Yoga and Health: A Complete Scientific Breakdown

This mega-post is a collaborative effort between children’s book author Elana B. and natural health professional Crista Nezhni. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about yoga and health!

Yoga – A Road to Better Health

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There are many physical benefits that should motivate you to begin practicing yoga. Yoga will increase your flexibility, strengthen and condition your muscles, and will give you better balance and posture.

That’s good news. Now, do you want to hear some great news?

The artful discipline of yoga doesn’t begin and end with physical exercise. Yoga can also help you with deeper personal growth in both the emotional and spiritual aspects of life.

Yoga is not only for stretching muscles; it’s an open door for stretching your character and connection to all living things. As yoga helps you let go of physical tension, you can also let go of negative thought patterns and open your heart to healing, self-forgiveness, and understanding.

Yoga isn't just good for stretching muscles; it's an open door for stretching your character and connection to all living things. Click To Tweet

As you become aware of your breathing, body movements and thoughts, you can work on the issues inside you. You begin to connect your mind, body, and what some may call their soul or spirit.

So not only is yoga a great stimulus for creating positive energy and building a healthy body; it’s also good for the mind and your emotional state as well. As a positive and health affirming process, yoga can help you throughout your life.

Keep reading to learn more about all the positive (and scientifically proven) health benefits of yoga!

Physical Health Benefits of Yoga

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One of the most obvious relationships between yoga and health is how it can improve your physical well-being. The combination of stretching, calisthenics, and breathing exercises can have amazingly potent effects on the body.

But for those who are scared or uninterested in forging a spiritual connection in profound ways, yoga is still for you!

Yoga provides people with a multitude of benefits to their overall health, improving everything from mood and circulation to energy levels and aches. While most people are aware of this, there are different forms of yoga and other stretching and mood-stabilizing techniques to manage overall physical health while also aiding in emotional and spiritual relief. Some common forms include hatha yoga, vinyasa yoga (sun salutations), ashtanga yoga, power yoga, and Bikram hot yoga.

Are you feeling a bit skeptical? This isn’t just mystical mumbo-jumbo: these physical health benefits are backed by real science. Consider the following:

The International Journal of Yoga is a scientific research outlet based in India, yoga’s birthplace. In September of 2019, they published the results of a 3-month experiment targeting low-income individuals who suffered from chronic lower back pain. By participating in two guided yoga classes a week over 12 weeks, the subjects reported a significant decrease in their lower back pain. Additionally, these individuals showed notable benefits in their spine and hip flexibility, as well as strength in their core muscles.

Pretty impressive, huh? But the physical health benefits of yoga are pretty obvious, even for someone with only a passing familiarity. What about the lesser-known health benefits of yoga?

Read on:

Yoga and Mental Health

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The more intuitive you become toward how your body moves and feels, the more easily and effectively you can respond to its nonverbal communication.

Through yoga, you don’t just learn how all your muscles and bones are consciously connected. Additionally, your brain will slowly realize that your every action is connected. Consequently, this mind-body connection will help you process the world around you and how you interact with others.

Could all the wonderful, flowery language used to extol yoga's benefits toward mental health be backed by real science? Absolutely! Click To Tweet

But how does this all work? Could all this wonderful flowery language extolling the virtues of yoga and mental health be backed by real science?

Of course they can! Just look at the below examples:

In September of 2019, a narrative review was published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry. This study analyzed a large number of previously published scientific studies regarding a connection between mental health and physical activity in India. Naturally, yoga played a significant role in many of these studies based on the location.

So what were their findings? Well, in their own words, yoga was found to be an effective form of treatment for both “severe and common mental disorders.” In particular, this study notes that “Yoga had a more significant impact on patients with schizophrenia than exercise or no intervention.

But wait, there’s more! Another study conducted by the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine attempted to find scientific evidence of yoga benefits toward improving mental health. In particular, this study compared the effects yoga could have on improving GABA receptor production.

(To clarify, GABA receptors are an important aspect of the brain necessary for improving your mood and preventing anxiety.)

