Fitness Health Benefits of Yoga
Styles of Yoga
Hatha yoga includes many forms of yoga with differing levels of intensity and need for strength or flexibility. All forms of yoga can be adapted to all levels with the use of props such as bolsters, chairs, blocks and modified poses. Common yoga styles include5:
- Ashtanga – heat building, sequence of complicated and repetitive poses
- Kundalini – focus on energy, rhythmic breathing
- Iyengar – focus on alignment and perfection of poses, often uses props
- Bikram – same 26 poses in a very hot room
- Viniyoga – focus on individual needs, therapy
- Vinyasa – linking of poses in a flow series, creates warmth & energy, is aerobic
The status of yoga keeps on growing as more people realize the physical and mental benefits. Over 13 million Americans use yoga according to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).1
Grounded in ancient Indian philosophy, yoga dates back as far as 5000 years ago as a part of the holistic Ayurvedic medicine system. Good health was believed to be tied to the balance of mind, body, and spirit. Early yoga texts written 2000 years ago, the Sutras, were designed to guide people toward spiritual enlightenment through meditation and guidance for ethical and moral conduct.1 The physical form of yoga was used to prepare the mind for meditation. “The practice of yoga was a way to inner joy and outer harmony.” 3 p.126 Yoga philosophy was passed through generations by way of the oral tradition.3
Potential Health Benefits of Yoga
People may choose to do yoga for many reasons. Common reasons include mental health and musculoskeletal conditions. Yoga has been studied as an add-on treatment for chronic disease, mild mental illnesses, and physical disabilities. Studies suggest that yoga can help maintain flexibility, strength, balance, and promote relaxation and wellbeing. A Medline literature search suggests, but does not confirm, the following list of health benefits from regular yoga practice:
- Decrease anxiety
- Decrease blood pressure
- Improve cardiovascular rhythms
- Improve sleep/insomnia
- Strengthen joints & muscles
- Boost immune system
- Develop core strength, decrease low back pain
- Control chronic pain
- Decrease depression
- Manage metabolic syndrome
- Improve GI disorders
- Improve asthma
- Improve multiple sclerosis & arthritis
- Manage weight
- Treat disordered eating
Studies now in progress are exploring yoga’s effects on smoking cessation, headaches, eating disorders, metabolic syndrome, sleep, arthritis, cancer, blood pressure, and more. 1
What are some risks in yoga?
Yoga is safe for most people and a good coach will know how to modify positions for all levels. The following are common conditions needing special considerations and modifications in yoga practice.1, 5
- High blood pressure – avoid breath holding and inverted poses
- Glaucoma, eye disorders, ear or head congestion – avoid breath holding and inverted poses
- Low back injuries – allow soft knee bend in forward folds, hold abdominals up and in
- Upper back and neck injuries – avoid inverted poses, poses requiring weight bearing on the neck, dropping the head back
- Knee pain, injury or replacement – place extra padding between knee and floor, behind knee to limit range of motion if needed, align knee directly over the ankle in standing poses
- Wrist pain/injury – avoid poses requiring weight bearing on palms with wrists at 90 degree angle, try resting on knuckles instead of palms
- Osteoporosis – use props tomaintain balance in standing poses to prevent falls
- Arthritis – spend more time warming up and modify any pose that causes pain
1. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Yoga for health: An introduction. 2008. Accessed February 25, 2010.
2. Birdee GS, Legedza AT, Saper RB, Bertisch SM, Eisenberg DM. Characteristics of yoga users: Results of a national survey. J Gen Intern Med. 2008;23(10):1653-1658.
3. Garfinkel M, Schumacher HR. Yoga. Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 2000;26(1):126-132.
4. American Council on Exercise. Is yoga right for you? 2009. Accessed February 25, 2010.
5. YogaFit Training Systems. Senior YogaFit teacher training manual. 2004. Redondo Beach, CA.
6. YogaAlliance. 2005. Accessed February 19, 2010.
Author: Lona Sandon, MEd, RD, LD
Assistant Professor, UT Southwestern and Spokesperson for the American Dietetic Associatio
ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor and YogaFit Instructor
Posted September 6, 2011