Yoga – scientific research into the health benefits

In June 2015, the science journal publisher Elsevier created an online special issue on the science of yoga: the clinical effects of yoga on mind and body.

It collected some of the latest research into the effects of yoga on anxiety and depression, pain, cardiovascular, autoimmune and immune conditions and on pregnancy – and the findings are fascinating.

The research showed that that yoga may provide broad ranging healthcare benefits for mind and body. It may be practiced to maintain health, reduce particular symptoms, commonly associated with skeletal pain, and assisting in pain relief and enhancing emotional wellbeing.

For example, in research looking at the effect of yoga on anxiety, Dr M Javnbakht and colleagues from the Psychiatry Department of Islamic Azad University in Iran showed that participating in a two-month yoga class can significantly reduce anxiety in women with anxiety disorders. In their paper published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, the researchers say this “suggests that yoga can be considered as a complementary therapy or an alternative method for medical therapy in the treatment of anxiety disorders.”

Another study, published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, examined the effect of yoga on lower back pain. Dr Padmini Tekur and colleagues from the Division of Yoga & Life Sciences at the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Research Foundation (SVYASA) in India carried out a seven-day randomised control trial at a holistic health centre in Bangalore, India, with 80 patients who have chronic lower back pain. They assigned patients to one of two groups – yoga therapy and physical therapy. Their results showed that practicing yoga is more effective than physical therapy at reducing pain, anxiety and depression, and improving spinal mobility.

Yoga also reduces stress in pregnancy, according to research published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. Svetlana Bershadsky and colleagues from the Department of Psychology and Social Behavior, University of California, Irvine tested the effect of yoga on 51 pregnant women, looking at their levels of the stress hormone cortisol and their mood before and after a yoga session.Their results showed that practicing yoga while pregnant can reduce stress, improve mood and even reduce postpartum depression symptoms.

Look at the full special issue for more findings and links to read the full research papers.