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Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years, so one would assume it must provide some great benefits, right? Well over the last decade as the interest and demand for mind-body programming has continued to increase, so has the number of research studies conducted to examine the specific benefits that yoga has to offer.
Benefits of yoga
Studies have shown that regular yoga practice can improve muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and balance, which are often overlooked aspects of fitness. Yoga has also been shown to decrease the risk factors for chronic diseases, such as diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease, and also is effective in reducing chronic low-back pain, an issue which will affect nearly 80% of Americans at some point during our lifetimes.
Beyond the physical
In addition to the numerous physiological benefits, yoga also provides an assortment of emotional and psychology benefits. Yoga by definition means “union,” in essence the connection between body, mind and spirit. Yoga has been shown to reduce stress, promote relaxation, improve mood, and increase subjective well-being. Available research also indicates that stress-related diseases, such as hypertension, pain, cardiovascular disease, and depression are beneficially affected by regular participation in mindful exercise, such as yoga.
Can yoga do it all?
While the research regarding the physical benefits of yoga is in impressive, it is important to note that yoga was traditionally not designed to be a “one-stop shop” in regards to fitness. Research has supported this notion by studying and identifying the lack of aerobic activity that yoga provides. A study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE®), conducted by Poraci and Spilde at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, showed that that a 50-minute Hatha yoga practice provides no substantial aerobic benefit, as the number of calories subjects burned was comparable to that of a slow walk. Vinyasa-style or Asthanga yoga (often referred to as “power yoga”) on the other hand was shown to provide a mild aerobic workout, as a 50-minute practice burned 344 calories on average among participants.
These findings are not intended to deter individuals from integrating yoga into their current fitness program by any means. Instead, these findings help to shift the focus back to the numerous valuable benefits that yoga was intended to and does provide, which often times are the critical components that individual fitness routines are lacking.
This article is written by Jessica Matthews, MS, E-RYT, is an exercise physiologist, yoga teacher, group fitness instructor, personal trainer, adjunct professor, blogger and fitness personality. Jessica strives to open minds, ignite passion and inspire the world to health and fitness through purposeful movement, quality nutrition and kind words. She has been featured as a fitness expert on CNN and has been quoted in numerous publications including Shape, Self, Oxygen and Oprah.com. For more health and fitness information, follow Jessica at www.twitter.com/fitexpertjess.