Health Benefits of Yoga
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. (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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 (email@example.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 information is grouped into three categoriesphysiological benefits,
psychological benefits, biochemical effectsand 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
Funderburks Science Studies Yoga and other resources cited at the
end of this article.
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
Gastrointestinal function normalizes
Endocrine function normalizes
Excretory functions improve
Musculoskeletal flexibility and joint range of motion increase
Strength and resiliency increase
Energy level increases
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
Psychomotor functions improve:
Grip strength increases
Dexterity and fine skills improve
Eye-hand coordination improves
Choice reaction time improves
Depth perception improves
Integrated functioning of body parts improves
Cognitive function improves:
Learning efficiency improves
Symbol coding improves
Depth perception improves
Flicker fusion frequency improves
The biochemical profile improves, indicating an antistress and antioxidant
effect, important in the prevention of degenerative diseases.
Total cholesterol decreases
HDL cholesterol increases
LDL cholesterol decreases
VLDL cholesterol decreases
Lymphocyte count increases
Total white blood cell count decreases
Vitamin C increases
Total serum protein increases
Oxygen levels in the brain increase
Yoga Compared to Conventional 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
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
Awareness is external
(focus is on reaching the toes, reaching the finish line, etc.)
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,
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
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,
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,
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,
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,
___________. Physiology of pranayama. Kalyana-Kalpataru, 1940,
Majmundar, Matra. Physiology of Yoga Therapeutics (working title).
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,
Pero, G., and G. Spoto. Study on the anatomy of yoga asana and their
neurological effect: A comparative study. Yoga-Mimamsa, 1985,
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,
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,
___________. Studies on physiological and metabolic response to the practice of
yoga in young normal volunteers. Journal of Research in Indian Medicine,
___________. Physiological and biochemical changes following the practice of
some yogic and non-yogic exercises. Journal of Research in. Indian Medicine,
___________. Physiological and biochemical studies on the effect of yoga and
certain other exercises. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 1975,
___________. A comparative study on the effect of some individual yogic
practices in normal persons. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 1975,
___________, 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,
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 articles 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).