Science Suggests Yoga is Heart-Healthy

For years, aerobic exercise has been touted for its numerous health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, better mood, increased energy, and stronger bones and muscles. But there’s another form of physical activity that’s grabbing headlines — yoga.

Some studies suggest the mind-body practice may be good for heart health, from reducing blood pressure and cholesterol to lowering stress and body mass index.

While yoga often is associated with images of limber practitioners, it is more than just stretching and handstands. Originated in India, yoga includes physical poses (asana), breathwork (pranayama) and meditation. There are many yoga styles, including Hatha, Iyengar, restorative and hot yoga, each with a specific emphasis such as alignment or relaxation.

Recently, more Americans are stepping onto the mat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14.3 percent of U.S. adults — or 35.2 million — practiced yoga in 2017, up from 9.5 percent in 2012. Many take up the practice as a holistic approach to health and wellness, and for its stress-busting effect.

“There’s a huge body of literature that says psychosocial stressors such as work and marital stress, as well as anxiety and depression, are associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Puja Mehta, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. “With chronic stress, the sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive,” which can lead to inflammation and increased blood pressure.

Yoga may help put the brakes on the body’s stress response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, or the “rest and digest” system, through deep breathing and relaxation, Mehta said. Cultivating mindfulness also may encourage participants to engage in other habits that boost cardiovascular health by promoting self-awareness and self-care behaviors.

“(This) can have a profound effect on supporting the engagement of healthy behaviors of diet and physical activity,” said Dr. Gloria Yeh, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of mind-body research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

Research also shows yoga may lower cardiovascular risk factors. Yeh coauthored a 2014 review of clinical research published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology that found yoga had a significant impact on cardiometabolic risk factors compared to doing no exercise at all.

For example, yoga decreased total cholesterol by 18.48 mg/dl and triglycerides by 25.89 mg/dl more than the change seen in the control group. Blood pressure improved too. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure decreased 5.21 mmHg and 4.98 mmHg, respectively.

The benefits also extend to people with heart disease. Among people with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, in which symptoms come and go, doing 12 weeks of yoga combined with deep breathing resulted in a lower heart rate, lower blood pressure and higher mental health scores compared to those who didn’t do yoga, according to a 2016 study published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing.

Mehta said although these and other scientific studies show promising results, there are some limitations, such as a small number of participants. In addition, because yoga encompasses a variety of elements, there isn’t a standard dose of yoga, which makes comparisons across studies difficult, she said.

Both Yeh and Mehta said more research is needed, including more randomized clinical trials and a better understanding of the exact mechanism behind yoga’s cardiovascular benefits.

“We need to better understand for whom yoga may be more beneficial and how,” Yeh said. “Because yoga is so heterogeneous with many different styles and emphases, we’d like to be able to match the right exercises with the right people at the right time. We need to understand how best to integrate yoga with other lifestyle measures.”

And the biggest research question remains, Mehta said: “Are you going to live longer and not have cardiovascular events like heart attack or stroke?”

For older adults and people new to yoga, Mehta recommends looking for gentle, restorative or chair-based classes. People with heart disease or high blood pressure may need to modify some poses and avoid postures that place the head below the heart, she said. Experts also suggest pregnant women in particular steer clear of “hot yoga,” or yoga classes that take place in a heated room, because of the risk of overheating and dehydration.

The bottom line, Yeh said, is that yoga is exercise and “any exercise is better than no exercise, so the activity that someone will do — and enjoy doing — will be the one that provides the most benefit.”

Source: HealthDay


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Study: People with Osteoporosis Should Avoid Certain Spinal Poses in Yoga

Rhoda Madson wrote . . . . . . . . .

Yoga postures that flex the spine beyond its limits may raise the risk of compression fractures in people with thinning bones, according to research from Mayo Clinic. The results appear in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Researchers at Mayo Clinic and elsewhere have described injuries from yoga. This study examines injuries in people with osteoporosis and osteopenia — conditions characterized by low bone density.

Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become thinner and more porous from loss of mineral content. Bone loss that has not reached the stage of an osteoporosis diagnosis is called osteopenia.

Researchers reviewed the health records of 89 people — mostly women — referred to Mayo Clinic from 2006 to 2018 for pain they attributed to their yoga practice. Some were new to yoga. Others had practiced for years. They had pain in the back, neck, shoulder, hip, knee or a combination.

Patients identified 12 poses they said caused or aggravated their symptoms. The most common postures involved extreme flexing or extending of the spine. Researchers used patients’ health records, medical exams and imaging to confirm and categorize the injuries as soft tissue, joint or bone injuries.

