You know it can reduce stress and anxiety; but newer studies are also pointing to the benefits of yoga in treating a number of ailments. And while your yoga practice won’t cure asthma, treat allergies or make you live to 100, it can lower blood pressure, reduce insomnia, alleviate depression and treat several other conditions. Here’s our roundup of some compelling findings.
■ Depression. A number of studies have found that yoga can significantly reduce symptoms of depression and improve depression-related insomnia.1 In one study, people who did a 12-week yoga ttraining showed significantly reduced measures of depression, as well as tension-anxiety, anger-hostility, fatigue, and confusion.2 And pregnant women who practiced yoga showed significantly lower markers of depression, anxiety, and pregnancy-related discomfort than those who did standard exercises.3
■ Cardiovascular disease. Yoga can benefit heart health in several ways. A few small studies show a regular yoga practice may be helpful in preventing atrial fibrillation, a rapid and uneven fibrillation of the muscles of the atria of the heart,4 as well as decreasing heart rate and significantly improving parasympathetic activity.5 And several studies have suggested yoga can lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension.6,7,8
■ Back pain. A few dozen studies point to the efficacy of yoga in treating back pain. One review of ten studies on yoga for back pain found strong evidence for both short-term and long-term reduction in pain, and reduction of disability related to back pain.9 In another study, a 12-week protocol of once- or twice-weekly yoga classes were effective in treating even severe chronic low back pain.10 And a review of four randomized control trials found that yoga lead to a significant improvement in back function, compared with other modalities.11
■ Immune response. Several studies have pointed to yoga’s ability to enhance immune function, especially in relation to stress.12 In one study of the impact of stress on immune system function, people who did yoga for 35 minutes daily showed reduced autonomic changes and impairment of cellular immunity in relation to stress. And in combination with meditation, hypnosis and muscle relaxation, yoga may reduce immune-related effects of stress in cancers and HIV infection.13 There may be a genetic component to yoga’s action on immunity, and the effects can be quite rapid; in a small group of people who did a weekend of yoga postures, yogic breathing and meditation, the comprehensive yoga practice changed the expression of genes in circulating immune cells.14
■ Sleep and insomnia. Yoga appears to enhance sleep, reduce insomnia, decrease nocturnal awakenings and improve quality of sleep. In one study of men who complained of insomnia, the group who did yoga showed significant improvement in stress scores and decreased insomnia, in only eight weeks.15 In another study, a regular Bikram Yoga practice was associated with significantly faster return to sleep after nocturnal awakenings.16
■ Osteoarthritis. Yoga can help improve symptoms of osteoarthritis, a chronic and painful condition involving the breakdown of cartilage, and may be better than physiotherapy exercises.17 In one study, people with osteoarthritis of the knee who did a modified Iyengar yoga practice once a week experienced a reduction in pain and stiffness, and enhanced physical function18. In another study of women with osteoarthritis of the knee, those who did 60 minutes of yoga three times a week showed a significant decrease in pain and an increase in daily activities, sports and spare-time activities, and quality of life.19
1. Wang YY1, Chang HY2, Lin CY3. [Systematic review of yoga for depression and quality of sleep in the elderly]. Hu Li Za Zhi. 2014 Feb;61(1):85-92.
2. Yoshihara K1, Hiramoto T, Oka T, Kubo C, Sudo N. Effect of 12 weeks of yoga training on the somatization, psychological symptoms, and stress-related biomarkers of healthy women. Biopsychosoc Med. 2014 Jan 3;8(1):1.
3. Satyapriya M1, Nagarathna R, Padmalatha V, Nagendra HR.Effect of integrated yoga on anxiety, depression & well being in normal pregnancy. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2013 Nov;19(4):230-6.
4. Manchanda SC1, Madan K.Yoga and meditation in cardiovascular disease. Clin Res Cardiol. 2014 Jan 25.
5. Krishna BH et al. Effect of yoga therapy on heart rate, blood pressure and cardiac autonomic function in heart failure.J Clin Diagn Res. 2014 Jan;8(1):14-6.
6. Hagins M1, Rundle A, Consedine NS, Khalsa SB. A randomized controlled trial comparing the effects of yoga with an active control on ambulatory blood pressure in individuals with prehypertension and stage 1 hypertension. J Clin Hypertens (Greenwich). 2014 Jan;16(1):54-62.
7. Wang J1, Xiong X, Liu W. Yoga for essential hypertension: a systematic review. PLoS One. 2013 Oct 4;8(10):e76357.
8. Hagins M1, States R, Selfe T, Innes K. Effectiveness of yoga for hypertension: systematic review and meta-analysis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:649836.
9. Cramer H1, Lauche R, Haller H, Dobos G.A systematic review and meta-analysis of yoga for low back pain. Clin J Pain. 2013 May;29(5):450-60
10. Saper RB, Boah AR, Keosaian J, Cerrada C, Weinberg J, Sherman KJ. Comparing Once- versus Twice-Weekly Yoga Classes for Chronic Low Back Pain in Predominantly Low Income Minorities: A Randomized Dosing Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:658030
11. Hill C.Is yoga an effective treatment in the management of patients with chronic low back pain compared with other care modalities – a systematic review. J Complement Integr Med. 2013 May 7;10.
12. Gopal A1, Mondal S, Gandhi A, Arora S, Bhattacharjee J. Effect of integrated yoga practices on immune responses in examination stress – A preliminary study. Int J Yoga. 2011 Jan;4(1):26-32.
13. Arora S, Bhattacharjee J. Modulation of immune responses in stress by Yoga. Int J Yoga. 2008 Jul;1(2):45-55.
14. Qu S, Olafsrud SM, Meza-Zepeda LA, Saatcioglu F (2013) Rapid Gene Expression Changes in Peripheral Blood Lymphocytes upon Practice of a Comprehensive Yoga Program. PLoS ONE 8(4): e61910.
15. Sobana R1, Parthasarathy S, Duraisamy, Jaiganesh K, Vadivel S.The effect of yoga therapy on selected psychological variables among male patients with insomnia. J Clin Diagn Res. 2013 Jan;7(1):55-7.
16. Kudesia RS1, Bianchi MT. Decreased nocturnal awakenings in young adults performing bikram yoga: a low-constraint home sleep monitoring study. ISRN Neurol. 2012;2012:153745.
17. Ebnezar J1, Nagarathna R, Yogitha B, Nagendra HR.Effect of integrated yoga therapy on pain, morning stiffness and anxiety in osteoarthritis of the knee joint: A randomized control study. Int J Yoga. 2012 Jan;5(1):28-36.
18. Kolasinski SL1, Garfinkel M, Tsai AG, Matz W, Van Dyke A, Schumacher HR. Iyengar yoga for treating symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knees: a pilot study. J Altern Complement Med. 2005 Aug;11(4):689-93.
19. Ghasemi GA1, Golkar A, Marandi SM.Effects of hata yoga on knee osteoarthritis. Int J Prev Med. 2013 Apr;4 (Suppl 1):S133-8.