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Health Benefits of Yoga
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Health Benefits of Yoga
Trisha Lamb

Two of the most common inquiries we receive from professional members preparing presentations on Yoga and from journalists and students writing about Yoga are:

• What are the health benefits of Yoga?
• How does Yoga differ from conventional exercise?

Following are answers drawn from various sources and provided in a succinct format. I wish to especially thank the following three individuals: First, A. Malathi, M.D. (amalathi@vsnl.net), for her presentation in November 2000 on the benefits of Yoga at Sutter Medical Center in Santa Rosa, California. Her paper “Promotive, Prophylactic Benefits of Yogic Practice in Middle Aged Women” furnishes research results and explanations for many of the benefits noted below. Thanks also to IAYT member Matra Majmundar (matra@post.com) for her presentation on Yoga physiology at the Integrating Yoga Therapeutics into Rehabilitation seminar at San Francisco Memorial Hospital in April 2000. Her book, tentatively titled Physiology of Yoga Therapeutics, is in preparation. I also would like to thank Arpita for her article “The Physical and Psychological Benefits of Yoga,” which appeared in the 1991 issue of The Journal of The International Association of Yoga Therapists. Bibliographic details for these and other references are provided at the end of this article.

Health Benefits

This information is grouped into three categories—physiological benefits, psychological benefits, biochemical effects—and is based on the regular practice of traditional âsana, prânâyâma, and meditation. Please note that while pulse rate, etc., may increase during the practice of various âsanas, some forms of prânâyâma, and some stages of meditation, but overall benefits to general health are as listed below. For information on the physiological changes that occur during the practice of specific âsanas, etc., please see James Funderburk’s Science Studies Yoga and other resources cited at the end of this article.

Physiological Benefits

• Stable autonomic nervous system equilibrium, with a tendency toward parasympathetic nervous system dominance rather than the usual stress-induced sympathetic nervous system dominance
• Pulse rate decreases
• Respiratory rate decreases
• Blood pressure decreases (of special significance for hyporeactors)
• Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) increases
• EEG - alpha waves increase (theta, delta, and beta waves also increase during various stages of meditation)
• EMG activity decreases
• Cardiovascular efficiency increases
• Respiratory efficiency increases (respiratory amplitude and smoothness increase, tidal volume increases, vital capacity increases, breath-holding time increases)
• Gastrointestinal function normalizes
• Endocrine function normalizes
• Excretory functions improve
• Musculoskeletal flexibility and joint range of motion increase
• Posture improves
• Strength and resiliency increase
• Endurance increases
• Energy level increases
• Weight normalizes
• Sleep improves
• Immunity increases
• Pain decreases

Psychological Benefits

• Somatic and kinesthetic awareness increase
• Mood improves and subjective well-being increases
• Self-acceptance and self-actualization increase
• Social adjustment increases
• Anxiety and depression decrease
• Hostility decreases

Psychomotor functions improve:

• Grip strength increases
• Dexterity and fine skills improve
• Eye-hand coordination improves
• Choice reaction time improves
• Steadiness improves
• Depth perception improves
• Balance improves
• Integrated functioning of body parts improves

Cognitive function improves:

• Attention improves
• Concentration improves
• Memory improves
• Learning efficiency improves
• Symbol coding improves
• Depth perception improves
• Flicker fusion frequency improves

Biochemical Effects

The biochemical profile improves, indicating an antistress and antioxidant effect, important in the prevention of degenerative diseases.

• Glucose decreases
• Sodium decreases
• Total cholesterol decreases
• Triglycerides decrease
• HDL cholesterol increases
• LDL cholesterol decreases
• VLDL cholesterol decreases
• Cholinesterase increases
• Catecholamines decrease
• ATPase increases
• Hematocrit increases
• Hemoglobin increases
• Lymphocyte count increases
• Total white blood cell count decreases
• Thyroxin increases
• Vitamin C increases
• Total serum protein increases
• Oxytocin increases
• Prolactin increases
• Oxygen levels in the brain increase


