Yoga isn’t just something for the idle, wealthy inhabitants of Los Angeles, despite what Instagram might have you believe. The ancient practice is a worldwide phenomenon dating back millennia and, in recent years, scientific studies have been carried out to pinpoint and highlight the numerous benefits which the mindful mix of meditation and exercise can provide.
Over the past few years it has been proven that Yoga can assist with increasing positive effects on the brain, central nervous system and immune system. In an interview with Live Science, Dr. Loren Fishman, a New York City physician and yoga instructor, had the following to say:
“Yoga thickens the layers of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain associated with higher learning, and increases neuroplasticity, which helps us learn new things and change the way we do things,” said Fishman. “I’ve used yoga in his medical practice to treat myriad conditions, including multiple sclerosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis and rotator cuff syndrome.”
Alice G. Walton, a contributor for Forbes magazine, also recently undertook an investigative, scientific approach to Yoga and, during the course of a two part study, found that;
Yoga also boosts levels of the feel-good brain chemicals like GABA, serotonin, and dopamine, which are responsible for feelings of relaxation and contentedness, and the way the brain processes rewards. All three neurotransmitters are the targets of various mood medications like antidepressants (e.g., SSRIs) and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) drugs.
So, not only is Yoga reportedly good for apparent wellbeing, it seems that it possesses the key to a natural release of antidepressants, but there’s more.
Interviewing Sarah Dolgonos, MD, a teacher at the Yoga Society of New York’s Ananda Ashram, Walton gains further insight into the effects of a Yoga session after a stressful or mentally challenging episode.
“She points out that in addition to suppressing the stress response, yoga actually stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms us down and restores balance after a major stressor is over. When the parasympathetic nervous system switches on, “blood is directed toward endocrine glands, digestive organs, and lymphatic circulation, while the heart rate and blood pressure are lowered,” says Dolgonos. With the parasympathetic nervous system in gear, “our bodies can better extract nutrients from the food we eat, and more effectively eliminate toxins because circulation is enhanced. With parasympathetic activation, the body enters into a state of restoration and healing.”
Walton adds: Researchers have discovered that yoga improves health in part by reducing a major adversary of the body: inflammation. Chronic inflammation, even low grade, is responsible for a litany of health problems from heart disease to diabetes to depression.
All of this alone is both fascinating and encouraging, however, in an article posted by Medical News Today earlier this week, it was announced that a link has been forged between the recuperative and regenerative nature of Yoga and Prostate Cancer recovery.
It begins with an impressive roundup of figures relating to the use of Yoga in America today:
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), around 9.1% of American adults – 21 million – used yoga in 2012, increasing from 6.1% in 2007.
The article contains a number of superb links relating to Yoga’s health benefits but, most significantly focuses on a recent revelation:
Dr. Neha Vapiwala, of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, and colleagues recently presented their findings at the Society of Integrative Oncology’s 12th International Conference in Boston, MA.
The results of these tests show that men suffering from Prostate Cancer, the second most common form of Cancer in the US (after Skin Cancer).
The team enrolled 68 prostate cancer patients to their study who were undergoing 6-9 weeks of outpatient radiation therapy. Of these, 45 agreed to take part in 75 minutes of Eischens yoga twice weekly during their treatment.
From a series of questionnaires the remaining men completed, the researchers found that throughout the course of radiation therapy and yoga sessions, their quality of life was maintained. Fatigue severity also improved, while prevalence of erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence remained steady.
Dr. Vapiwala added: “Data have consistently shown declines in these important measures among prostate cancer patients undergoing cancer therapy without any structured fitness interventions, so the stable scores seen with our yoga program are really good news.”
A testament to the power of the human body to regenerate? Possibly. But it certainly solidifies the fact that Yoga is a force that contains an energy that we do not yet fully comprehend. Rather than looking at it as a cure, we should be looking at it as a preventative measure, and a key towards building a happy, balanced life.