Researchers identified 29 bony injuries, including degeneration of disks, slippage of vertebrae and compression fractures. The latter appeared to be related to postures that put extra pressure on the vertebra and disks.

“Yoga has many benefits. It improves balance, flexibility, strength and is a good social activity,” says Mehrsheed Sinaki, M.D., a Mayo Clinic physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist and the study’s senior author. “But if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia, you should modify the postures to accommodate your condition. As people age, they can benefit by getting a review of their old exercise regimens to prevent unwanted consequences.”

Patients who incorporated recommendations to modify their movements reduced their pain and improved their symptoms.

In a separate commentary, Edward Laskowski, M.D., co-chair of Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine, called on providers, patients and yoga teachers to work together to produce an individualized exercise prescription that considers the yoga student’s medical history to protect against injury and provide optimal benefit.

The authors noted study limitations. The patients were seen in a musculoskeletal clinic at a tertiary care center, which makes generalizations difficult. Researchers received follow-up reports on 22 patients, as most lived out of state.

Source: Mayo Clinic


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Video: Yoga vs. Pilates – What’s the Difference?

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Yoga isn’t Timeless: It’s Changing to Meet Contemporary Needs

Jeremy David Engels wrote . . . . . . .

On June 21, on International Yoga Day, people will take out their yoga mats and practice sun salutations or sit in meditation. Yoga may have originated in ancient India, but today is practiced all over the world.

In the United States, it was philosophers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau who first engaged with the philosophy of yoga in the 1830s. Yoga gained a wider American audience only in the late 1800s.

Today, part of yoga’s appeal is that it continues to be seen as a mystical, ancient tradition. However, as I’ve discovered in my research, the practice of yoga has gone through some profound shifts. Here are four.

1. Yoga for health and happiness

It was a Hindu reformer, Swami Vivekananda, who first introduced yoga to a larger audience. Vivekananda originally came to the United States to seek funds to relieve poverty in India. Several electrifying addresses he delivered at the World’s Parliament of Religions, the world’s first global interfaith dialogue held in 1893 in Chicago, brought him instant fame. He then traveled around the U.S. for the next several years, giving lectures and teaching yoga.

Vivekananda revived the tradition of an ancient Indian sage, Patanjali, that had been almost forgotten. Patanjali likely lived in India somewhere between the first century B.C. or the fourth century A.D. He claimed that the goal of yoga was isolation from existence and freedom from the bonds of mortal life.

According to Patanjali, to overcome suffering, individuals needed to renounce the very comforts and attachments that seem to make life worth living for many today. As the journalist Michelle Goldberg, author of “The Goddess Pose,” puts it, Patanjali’s yoga “is a tool of self-obliteration rather than self-actualization.”

No one today is likely to see yoga as a way to renounce their existence. Most people are drawn to yoga to find happiness, health and compassion in everyday life.

2. Value of physical exercise

Most people today associate yoga closely with physical exercise and postures, known as asanas, designed to strengthen and stretch the body. There is more to yoga, however, than the physical. Yoga also encompasses devotion, contemplation and meditation. In fact, the primary focus on the body would surprise both Patanjali and Vivekananda, who prioritized mental over physical exercise.

Patanjali treated the body with disdain, believing it to be a prison. He was emphatic that we are not our bodies, and that any attachment to our bodies is an impediment to yoga. Vivekananda echoed these thoughts. He treated asanas with scorn. Vivekananda argued that an obsessive focus on the body distracts from the true practice of yoga: meditation.

In contrast, contemporary practitioners embrace asana as central to yoga. Contemporary yogis recognize that the mind, and the soul, is embodied. By “getting smart in their yoga,” contemporary yogis attend to their bodies, and also to their emotions, because the health of the body impacts the ability to see clearly and act deliberately.

3. Focusing on the self

A central practice of yoga is self-study, known in Sanskrit as “svadhyaya.” In the tradition of Patanjali, this means “the reading of sacred scriptures.”

Today, svadhyaya has come to mean the study of oneself. People often take up the practice of yoga to lead happier, less stressed and more compassionate lives. Yoga involves, as I argue in my book “The Art of Gratitude,” paying attention to one’s habits. Only by first noticing one’s habitual patterns does it become possible to change them.

Sacred texts, broadly understood, can help this practice of self-study, as they encourage reflection on deep and difficult questions that do not have easy answers. For today’s practitioners, these questions include: What is the purpose of life? How can I live an ethical life? And, what would truly make me happy?

