Science Behind Yoga

Science Behind Yoga – 10 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Yoga Practice That You Must Know

Is there science behind yoga? What is the science behind yoga mudras? If you are planning to join a yoga class but worrying about such questions, then this blog will answer your queries and eradicate your doubts.

Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.

                                                                             The Bhagavad Gita

Yoga is one of the most ancient practices of awakening one’s spiritual energy, raising mental consciousness, and attaining physical fitness. The term ‘Yoga’ originates from the Sanskrit root word ‘Yuj’ which means ‘to unite.’ Yoga encompasses both physical and mental wellness which is why it is globally popular.

According to a forecast presented by AP News in 2020, the global market size of yoga is estimated to reach $66.2 billion by 2027 growing at a CAGR of 9.6%.

Today, yoga is popular across Northern and Southern Americas, Asia, Australia, and Europe. But time and again innumerable people have wished to know if there is any science behind yoga.

So, here is a blog that will walk you down 10 scientifically proven benefits of yoga below.

History associated with yoga

Scholars believe that yoga originated at the dawn of civilization. According to legends, Shiva is believed to be the first Yogi of this world who propagated his knowledge to the Saptarishis. The seven sages further carried the yogic science to other parts of the world. Saptarishi Agastya propagated yoga across the Indian subcontinent and established the yogic way of life.

Further, in the pre-Vedic period (prior to 2700 B.C.), Maharshi Patanjali gave yoga a systematic and codified form.

During the classical period of yoga (500 BC – 800 A.D.), it gained popularity due to Mahavir, Buddha, and Ved Vyas’s Bhagavad Gita.

While in the post-classical era (800 A.D. – 1700 A.D.), Adi Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Surdas, Tulsidas, Mirabai, and the Natha Yogis of Hathayoga Tradition like Matsyendaranath, Gorakhnath, and many more contributed towards yoga’s further proliferation.

In the modern period (1700 A.D. – 1900 A.D.), the popularisation of Bhakti Yoga and Hatha Yoga can be attributed to Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi, and Paramahansa Yogananda.

Contemporary times witnessed new dawn for yoga with the coming of Swami Shivananda, Sri Aurobindo, Acharya Rajanish, B.K.S. Iyengar, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and Swami Satyananda Saraswati.

In the latter half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, Sadhguru, Baba Ramdev, and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar became active advocates of yoga for the millennials and Gen Z.

Prime Minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi, first proposed to the UN General Assembly in 2014 to commemorate International Yoga Day. Recognizing its importance and universal appeal, the United Nations, thereby proclaimed June 21 (also the day of the summer solstice) as the International Day of Yoga to raise awareness about its benefits.

My journey with yoga:

Even though my father tried inculcating the habit of practising pranayama since adolescence, I would never be enthusiastic about it.

I would question him – “Does it really make a difference to you or are you just imagining it because someone on the TV or book says so?”

The doubts prevented me from doing pranayama regularly. I would find excuses to not sit with Dad for those “boring breathing sessions.” “What is the science behind pranayama,” I  would often wonder.

So, I wasn’t a believer initially.

Then, what turned me towards it?

Perhaps a greater divine source.”

Shiva statue
Credit: eUttranchal

My journey with yoga began in 2015 during a vacation in Rishikesh. Sitting along the banks of the Ganges in Parmarth Niketan Ashram, one afternoon, my eyes fell upon the gigantic statue of Shiva in a meditative pose. The pristine white statue of Shiva, heedless of the worldly illusions but conscious of himself sits on the Ganges, near the ghat of the Ashram. Nestled along the banks of the holy Ganges amidst the towering, lush Himalayas is the Parmarth Niketan Ashram which welcomes pilgrims from all across the world.

Parmarth Niketan Ashram
Credit: Rishikesh Tourism

To this day, I remain unaware if it was the calmness of the Ashram or the serenity radiating from Shiva’s statue that led me to my tiny inner voice – “I too want to experience the consciousness in which Shiva is.”

So, I came back and started taking baby steps towards yoga. I also began researching to find if there is any scientific basis for yoga and here is my compilation.

10 benefits of yoga with scientific evidence

If you are planning to incorporate a basic yoga routine into your jam-packed schedule but are unable to understand where to start, then you could begin by understanding if there is any scientific rationale behind practising yoga asanas. Once you gain confidence in the process, all you need to do is wait for some time before you can talk about the benefits you experience for yourself.

Reduces risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases

science behind yoga
Credit: Vecteezy

Atherosclerosis is the deposition of plaque consisting of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in the arterial walls. It either leads to the narrowing and blockade of arteries consequently causing reduced blood flow to the heart or else causes an explosion of the plaque leading to a blood clot.

When adults with cardiovascular disease risk factors, metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, and coronary artery disease practised yoga, they showed improvements of various kinds. These include achieving a better body mass index (BMI), reduction of systolic blood pressure and cholesterol (both LDL and HDL).

The review by Chu, et al, is published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. The 2016 meta-analysis of 32 RCTs with healthy adults and those with CVD risk factors or CAD successfully establishes the fact that yoga can prevent atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases in adults. Also, a comparison between those who practised yoga regularly and those into other forms of exercise showed no difference in the results obtained.

Improves blood pressure

According to the World Health Organization, about 1.28 billion adults have hypertension in the age-range 30-79 years. Hypertension is one of the leading causes of premature mortality in the world today. Undetected or uncontrolled hypertension can damage three vital organs including the heart, brain, and kidneys besides impacting the blood vessels and retina.

In a 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis by Wu, et al, conducted on adults with hypertension, a meta-regression analysis was used to determine which element of yoga played an important role in the reduction of high blood pressure. Having a sample size of 3517 subjects, the study group included both high SBP and DBP patients.

