For thousands of years, yoga practitioners have known the mental and physical benefits of yoga. But aside from the well-touted benefits of flexibility and strength, there are all kinds of unexpected ways that yoga can help with your overall health and wellbeing.
One of yoga’s most profound effects on health is its ability to alter long-standing addictions. While the catalysts for addictions can be far reaching and diverse, for many they are often triggered when a person struggles with depression or anxiety. The temptation to self-medicate through prescription medications, smoking, alcohol or other drugs can provide a temporary solution in order to suppress these difficult emotions.
The challenge with addiction is in breaking this ingrained and repetitive behaviour, and it’s not always easy. However the modern view of how the brain works has fundamentally changed in recent years, and now it’s widely accepted that the human brain has the ability to essentially re-wire itself. Referred to as neuroplasticity, the more we do something, the stronger those neural connections become, and over time we can actually change how we think, and more importantly how we behave.
The mindfulness practices taught in yoga, combined with the slow, controlled breathing techniques can be used to help improve impulse control – something with which all substance abusers struggle – and over time knee-jerk reactions, anxiety and panic can all be reduced through yoga, helping people to regain control over both their mind and body.
People often find that when they become more sensitive to the effects of different actions on their bodies and minds, they increasingly want to do things that make them feel better. This could be eating better food, reducing their intake of caffeine or alcohol, or simply removing themselves away from stressful situations and temptation.
Ultimately, these changes in behaviour become the new norm, helping to make new neural connections and patterns that can have a direct impact on our behaviour, providing the foundation to help people overcome addictions, whatever form they may take.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is classified as a psychiatric disorder that can occur following a traumatic event, whether it’s witnessing a natural disaster, a war, abuse or even a car crash.
The result of experiencing these moments of extreme stress can often affect how the brain functions. Individuals reminded of these traumatic experiences (either a real or perceived) can re-activate these intense emotions, with people often reporting either numbness, or extreme anxiety and nervousness.
PTSD is thought to be a protective mechanism that occurs because an individual does not want to come into contact (or re-live) similar sensations in the body, or as a response to anticipating and preparing for danger.
In order to fully appreciate the role yoga can play in helping PTSD, it’s important to understand the function of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS has two branches, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS – which is responsible for our flight or fight response) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS – which promotes rest, digestion and recovery). Put simply, a person with PTSD may experience deregulation between the two. They get upset and can often find it difficult to calm down from an intense experience of anxiety.
In a study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, the research found that a group of female patients who completed eight yoga classes showed significant improvement in PTSD symptoms, including the frequency of intrusive thoughts and the severity of jangled nerves. The study also reported that yoga improved heart-rate variability, a key indicator of a person’s ability to calm themselves down.
Yoga can be a wonderful treatment for PTSD because it works with both the mind and the body, and helps to forge a sense of safety and balance that’s essential for healing.
The global skin care market in 2017 is worth a staggering $127 billion, and every year millions of people purchase creams, lotions and powders to try and help alleviate a myriad of skin conditions. But rather than splash out on the latest balm made from sunny rainbows and exotic unicorn horns, yoga may turn out to be the best physiological ointment.
The saying “he really gets under my skin” may seem unrelated at first glace, but there may be more merit than we originally give it credit for; the implication being that stress and frustration have a tangible bearing on the health of our skin. Stress really can get under our skin.
As far back as 1865, Thomas Hillier wrote the “Handbook of Skin Diseases For Students and Practitioners”, where he implied that anxiety is a root cause of skin disease. Today we have the discipline of psychodermatology, essentially the exploration of the relationship between psychological health and skin conditions.
The skin disease best known to be associated with stress is psoriasis, with up to 60% of cases triggered as a result of stress, with other conditions influenced by circulation, toxicity in the body and our digestive system.
Yoga’s benefits to people with skin conditions perhaps become clear when we consider that yoga stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (discussed earlier) which reduces the body’s stress response. In turn this can have an influence on the immune system and inflammation in the body, which addresses the all important correlation between skin disease and stress.
Diabetes may not be a condition that you immediately associate with yoga, but a number of scientific studies highlight the benefits that yoga can have on helping people manage the condition.
Diabetes is caused by the pancreas either producing limited, or no insulin within the body. This hormone is used to help the body both absorb nutrients, and helps to keep blood glucose levels stable.
Symptoms including fatigue, blurred vision, excessive urination and poor circulation, occur as a result of some or all of the glucose remaining in the blood, and not being used as fuel for energy.
When we experience a stressful situation, the adrenal glands release glucose stored throughout the body, which can often lead to elevated levels of glucose in the bloodstream. For diabetics, this can be particularly problematic as they struggle to regain normal blood glucose levels.
Poorly controlled blood glucose levels makes weight management a challenge, and particularly for type 2 diabetes, being overweight can contribute to acquiring the condition in the first place.
Subjects who practiced yoga for 3 months experience reduced body mass index (BMI), regained control over their weight and showed improved glycemic control in type 2 diabetic patients. This typically leads to an improvement in insulin sensitivity, and a reduction in insulin resistance.
Ultimately the benefits of yoga, from balancing of blood-glucose levels to reducing stress, can not only help existing conditions, but also plays a role in prevention. We all have access to this ancient technique that if bottled, would probably be the best selling product on the market.