If you are familiar at all with yoga, you have no doubt heard of the benefits to body and mind caused by taking part in this age-old practice. You know it is a healthy way to stretch muscles, build stamina, increase relaxation, increase flexibility, and improve sleep. But is there actual scientific evidence to back up these claims?
There is a reason yoga is so popular, and why millions of men, women, and children across the country practice yoga in some form on a daily basis. When we look at the studies and the science behind the ancient tradition, we find that yoga is beneficial for more than just a good stretch and strong muscles.
Yoga and the Brain
Researchers have studied yoga’s effect on the brain by using MRIs to evaluate changes in individuals. Throughout the process of various scientific studies and surveys, results have shown:
- Changes in the sympathetic nervous system of the brain
- Less stress through reduced levels of cortisol, the hormone while fuels stress reactions
- Heightened levels of brain chemicals which evoke “feel good” emotions
- Larger brain volume in certain cortexes and an enlarged hippocampus (an area of the brain which functions to relieve stress)
- Inner flexibility, less stress eating, lower metabolic rate (science writer William Broad)
Yoga and the Nervous System
As science and technology advance, so too does the capability of experts to look at the positive effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is made up the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The ANS controls the functions of internal organs such as the liver, heart, and intestines. Yoga has the capability to increase activation of the PNS and SNS, depending on the poses and movements.
Yoga and Hormonal Balance
Dr. Sara Gottfried shares her approach to treating hormone imbalances by offering scientific evidence and research to back up her claims. As adrenal glands are stimulated, stress causes symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and mood changes. If too much cortisol hormone is produced by these glands, it can have a negative impact on the body. Practicing yoga on a regular basis can decrease cortisol levels, easing stress and bringing rest to the adrenal glands. That is good news for all of us.
Yoga’s movements, combined with the practice of meditation, can do wonders for the body, mind, and spirit. As science continues to uncover the amazing benefits of yoga, those of us who are committed yogis already know the good that results from a few minutes spent focused and silent.
It is always a good idea to check with your primary physician before beginning any new exercise regimen. If you have never before practiced yoga, give it a try; you may be surprised to find your stress levels decrease, your body relax, and your sleep improve tonight. If science is right, you may even begin to see improvement in your mood and reaction to certain situations. Just give it a try and see what kind of results you can achieve from a regular practice.