/activity habits
A 2018 survey of young adults (involving 1,820 participants) showed that
practicing yoga regularly was associated with better eating and physical
activity habits. In interviews, people who took the survey said they thought
yoga supported healthier habits through greater mindfulness, motivation to
participate in other forms of activity and eat healthier, and the influence of
a health-minded yoga community.
Yoga has been shown to be helpful for sleep in several studies of cancer
patients and older adults and in individual studies in other population groups,
including people with arthritis, pregnant women, and women with
Of 15 studies (688 total participants) looking at the effect of yoga on
balance in healthy people, 11 showed improvements in at least one outcome
related to balance.
Research into the
health benefits of yoga done by Harvard University
Natural anxiety relief
reviews of a wide range of yoga practices suggest they can reduce the impact of
exaggerated stress responses and may be helpful for both anxiety and
depression. In this respect, yoga functions like other self-soothing
techniques, such as meditation, relaxation, exercise, or even socializing with
perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems.
This, in turn, decreases physiological arousal — for example, reducing the
heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. There is also
evidence that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator
of the body's ability to respond to stress more flexibly.
A small but
intriguing study done at the University of Utah provided some insight into the
effect of yoga on the stress response by looking at the participants' responses
to pain. The researchers noted that people who have a poorly regulated response
to stress are also more sensitive to pain. Their subjects were 12 experienced
yoga practitioners, 14 people with fibromyalgia (a condition many researchers
consider a stress-related illness that is characterized by hypersensitivity to
pain), and 16 healthy volunteers.
three groups were subjected to more or less painful thumbnail pressure, the
participants with fibromyalgia — as expected — perceived pain at lower pressure
levels compared with the other subjects. Functional MRIs showed they also had
the greatest activity in areas of the brain associated with the pain response.
In contrast, the yoga practitioners had the highest pain tolerance and lowest
pain-related brain activity during the MRI. The study underscores the value of
techniques, such as yoga, that can help a person regulate their stress and,
therefore, pain responses.
Benefits of yoga
forms of yoga practice are safe, some are strenuous and may not be appropriate
for everyone. In particular, elderly patients or those with mobility problems
may want to check first with a clinician before choosing yoga as a treatment
But for many
patients dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress, yoga may be a very
appealing way to better manage symptoms. Indeed, the scientific study of yoga
demonstrates that mental and physical health are not just closely allied but
are essentially equivalent. The evidence is growing that yoga practice is a
relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health.