Many of us have experienced the immediate results of practicing yoga: less stress and a sense of calm. But what you might not know is that regular practice could yield long-term heath benefits.
Research from the National Institute of Health (NIH) suggests that practicing yoga, along with regular exercise, can help relieve back pain, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Decreases Back Pain
One NIH study, funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that participants with chronic low-back pain had less pain and felt less depressed after practicing Iyengar Yoga for six months. Another study found that adults with recurring back pain functioned better after three months of weekly yoga classes than they did with conventional medical care.
Kripalu faculty member Steven Leonard says that the health benefits of yoga reflect the integration of the whole being: mind, body and spirit. In Sanskrit, yoga means “yoke” or “union,” so it’s not surprising that, as our physical health improves, so does our psychological and spiritual health—and vice versa.
Increases body awareness
“Just getting back into being in our bodies with awareness can lead to a major shift in our spirit,” says Coby Kozlowski, a Kripalu faculty member and director of Kripalu’s 200- and 500-hour yoga teacher training programs.
An added health benefit of a regular practice, Coby says, is that it teaches people to listen to what their bodies need. We learn how to prevent getting sick by knowing when to rest, and how to avoid injury by not pushing too hard.
Steven, a former competitive athlete, is a good example of the latter. “When I first started yoga, I wanted to touch my toes, or find the peak range of a posture, but from that I injured myself,” he explains. His injury became a catalyst for a new awareness about his body, and today, his practice is about finding a balance between strength and flexibility.
For the reported 50 to 70 million Americans who don’t get enough sleep, and are therefore at increased risk for chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, there’s more good news.
A number of recent studies have found that yoga can help with insomia. Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that a daily yoga practice for eight weeks increased the quality and quantity of sleep among the study’s participants.
In another study, participants took part in 45-minute Kundalini Yoga sessions before bedtime, and reported that they fell asleep more quickly and slept longer.
“Many people suffer from restless nights because they’re ruminating on the day or past events,” Coby says. Poses like Savasana encourage us to surrender into a place where there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go—allowing us to rest and refuel so we can live a happier, healthier life.