Ultimately, self-study resides at the heart of a healthy yoga practice. It allows yogis to recognize their deep connection to others and the world around them. This recognition of interdependence and interbeing is central to today’s yoga.

4. Ethics of a yoga guru

In ancient practice, the relationship between a guru and a student was crucial. Today, the guru-student model is going through a shift. Yogis no longer train for years in their guru’s home, as was the practice in ancient India. Yogis instead practice in studios, in parks, at fitness centers, or at home on their own.

Still, many contemporary yoga teachers claim the title of “guru.”

However, some practitioners of yoga are calling for an end to the guru model, given that it comes with an inherent power, which opens the door to abuse. There are many examples of such abuse, with a more recent one being the case of Bikram Choudhury, the 73-year-old founder of Bikram yoga, who fled the country to avoid an arrest warrant in California in 2017 after being accused of sexual assault.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement in the United States and India, many yoga practitioners have initiated important conversations about the ethics of being a yoga teacher. At the heart of these conversations is how yoga teachers must, above all else, treat their students, who are often deeply vulnerable, with dignity and respect.

Ancient, but not timeless

Indeed, there is great power, and great mystique, in just how old yoga is.

But as a professor of communication, I observe that one of the most common errors people make in daily conversation is to appeal to antiquity – what scholars call the “argumentum ad antiquitatem” fallacy – which says that something is good simply because it is old, and because it has always been done this way.

Yoga is ancient, but it is not timeless. By stopping for a moment to consider yoga’s past, we can recognize the crucial role that all of us can and must play in shaping its future.

Source: The Conversation

How Yoga Can Help You, and How to Get Started

Lindsay Konkel wrote . . . . . . . .

M ore than 1 in 5 people taking a yoga class in America are older than 60. That’s no surprise, experts say, because yoga, which blends movements and poses with deep breathing and meditation, can be beneficial and enjoy­able for older adults.

Yoga is generally considered safe, but injuries can occur. A study published in 2016 in the Ortho­paedic Journal of Sports Medicine found that adults older than 65 have a higher rate of ­injury. Here’s how to reap the rewards of yoga safely.

How Yoga Can Help

Helping people manage chronic pain and maintain mobility may be among the best-studied benefits of yoga. For instance, a 2017 Cochrane review of 12 clinical trials on yoga for chronic low-back pain found that practicing it led to small to moderate improve­ments in function ­after three and six months. Such benefits are important because persistent pain can cause people to lead a more sedentary lifestyle.

“If you don’t use it, you lose it,” says Michael Wasserman, M.D., a geriatrician and CEO of Rockport Healthcare Services, a company that provides clinical and professional support to nursing homes.

Yoga may help alleviate discomfort by improving flexibility and building muscle and core strength, Wasserman says. Deep breathing could contribute, too.

“Controlled breathing has been used as a pain-control measure for centuries,” says Carol Krucoff, a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C.

Choose the Right Type

Beginners may do best to look for classes described as restorative, gentle, or Iyengar, says Jessica Matthews, M.S., a professor of kinesiology and integrative wellness at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. These use props such as blankets and bolsters to make poses more acces­si­ble. And “let your instructor know if you have any health ­issues, such as arthritis,” Matthews says. That way, he or she can show you modifications to poses.

If you have balance or mobility problems, chair yoga, done while sitting or using a chair for support, may be a good option, says Juyoung Park, Ph.D., an asso­ci­ate professor of social work who studies the benefits of yoga at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

The International Association of Yoga Therapists or Yoga Alliance can help you find instruc­tors experienced in gentle or restor­ative yoga. And don’t overdo it. “People get injured in yoga when they push themselves too hard,” Krucoff says. “A yoga pose should feel steady and comfortable, not strained.”

Two Poses to Try

1. Belly Breathing—an easy way to relax and reduce stress.

  • Lie down or sit tall in a chair.
  • Place your hands on your lower abdomen, beneath the navel. Relax.
  • Breathe in through your nose, filling your lungs completely. Your belly will round and push gently against your hands. Avoid straining.
  • Breathe out slowly through your nose. Repeat for five to 10 breaths.

2. Tree Pose—can help improve balance and core strength.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Focus your gaze on a spot at eye level. Pick up your left heel, bend your left knee, and turn your left leg slightly outward.
  • Slide the sole of your left foot against your right ankle, leaving the ball of your left foot touching the ground. Bring palms together in front of your chest, or lightly touch a wall, countertop, or chair back.
  • Balance here for three to five breaths.
  • Repeat on other side.

Source: Consumer Reports