The practice of yoga comes from ancient Indian tradition. It seeks to help practitioners develop a sense of harmony and oneness with the natural world and themselves. Traditionally, the practice involves eight rungs of spiritual awareness that the student gradually learns and develops as they continue on their yoga journey. In modern, western spirituality, yoga has mostly been distilled down to breathwork and stretching exercises, such as pranayama and asanas.
Although this has become largely detached from yoga’s spiritual origins, these exercises can still be powerful tools for managing common mental and physical ailments. In fact, the physical and mental benefits of yoga have proved to be far-reaching. In some cases, they are as effective as medical diagnosis. Contrary to popular beliefs, yoga is not some mystical practice beyond ordinary people’s capabilities. Anyone can learn to practice and use it to understand their bodies and health better. An online tutorial and yoga for beginners DVD are great places to start!
The Prevalence of Chronic Health Conditions in Modern Society
In the UK alone, it is believed that around 15 million people live with long-term chronic health conditions. In the United States, 4 out of 10 live with some type of chronic disease. Chronic conditions can be difficult to manage. This is because they are, by nature, recurring and often hard to accurately diagnose or treat. Invisible illnesses, such as CFS or chronic pain, can drastically reduce life quality. As such, it can be hard for medical practitioners to provide reliable medication.
Beyond this, unhealthy lifestyles – in terms of diet, lack of exercise, chronic stress, and poor sleep – means that many people are storing up health problems for later in life. Diseases that are impacted by lifestyles are extremely common in western society and are continually on the rise. Although yoga is not a cure-all for every disease, regular yoga training – at a level that is comfortable and enjoyable for you – can improve overall health.
Some healthcare professionals even recommend yoga poses to individuals with certain conditions to help them keep symptoms at bay. Additionally, yoga can be an important part of preventative care. If you have a predisposition to certain diseases or are developing risk factors for medical conditions that may affect you later in life, yoga can help prolong good health. It can also balance and maintain good mental health and provide a sense of calm in your day-to-day life.
Which Conditions Can Yoga Help You to Manage?
1. High Blood Pressure and Circulation Problems
High blood pressure is widespread. It is also highly dangerous as it is often symptomless and can go undiagnosed for a long time. This can arise on its own as a result of a high-stress lifestyle, too much salt in your diet, or genetic factors. Alternatively, it can accompany conditions like obesity or heart disease. It can also drastically increase your risk of heart attacks, aneurysms, and strokes.
One of the many benefits of daily yoga practice is its ability to reduce stress, which can have a positive effect on blood pressure. Yoga poses can also help improve circulation by allowing blood to flow to different parts of the body. This can improve arterial flexibility and circulation, giving you an energizing boost and warding off circulatory problems in the future.
2. CFS and Chronic Pain
CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and chronic pain sufferers (such as those with conditions like fibromyalgia) may struggle to exercise because their body cannot recover from exertion. Although vigorous training is not recommended for patients with these conditions, lack of exercise can compound symptoms such as joint pain and lethargy and can contribute to poor mental health. However, many healthcare professionals believe that gentle yoga benefits those with autoimmune diseases. Yoga is low impact and can be performed at an extremely slow, careful pace for those who need to monitor their physical exertion levels closely.
Although yoga is not a cure for the underlying disease, there is a link between yoga and pain reduction in the case of chronic conditions. When it comes to yoga and pain relief, statistic-based studies reveal this connection more clearly. One study of people diagnosed with Fibromyalgia recorded that 32% of participants felt that regular yoga helped them manage their symptoms. However, it also noted that this worked best when yoga was specifically tailored for those with chronic pain to help avoid the risk of participants overexerting themselves.
One of the most commonly cited physical benefits of yoga is its ability to ease joint pain and reduce inflammation and stiffness throughout the body. Arthritis is a common joint disorder that generally affects older people but can be found in some individuals under 60. Gentle, daily yoga has been shown to decrease pain and tension in the joints due to arthritis and allow for more mobility and flexibility overall. As yoga is a full-body exercise, regular practice lets you exercise every joint in the body, potentially staving off the progressive effects of arthritis.
4. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
The potential health benefits of yoga for women also include the management of reproductive diseases, such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. PCOS is a condition that causes cysts to grow on the ovaries and can cause irregular periods, intense period pain, and infertility. It is related to hormonal imbalances in the body and the excessive production of testosterone by the adrenal glands.
Yoga can have a positive effect on hormonal health. On top of this, gentle yoga stretches can assist in alleviating menstrual pain caused by PCOS. Poses that involve lying on your stomach, such as Dhuranasana or bow pose, can help stimulate reproductive organs and offer temporary relief from this condition.
5. Heart Disease
Movement is good for the heart, and a sedentary lifestyle is one of the most common risk factors for heart conditions, like coronary heart disease or heart failure. Heart disease kills hundreds of thousands of people every year, and studies show that patients are getting younger. A poor diet is believed to play a role in this, alongside inactivity.
