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?
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 Kundalini yoga which is a combination of movement, meditation and mantra (a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation).
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).
Diabetes.co.uk consider yoga to be a promising, cost-effective option in the treatment and prevention of diabetes, as several studies suggest that yoga could reduce stress-related hyperglycaemia and could have a positive effect on blood glucose control.
A study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, found that yoga could also help 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 stress 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 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 one of the key components of yoga alongside breathing techniques and different body poses. 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.
Commonly used meditation techniques
Concentrative meditation 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 could lead you to a calmer and more concentrated state, emphasising the concentration of attention.
Unlike classic meditation – where you focus on nothing to quiet your mind – with focused meditation you stay in the present. This form of meditation is linked to stress relief, improved memory and self-awareness.
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.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a healing approach combining meditation and yoga. The aim is to reduce arousal and emotional reactivity and to gain a sense of calm. It’s said to be beneficial to individuals dealing with chronic pain, depression and high blood pressure.
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.
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.