Although yoga originated as a spiritual — rather than a physical — practice rooted in Indian philosophy, health experts have done a wealth of research to find out what health conditions doing yoga can help with. Because yoga is typically a low-impact practice, many people like to practice yoga as a complementary health approach for conditions such as low back pain, arthritis, anxiety, stress, or just for overall health, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).
But many people might not be able to take advantage of these health benefits because they feel like they've been excluded from the practice of yoga. According to Everyday Feminism, when we think about yoga, we typically picture “white, thin, able-bodied, middle-class women.” But despite how mainstream media depicts the world of yoga, any yogi will tell you that yoga is for everybody — and that means every body. "I think the idea that we practice fitness for anyone other than ourselves" is a rule to be broken, wellness blogger and yogi Jessamyn Stanley recently told Bustle. "Or that we practice wellness for the outside world, that our bodies need to look a certain way for other people."
And that's what makes the health benefits of yoga so accessible. Research suggests that adding yoga to your current health practices can improve your quality of life, says the NCCIH. These are just 11 of the health conditions doing yoga can help with, according to some of the latest research.
1. Yoga Can Help With Chronic Stress
A small study conducted at the University of Utah showed that practicing yoga increased participants' tolerance to stress, according to Harvard Health. Regular yoga practice, says Harvard Health, reduces your response to daily stress and offers self-soothing techniques, like meditation and relaxation exercises.
2. It Can Reduce Anxiety
3. Yoga Can Decrease Depression
According to Yoga Journal, a study presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychology Association found that male veterans who were experiencing high levels of depression saw a reduction in their symptoms after a twice-weekly yoga program. It's important to note that, like with anxiety reduction, this study also suggests that yoga is to be used in conjunction with other treatment options.
4. Yoga Can Improve Heart Health
In addition to its calming effects, a 2014 literature review published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that practicing yoga can lower your risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends practicing yoga as a preventive measure as part of an overall healthy lifestyle or after facing a cardiac event.
5. Yoga Can Relieve Chronic Back Pain
A 2016 literature review published in the Journal of Orthopedic Rheumatology found that yoga can help reduce back pain, as well as some of the emotional effects of experiencing chronic back pain. However, the literature review notes that yoga is not any more effective than conventional stretching as part of a physical therapy program.
6. Yoga Can Improve Brain Health
Practicing yoga might keep your brain healthy as you age. A 2017 study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience followed a small group of yoga participants for an average of 14 years. Researchers found the parts of their brains responsible for attention and working memory had grown thicker in comparison to the control group.
7. Yoga Can Help Control Anger
If you've been feeling angry a lot lately, you might want to give yoga a try. A 2017 study published in Frontiers in Psychology showed that practicing yoga can be effective in controlling anger and impulse control. The same study showed that this had a positive effect on anxiety and depression symptoms.
8. Yoga Can Improve Balance and Prevent Falls
Not only can yoga can help you improve your balance, but it can also help prevent falls. The University of Wisconsin-Madison reports that the number of falls reported in older adults dropped by 48 percent in a small study after six months of regular yoga. That's a good excuse to take mom or grandma to yoga with you every once in awhile.
9. Yoga Can Improve Your Thyroid Function
According to Medical News Today, stress can be related to thyroid functioning, which is why yoga can actually help thyroid-related problems. While more research is needed is confirm the connection between yoga and improved thyroid function, Medical News Today says a small study did show an early connection that the deep relaxation techniques integrated within practicing yoga can help with thyroid issues such as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
10. Yoga Might Help Prevent Diabetes
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found that regularly practicing yoga can significantly reduce blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Not only did the participants who practiced yoga reduce their medications, says researchers, but practicing yoga also delayed the progression of the disease.
11. It Can Boost Your Immune System
Chronic stress can also seriously weaken your immune system, says Harvard Health, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of primary care visits. But several recent studies have shown that practicing yoga reduced stress on the body and, therefore, reduced participants' physical symptoms, says Harvard Health.
The practice of yoga is meant to be an inclusive space where all bodies and backgrounds are welcome. With regular practice, you might find yourself experiencing some of these health benefits in your daily life.