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Yoga helps you manage stress. According to the National Institutes of Health, scientific evidence shows that yoga supports stress management, mental health, mindfulness, healthy eating, weight loss and quality sleep. Lie down with your limbs gently stretched out, away from the body, with your palms facing up.
Why is yoga good for Health and wellness?
It is a spiritual discipline based on an extremely subtle science, which focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body. The holistic approach of Yoga is well established and it brings harmony in all walks of life and thus, known for disease prevention, promotion of health and management of many lifestyle –related disorders.
How is the body, mind and spirit linked in yoga?
Body, mind and spirit are like a tripod – even if one aspect isn’t functioning properly, our life will not be balanced and that will lead to ill health. Yoga (a component of ayurveda) is that link which creates a harmony by aligning all the three components (body, mind and spirit) into one. This harmony, in turn exists to support life.
Which is true about the holistic approach of yoga?
The holistic approach of Yoga is well established and it brings harmony in all walks of life and thus, known for disease prevention, promotion of health and management of many lifestyle –related disorders.
Yoga has been the subject of research in the past few decades for therapeutic purposes for modern epidemic diseases like mental stress, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Individual studies report beneficial effect of yoga in these conditions, indicating that it can be used as nonpharmaceutical measure or complement to drug therapy for treatment of these conditions. However, these studies have used only yoga asana, pranayama, and/ or short periods of meditation for therapeutic purposes. General perception about yoga is also the same, which is not correct. Yoga in fact means union of individual consciousness with the supreme consciousness. It involves eight rungs or limbs of yoga, which include yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. Intense practice of these leads to self-realization, which is the primary goal of yoga. An analytical look at the rungs and the goal of yoga shows that it is a holistic way of life leading to a state of complete physical, social, mental, and spiritual well-being and harmony with nature. This is in contrast to purely economic and material developmental goal of modern civilization, which has brought social unrest and ecological devastation.
Keywords: Anxiety, chronic pulmonary disease, coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, meditation, mental stress, pranayama, yoga
Mental stress, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease are fast growing epidemics consequent to changing lifestyles accompanying globalization and modernization. Although yoga originated in India thousands of years ago, it was introduced to western world in 19th century. In the past few decades, it has been the subject of research as a therapeutic measure in mental stress, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, coronary heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Yoga is effective in prevention as well as management of stress and stress-induced disorders. A systematic review based on eight studies observed that though they reported positive results but due to methodological inadequacies it is not possible to say that yoga is effective in treating anxiety or anxiety disorders in general. However, there are encouraging results, particularly with obsessive compulsive disorder.(1) A systematic review has demonstrated beneficial effects of yoga interventions on depressive disorders.(2) A study on patients who were taking antidepressant medications but who were only in partial remission showed significant reductions for depression, anger, anxiety, and neurotic symptoms. The study supports the potential of yoga as a complementary treatment of depression.
It has been shown that yoga decreases anxiety, stress, and levels of salivary cortisol(4,5) 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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