Should you try yoga?


A little something about yoga.

Yoga is a general term that encompasses numerous physical postures and strengthening exercises (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation.  The practice originated in India, and has been around for more than 5,000 years.  Yoga is increasing in popularity in the United States, with an estimated 15 million practitioners in 2011.

You’ve probably heard about all the benefits of yoga, including increased flexibility and strength, improved posture and lung capacity, and relief of stress, anxiety, and depression.  Sounds pretty good, right?  But is all the hype really true?  After poking around a bit on Google and checking out a few reviews of the scientific research literature, my answer is. . . definitely maybe.

Definitely.

Most Western research on yoga has focused only on the physical benefits of the practice, finding benefits similar to those of moderate exercise.  Indeed, many of the reported physical benefits of yoga are hard to deny.  For example, more vigorous styles of yoga such as Ashtanga and power yoga are shown to improve endurance and muscle tone.  In one study, participants had up to 35% improvement in flexibility after only eight weeks of yoga.  Another review of yoga studies found that, compared to exercise interventions, yoga seemed to perform as good as or better than exercise in improving select health outcomes.  With increased flexibility, strength, and body awareness comes better posture and overall physical health.  As Martha Stewart would say, that’s a “good thing.”

Maybe.

In another review of the literature, of 35 trials addressing the effects of yoga on anxiety and stress, 25 reported a significant decrease in participants’ stress and/or anxiety symptoms when a yoga regimen was implemented.  However, many of the studies were limited by factors such as small sample size, lack of randomization and comparison groups, and insufficient quality and quantity of data. So, the existing research is far from conclusive.

What that means for you.

While research on the clinical impact of yoga is still building, it is not yet a proven stand-alone, curative treatment.  That said, yoga can still be a great addition to your regular exercise routine, offering many physical and mental benefits.  (See our previous blog posts on body mindfulness and stress management.)

Personally, I would encourage just about anyone to give yoga a try!  Just remember to listen to your body, make adjustments as necessary, and be sure to consult your doctor about any health concerns you’re having.  You can make an appointment at Campus Health Services by calling (919) 966-2281. If you’re new to yoga, taking a class with a friend can be a fun way to start up.  For more information on how to make exercise, including yoga, less intimidating, click here.

Where to go.

Here are some of my favorite places to practice yoga in Chapel Hill/Carrboro:

UNC Campus Recreation: http://campusrec.unc.edu/group-fitness-classes

Franklin Street Yoga Center: http://www.franklinstyoga.com/

Carrboro Yoga Company: http://carrboroyoga.com/

Triangle Yoga Shala: http://www.triangleyoga.com/

References.

Bussing, A. (2012). Effects of yoga on mental and physical health: A short summary of reviews. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012

Li, A. W., & Goldsmith, C. A. (2012). The effects of yoga on anxiety and stress. Alternative Medicine Review : A Journal of Clinical Therapeutic, 17(1), 21-35.

Ross, A., & Thomas, S. (2010). The health benefits of yoga and exercise: A review of comparison studies. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(1), 3-12.

Smith, J. A., Greer, T., Sheets, T., & Watson, S. (2011). Is there more to yoga than exercise? Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 17(3), 22.

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