Is your Yogi having you on, or does Yoga work?

Fitness, Health, Wellbeing, wellness, Yoga, zen

If you read my previous blog, I revealed that Pilates is no better than regular exercise and a lot more expensive.  No doubt this article sent a shiver down the spine of all you yummy Yogis out there, knowing that Yoga was probably going to be the next to be named and well, shamed. The time has come, folks, Yoga has been named, but has it been shamed? Let’s have a look at the scientific evidence surrounding Yoga in several different groups.

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Low back pain: 

Two separate review studies found strong evidence that yoga improves pain, level of disability and quality of life in the short term and moderate evidence that it has a long term effect on these measures (1, 2).  In another review study, when compared to other interventions for low back pain, Yoga was found to be more effective, although the studies analysed were of a poor quality (3). So all in all, Yoga seems to be pretty darn effective for low back pain.  Breathe a sigh of relief, yogis.

High blood pressure:

Several review studies have been conducted on the topic, with the general consensus that Yoga appears to improve blood pressure, but there is not yet a sufficient number of high quality studies to make firm conclusions (4, 5).  Watch this space, but for now it’s worth trying.  Two from two, yogi bears.

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General health:

A review paper analysing studies comparing regular exercise to yoga, found yoga to be equal or superior to exercise in various different health measures. The only health measure for which general exercise was superior was physical fitness (6).  Although, in my opinion an intense Yoga class could potentially overcome this slight pitfall.

So, how does it work:

Yoga appears to decrease cortisol (stress hormone) and increases serotonin (the happy hormone), which likely results from the relaxation and spiritual component of Yoga (6). Additionally, Yoga exerts the standard physical effects to the body that you would expect with normal exercise, however, these are probably lessened with gentler forms of Yoga.

Is it healthful: 

Low back pain and general health: Ab-so-lutely! Fairly strong evidence that it works for both.

Our verdict: Highly healthful!

High blood pressure: Not enough convincing evidence to determine whether yoga is super effective at reducing blood pressure. However, there are some positive results thus far and it is worth trying as an adjunct to other mainstream therapies.

Our verdict: Slightly healthful. 

I hope this has been healthful.

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25 thoughts on “Is your Yogi having you on, or does Yoga work?

  1. There are other benefits too – more flexibility, increased bone density, combating stress, etc. And if you do a dynamic program, like Astanga or Vinyasa, it’s aerobic too. Hard-core yogis would argue that there are many additional physiological and mental benefits that are perhaps not measured by traditional Western metrics.

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    1. Great to hear, yogibeck! There seems to be more positive scientific evidence for Yoga in low back back management than Pilates. Yet Pilates seems to be the go to treatment (in Australia at least).

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  2. Great article! I must say I was a bit worried about your analysis at first too because yoga has helped me tremendously. Kundalini yoga especially has been great for giving me energy, which is great because I suffer from hypothyroidism & adrenal fatigue. As a matter of fact I love Yoga so much, I want to start teaching it and leave my stressful accounting job.
    Thanks for liking my blog, I really enjoy what you’re doing with yours!

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  3. I just took up yoga this year and love it. I am increasing in strength, flexibility and balance. I particularly like how the movements and postures are done mindfully. Perhaps you could write about mindfulness another time.

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      1. Awesome! I can’t for the life of me find any studies that have looked at the other seven limbs of yoga. If you have the reference for that Harvard article handy, please post it below. Cheers.

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  4. Love yoga because I personally hate stretching. So I do yoga instead to make it fun. Also I feel like it helps me be a better hands on neuro therapist, because there are many times I need to get in and hold a funny position to allow a patient to move to their full potential, but support them/guide them as appropriate.

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  5. Yoga is just like any other exercise if done physically , difference its done slowly and focusing on breath , but yoga is more than physical its union ,yoga means union ,union with your soul and it can’t be achieved only physically ,its much more which is not taught ,yogi has nothing to do with ,money , or other worldly things

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    1. Yeah that’s true, the majority of scientific data I have come across addresses the physical aspect. Furthermore, yoga classes, in Australia at least, mostly focus on the physical component. Yoga teachers are often referred to yogi’s in Australia, so they would obviously economically benefit from people attending their classes.

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  6. From my experience, (which is very limited!) there seems to be a trend for yoga as only an exercise to lose weight, rather than as a spiritual combination of body and mind. I also think that the yogi (instructor) plays a large role as to whether you feel a benefit or not. I do believe that any form of light, good exercise (by that I mean, what is beneficial to your body, as we are all individuals), is good for both body and mind 🙂

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  7. Thanks for visiting my blog. I stopped doing yoga when my daughter was born, but I was just telling a friend who is a yoga instructor I want to go again because I have trouble with my lower back. Now I know I have to make the time.

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