What is yoga? Yoga is an ancient discipline designed to bring balance and health to the individual's physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions (2). It’s essentially a form of mind-body fitness that involves a combination of muscular activity and internally directed mindful focus on awareness of the self, the breath, and energy (1). The word “Yoga” means the union of our consciousness with the Universal Divine Consciousness in a super-conscious state known as “Samadhi.”
It is distinctly different from other kinds of exercise because it generates motion without causing strain and imbalances in the body. The “postures” are the physical positions that coordinate breath with movement as we hold these positions to stretch and strengthen different parts of the body. Yoga is defined as a set of poses or “asanas” coupled with breathing techniques, which help impart strength and flexibility to the body while helping to balance the mind and its thinking (1).
History of Yoga
According to archeological evidence, Yoga began in India as early as 3000 BC. The term “Yoga” origins in Sanskrit, meaning to unite; yoga helps the body to connect with the other vital metaphysical aspects of the mind & spirit. Paintings were found of Yoga Meditation in archaeological excavations in the Indus Valley. Archaeologists found that stone seals depict figures found on stone seals. It was later systemized by Patanjali in 300-200 B.C. and defined the purpose of yoga as knowledge of the actual “Self” (God) and outlined eight steps for direct experience of “Self” In 189(2).
Around the second century, Patanjali wrote: “The Yoga Sutras,” an attempt to define and standardize Classical Yoga. It was composed of 195 aphorisms or sutras that expound upon Raja Yoga, and his underlying principles called the “Eightfold path of Yoga” or “Eight Limbs of Classical Yoga Ashtanga.” Then in 1893, young Sami Vivekananda introduced Modern yoga in the United States at the Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago.
General Benefits of Yoga
As many of us know, Yoga has several benefits physically, mentally, and spiritually. Yoga is preventive and therapeutic and has been shown to offer physical and mental benefits to the body and mind. Yogic techniques, which aim at physical and psychological self-culture, have convincing scientific bases and produce a consistent physiological change. Some of those changes include decreased anxiety and increased feelings of emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.
Unlike other physical forms of exercise, like aerobics, by practicing yoga, one can achieve not only physical health but also mental and spiritual well-being. Some other known benefits include Increased overall health, energy, and vitality, greater body awareness, a more robust and leaner body, and increased flexibility with an improved range of motion.
Specific Benefits of Yoga
A fast-growing epidemic of modern society is stress and stress-induced disorders like hypertension and angina. The holistic science of yoga is the best method for preventing and managing stress and stress-induced diseases. Numerous studies have shown yoga to have an immediate down-regulating effect on the HPA axis responses to stress. It has been well established that the effectiveness of yoga on stress management (2).
Studies show that yoga decreases levels of salivary cortisol and blood glucose, as well as plasma renin levels & 24-h urine nor-epinephrine and epinephrine levels. Studies have also determined that yoga significantly decreases heart rate and systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Let’s dive deeper into yoga’s impact on various health outcomes and conditions (2).
When it comes to hypertension, it has been compellingly demonstrated in a randomized control study that 1-hour a day of regular yogic practice is as effective as medical therapy in controlling blood pressure in hypertensive subjects. It has been found that pairing yoga with relaxation, biofeedback, transcendental meditation, and psychotherapy has a convincing antihypertensive effect. It has also been shown that the practice of yogic postures has restored baroreflex sensitivity. Due to the mechanism of yoga, induced blood pressure reduction may be attributed to its beneficial effects on autonomic neurological function and managing secondary cardiac complications due to chronic hypertension (2).
During a randomized controlled study, patients with angiographically proven coronary artery disease who practiced yoga during a span of 1-year showed a decrease in the number of anginal episodes per week, improved exercise capacity, and even a decrease in body weight. Serum cholesterol levels (total, LDL, and triglyceride levels) also showed more significant reductions than control groups. In recent studies, it is evident that yoga can control LDL cholesterol and hypertension (2).
Cardiorespiratory Efficiency and Physical Fitness
Yogic techniques are known to improve one’s overall performance and work capacity. Physical fitness refers to cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength, coordination, and flexibility. Studies found that in 6 months of practicing Hatha Yoga, seniors (ages 65-85 years) significantly improved their quality of life and physical measures compared to walking exercises and wait-list control groups.
Yoga training for six weeks increased respiratory pressure and endurance in male and female test subjects. Similar effects were observed after ten weeks of yoga practice where the issues grew both inspiratory, which is, your main breathing muscles are your diaphragm and intercostals. Which will help improve your strength and stamina and reduce breathing fatigue. It also enhances the expiratory power, which is your internal intercostals, rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, and transversus abdominis (2).
A group of people with diabetes who practiced yoga regularly saw a significant reduction in the frequency of hyperglycemia and area index total under the oral glucose tolerance test curve. This experimental study also showed that the population that practiced yoga there saw a need for oral hypoglycemia to maintain adequate blood sugar control and a significant decrease in fasting plasma insulin. So, yoga can be a simple and economical therapeutic modality that may be a beneficial adjuvant for noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus patients (NIDDM).
Yoga Health Benefits Conclusion
With an internally directed focus, the mind-body exercise of yoga can help muscular activity, producing a temporary self-conscious mental state. It also triggers neurohormones to bring about a variety of health benefits. This helps reduce stress and anxiety, improves autonomic and higher neural center functioning, and even improves physical and mental health, as shown in some studies. That said, yoga can be beneficial in the prevention and can help treat various psychological and physical diseases.
(1) Discovering the Benefits of Yoga and Improve Quality of Life, Journal, 2018. Accessed 13 October, 2022
(2) Health Impacts of Yoga and Pranayama: A State-of-the-Art Review, Journal, 2012. Accessed 13 October, 2022