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Can we heal ourselves?

Yoga Benefits

Many people hear “yoga”, and think Zen gardens, meditation, and free spirits. But you may be surprised to find that one recent study showed that those who incorporated yoga into their life had improved stress levels and lower blood pressure. Yoga was ultimately developed to combine controlled breathing and poses to achieve physical, mental, and spiritual strength and unity. In fact, Michelle Obama even attributes her sleek physique to frequent yoga sessions. There are multiple types of yoga, but Hatha Yoga is the most commonly practiced type in the United States.

Here are some surprising health benefits of practicing yoga that you may have never known!

Relief of Back Pain: More than 60 million Americans suffer from chronic back pain. Yoga is one of the best exercises to help alleviate pain. This is due to the increase in core stability (abdominal muscles) and the reduction of pressure across the lower back and surrounding muscles. Yoga also helps to release endorphins throughout the body that can calm inflammation. Practicing yoga for just two sessions a week may reduce or even eliminate back pain. Many individuals also report an increase in pain tolerance after attending sessions for only three weeks.

Heart Healthy: Further research also demonstrates that even one yoga session can produce a calming effect on the body, and individuals in one study showed reduction in their systolic blood pressure after only 12 weeks of two yoga sessions per week. Additionally, incorporating yoga into a cardiac rehabilitation program after a heart attack or bypass surgery has also shown promise in maintaining lower levels of stress and healthy blood pressure levels.

Increased Flexibility: You may be thinking, “No Duh”, on this one, but the benefits may be surprising. Practicing poses like downward dog, and tree pose can improve balance and flexibility. This can directly strengthen and protect your larger joints (knees, hips, back, neck) from injury and reduce inflammation in the smaller joints (fingers and ankles). This can also help reduce falls in the elderly, and ultimately avoid fractures in this age group.

Mood Booster: In addition to mental clarity and relaxation, yoga has been shown to improve depression, anxiety, and chronic stress. A small German study reviewed in the Harvard Mental Health Letter demonstrated that at the end of a three-month period, women perceived less stress, depression, anxiety, and fatigue. A few yoga classes could leave you happier and less stressed. Increased happiness alone is reason enough to give it a try!

As with any new exercise, always consult your physician before you begin. This is to ensure your body can safely complete the activity. I also recommend you attend a beginner class or view a video with some common poses. This will make you feel more confident during your first class and ensure you obtain the most benefit.


Evidence based Yoga 2

Yoga is a mind and body practice in complementary medicine with origins in ancient Indian philosophy. Part two of evidence based Yoga:

Carpal tunnel syndrome A randomized, single-blind controlled trial of 42 patients with carpal tunnel syndrome assigned subjects to either a yoga treatment group or a wrist splint group, each 8 weeks in duration. Twice a week, the yoga group practiced postures specifically designed to strengthen and stretch each joint in the upper body. Yoga participants showed improvement in grip strength, pain levels, and Phalen’s sign when compared to the wrist splint group. Nerve conduction studies were not performed.15 A Cochrane review of 21 trials that evaluated the clinical outcome of nonsurgical treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome reported that 8 weeks of yoga practice significantly reduced pain as compared to wrist splinting. The yoga was described as having a “significant short-term benefit,” though the duration of this benefit is unknown.16

Depression A 2004 review of five RCTs that evaluated yoga-based interventions for depression and depressive disorders showed some positive outcomes and no adverse effects on patients’ mild to severe depressive disorders. However, poor study design and incomplete methodologic reporting makes this interpretation preliminary.17 An RCT studying 7 weeks of yoga training in a group of breast cancer survivors showed positive changes in emotional function, depression, and mood disturbance.18 “Yoga and stress management” (in the online version of this article) provides more information on this study and others involving the effects of yoga on stress.

Irritable bowel syndrome In an RCT, treatment with loperamide (Imodium) was compared to treatment with a series of 12 yoga postures practiced twice a day for 2 months in a small sample of patients with clinically diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome. Patients underwent measurement of surface electrogastrography, and trait and state anxiety tests were administered before, during, and up to 2 months after treatment. Both intervention groups demonstrated a decrease in bowel symptoms and state anxiety.19

Menopausal symptoms In a recent pilot study, 14 postmenopausal women reported via interview and questionnaire a decrease in the severity and frequency of hot flushes after 8 weeks of 90-minute “restorative yoga” classes. Although this initial finding sounds encouraging, this trial had no control group or objective parameter measurements.20 An RCT studying postmenopausal sleep quality divided 164 women into groups who participated in either 4 months of low-intensity yoga, a moderate-intensity walking program, or a wait-list control group. This study reported no statistically significant interventional effects of any treatment on total sleep quality or on any individual sleep quality domain.21

Multiple sclerosis An RCT of 57 subjects with clinically defined multiple sclerosis were assigned to weekly Iyengar yoga class plus home practice, a cycling program, or a wait-list control group for 6 months. Results showed that both active interventions produced significant improvement in perceived levels of energy and reduced fatigue; however, the specific effects of the yoga practice were not isolated.22 Osteoarthritis In a pilot study, 11 deconditioned, yoga naive subjects with a clinical diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis showed improvements in pain and knee stiffness after 8 weeks of yoga training. The group performed modified Iyengar yoga sessions once a week.23


Seizure disorders In 2000, a systematic review of the published literature revealed that only one study was able to meet the selection criteria for reliable research design. The reviewers concluded that no available evidence pointed to yoga therapy as an efficacious treatment for epilepsy.24

Strength and flexibility In a recent study on the fitness related effects of hatha yoga, 10 yoga-naïve and previously untrained subjects aged 18 to 27 years participated in 85 minutes of pranayama and hatha yoga practice twice a week for 8 weeks. These subjects showed significant improvement in upper and lower body muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility. No statistically significant change in body composition or pulmonary function was observed.13
In a partial RCT with a longer time frame, 54 subjects aged 20 to 25 years participated in either 5 months of yoga instruction or no activity. After that time period, both groups practiced yoga for an additional 5 months. The group practicing 10 months of yoga showed significant improvements in shoulder, trunk, hip, and neck flexibility, as well as a reported improved performance during submaximal exercise testing.25
A well-executed study compared subjects who underwent 24 hours of hatha yoga classes over 8 weeks with a control group. The yoga training group showed a 13% to 35% improvement in flexibility, balance, and muscular endurance. The authors concluded that hatha yoga practice has significant effects on balance and flexibility.26



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16. O’Connor D, Marshall S, Massy-Westropp N. Nonsurgical treatment (other than steroid injection) for carpal tunnel syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003(1):CD003219.
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22. Oken BS, Kishiyama S, Zajdel D, et al. Randomized controlled trial of yoga and exercise in multiple sclerosis. Neurology. 2004;62(11):2058-2064.
23. Kolasinski SL, Garfinkel M, Tsai AG, et al. Iyengar yoga for treating symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knees: a pilot study. J Altern Complement Med. 2005;11(4):689-693.
24. Ramaratnam S, Sridharan K. Yoga for epilepsy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000(3):CD001524.
25. Ray US, Mukhopadhyaya S, Purkayastha SS, et al. Effect of yogic exercises on physical and mental health of young fellowship course trainees. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2001;45(1):37-53.
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