You might wrinkle your nose at the idea of doing yoga. Or maybe you’re doing yoga while you’re reading this. The point is, you probably have preconceived notions on the activity. Some people never try it, and other people live by it. Despite your experiences thus far, yoga’s stress-relieving properties deserve your attention. Science says so.
For those of you who only know yoga from passing a class at the gym or laughing at a spoof in a comedy, it might seem that twisting your body in such positions would be the opposite of stress-relieving. While some of the movements can be a little uncomfortable at first (okay, very uncomfortable), over time yoga becomes more about letting the mind roam free and less about struggling to hold hard poses.
A Brief History of Yoga
At first glance, yoga is about flexibility, strength, and mastery of the body. Yes, it is all these things, and yet so much more. Yoga, which means “spiritual discipline,” has been practiced for thousands of years. The activity originated in the East, with the earliest signs appearing in ancient Shamanism. Interestingly, yoga began as an approach to understanding the world and soon shifted to achieving self-enlightenment. Poses and meditation derived from Buddhist teachings were incorporated into yoga in the 6th century B.C.
Today, yoga is based on five basic principles created by Swami Sivananda:
- Proper relaxation
- Proper exercise
- Proper breathing
- Proper diet
- Positive thinking and meditation
Yoga and Stress: The Studies
Two fairly recent studies have shown that yoga’s benefits aren’t just flexibility and mental stability. It actually has measurable positive health outcomes! Check it out!
A study published last year in the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine explored yoga’s effects on stress and inflammation levels. Over 10 days of yoga-based lifestyle intervention, 86 participants around the age of 40 saw a decrease in cortisol and factors for inflammation.
If you’re not familiar with cortisol, it’s an important hormone! It’s responsible for increasing blood sugar levels, suppressing the immune system, and assisting in carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism. Like many things, it’s essential to a properly functioning human body. It becomes a problem when it’s secreted for long periods of time. Imagine walking around town without your body’s defense system. Yikes!
Inflammation is also an important factor in overall and long-term health. Like cortisol, it has crucial responsibilities in the body, like responding to injuries. However, chronic inflammation caused by constant stressors taxes the body and can become an underlying cause of fatigue, weight gain, high cholesterol or more advanced conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and autoimmune diseases.
The results of this yoga study are considered preliminary and further long-term testing will help confirm whether this program has utility as complementary and alternative therapy.
Have you heard of the “fight or flight” response? It’s basically how our bodies have adapted to impending danger or stressful situations. Processes that usually take up a lot of energy and resources (like food digestion) are put on hold and the body prepares to either defend itself (fight) or remove itself from the situation as quickly as possible (flight).
This activation of the sympathetic nervous system increases blood pressure (faster heartbeat), blood sugar (more energy available to the cells), and decreases the immune system (for the body, fending off against slow-attacking disease takes lower priority than a more immediate, acute danger). Like cortisol and inflammation, it can be very useful in certain situations. But when your body is constantly in fight or flight mode, problems arise.
This recent study conducted by the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine trained 26 adults in yoga meditation for eight weeks. None of the participants had tried this type of activity before. Blood samples were taken before and after. The changes were quite encouraging: genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion, and telomere maintenance were turned on, while those involved in inflammation were turned off. This is basically the opposite of what fight or flight does to the body!
Dr. Herbert Benson of the Benson-Henry Institute says that such meditation sparks “a specific genomic response that counteracts the harmful genomic effects of stress.” While people have been using meditation and yoga to reduce stress levels for thousands of years, this is the first time in modern history that researchers have been able to show the benefits scientifically.
*To avoid any confusion: this study shows that yoga and meditation affect gene expression. The actual genes themselves are NOT altered….but you probably wouldn’t want to do that, anyway!
Experiment with WellnessFX – For FREE!
You’ve seen the studies. Now create your own! Here’s how:
- Visit YogaFinder to locate a yoga instructor/class near you. Take the plunge! Sign up!
- Go here for your FREE Annual Check-up with WellnessFX!
- After two-three months of yoga, get another WellnessFX e-Checkup.
- Compare the numbers (which will already be in a graph for you on the WellnessFX platform). Any differences?
- Let us know the results at firstname.lastname@example.org and you could be featured on our blog!
We look forward to hearing from you!
The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.