The International Yoga Teacher’s Association claims these benefits for those who engage in a regular yoga practice:
- Muscles and ligaments – Gives a slow, non-violent stretch, stimulates circulation, prevents a build-up of lactic acid and corrects poor posture.
- Skeleton – Frees joints, corrects alignment, strengthens spine and releases pressure from inter-vertebral discs.
- Circulation – Massages and strengthens the heart and stimulates “stagnant” areas.
- Nerves – Believed to remove toxins, increase neuro-transmission, stabilise responses of nervous system to stress and reduce involuntary symptoms (sweating, anxiety, racing heart and muscular tension).
- Glands – Regulates hormonal production and aids cleansing of the glands, improving their function.
- Mind – Gives increased clarity, concentration and insight.
- Emotions – Brings a calmness, inner strength and an ability to manage difficult situations more skillfully.
- Immune System – Balances and strengthens, increases effectiveness of immune cells and ability to fight chronic infection. Stimulates the glands and lymph nodes.
About.com has this to say about yoga’s effects on the body…
The following is only a partial list of yoga’s benefits:
- reduced stress
- sound sleep
- improvement of many medical conditions
- allergy and asthma symptom relief
- lower blood pressure
- smoking cessation help
- lower heart rate
- spiritual growth
- sense of well-being
- reduced anxiety and muscle tension
- increased strength and flexibility
- slowed aging process
The Hatha Yoga Styles
The variations of Hatha yoga range from the physically challenging to the meditatively transcending. According to the Yoga Research and Education Center web site, they include:
Iyengar yoga, which is the most widely recognized approach to Hatha yoga, is characterized by precision performance and the aid of various props, such as cushions, benches, wood blocks, straps, and even sand bags.
Asthanga yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a fast-paced series of postures — a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm mind.
Bikram yoga is a system of 26 postures that are performed in a standard sequence in a room heated to 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit. This approach is fairly vigorous and requires a certain level of fitness on the part of students.
Viniyoga focuses on practicing a posture according to one’s individual needs and capacity. Regulated breathing is an important aspect of Viniyoga, and the breath is carefully coordinated with the postural movements.
Kripalu yoga is a three-stage yoga. In the first stage, postural alignment and coordination of breath and movement are emphasized, and the postures are held for a short duration only. In the second stage, meditation is included into the practice and postures are held for prolonged periods. In the final stage, the practice of postures becomes a spontaneous “meditation in motion.”
Integral yoga made a debut at the Woodstock festival in 1969, where yoga expert Swami Satchidananda taught thousands to chant, “om.” This style aims to integrate the various aspects of the body and mind through a combination of postures, breathing techniques, deep relaxation, and meditation, and function is more important than form. In this style of yoga, breathing and meditation are emphasized as much as the postures.
Sivananda yoga includes a series of twelve postures, breathing exercises, relaxation, and mantra chanting.
Ananda yoga is a gentle style that is designed to prepare the student for meditation, involving consciously directing the body’s energy to different organs and limbs.
Systematic review of the efficacy of meditation techniques as treatments for medical illness.
(Although the title says ‘meditation’, yoga was included in this study)
Arias AJ, Steinberg K, Banga A, Trestman RL .
Department of Psychiatry, University of Connecticut Medical School, Farmington, CT, USA.
BACKGROUND: Meditative techniques are sought frequently by patients coping with medical and psychological problems. Because of their increasingly widespread appeal and use, and the potential for use as medical therapies, a concise and thorough review of the current state of scientific knowledge of these practices as medical interventions was conducted.
PURPOSE: To systematically review the evidence supporting efficacy and safety of meditative practices in treating illnesses, and examine areas warranting further study. Studies on normal healthy populations are not included.
METHODS: Searches were performed using PubMed, PsycInfo, and the Cochrane Database. Keywords were Meditation, Meditative Prayer, Yoga, Relaxation Response. Qualifying studies were reviewed and independently rated based on quality by two reviewers. Mid-to-high-quality studies (those scoring above 0.65 or 65% on a validated research quality scale) were included.
RESULTS: From a total of 82 identified studies, 20 randomized controlled trials met our criteria. The studies included 958 subjects total (397 experimentally treated, 561 controls). No serious adverse events were reported in any of the included or excluded clinical trials. Serious adverse events are reported in the medical literature, though rare. The strongest evidence for efficacy was found for epilepsy, symptoms of the premenstrual syndrome and menopausal symptoms. Benefit was also demonstrated for mood and anxiety disorders, autoimmune illness, and emotional disturbance in neoplastic disease.
CONCLUSIONS: The results support the safety and potential efficacy of meditative practices for treating certain illnesses, particularly in nonpsychotic mood and anxiety disorders. Clear and reproducible evidence supporting efficacy from large, methodologically sound studies is lacking.
Yoga and Exercise: Do They Help People with MS? (an autoimmune disease)
Fatigue, depression, and cognitive problems (including difficulties with paying attention and being alert) often affect people with multiple sclerosis (MS). In the first randomized clinical trial to learn whether yoga could help these symptoms, a team led by Oregon Health & Science University’s Barry Oken, M.D., found that yoga–as well as aerobic exercise–reduced fatigue compared with a group of 20 people who did not participate in either activity. However, neither yoga nor exercise produced significant improvements in depression or cognitive problems. For 6 months, researchers followed 22 yoga participants and 15 exercise participants who did these activities in classes for 90 minutes weekly (modified to suit physical limitations) and at home. In the June 8, 2004, issue of Neurology, the authors described the results of this trial as significant but noted that no known direct physical cause-and-effect relationship could explain the findings, so other factors (such as the placebo effect) might have been at work.
There are, of course, differing views on exactly how effective yoga is as a therapy for alopecia areata. But there is little doubt that undertaking a fitness routine that promotes health, strength and balance can be a great boon to one’s self-confidence and general well-being. If you have experience with yoga, whether positive or negative, please take a moment to share your review with those who are considering it for themselves or their family member.
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