Those with high systolic blood pressure benefitted more from different breathing techniques as they showed a decrease of -11.3 mmHg. However, the diastolic blood pressure group showed a reduction of -5.5 mmHg after practising meditation rigorously.

Health benefits to breast cancer survivors

According to World Health Organization, in 2020, about 2.3 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer. Those who undergo mastectomy and do not undergo a reconstructive surgery further might experience a series of complaints starting from chest stiffness, shoulder pain, lymphedema, numbness, formation of scar tissue, and posture problems further affecting the spine.

A phenomenological study with three focus groups each consisting of six breast cancer survivors was conducted and a semistructured interview guide was employed to interpret the study. The article by Puymbroeck, et al, was published in the American Journal of Health Promotion in 2013.

Participants after practising yoga responded that they experienced better physical, mental, and social health.

Physical improvements  Improved mental healthImproved social health
Improved energy, strength, and sleep  Improved confidence  Participants developed a better body image  
Better posture, balance, and flexibility  Help with stress management  Felt inspired by each other’s journey of survival.  
Decline in chest stiffness    
Table showing effects of yoga practice on breast cancer survivors

 Decreases severity of depression

science behind yoga
Credit: PNGWing

About 280 million people have depression worldwide and 700,000 people die by suicide each year according to the World Health Organization. Social stigma and financial constraints further prevent around 75% of people from accessing effective therapy for depression.

A study reveals that yoga asanas and meditation can show moderate effects on decreasing the severity of depression. Another study from 2017 suggests that yoga can be considered an alternative therapy for depression.

Effective for anxiety

A quasi-experimental study conducted on 52 women showed a significant decrease in their depression, anxiety, and stress levels after 12 sessions of hatha yoga practice. As per a theory, meditation and yoga increase γ-aminobutyric acid levels in the thalamus which subsequently decreases stress levels.

Some studies have shown that yoga asanas can help with general anxiety disorders, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorders), and panic disorders. However, there is a need for more conclusive evidence.

Improves bone health

bone health and yoga
Credit: Vecteezy

Evidence from several studies shows that yoga mudras increase bone density in patients with osteoporosis and osteopenia. Isometric contraction is the science behind restorative yoga that significantly improves bone health. Isometric contractions refer to the engagement of body muscles to hold a pose while keeping the length of the muscle static. Isometric poses prevent the shortening or lengthening of muscles but at the same time keep the joints flexed. This increases muscle and bone strength significantly.

In another study published in 2015, it was found that the bone mineral density increases in the hips, spine, and femur bone after practising yoga for over one year. More than 200 million people have osteoporosis or osteopenia worldwide. Thus, practising yoga offers a low-cost and low-risk alternative solution to people with osteoporosis.

Yoga and sleep

Shakespeare aptly describes sleep in his play – Macbeth

“Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care,

Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course.”

yoga nidra science
Credit: SpunOut

55% of yoga practitioners reported sleeping better after practising yoga. Yoga nidra science reduces stress levels and sleep disturbances.

Women in menopause who suffer from anxiety, depression, and insomnia also benefit from yoga. Yoga effectively improves the quality of sleep for women in menopause.

In another paper published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, the benefits of yoga can be observed among elderly people who suffer from insomnia and sleep disturbances. Regular practice of yoga is found to enhance their sleep quality.

Facilitates weight loss without burnout

science behind restorative yoga
Credit: IMGBIN

Aerobic exercises and weightlifting aren’t the only ways to lose weight. A study was last year conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Zurich, and the Duke University Medical Center to evaluate the effectiveness of yoga in losing weight. The article was published in the journal – Obesity.

50 obese and overweight adults participated in a 6-month weight-loss program comprising two groups. One group employed the science behind restorative yoga and the other group tried the more vigorous vinyasa yoga. Individuals of both groups demonstrated a significant amount of weight loss and cardiorespiratory improvement.

Decreases backache

backpain
Credit: Pinterest

Globally, the treatment costs for back pain generate about $100 billion in revenue each year. It is also the most prevalent cause of years lived with disability.

Yoga asanas can reduce back pain. The scientific basis of yoga for healing back ache is found in a 2019 meta-analysis of 13 RCTs by Zou, et al, which demonstrates that basic yoga stretches decrease the intensity of back pain. 

Helps with inflammation reduction

Inflammation
Credit: CleanPNG

A systematic review published in December 2018 analyzed over 15 studies to establish that regular practice of yoga reduces the inflammatory biomarkers. Thus, it can help decrease inflammation associated with several chronic conditions like arthritis, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, cardiac conditions, and many others.

A roundup on the science behind yoga

For those of you who thought that performing yoga is just limited to practising a few asanas, mudras and focusing upon one’s breath, let me tell you that it is much more than that. Yoga is indeed a way of life. Exhibiting basic humane values form the basis of Yoga Sadhana.

The above-mentioned scientific evidence proves that even though yoga and Ayurveda science are ancient disciplines emerging primarily from the Indian subcontinent, it doesn’t stand apart from modern science. Rather it is fully aligned with what modern science says.

Practising yoga can keep you mentally and physically fit in more than one ways. It can heal day-to-day problems and also help with chronic conditions. The best part of practising yoga daily is that it keeps you in shape and prevents you from falling sick frequently. Therefore, if you wish to de-stress yourself, attain fitness, or awaken your spirituality, you can find a class in your locality or register for an online class today.

Snigdha
Snigdha

Snigdha is a technical content writer professionally with an academic background in pharmaceutical sciences. She took up content creation to explore her passion for writing.
 
For TST, she likes crafting content about space explorations, scientific and technical innovations, and raising awareness about climate.

In her spare time, she loves going on orophilous adventures, reading, and painting.

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