40 Ways Yoga Heals Your Body (Clinical Explanations of Yoga’s Health Benefits)

I just picked up a great book on yoga (which i later realized has 41 out 45 five-star ratings on Amazon) and it’s health benefits written by Timothy McCall, a physician and the medical editor of the popular Yoga Journal. The book is titled ‘Yoga as Medicine – the Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing’ .

[Note -> Other Yoga Posts of Interest on Cure Talk]

  1. Clinical Trials/Studies of Yoga to treat Cancer, Stress, Depression and More
  2. Growing Scientific/Clinical Evidence of Benefits of Yoga as Treatment for Medical Conditions: Summary of recent research studies/clinical trials
  3. List of Active Yoga Clinical Trials for Cancer, Stress, Fatigue and More

As i perused the book, i realized that there was one chapter dedicated to explaining ’40 ways how yoga can heal’ or in other words, ’40 ways how yoga benefits health). Since the book is written by a physician it describes these benefits from a clinical perspective and backs them with evidence obtained from clinical research studies.  I thought it would be useful to summarize these 40 ways as i was quite fascinated by the explanation and the book itself. So here are the 40 ways yoga heals the human body.Yoga As Medicine Book by Timothy McCall

  1. Increases flexibility
  2. Strengthens muscles
  3. Improves balance
  4. Improves immune function
  5. Improves posture
  6. Improves lung function
  7. Leads to slower and deeper breathing
  8. Discourages mouth breathing
  9. Increase oxygenation of tissues
  10. Improves joint health
  11. Nourishes Inter-vertebral disc
  12. Improves return of venous blood
  13. Increases circulation of lymph
  14. Improves function of the feet
  15. Improves proprioceptive receptors
  16. Increases control of bodily functions
  17. Strengthens bones
  18. Conditions the cardiovascular system
  19. Promotes weight loss
  20. Relaxes the nervous system
  21. Improves the function of the nervocs system
  22. Improves brain funtion
  23. Activates the left pcre-frontal cortext
  24. Changes neurotransmitter levels
  25. Lowers levels of the stress hormonoe cortisol
  26. Lowers blood sugar
  27. Lowers blood pressure
  28. Improves levels of cholesterol and triglycerides
  29. Thins the blood
  30. Improves bowel functions
  31. Releases unconcsious muscular gripping
  32. Uses imagery to effect change in the body
  33. Relieves pain
  34. Lowers need for medication
  35. Fosters healing relationships
  36. Improves psychological health
  37. Leads to healthier habits
  38. Fosters spritual growth
  39. Elicits the placebo effect
  40. Encourages involvement in your own healing

More Information About Some of the Benefits

Next i touch upon some of the reasons behind the individual benefits.

1. Yoga increases flexibility – the yoga asanas are designed to stretch the different parts of the body. Hence flexibility is integral to yoga practice. This has several health benefits.  For example,  back pain can be caused by tightness in the hamstrings and increasing flexibility through the Asanas can reduce the possibility of getting back pain

2. Yoga Strengthens muscles – muscle weakness contributes to nmuerous problems including Arthiritis, back pain and falls in the elderly. Yoga poses stengthen the muscles through the various poses. For example many of the standing poses such as Tada-asana (the Mountain Pose), the Triangle poses etc require firm pull of the quadriceps muscle. Studies have shown that even patients in their 80s can build strength with a regular regimen of yoga poses,

3. Yoga improves balance  – any one who has seen a yogi do poses knows how demanding they can be in terms of maintaining balance. For example, consider the tree pose (as shown on the left. Image source Yoga Journal). Balance is important as lack of balance can lead to hip fractures (a major problem in the elderly).

