With nearly 22 million North Americans practicing yoga, there’s a lot of buzz these days about what the benefits, and harms, are of yoga. You will hear and read anything from yoga cures migraines, menstrual cramps, tight hips, insomnia, rid the body of toxins, backache, anxiety to my personal favourites – yoga to flatten the abs and tighten the booty… Needless to say, one can get a little wary and mockingly ask, “What can’t yoga do?”
As much as I love yoga and do believe it provides us with many health benefits, I still appreciate everything has it’s limits, and let’s face it, yoga is a business – so a little scepticism goes a long way. Yoga is also very difficult to define due to its ever-evolving westernization of techniques and myriad of styles, making it tricky to qualify in research. However, plenty of studies have been done, and many more are underway. I recently came across this article,“I read more than 50 scientific studies about yoga. And here’s what I learned” by Julia Belluz’s, which nicely summarizes what the evidence for us. Here’s what it said:
What we know:
- Yoga is probably just as good for your health as many other forms of exercise, but it seems particularly promising for improving lower back pain
- Yoga helps reduce inflammation in the body, which can actually help stave off disease.
- Yoga enhances “body awareness,” or people’s sense of what’s going on inside themselves
- There is evidence showing that yoga helps with stress, anxiety, and other mood disorders, although, the studies thus far are limited in design and inconclusive in what aspect of yoga is actually helping
What we don’t know:
- Whether some forms of yoga are better than others
- Whether yoga should be prescribed to people for various health conditions
- How yoga compares with other forms of exercise for a good many specific health outcomes
- Whether yoga is safe in the long term. The cumulative research so far shows yoga is as safe as any other exercise, but much is still to be learned about long term safety when considering different styles and specific poses.
- There is no good evidence yet behind many of the supposed health benefits of yoga, like flushing out toxins and stimulating digestion
My take on all this:
I always feel great in my body and mind after a good yoga class, and that’s what keeps me practicing. I’m sure the millions of other yogi’s would agree, and for this reason, I think yoga is here to stay. But with its increasing presence in mainstream society, more questions will be asked and the natural progression is for more research to be done, helping us better understand more about the what aspects of yoga are giving us the benefits, and possibly harms. This will indefinitely lead to refinement of techniques and styles and tighter regulations of credentials. Personally, I’m excited about the next chapter of yoga; no doubt there’s much to discover.