Yoga: nourishing the body, mind and spirit


Yoga: more than just physical exercise, with a meditative and spiritual core, its ability to nourish the body, mind and spirit is why it has become such a popular element in many fitness and exercise routines. Indeed, Aetna, the major US health insurer, has been reshaped by its introduction to its workforce, thanks to its CEO Mark Bertolini. After the practice of meditation transformed his life, when he became president, he suggested that the company start offering meditation and yoga classes. As recently reported, eventually the firm ran a double-blind study, with its own employees, on the stress-busting effects of both therapies.

Yoga explained

At the most simplistic and practical level, yoga is a wonderful form of exercise and is excellent for improving flexibility, strength, balance and posture, all important factors for overall fitness.  What’s more, adding just a few yoga poses to your daily exercise routine could help with your health; lowering risk factors around high blood pressure and stress, in turn helping reduce the risk of heart disease.

Yoga and its potential impact on health has certainly proven to be a popular research topic:

  • A 2006 study found yoga helped lower cholesterol levels and improved circulation in individuals with cardiovascular disease
  • According to scientists at Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital, Delhi, Anasa yoga has a beneficial effect on blood sugar control and can improve nerve function in type 2 diabetics who have mild nerve damage
  • Preliminary research from Boston University School of Medicine found that healthy individuals who practice yoga for an hour can significantly improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • A preliminary study at the University of California found that menopausal women who took two months of a weekly yoga class reported a 30% decrease in hot flushes
  • Yet another study found Hatha style yoga could improve muscular strength, flexibility and endurance

New research reported by Harvard Health Publishing provides promising evidence that it could complement traditional treatment for depression.

Traditional treatments include medication or psychotherapy, but tests on American veterans found that doing yoga twice weekly for 8 weeks significantly reduced their levels of depression, with the men highly enjoying the sessions.

There is not enough evidence to recommend specific styles of yoga for depression, so it is more important to choose a style that fits one’s body and individual preferences. Regularity and consistency are important to reap benefits, while reducing risk of injury, but helpful styles have included hatha yoga, which includes movement and poses; an integrated approach, which combines yoga breathing, movement and poses, and meditative states; and Iyengar yoga, a form of hatha yoga that emphasizes precise body alignment and breathing.

In research on people with mild depression, yet to be treated traditionally, it was also found that yoga could help. In a test study, the group that did yoga had significantly less depression at the end of eight weeks. The 90-minute yoga class in the study combined yoga breathing, poses, and deep relaxation. The first section was 20 minutes of yoga breathing exercises, including nadi shodhana (alternate nostril) breath, ujjayi (victorious) breath, and brahmari (bee) breath. Poses focused on backbend or “chest-opening” poses, including cobra pose, bow pose, fish pose, bridge pose, camel pose, and child’s pose. The last pose of the class was deep relaxation in corpse pose for 15 minutes.

Studies will continue, but people with depression may want to consider yoga as an extra option.

Key requirement

Yoga comes in many different forms, but what is a key element to all the exercises is concentration. Helping to focus the mind on the task at hand, rather than worrying about other issues, explains why the discipline is particularly effective in helping reduce stress.

Ultimately Yoga is a wonderful addition to an exercise routine with the added benefits of keeping people in tune with their bodies, helping with general wellness, good health and in fighting stress and depression. Vigorous Power, Vinyasa or Ashtanga yoga done for 90 minutes 3-5 times a week could also produce weight loss.

For anyone interested in yoga and new to it, it is important to work with an experienced and qualified instructor to learn proper form to perform the exercises and avoid injuries.

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Alex is a registered Master Trainer and Nutritional Advisor with Level 4 qualifications in obesity and diabetes. He is also a strength specialist and a Ni Dan in Shotokan Karate.

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