Although yoga is often thought of as a gentle exercise, it is a weight-bearing activity, which can build strength and increase the heart rate. What’s more, total body yoga can get your heart racing if movements are performed in rapid succession, as in power yoga or a repetitive vinyasa flow. It’s easy to find cardio-based online yoga training – there are plenty of videos on YouTube that fall into this category.
Yoga exercises that stretch the upper body and torso are also especially good for your heart. This is because they stimulate blood flow to the area. The deep breathing associated with many styles of yoga also encourages you to take deep breaths and use your full lung capacity, thereby stimulating the whole cardiovascular system.
Obesity (a BMI of 30+) is considered a chronic condition because of the health problems associated with it and the abnormal relationship with food that often accompanies it. It is linked to many hormonal irregularities, as well as mental health conditions like eating disorders and PTSD. Obesity requires most people to tackle their minds and bodies when they want to lose weight. They must address both the physical problems they have with food and the mental problems that trigger this unhealthy food relationship.
When it comes to healing one’s body and brain, yoga is an exercise that covers both camps. By combining an Asana or Vinyasa with Pranayama, many overweight people can reap the benefits of yoga’s mental and physical aspects. Asanas and Vinyasas require physical movement, activating the muscles and increasing the heart rate to help you burn calories. Holding the poses can also build lean muscles that can increase calorie expenditure over time and speed up metabolism.
Pranayama, or breathwork, has a deeply soothing effect on the mind and can be practiced as a form of meditation. This can help with mental challenges associated with obesity. A yoga class, whether online or in-person, can also be a great way to boost your self-esteem and get into an exercise routine that will help with long-term weight loss.
7. Depression and Anxiety
The mental benefits of yoga are well-known and can even form an important part of managing common mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression. The calming and meditative aspects of yoga practice have been shown to reduce symptoms of panic disorders and soothe racing thoughts. Deep yogic breathing is also believed to stimulate the vagus nerve, which can play a role in alleviating classic anxiety symptoms. Choosing some relaxing yoga music or guided meditation to listen to while you practice can also be of great help!
Exercise of any sort releases endorphins that can offer depression sufferers some respite from symptoms such as lethargy or hopelessness. Mind-body yoga connections force you to think deeply about the way you move and breathe throughout your practice. This is excellent for focus and for calming the mind, as well as giving you a physical outlet for frustration and pain.
Speaking at a TED Talk on yoga and mental health, Nikolai Blinow points out that yoga can also be preventative. As she says, the practice can reduce your “susceptibility to any mental illness or stressors in the first place”. In this sense, yoga can also be used as a resilience tool for promoting long-term mental balance.
8. Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
There are many benefits of yoga for men and women, but those related to the pelvic floor muscles are highly important for female practitioners. Pelvic floor muscles help support female reproductive organs, as well as the bladder and rectum. Pelvic floor muscles can weaken as women age, leaving them vulnerable to prolapse or incontinence. This can become a problem after pregnancy for some women.
Certain yoga poses, like Mula Bandha or Reclining Butterfly, can help stretch the hip and pelvic floor muscles. Yoga also strengthens the pelvic floor. How so? By encouraging us to pull up through our core and use proper posture and alignment. This can help tug our muscles back into shape after childbirth or trauma to the pelvic muscles.
Pelvic floor dysfunction can also lead to sexual problems for some women, as the muscles may tense up. If you want to feel sexier, yoga can release tension and help you feel more in tune with your body. Sexy yoga poses, like bridge pose, work all areas surrounding your pelvis, glutes, and lower back, helping you bring awareness to this part of the body. You’d be surprised at the impact that regular yoga practice can have in the bedroom!
9. Digestive Problems
If you suffer from acid reflux, constipation, or slow digestion, yoga can be a real asset. Seated twist poses in yoga, such as Ardha Matsyendrasana, allow blood to flush through your intestinal area. This helps to release tension and allow for a natural digestive flow. Similarly, supine positions, like Apanasana or knees-to-chest pose, help alleviate gas pain and stimulate bowel movement.
If you suffer from frequent headaches or migraines, mastering your headstand could help. A yogic headstand is known as Sirsasana or the ‘King of asanas’. The inverted position stimulates blood flow to the head and strengthens arteries in the brain. This can help prevent headaches brought on by tension or high blood pressure. It is also thought to improve focus and mental awareness. Learning to do the headstand carefully and slowly is advised so that you properly protect your neck during practice.
Whether you practice yoga for beginners or at a more advanced level, there are so many ways that this exercise can benefit your health. From providing mental clarity to helping manage pain, yoga is an asset to any lifestyle. Even if you only have a short time for it each day, a little can really go a long way!
Do you use yoga to manage health conditions? How often do you practice, and what type of yoga is the most beneficial? Do you prefer to take online classes or practice by yourself? Let us know in the comments!
Who is the author?
Hey everyone, it’s Coach Alisa Weaver 🙂
Teaching and coaching is my passion and career choices. Additionally, I also write useful articles on health and fitness for the site Gym Expert. I find great satisfaction to see others achieve their goals, whether it is recovery from injury or surgery, strengthening the body for competition, or just becoming fit.
I think that anyone can improve their fitness level no matter what their physical condition may be. By pushing yourself, discipline, not giving up together we can make your goals happen.