6 Uses of Yoga for Gentle, Restorative Healing.
One of my favorite resources for learning about the therapeutic benefits of yoga came from an article and study entitled “Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life” by Catherine Woodyard, published in the International Journal of Yoga 2011. This body of work gives all of the proof points anyone would need to believe in the power of improved health and wellness. I’ve copied and paraphrased many relevant excerpts here but I encourage everyone to read the full study, it’s amazing! Many of my clients are women aged 55+ and ask me all the time about the medical benefits of yoga.
3,000 Years Old and Still Current Today
Yoga has been around for 3,000 years and has even been classified in Western medicine as alternative form of care. Therapeutic yoga is commonly defined as the application of yoga postures to the treatment of health conditions. The purpose is to prevent, reduce or alleviate structural, physiological, emotional and spiritual pain, suffering or limitations. Results from a recent study, from the show that yogic practices enhance muscular strength and body flexibility, promote and improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, promote recovery from and treatment of addiction, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, improve sleep patterns, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life.
Yoga Therapeutic Benefit #1: Relieve Stress
Yoga is recognized as a form of mind-body medicine that integrates an individual’s physical, mental and spiritual components to improve aspects of health, particularly stress related illnesses.
To combat stress, many people turn to meditation or other mental stress reduction tools. But stress also creates physical response in the body and, as such, can be managed with exercise — in particular, with yoga.
“Stress sends the entire physical system into overdrive,” says Garrett Sarley, president and CEO of the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Lenox, Mass. “The muscles tense, the heart beats faster, breathing patterns change, and if the cause of stress isn’t discontinued, the body secretes more hormones that increase blood sugar levels, raising blood pressure. Yoga is one of the few stress-relief tools that has a positive effect on all the body systems involved.”
Recognizing the detrimental effects of stress, especially in the area of heart disease, the preventive and rehabilitative cardiac center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles began offering yoga to their patients more than 10 years ago.
“Over the years, yoga has become one of our primary therapies for stress management,” says C. Noel Bairey Merz, M.D., director of the preventive and rehabilitative cardiac center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Yoga Therapeutic Benefit #2: Achieve a Sense of Well-Being
One of the main goals of yoga is to achieve tranquility of the mind and create a sense of well-being, feelings of relaxation, improved self-confidence, improved efficiency, increased attentiveness, lowered irritability, and an optimistic outlook on life. The practice of yoga generates balanced energy which is vital to the function of the immune system. Yoga leads to an inhibition of the posterior or sympathetic area of the hypothalamus. This inhibition optimizes the body’s sympathetic responses to stressful stimuli and restores autonomic regulatory reflex mechanisms associated with stress.
Yoga Therapeutic Benefit #3: Decreases Depression
Consistent yoga practice improves depression and can lead to significant increases in serotonin levels coupled with decreases in the levels of an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters and cortisol, (monamine oxidase). There are many approaches available for the management of depression, but many patients turn to complementary therapies including yoga, due to the adverse effects of medication, lack of response or simply preference for the complementary approach.
Yoga Therapeutic Benefit #4: Improves Flexibility and Balance
Improved flexibility is one of the first and most obvious benefits of yoga. With continued practice comes a gradual loosening of the muscles and connective tissues surrounding the bones and joints; this is thought to be one reason that yoga is associated with reduced aches and pains.
When you were a kid, your day included activities that tested your balance—walking along curbs, hopping on your skateboard. But when you spend more time driving and sitting at a desk than in activities that challenge your balance, you can lose touch with the body’s magical ability to teeter back and forth and remain upright. Balance poses are a core part of asana practice, and they’re even more important for older adults. Better balance can be crucial to preserving independence, and can even be lifesaving—falls are the leading cause of injury-related death in people over 65.
Yoga Therapeutic Benefit #5: Protects Against Arthritis, Osteoporosis and Back Pain
When doctors at the HMO Group Health Cooperative in Seattle pitted 12 weekly sessions of yoga against therapeutic exercises and a handbook on self-care, they discovered the yoga group not only showed greater improvement but experienced benefits lasting 14 weeks longer. A note of caution: “While many poses are helpful, seated postures or extreme movement in one direction can make back pain worse,” says Gary Kraftsow, author of Yoga for Wellness, who designed the program for the study.
Some 60 to 80 percent of us suffer from low-back pain, and there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment. But there’s good evidence that yoga can help resolve certain types of back troubles. In one of the strongest studies, researchers at Group Health Research Institute in Seattle worked with more than 200 people with persistent lower-back pain. Some were taught yoga poses; the others took a stretching class or were given a self-care book. At the end of the study, those who took yoga and stretching classes reported less pain and better functioning, benefits that lasted for several months. Another study of 90 people with chronic low-back pain found that those who practiced Yoga showed significantly less disability and pain after six months.
Yoga helps to build muscle mass and/or maintain muscle strength, which protects from conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis and back pain. During a yoga session, the joints are taken through their full range of motion, squeezing and soaking areas of cartilage not often used and bringing fresh nutrients, oxygen and blood to the area, which helps to prevent conditions like arthritis and chronic pain. Without proper sustenance, neglected areas of cartilage will eventually wear out and expose the underlying bone. Numerous studies have shown that asana, meditation or a combination of the two reduced pain in people with arthritis, Carpel Tunnel syndrome, back pain and other chronic conditions.
Yoga Therapeutic Benefit #6: Managing Menopause
Many women have turned to yoga to help them cope with the symptoms of menopause, from hot flashes to sleep disturbances to mood swings. A recent analysis of the most rigorous studies of yoga and menopause found evidence that yoga—which included asana and meditation—helps with the psychological symptoms of menopause, such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia. In one randomized controlled trial, Brazilian researchers examined how yoga affected insomnia symptoms in a group of 44 postmenopausal women. Compared with women who did passive stretching, the yoga practitioners showed a big drop in incidence of insomnia. Other, more preliminary research has suggested that yoga may also help to reduce hot flashes and memory problems, too.
A preliminary study at the University of California, San Francisco, found that menopausal women who took two months of a weekly restorative yoga class, which uses props to support the postures, reported a 30 percent decrease in hot flashes. A four-month study at the University of Illinois found that many women who took a 90-minute class twice a week boosted both their energy and mood; plus they reported less physical and sexual discomfort, and reduced stress and anxiety.
There is plenty of scientific proof to show the therapeutic benefits of as part of a wellness strategy. In fact the number of articles can be overwhelming. I have found that with simplification and focus, the client can get gentle restorative results with just a few poses. The good news is that yoga can be a nice alternative to just taking more and more medication as we age.