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It has been shown that yoga decreases anxiety, stress, and levels of salivary cortisol as well as plasma rennin levels, and 24-h urine norepinephrine and epinephrine levels.These may be the possible mechanisms for effects of yoga on stress and stress-related diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease.
In 2008, researchers at the University of Utah showed that among control subjects and yoga practitioners, by functional magnetic resonance imagings (MRIs), that yoga practitioner had the higher pain tolerance and lower pain-related brain activity during the MRI. The study shows the importance of yoga in regulating pain responses and associated stress.
Overweight and Obesity
Overweight and obesity are strong risk factors for diabetes, hypertension, and ischemic heart disease. Yoga has been found to be helpful in the management of obesity. Training of yoga asnas and pranayama for three continuous months, 1 h every day in the morning by a yoga expert resulted in decrease in body weight, body mass index (BMI), and waist hip ratio.
Regular yogic practice for 1 h/day was found to be effective in controlling blood pressure in hypertensive subjects. Yoga, together with relaxation, biofeedback, transcendental meditation, and psychotherapy, has been found to have a convincing antihypertensive effect. A study from Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER), Puducherry showed that Sukha pranayama at the rate of 6 breaths/min reduced heart rate and systolic blood pressure in hypertensive patients within 5 min of practice. This may be due to a normalization of autonomic cardiovascular rhythms as a result of increased vagal modulation and/or decreased sympathetic activity and improved baroreflex sensitivity.
India is referred to as diabetic capital of the world as it has the largest number of cases of diabetes. The practice of yoga asanas and pranayama helps in control of type II diabetes mellitus and can serve as an adjunct to medical therapy.
Training of yoga asanas and pranayama for three continuous months, 1 h every day in the morning by a yoga expert resulted in decrease in fasting as well as postprandial blood glucose levels and acetylated hemoglobin.
In another study from India, yoga asanas and pranayama after 40 days of practice brought down fasting as well as postprandial blood glucose levels and acetylated hemoglobin in patients of non — insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. They developed a sense of well-being within 10 days and there was a lowering of anti-diabetic drugs.
Yoga also has a beneficial effect on cognitive brain functions and thus can be incorporated along with the conventional medical therapy for improving cognitive brain functions in type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Elevated serum total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), and triglycerides are risk factors for ischemic heart disease, whereas high-density lipoprotein (HDL) has a protective role. Studies on type II diabetes mellitus patients have shown beneficial effects of yoga asanas and pranayama on serum lipid levels.
A study from Delhi reported significant lowering of total serum cholesterol following 40 days of practice of yoga asanas and pranayama. Serum LDL, VLDL, and triglycerides though showed a downward trend but it was not significant.
Another study from Bangalore reported a significant decrease in serum total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL levels. However, there was no significant change in HDL levels.
Some other studies have reported a significant reduction in free fatty acids, LDL, VLDL, and an increase in HDL.
The differences in results of these studies are probably due to small sample size, varying duration of intervention, and differences in diets of patients.
Coronary heart disease
In a randomized controlled study, patients with angiographically proven coronary artery disease who practiced yoga exercise for a period of 1 year showed a decrease in the number of anginal episodes per week, improved exercise capacity, and decrease in body weight. Revascularization procedures were required less frequently in the yoga group. Follow-up angiography at 1 year showed that significantly more lesions regressed in the yoga group compared with the control group. Thus, yoga exercise increases regression and retards progression of atherosclerosis in patients with severe coronary artery disease.
Another prospective, controlled, open trial including angiographically proved coronary artery disease patients showed yoga-based lifestyle modifications helped in regression of coronary lesions and in improving myocardial perfusion, which was translated into clinical benefits and symptomatic improvement.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Yoga training significantly improves lung functions and strength of inspiratory and expiratory muscles.
In a randomized controlled trial by All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, it was reported that yoga postures, pranayama, and meditation improved several measures of pulmonary function in subjects having mild to moderate bronchial asthma and a decrease in exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. Yoga improved the quality of life (QOL), reduced rescue medication use in bronchial asthma, and achieved the reduction of medicines earlier than conventional treatment alone.Similar findings were reported by another study conducted in United States of America among patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Limitations of the Studies
Findings of several studies showing beneficial effects of meditation in reduction of mental stress and anxiety, improvement in pulmonary functions among patients of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and improved exercise tolerance among patients of coronary heart disease have been questioned on the grounds that there was often selection of favorably predisposed subjects. Other weaknesses that have been have been pointed out are use of multiple co-interventions, high attrition, and inadequate statistical analysis.
It indicates that observed favorable effects of yoga on stress, anxiety, asthma, and coronary heart disease need to be substantiated by more rigorous scientific studies.
However, so far what we have discussed about yoga is not yoga in its true sense. “Yoga” means union of our individual consciousness with the Universal Divine Consciousness in a superconscious state known as Samadhi. Archaeological evidence and other texts suggest that the methods described in the yoga sutras were being practiced as early as 3000 before common era (BCE). Oral tradition states that the date may be even earlier. Yoga sutras were historically passed on orally by learned teachers to their pupils. Scholars estimate that Patanjali, who lived sometime between 400 BCE and 200 anno domini (AD), systematized and compiled these sutras.
According to Patanjali, yoga consists of eight steps or limbs, which are all equally important and are related as parts of a whole. The purpose of these eight limbs is discriminative enlightenment or self realization.But here the emphasis will be on health benefits.
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