Here’s what they found after conducting this experiment:

When compared to walking, the mental health benefits of yoga were significantly more powerful! In their own words, “The 12-week yoga intervention was associated with greater improvements in mood and anxiety than a metabolically matched walking exercise.

Essentially, this study shows that you have a better chance of improving your mental health through yoga than walking, even if you burn the same amount of calories!

You experience greater mental health improvement through yoga than walking, even if you burn the same amount of calories. Click To Tweet

How could yoga be this powerful? Well, it all has to do with the mindset of a yoga practitioner. When something happens to you, it becomes easier to realize your role in pulling it to you versus pushing it away by the way you think, act, and set intentions. The more intuitive, empathic, and conscious you become, the more you can ascend beyond just connecting verbally.

By tuning out of the external world, its expectations and fears, you’ll find yourself lifting to new heights of appreciation, self-worth, and love for all. This can bring an empowering sense of spiritual purpose.

Speaking of yoga and spirituality…

Yoga and Meditation

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In many ways, yoga takes on the form of meditation. The two easily come hand in hand! Ultimately, during the times of silence and introspection brought about through intense yoga, you can easily reconnect with who you are and what you truly want from life.

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up listening to the negative influences all around us, whether this is friendships, peers, or the news. The saying “Misery loves company” comes to mind!

Essentially, if all you listen to is negative stimuli and you surround yourself in a negative atmosphere, it’s going to have a negative effect. Furthermore, it’s all too easy to let wounded people bring us down in their pain, pity, and blame.

One of the benefits of yoga and meditation is that all this negative chatter flies out the window as you create your own space. All the external voices dissipate, allowing you to communicate with your inner, most honest self. Yoga allows you to face fears, silence or release frustrations, and overcome worries.

Still unconvinced of the benefits of yoga and meditation? Well, there’s scientific evidence to back this up too!

In 2019, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy published an article on the benefits of yoga and meditation for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. It’s tough to think of a situation more painful, terrifying, and soul-crushing than this. However, what these researchers found was that the combination of meditation and yoga helped these patients by decreasing their fear and improving their pain tolerance.

One of the major findings that this study highlights is that this experience benefited patients through an “Improvement in self-confidence, balance, and stability,” as well as secondary benefits of “social support” and “health literacy.”

One philosophy in yoga is non-judgment. This applies to both us and others in the world around us. Yoga teaches us to stay in the “now” instead of what could be or once was. The bottom line is that yoga, like meditation, helps welcome emotional self-healing and staying in the present moment.

Negative Effects of Yoga

At this point, you might be wondering; are there any drawbacks of yoga? 

The most significant pitfalls to yoga are over-use and abuse. This is entirely up to your own judgment, as well as that of the instructor you follow. Just like anything else, yoga can become an addiction if we let it.

By practicing lightly and slowly advancing as you stretch, you can avoid pushing beyond current limits. This will help insure that you do not injure any of your muscles or ligaments.

The myth that one must be flexible to be good at yoga is simply that. Physical flexibility can push us to throw our bodies out of alignment and promote competitiveness, which is something that the practice of yoga does not encourage.

Prioritizing flexibility in yoga can throw our bodies out of alignment and promote competitiveness; the practice of yoga doesn't encourage this. Click To Tweet

On the subject of desire and competition…

Another one of yoga’s downsides is a tendency for practitioners to pose for the sake of appearance. Unfortunately, this exercise in vanity is popularized in yoga magazines and overdone by some instructors.

Remember: yoga is about bettering ourselves, not being better than others. In other words, keep your ego out of the practice.

Go at an even pace. Never force a movement. Gently ease into each new position. Each week you can see if you’re ready to advance a little further, but remember that you don’t need to advance farther than anyone else!

Find a good instructor and a safe space where people actually enjoy the movements, the overall health benefits, and are not trying to outdo the person next to them. Remember, yoga is physical, mental and emotional therapy that can release stress and tension.

When wielded properly, the practice of yoga can greatly promote overall balance in the body, mind, and spirit.

Enjoy it.


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