READ - ​7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Yoga

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Yoga has been around for over 5,000 years. It is a physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in ancient India. Yoga made its way to the Western world in the late 1800’s but it wasn’t until the 1980’s that it really became popular.

Yoga initially became popular in Western society for its system of movement, and deep meditative and spiritual core. Westerners also started seeing for themselves, just how beneficial yoga could be for their health. Just ask any “yogi”.

...yoga isn’t limited to the body when it comes to flexibility.

As yoga has continued to grow, and the claims for its benefits widen, Western science has been asking why. There are a plethora of studies in peer-reviewed journals that exist now, demonstrating the proven benefits of yoga. Here are just some of the thousands of articles for the most common benefits.

7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Yoga

  1. Reduces stress
    A study from the Journal of Affective Disorders found that Sudarshana Kriya Yoga led to a reduction in the stress hormone levels (cortisol and ACTH) of alcohol dependant inpatients. Another study from the Journal of International Society of Preventative and Community Dentistry found that individuals who practiced yoga regularly had lower serum cortisol levels.

  2. Relieves anxiety
    The Complimentary Therapies in Clinical Practice journal published a study that showed that yoga led to a significant reduction in perceived levels of anxiety for women who suffered from anxiety disorders. In this study, participants participated in a 90-minute yoga class, twice a week for two months.

  3. Improves cardiovascular health
    The Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome journal published a study showing that 1-year of yoga improved cardiovascular risk factors in middle-aged and older adults who suffered from metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome refers to a clustering of risk factors, including high blood pressure, central obesity, insulin resistance and dyslipidemia. The 1-year of yoga specifically improved the central obesity and blood pressure risk factors.

  4. Improves flexibility and balance
    Likely one of the easiest benefits of yoga to prove. The Journal of Gerontology. Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences published a study which demonstrated that Iyengar yoga significantly improved balance and mobility for older people. There were 27 people in the intervention group of the study with a median age of 68. They participated in a 12-week program, twice per week. A study published in the International Journal of Yogademonstrated that these benefits are not limited to older people who may not be as flexible as the younger generation. Fourteen male college athletes increased their flexibility and improved their balance from a 10-week, twice-per-week, yoga practice, when compared to twelve male college athletes who made up the control group and took part in no additional yoga activity.

  5. Improves cognitive function
    A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience Nursing demonstrated that yoga isn’t limited to the body when it comes to flexibility. One hundred and thirty three older adults who were between the ages of 53 and 96, who practiced yoga for 30 minutes, twice a week for more than a month, had significant gains in memory performance.

  6. Promotes healthy eating habits 
    The Journal of Adolescent Health published a study whereby yoga was used in the treatment of eating disorders. Fifty girls and four boys, between the ages of 11 and 21, who were diagnosed with an eating disorder were placed into two groups — one who received standard care for eating disorders and the other who received both standard care and yoga for 1-hour, twice a week for 8 weeks. Those who participated in the yoga program decreased their eating disorder examination (EDE) scores and significantly reduced food preoccupation immediately following yoga sessions.

  7. Promotes positive self-perception 
    A study published in the [Complimentary Therapies in Clinical Practice journal found that yoga had a positive influence for 14 out of the 18 participants in a workplace yoga program at the State University of Campinas, Brazil. This was measured using a Measure Yourself Medical Outcome profile to identify the symptoms and perception of self-reported well-being.

There are many benefits to yoga — anecdotally and scientifically supported. “Proving” them scientifically however, is a long and drawn out process. As a result, you often see studies with specific and targeted population groups such as the alcohol-dependant inpatients in the first point and adolescents with an eating disorder in the sixth point. One reason for this is because there are just so many variables. Great scientific rigour is necessary. The only way to “prove” a benefit of yoga is to continue to research its benefits. For now, there wouldn’t be too many people who would argue that yoga isn’t good for you. So my suggestion… find your nearest yoga studio and get practicing. 

What benefits have you experienced from a regular yoga practice?

Bryce Finck