Yoga Compared to Conventional Exercise

Yoga

Exercise

Parasympathetic nervous system dominates
Subcortical regions of brain dominate
Slow dynamic and static movements
Normalization of muscle tone
Low risk of injuring muscles and ligaments
Low caloric consumption
Effort is minimized, relaxed
Energizing (breathing is natural or controlled)
Balanced activity of opposing muscle groups
Noncompetitive, process-oriented
Awareness is internal
(focus is on breath and the inifinite)
Limitless possibilities for growth in self-awareness

Sympathetic nervous system dominates
Cortical regions of brain dominate
Rapid forceful movements
Increased muscle tension
Higher risk of injury
Moderate to high caloric consumption
Effort is maximized
Fatiguing (breathing is taxed)
Imbalanced activity of opposing groups
Competitive, goal-oriented
Awareness is external
(focus is on reaching the toes, reaching the finish line, etc.)
Boredom factor

 

Select General References

Anantharaman, V., and Sarada Subrahmanyam. Physiological benefits in hatha yoga training. The Yoga Review, 3(1):9-24.

Arpita. Physiological and psychological effects of Hatha yoga: A review of the literature. The Journal of The International Association of Yoga Therapists, 1990, 1(I&II):1-28.

Bhole, M. V. Some neuro-physiological correlates of yogasanas. Yoga-Mimamsa, April 1977, 19(1):53-61.

Cole, Roger. Physiology of yoga. Iyengar Yoga Institute Review, Oct 1985.

Corby, J. C., W. T. Roth, V. P. Zarcone, Jr., and B. S. Kopell. Psychophysiological correlates of the practice of Tantric Yoga meditation. Archives of General Psychiatry, May 1978, 35(5):571-577.

Davidson, Julian M. The physiology of meditation and mystical states of consciousness. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Spring 1976, 19:345-379.

Delmonte, M. M. Physiological concomitants of meditation practice. International Journal of Psychosomatics, 1984, 31(4):23-36.

___________. Physiological responses during meditation and rest. Biofeedback Self Regulation, Jan 1984, 9(2):181-200.

___________. Biochemical indices associated with meditation practice: A literature review. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, Winter 1985, 9(4):557-561.

Dostaleck, C. Physiological bases of yoga techniques in the prevention of diseases. CIANS-ISBM Satellite Conference Symposium, Hanover, Germany, 1992: Lifestyle changes in the prevention and treatment of disease. Homeostasis in Health and Disease, 1994, 35(4-5):205-208.

Ebert, Dietrich. Yoga from the point of view of psychophysiology. Yoga-Mimamsa, 28(4):10-21.

Elson, Barry D., Peter Hauri, and David Cunis. Physiological changes in yoga meditation. Psychophysiology, January 1977, 14:52-57.

Engel, K. Meditation, Vol. 2: Empirical Research and Theory. Frankfurt, Germany: Peter Lang, 1997.

Funderburk, James. Science Studies Yoga: A Review of Physiological Data. Honesdale, Penn.: Himalayan International Institute, 1977.

Gopal, K. S., O. P. Bhatnagar, N. Subramanian, and S. D. Nishith. Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacy, 1973, 17(3):273-276.

Jevning, R., R. K. Wallace, and M. Beidebach. The physiology of meditation: A review. A wakeful hypometabolic integrated response. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, Fall 1992, 16(3):415-424.

King, Roy, M.D., and Ann Brownstone. Neurophysiology of Yoga meditation. International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 1999, 9:9-17.

Kuvalayananda, Swami. Some physiological aspects of meditative poses. Yoga-Mimamsa, 1928, 3(3):245-250.

___________. Physiology of pranayama. Kalyana-Kalpataru, 1940, 7(1):219-228.

Majmundar, Matra. Physiology of Yoga Therapeutics (working title). Forthcoming.

Malathi, A., Neela Patil, Nilesh Shah, A. Damodaran, and S. K. Marathe. Promotive, prophylactic benefits of yogic practices in middle-aged women. International Journal of Yoga Therapy, forthcoming 2001, no. 11.

Motoyama, Hiroshi. A Psychophysiological Study of Yoga. Tokyo: Institute for Religious Psychology, 1976.

