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7 Ways Yoga Benefits You, Body & Soul

Have I mentioned how much I love yoga? I recommend yoga so often to patients, I’m almost getting tired of hearing myself gush about it. But really, if you’re looking to improve your health–physical, mental, or emotional–it’s hard to go wrong with yoga. Here’s my roundup of all the beautiful ways yoga can help you:

1. Chronic Back Pain. Studies have shown the benefits of yoga when it comes to the bothersome, and often debilitating, problem of chronic low back pain. A randomized study done recently in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that yoga was superior to regular care for treating chronic back pain. Hello, cat pose.

2. Depression. In 2010 The Journal of Psychiatric Practice published a review of all the research examining yoga as a treatment for depression. Here’s what they said:

Yoga may be an attractive alternative to or a good way to augment current depression treatment strategies. Second, aspects of yoga-including mindfulness promotion and exercise-are thought to be “active ingredients” of other successful treatments for depression. Third, there are plausible biological, psychological, and behavioral mechanisms by which yoga may have an impact on depression.

There are many reasons yoga is a wonderful adjunctive treatment to conventional treatment for depression, by helping with stress, insomnia, physical pain, etc. We’re only scratching the surface in terms of using yoga to treat depression, and I suspect many more studies will come.

3. Heart Health. Yoga has been shown to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. It’s helpful for stress. It just may reduce cholesterol. And there may be other physiologic benefits, like anti-oxidant activity and anti-inflammatory properties, that we’re starting to understand to be major factors in preventing heart disease. And who’s not interested in a healthier ticker?

4. Rheumatoid Arthritis. If you happen to suffer this autoimmune type of arthritis, yoga could be especially good for you, too. There have been some (typically small, early) studies (like this one, and this one) that have shown improvement in symptoms when patients participate in a yoga program. Psychological benefits (decreased stress and depression) as well as physical benefits (decreased pain and disability) were some of the outcomes.

5. Insomnia. Can’t sleep? Several studies have shown yoga to be beneficial in improving sleep–even for people with insomnia-ridden conditions like menopause and osteoarthritis. How yoga works, exactly, to improve sleep is not fully known, but it probably has a whole lot to do with the body’s stress reaction. Chronic stress and sleep are not good, um, bedfellows.

6. Menopause. Yoga appears to help with a whole bunch of the symptoms associated with menopause: insomnia, mood changes, and maybe even hot flashes. Nice, since hormone therapy is such a hornet’s nest of potential trouble these days, to have non-medication alternatives to these vexing symptoms.

7. Stress. This is probably the biggest reason I regularly “prescribe” yoga. There is plenty of evidence, both research-based and anecdotal, for the stress-fighting benefits of yoga. The meditative aspects of yoga, the fact that it incorporates breathing exercises, the relaxation and the physical movement…it all helps to explain why yoga is the bomb for stress. 

So get your butt down to that yoga studio. A little downward dog, a few sun salutations…voila, you’ve worked your body and your psyche. Now that’s multitasking.

Ohhmmmm……

Dr. Kim Foster, MD. (photo credit: Tamea Burd Photography)

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