Yes, yoga is more popular in the United States than ever. And yes, the scientific research into the mind-body benefits that come through a sustained yoga practice is more conclusive than ever. Yoga works. But it works in many more ways than we probably realize.
Just in the last five years, we’ve seen an explosion of research that matches the explosion of popularity in yoga.
Five years ago, a Vox researcher studied 50 scientific articles. At that time, 20 million Americans were yoga practitioners. But, as reported just two weeks ago, another researcher looked through the scientific evidence about yoga’s benefits from the University of Berkeley and found that 36 million Americans now practice yoga.
Yes, yoga is popular. But more importantly, yoga is proven to be a significant boost to our overall wellbeing, offering unique mind-body benefits that contribute in many ways to our overall health.
More to the point, “yoga” is not one thing. It’s a vast network of different practices that offers you many different ways and approaches. This deep, historical variety means there is likely some discipline of yoga that is right for you. An insightful article on the benefits of yoga found in Mind & Body states,
“Many in the West are familiar with one vein of yoga practices: the asanas, a Sanskrit that translates to ‘postures.’ The full tradition is much broader, and encompasses pranayama (mindful breathing), meditations, chanting, sutras (yoga philosophy by the sage Patanjali), kriya (internal cleansing movements), and ethical principles related to kindness, selflessness, non-materialism, and nonviolence. Over its history, yoga has evolved into many forms, from Tai Chi and Qi Gong to hot yoga and core power yoga.”
Feeling the mind-body benefits of yoga, firsthand
As my patients know, I use the natural remedies that I recommend to them. I use the tips in my immunity guide. I also enjoy a home practice of yoga that makes a huge difference in my overall wellbeing.
For it starts with the grounding mind-body connection. I love the way the Tree Pose helps me center, creating stillness in my mind for the tasks of the day ahead. Further, the breathwork of yoga sends healing properties throughout my body.
Practically, I feel it. I know it’s true. But I’m encouraged that science affirms this. Consider that five years ago, the still relatively new research suggested numerous benefits including,
“Yoga seems to help alleviate lower back pain, improve strength and flexibility, and reduce inflammation in the body — which, in turn, can help stave off chronic disease and death,” this author’s review of the scientific research stated. “Emerging research suggests yoga can increase body awareness, or attention to the sensations and things going on inside you. That’s no small matter: Researchers think heightened body awareness can improve how well people take care of themselves.”
Several recent studies, as documented here, show heart health benefits from yoga, notably improve the regulatory work of the heart to aid the reduction of inflammation and blood pressure.
Consider this example from the Mind & Body article (and yoga’s benefit to people and society):
Rheumatoid arthritis, a painful condition that involves tender, swollen joints, is estimated to affect 54 million Americans each year and cost the health care system $19 billion. The patients who practiced yoga saw significant improvements in their experiences of physical pain, general health, vitality, and mental health, and these reductions in pain lasted nine months after the study ended.
The research goes on and on from very specific helps to one very general one that I think is more relevant and needed today than ever: Yoga makes us happier. This is explained by scientific research that yoga actually shifts our brain chemicals in positive ways. You can dig deeper to explore why it works.
In the end, perhaps it comes down to this: Yoga’s powerful mind-body connection heals our body, calms our mind, and, makes us both healthier and happier.
Seems like a pretty good idea to me.