Murphy, M., and S. Donovan. The Physiological and Psychological Effects of Meditation: A Review of Contemporary Research with a Comprehensive Bibliography 1931-1996. 2d ed. Sausalito, Calif.: The Institute of Noetic Sciences, 1997.

Pero, G., and G. Spoto. Study on the anatomy of yoga asana and their neurological effect: A comparative study. Yoga-Mimamsa, 1985, 24(3):17-18.

Raub, J. A. Psychophysiologic effects of hatha yoga on musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary function: A literature review. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Dec 2002, 8(6):797-812.

Roney-Dougal, S. M. On a possible psychophysiology of the yogic chakra system. Journal of Indian Psychology, Jul 1999, 17(2).

Sahu, R. J., and M. V. Bhole. Effect of 3 weeks yogic training programme on psycho-motor performance. Yoga-Mimamsa, 1983, 22(1&2):59-62.

Santha, Joseph, K. Shridharan, S. K. B. Patil, M. L. Kumaria, W. Selvamurthy, and H. S. Nayar. Neurohumoral and metabolic changes consequent to yogic exercises. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 1981, 74:120-124.

___________, K. Shridharan, S. K. B. Patil, M. L. Kumaria, W. Selvamurthy, N. T. Joseph, and H. S. Nayar. Study of some physiological and biochemical parameters in subjects undergoing yogic training. Indian Journal of Medical Research, July 1981, 74:120-124.

Schell, F. J., B. Allolio, and O. W. Schonecke. Physiological and psychological effects of Hatha-Yoga exercise in healthy women. International Journal of Psychosomatics, 1994, 41(1-4):46-52.

Selvamurthy, W., H. S. Nayar, N. T. Joseph, and S. Joseph. Physiological effects of yogic practices. NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences of India) Journal January, 1983, 1(1):71-79.

Singh, R. H., R. M. Shettiwar, and K. N. Udupa. Physiological and therapeutic studies on yoga. The Yoga Review, 1982, 2(4):185-209.

___________, and K. N. Udupa. Psychobiological studies on some hatha-yogic practices. Quarterly Journal of Surgical Sciences, 1977, 13(3-4):290-293.

Udupa, K. N., R. H. Singh, and R. M. Shettiwar. Studies on physiological, endocrine and metabolic responses to the practice of ‘yoga’ in young normal volunteers. Journal of Research in. Indian Medicine, 1971, 6(3):345-353.

___________. Studies on physiological and metabolic response to the practice of yoga in young normal volunteers. Journal of Research in Indian Medicine, 1972, 6(3):345-353.

___________. Physiological and biochemical changes following the practice of some yogic and non-yogic exercises. Journal of Research in. Indian Medicine, 1975, 10(2):91-93.

___________. Physiological and biochemical studies on the effect of yoga and certain other exercises. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 1975, 63(4):620-625.

___________. A comparative study on the effect of some individual yogic practices in normal persons. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 1975, 63(8):1960-1971.

___________, R. H. Singh, and R. A. Yadav. Certain studies on psychological and biochemical responses to the practice of hatha yoga in young normal volunteers. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 1973, 61(2):231-244.

Wallace, Robert, and H. Benson. The physiology of meditation. Scientific American, February 1972, 226:84-90.

Wenger, M. A., and B. K. Bagchi. Studies of autonomic functions in practitioners of Yoga in India. Behavioral Science, 1961, 6:312-323.

West, Michael A. Physiological effects of meditation: A longitudinal study. British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, June 1979, 18:219-226.

Woolfolk, Robert L. Psychophysiological correlates of meditation. Archives of General Psychiatry, Oct 1975, 32:1326-1333.

For additional references, see the extensive bibliography “Psychophysiological Effects” at the IAYT website, www.iayt.org/biblio.html.

To view abstracts in the Medline database for some of the cited articles, go to http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed and in the search box enter the complete title of the article. If this generates too many hits or no hits, try entering the names of the article’s authors using the following format: Delmonte MM (no comma, no periods following the initials, and no space between the initials; if there is more than one author, separate the names by comma, e.g.: Corby JC, Roth WT, etc.; capitalization is not required).

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