This year marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services designating September National Yoga Month. Today, close to 40 million Americans practice this ancient technique for health and well-being — and that is double the number from 2012.
According to a survey conducted by Yoga Alliance, the five top reasons for practicing yoga are flexibility, stress relief, general fitness, improvement of overall health, and physical fitness.
But research shows there are many more benefits. The practice helps prevent diabetes, cognitive decline, and cardiovascular disease, and might even increase longevity.
A study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity reported that people who practice yoga had better quality of sleep and fewer symptoms of depression.
Some of the poses in yoga — such as downward facing dog — stimulate blood flow from the lower extremities to the heart and fortify red blood cells by increasing hemoglobin. That can protect against blood clots, stroke, and heart attack.
A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Yoga shows that the practice improves bone density in women with postmenopausal osteoporosis.
“Yoga is also so much more than the physical poses,” Heather Berg, RYT, tells Newsmax. “What I like to share with my students is that the concepts of yoga which include breathwork, steadiness and achieving a state of balance applies not only to the poses but to life in general.”
Berg has helped several clients plagued with debilitating pain using yoga principles. One who woman had been battling Lyme disease for seven years found relief, finally, by learning to cope with her anxiety and discomfort through conscious breathing techniques.
A man diagnosed with lymphoma turned to yoga and a controlled diet to prepare for a six-month round of chemotherapy. Now he is in remission, but continues to practice yoga weekly with his wife.
“Many of my students are struggling with various imbalances, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, chronic pain, and even terminal illness,” Berg said. “Over and over again, I have witnessed how the power of yoga along with a meditation helps reduce stress so that these people can experience a better state of well-being.”
A 2014 study published in the Journals of Gerontology revealed increased cognitive function in older adults after taking yoga three times a week for eight weeks. Yoga’s super power lies in its capacity to reset the autonomous nervous system and ramp up mood-boosting serotonin, while decreasing the stress hormone, cortisol.
Dr. Dov Michaeli, M.D., Ph.D., has studied the brain benefits of yoga and concludes the deep breathing is the reason the brain reacts positively to the practice.
“Deep, slow breathing is associated with theta waves in the brain, which are characteristic of deep relaxation and sleep states,” he says. “Deep, slow yoga breathing also affects the reward system of the brain and seems to un-clutter the areas that participate in rational thinking and decision-making.”
Besides the benefits already listed, experts at the University of Washington say yoga helps cleanse the lymphatic system while boosting the immune system. Yoga also improves digestion, lung function, and balance, as well as lowering blood sugar.
But perhaps the greatest benefit, say the researchers, is it “inspires and improves self-care and healthy living. As yogis tend to be more involved in their own health and care, they discover the power to effect positive change in their lives and tend to adopt more healthy habits. Over time, healthy living has a large impact on life expectancy.”
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