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Modern science now confirms why humans have been practicing yoga since the beginning of recorded history: it is good both for the body and mind.
There is evidence in the archeological record that yoga has been practiced by humans for at least 5,000 years. Whereas this would constitute sufficient evidence for most folks to consider it a practice with real health benefits, as its millions of practitioners widely claim, skeptics say otherwise. They require any activity deemed to be of therapeutic value run the gauntlet of randomized, controlled clinical trials before it is fully accepted within the conventional medical system.
This tendency towards scientism in medicine, or what some call medical monotheism, runs diametrically opposed to the standards of lived-experience – so called "subjectivity" – or anecdotal experience (learning from the experience of others) which is what the majority of the world uses to determine if something has value, or is worth doing or not.
Yoga, of course, is no longer exclusively practiced by a particular religious group. It is considered a form of low-impact exercise and stress-reduction, and is estimated to be practiced by 20 million people in the US alone. This burgeoning interest among Westerners happens to be why so much human clinical research has now been performed on yoga. The US National Library of Medicine's bibliographic database shows that in 1968, seven studies were published on yoga. This year, there have been over 250. So much research, in fact, has accumulated that even systematic reviews of the literature have now been published.
Take a recently published systematic review in the Clinical Journal of Pain where an evaluation of ten randomized controlled trials found patients with chronic low back pain found "short-term effectiveness and moderate evidence for long-term effectiveness of yoga for chronic low back pain."[i]
The meta-analysis sits comfortably on the top of the pyramid of truth of "evidence-based" medicine. Once confirmation has occurred at these heights, few can accuse such an intervention of "quackery" without indicting the very holy grail of modern medicine itself.
So, what other human clinical research now confirms the value of yoga in the prevention and treatment of disease? We have found evidence supporting the use of yoga in as many as 70 distinct disease categories, all of which can be viewed on our Yoga Health Benefits page, and with 7 listed below:
- Type 2 Diabetes: Yoga has been found to reduce blood sugar and drug requirements in patients with type 2 diabetes.[ii] [iii] Additional benefits for type 2 diabetics include the reduction of oxidative stress,[iv] improved cognitive brain function,[v] improving cardiovascular function,[vi] and reducing body mass index, improved well-being and reduced anxiety.[vii]
- Asthma: There are now four clinical studies indicating that yoga practice improves the condition of those with bronchial asthma.[viii] [ix] [x] [xi]
- Elevated Cortisol (Stress): Yoga practice has been found to decrease serum cortisol levels which have been correlated with alpha wave activation.[xii] Yoga also compares favorably in this respect to African dance, the latter of which raises cortisol.[xiii] Women suffering from mental stress, including breast cancer outpatients undergoing adjuvant radiotherapy, have been found to respond to yoga intervention with lowered cortisol levels, as well as associated mental stress and anxiety reduction.[xiv] [xv]
- Fibromyalgia: There are three studies indicating that yoga improves the condition of patients suffering from fibromyalgia.[xvi] [xvii] [xviii]
- High Blood Pressure: Yoga has been found to reduce blood pressure in patients with prehypertension to stage 1 hypertension.[xix] Yoga has also been found to reduce blood pressure in more severe conditions, such as HIV-infected adults with cardiovascular disease.[xx] Yogic breathing is one of the most effective forms of yoga for this health condition, with both fast and slow-breathing exercises having value.[xxi]
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Yoga has been found to be efficacious in improving obsessive-compulsive behavior.[xxii] [xxiii]
- Computer Eye Strain: Yoga practice reduced visual discomfort in professional computer users.[xxiv]
The examples above, of course, concern very specific health benefits. The experienced health benefits of yoga, on the other hand, are far more numerous and all-encompassing than the reductionist medical model seeking to grant it official recognition and credibility will ever be able to fully grasp.
Nonetheless, it is clear that yoga has come of age. Ancient wisdom is finding renewed confirmation by men and women in lab coats, who themselves could stand to loosen up and throw down a sun salutation or two. Considering the aforementioned "scientific research" available today, they might now be more inclined to do so.
In order to promote awareness of the clinically-confirmed health benefits of yoga we are offering our Yoga GMI Doc PDF to be downloaded for free. Click the Icon above as a registered user to do so.
- [i] Holger Cramer, Romy Lauche, Heidemarie Haller, Gustav Dobos. A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Yoga for Low Back Pain. Clin J Pain. 2012 Dec 14. Epub 2012 Dec 14. PMID: 23246998