Yoga gets credit for a variety of health benefits, like improving flexibility, posture and endurance. These factors, in combination with stronger muscles, may help to prevent falls in the elderly. Yoga is thought to drain the lymph nodes of toxins and lower levels of stress hormones in the body, which can relaxes the mind and help the immune system remain strong enough to fight off infection.
Yoga lowers blood pressure and and eases constipation. It may also reduce hormones that cause depression while releasing the neurochemicals that prevent it. And yoga can relieve chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, back pain and arthritis. Some people who practice yoga claim it helps them work and sleep better, while plenty of people believe that yoga keeps them sane in the midst of this crazy world.
There are some studies that back up these health claims, but research into yoga's health benefits has been somewhat slow. In the United States, pharmaceutical companies fund many of the clinical research trials, and since the essence of yoga can't be condensed down to a pill, there's not much of an incentive to test it. Some of the studies that have been done only evaluate yoga as an adjunct to other treatment regimens, so it's impossible to tell the exact impact that yoga can have.
Many people say that we'll never be able to completely prove the health benefits of yoga, as the ways in which the mind and the body work together are too mysterious to unpack. But while yoga seems to cure a whole variety of ills, it can cause problems for students who push themselves too far. In 2006, approximately 4,500 people went to the emergency room after practicing yoga, with ailments ranging from strained muscles to back and neck injuries [source: Perrine]. That's why it's important to know what kind of yoga class you're getting yourself into, learn the proper alignment of each pose and listen to your body's limits during your practice.
If you'd like to learn more about yoga, there are plenty of links below to check out.
- Billard, Mary. "A Yoga Manifesto." The New York Times. April 23, 2010. (April 4, 2011)http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/25/fashion/25yoga.html
- Briggs, Tony. "Breathing Lessons." Yoga Journal. (April 4, 2011)http://yogajournal.com/practice/219
- Burgin, Timothy. "History of Yoga." Yoga Basics. Nov. 26, 2007. (April 4, 2011)http://www.yogabasics.com/learn/history-of-yoga.html
- Carrico, Mara. "The Eight Limbs." Yoga Journal. (April 4, 2011)http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/158
- Carrico, Mara. "The Roots of Yoga." Yoga Journal. (April 4, 2011)http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/160
- Cook, Jennifer. "Not All Yoga is Created Equal." Yoga Journal. (April 4, 2011)http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/165
- Corliss, Richard et al. "The Power of Yoga." Time. April 23, 2001. (April 4, 2011)http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,999731,00.html
- Cushman, Anne. "New Light on Yoga." Yoga Journal. (April 4, 2011)http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/466
- Dederer, Claire. "Why Americans Love Yoga." Slate. July 12, 2010. (April 4, 2011)http://www.slate.com/id/2259760
- Eckel, Sara. "Is the Spirit of Competition in the Soul of Yoga?" The New York Times. Nov. 18, 2009. (April 4, 2011)http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/19/fashion/19fitness.html
- Hammond, Holly. "Yoga's Trip to America." Yoga Journal. (April 4, 2011)http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/467
- Isaacs, Nora. "Hot, sweaty and scandalous." Salon. April 4, 2003. (April 4, 2011)http://dir.salon.com/story/mwt/feature/2003/04/04/bikram/print.html
- Joiner, Whitney. "The yogification of America." Salon. May 2, 2010. (April 4, 2011)http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2010/05/02/great_oom_interview
- Jones, Todd. "The Truth about Tantra." Yoga Journal. (April 4, 2011)http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/463
- Lipson, Elaine. "Yoga Works!" Yoga Journal. (April 4, 2011)http://www.yogajournal.com/health/115
- Mayo Clinic. "Yoga: Tap into the many health benefits." Jan. 16, 2010. (April 4, 2011)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/yoga/CM00004
- McCall, Timothy. "Can You Prove that Yoga Works?" Yoga Journal. (April 4, 2011)http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/1266
- McCall, Timothy. "Count on Yoga: 38 Ways Yoga Keeps You Fit." Yoga Journal. (April 4, 2011)http://www.yogajournal.com/health/1634
- Mishra, Pankaj. "Posing as Fitness." The New York Times. July 23, 2010. (April 4, 2011)http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25/books/review/Mishra-t.html
- Perrine, Jennifer Wolff. "Bad karma: When yoga harms instead of heals." Self via MSNBC. July 15, 2008. (April 4, 2011)http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25400799/#
- Powers, Ann. "American Influences Help Redefine Practice of Yoga." The New York Times. Aug. 1, 2000. (April 4, 2011)http://www.nytimes.com/2000/08/01/health/american-influences-help-redefine-practice-of-yoga.html
- Turlington, Christy. "Living Yoga: Creating a Life Practice." Hyperion. 2003
- Vitello, Paul. "Hindu Group Stirs a Debate Over Yoga's Soul." The New York Times. Nov. 27, 2010. (April 4, 2011)http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/nyregion/28yoga.html