Yoga has been studied both for its fitness benefits and its use in treating mental and physical health problems. One of the most well- known benefits of yoga is reduction of stress. Using yoga as an alternative therapy can be beneficial in treating many types of health problems, and scientific studies in PhD programs, hospitals, and other care centers over the past decade have confirmed practicing yoga often can help improve physical symptoms such as pain and mobility issues, as well as mental issues such as depression and anxiety.
Yoga and Pain Management
A 2008 study at the University of Utah focused on fibromyalgia, pain, the stress response, and how yoga can help modify perception of pain. The study found a connection between participants with a high stress response and how strongly they perceived their pain. The group that practiced yoga and learned ways to cope with their stress had the lowest levels of pain.
Another study examined modified hatha yoga as an alternative treatment for chronic lower back pain. Participants who completed the six-week course of yoga practice twice a week for one hour reported some improvement in mobility and function and a reduction in depression. The study noted there are many benefits of yoga that should be studied scientifically and proposed methodology for testing yoga's effectiveness in future studies.
Yoga and Mental Health
An Australian study found that yoga may be effective in treating PTSD. The group who practiced yoga and other relaxation techniques, such as guided meditation and breathing techniques for six weeks saw a reduction in their symptoms from moderate to severe to mild to moderate. The control group remained the same in their level of symptoms.
The Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC is now offering yoga to combat veterans to help prevent and treat symptoms of PTSD. As many as 20 percent of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD, and yoga is a practice that veterans can continue beyond the programs that teach it to them.
Yoga may also be effective in treating other mental health problems. Psychiatric patients who participated in voluntary yoga classes noted a reduction of their symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, and anger on a 65-item questionnaire immediately after the yoga session. Those who participated in future classes noticed a similar improvement in symptoms after the sessions, suggesting that some of the benefits of yoga on improving mood are effective immediately.
Getting Started with Yoga
Yoga can be an excellent tool for improving mental and physical health. Scientific studies on yoga are only beginning to empirically confirm the many benefits, although it's clear that many people who participate in yoga classes feel subjectively better after even one session. Those with serious health conditions should consult a doctor before beginning a regimen of yoga.
Instructors are very familiar with the mental and physical effects of yoga, so it may be helpful for patients to share their specific goals and any medical conditions that may affect their ability to practice yoga before beginning classes. Some people with flexibility, strength, or balance problems may need to practice modified poses so that they can still enjoy the healthy benefits of yoga without risking injury.