Second in a series on studies of yoga and its effects on health.
If it seems like yoga’s benefits come only from its famous stress relieving abilities, consider the argument by UCLA researchers that yoga’s effects on well-being have their roots in biopsychosocial benefits.
Yoga affects the functioning of muscles, bones, heart, lungs, the nervous system and the endocrine system. On a psychological level, the authors write (Evans et al., 2009), benefits include enhanced coping skills and mood lifting. Spiritual changes come through acceptance and mindful awareness.
The article by Subhadra Evans, Jennie C.I. Tsao, Beth Sternlieb, and Lonnie K. Zeltzer reviews the dozens of studies that have cited yoga’s benefits and explains the correlation between health and yoga. The article focuses on two styles: Iyengar Yoga, which emphasizes alignment, uses longer holds of poses, and adjusts poses to individual students’ abilities; and Ashtanga Yoga, which employs a rapid, energetic series of poses synchronized with the breath.
Musculoskeletal benefits may result from extension and flexion of muscles, which activates the neuromuscular system in a way that results in increased range of motion and relaxation.
Cardiopulmonary benefits have been found to come in a variety of ways, including through improving the ability of muscles to use oxygen, through decreasing their need for stored energy, and through slowly increasing lung capacity.
Cardiovascular effects appear evident from such results as lower resting heart rates among yoga practitioners. Yoga appears to reduce stress responses of the autonomic nervous system such as elevated blood pressure and respiration.
Effects on the endocrine system, the system of glands that secrete hormones that regulate all bodily functions, may come from massage of the internal organs, which improves blood circulation, functioning of the glands and “ultimately balance of hormone production”, according to the review by the UCLA researchers. Some poses, such as savasana, or corpse pose, may modulate brain chemistry.
Studies on psychological effects have found that yoga shows promise for improving mood, with particular improvements for those with anxiety disorders. Other effects include improved coping abilities.
The authors explored two spiritual benefits that come from yoga: compassionate understanding or acceptance, and mindful awareness. These skills appear to help with mastering difficulties in life.
Lead author Subhadra Evans, Ph.D., focuses her work in the UCLA Pediatric Pain Program on family pain functioning. Among the authors in the program is Iyengar Yoga teacher Beth Sternlieb, Intermediate Junior II, who also is on the board of directors for Iyengar Yoga Therapeutics, based in Los Angeles.
Evans, Subhadra; Tsao, Jennie CI; Sternlieb, Beth; and Zeltzer, Lonnie K. (2009) "Using the Biopsychosocial Model to Understand the Health Benefits of Yoga," Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine: Vol. 6 : Iss. 1, Article 15. Accessed Feb. 3, 2011. Available at: http://www.bepress.com/jcim/vol6/iss1/15