4. Improves immune function – both yoga practice and medication have been shown to increase Immune function. A study by John Kabat Zinn at Univ of Massachusetts  Stress Reduction Clinic showed the role of meditation in treating psoriasis (along with UV radiation), an auto-immune disorder

5. Yoga improves posture – many back, neck and other muscle and joint problems can be made worse by poor posture and this is something yoga can definitely improve.   A pilot study published in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that a 12-week program of yoga poses improves posture and postural awareness in 60 plus females with kyphosis

6. Yoga Improves lung function – through posture and breathing techniques. Yoga increases vital capacity of the lungs (meaning the lungs can take in more air with each breath). A study published in the lancet in 1998 showed that patients who had breathing trouble, reduced their breath frequency to 7-8 per minute after a regimen of yoga exercise, almost half from 13.4 breathes per minute, while increasing exercise capacity

7. Yoga discourages mouth breathing– as it promotes breathing through the nose. The nose clears out pollutants and also slows the breathe, which helps in calming down

8. Yoga increase oxygenation of tissues -by improving breathing, yoga leads to more oxygen in the lungs. More oxygen in the lungs translates into more oxygen in organs and in brain (oxygen is carried to different parts of the body through the hemoglobin molecule in the blood cells). Better oxygenation leads to better organ functions

9. Yoga Improves joint health – this happens because yoga postures improve cartilage (which act as shock absorbers in a given bone joint) blood flow and improves the alignment of bones, reducing wear and tear

10. Yoga Nourishes inter-vertebral disc – spinal disks lack independent blood supply and require movement to deliver nutrients. Hence spine twisting postures and back-bends help prevents the drying of the discs

11. Yoga Improves return of venous blood – the veins which return blood to the heart, cant push blood against the force of gravity on their own (they require the action of muscular forces to propel the blood up to the heard). The inversions in yoga – the  upside down poses help improve venous blood return and hence circulation. These postures specifically, helps those with swollen ankles

12. Yoga Increases circulation of lymph – the lymphatic system helps fight infection, cancer cells. The postures help stimulate the flow of lymph

13. Yoga Improves function of the feet – the feet play a central role in several yoga poses which improves their function and general health. Improving the function of the foot prevents the falling of arches and maintains balance.

14. Yoga Improves proprioception – proprioception is the ability to sense position of the body or body parts with your eyes closed.  The yoga poses help create awareness and internal realization of the body which leads to greater proporioception.

15. Yoga increases control of bodily functions – the poses can lead to control of heart beat,  blood flow or other physiological processes. There have been several stories of how master yogis have completely stopped their heart through their control of breath.  Such control can help in reducing stress or creating more flow where needed

16. Yoga strengthens bones – by increasing weight bearing, the poses can help strengthen the various bones. For example the warrior two pose strengthens the bones in the thigh and hip.

17. Yoga conditions the cardio-vascular system – lowers resting heart rate and increases the maximum uptake of oxygen.
One study of forty young men in the Indian army found that the group practicing yoga one hour a day had similar gains in aerobic capacity as those following an aerobic exercise regimen but with reduced perception of exertion

18. Yoga promotes weight loss – the poses help reduced weight and on study shows that the poses also help reduce fat folds as and also relax the nervous system, restoring the balance between the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS)

19. Yoga improves the fucntion of the nervous system

20. Yoga improves brain function – improves coordination, memory and reaction time

21. Yoga activates the left pre-frontal cortex – functional MRI (fMRI) studies conducted by Dr. Richard Davidson have shown activation in the pre-frontal cortex in those performing regular yoga. Activation of the PFC can lead to feeling of happiness and improved immune system function

22. Changes neurotransmitter levels – yoga poses reduce the feeling of depression. A study conducted in the Benaras Hindu University in India found that yoga poses increased the level of serotonin and decreased the level of  cortisol (which induces the stress response)

23. Yoga lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol – decreased cortisol ( stress hormone) leads to reduced stress

24. Yoga lowers blood sugar – lower fasting blood glucose and decreases HbA1c (measures long term blood sugar levels) . this effect is probably mediated through the reduction in cortisol levels (increase cortisol increase blood sugar levels)

25. Yoga lowers blood pressure – this too is probably mediated through the beneficial effects of yoga on reducing cortisol

26. Yoga improves levels of cholesterol and triglycerides – this is possibly due to the effects of yoga on reducing cortisol which can effect fat metabolism

As can be see from the list above, yoga has several benefits which are backed by clinical reasoning and explanations. More evidence on the benefits of yoga is being collected through the number of clinical trials currently underway to test the effect of yoga on a variety of medical conditions such as cancer, infertility,  stress and more

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