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The potential health benefits of yoga and meditation

 
01/08/2017 | By Freedom Health Insurance

Yoga and meditation have existed for many thousands of years and recently they have grown in popularity with the trend in following a health-conscious lifestyle. While some people are still sceptical about their potential health benefits, others have fully embraced the two practices and made them part of their daily wellbeing routine. So what are the potential health benefits of yoga and meditation?

 

Yoga

The practice of yoga originated in India about 5,000 years ago. It is an ancient form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental wellbeing. There are many different types of yoga styles, such as Ashtanga yoga which is a vigorous style of yoga or the Mysore style that is taught one-to-one and at your own pace and breath.

Physical health benefits of Yoga

According to the NHS, most studies on yoga suggest it is a safe and effective way to increase physical activity and some evidence also shows that yoga practice can be beneficial for those with heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, stress, aches and pains (including lower back pain).

A review of different studies on yoga, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, has found that yoga could have beneficial effects on blood glucose levels in individuals with diabetes and other chronic conditions; it could help improve circulation and, as a result of various poses, it could move oxygenated blood to the body’s cells more efficiently.
A study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, found that yoga can also help to improve spine flexibility if undertaken at least once a week on a regular basis. The poses in yoga stretch your muscles and increase your range of motion and, with regular practice, they could improve your flexibility.

Because of yoga’s gentle way of promoting flexibility and strength, it is popular with people with arthritis. Research quoted by the NHS Choices suggests that yoga can reduce pain and mobility problems for individuals who suffer from knee osteoarthritis. However, it is important to note that some of the moves in yoga may not be appropriate for those with the condition.

Mental health benefits of Yoga

A research study from the Duke University Medical Centre confirmed other studies’ findings that regular yoga sessions could be as effective as using antidepressants for relieving mild depression. Consistent practice of yoga could raise the gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels in the brain, and increased GABA levels are associated with the reduction of depression and anxiety symptoms and mood improvement.
According to the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, yoga practice has also been shown to be effective in relieving symptoms of other mental illnesses like obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.

Meditation

Meditation uses reflection or concentration to intensely relax and calm the mind. According to Macmillan, this could help lower feelings of anxiety, pain, fear and depression, however it may not be suitable for those with mental health illnesses, and this must be discussed with your doctor. Meditation is actually an important component of yoga and part of the set of learnings promoted by yoga practitioners. Meditation can be described as a mind and body practice, which integrates controlled breathing, mental focus, and body movements in order to aid in relaxing the body and mind. According to Macmillan, this health practice can be used to help reduce some cancer symptoms such as the pain, and decrease some of the side effects of cancer treatment.

Concentrative Meditation

There are two commonly used meditation techniques. The first one is concentrative meditation and keeps focus on a single sound, image, mantra or your own breathing. The basic objective of this type of meditation is to keep focus on the naturally calming physical process of the breath. Focusing all your attention on a certain object leads you to a calmer and more concentrated state, emphasising the concentration of attention.
Stress Management & Biofeedback Services at Brigham Young University say that concentrative meditation may help improve health and stress management by slowing down breathing and heart rate; it may also improve academic performance, reaction time, memory and concentration.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness is another meditation technique that does not try to limit your focus on one thing but instead concentrates on everything you are aware of (feelings, thoughts and everything around you), directly knowing what is happening inside and outside the self at every given moment. Studies on mindfulness have shown that its practice can help control common mental health issues including depression and anxiety.

In a study published by the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, the findings suggest the usefulness of Mindful Based Stress-Reduction (MBSR) as an intervention for a broad range of chronic disorders and problems such as depression, cancer, pain and anxiety. MBSR incorporates techniques such as yoga, meditation and mind-body exercises to help people cope with stress. The findings from the study also indicate that mindfulness training might enhance general features of coping with chronic disease and disability in everyday life, as well as with stress.

Conclusion

There are many benefits of practicing yoga and meditation not only for your body, but especially for your mental health. It is important to remember that many of these health conditions may still require conventional treatment for best results. If you are thinking of using an alternative therapy alongside your conventional treatment, speak to your doctor first as it may not always be safe to combine the two.