September is National Yoga Month. I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Yoga is an effective stress reducer and may even help you lose weight, but new research shows that a certain type of chanting yoga may also be effective in warding off disease. And that is good news, indeed, for all of us wishing to live longer, healthier lives.
In a study published in the online edition of Psychoneuroendocrinology, psychiatrist Dr. Helen Lavretsky and colleagues at UCLA looked at 45 caregivers of family members with Alzheimer’s and found a difference in genetic response in those asked to practice Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KKM), a type of yoga that focuses on rhythmic breathing and chanting, daily.
Different Types of Yoga
Study participants were divided into two groups. One group participated in a 12-minute yoga practice that included KKM, performed daily at the same time of day for eight weeks. The second group rested in a quiet place with their eyes closed while listening to relaxation music, also for 12 minutes daily for eight weeks.
Blood samples were taken from all subjects at the beginning and end of the study, and the researchers found that 68 genes responded differently in the KKM group, resulting in reduced inflammation. Both groups were “relaxing,” however, only the KKM group’s activity (yogic breathing and chanting) was found to deter inflammation at the cellular level.
Caregivers were optimal subjects for this study, as caregiving for an ill family member is a significant life stressor, with older adult caregivers reporting high levels of stress andand showing higher levels of the biological markers of inflammation than the general population.
Caregiver Resource Center
The ability of yogic meditation to not only reduce stress but also inflammation in the body is great news for those of us wishing to reduce stress, improve our health, and lower our risk for chronic health conditions.
How Yoga Heals
One of the great things about yoga, is that you don’t need any special equipment to begin. “Start with basic yoga poses and build on those to ensure understanding of more advanced postures and yoga terminology for safe transition from pose to pose,” says celebrity fitness trainer Kristin McGee.
Access Kristin’s step by step fitness module at , an online fitness and personal training service that features workout programs designed by the world’s best personal trainers for in-home exercise. In honor of National Yoga Month, the site has a free trial offer.
Wellness experts often talk about factors like inflammation and how stress negatively impacts health. We know that yoga can help, but what is the science backing up the claim that yoga can help fight illness? Learn how to fight disease with yoga.
Too Much of a Good Thing
When an injury or irritant occurs in our bodies, our capillaries dilate and flood the area with white blood cells, thus causing inflammation along with other physiological responses. Inflammation is a necessary, life-saving response our bodies have developed, helps our bodies heal from injury and is a key component in our immune systems’ ability to fend off bacteria, viruses and the like. Inflammation is not only good, but essential to maintaining health.
Too much inflammation, however, wreaks havoc in our bodies, and causes a myriad of disease. Out of control inflammation can be blamed, in part, on a hormone called cortisol. Here is where stress comes in; when we are under mental, emotional or physical stress, our bodies respond by flooding our systems with cortisol. Again, in appropriate amounts, cortisol is good. It regulates our inflammatory response, directing immunity support to the area in need of defense or aid.
However, too much cortisol (i.e. prolonged increased levels due to stress) reduces the effectiveness of the hormone. Our tissues become less sensitive to the hormone, and our immune system less responsive to its’ regulatory effect.
Stress and Inflammation Reduction
When it comes to fighting disease, prevention is by far the best medicine. The science seems to be clear: control stress levels, and be one step closer to reducing chronic increased levels of inflammation. This is where yoga can help.
Meditation practices have been found to impact our health at the genetic level , as study participants engaging in a meditation practice for eight weeks were found to have reduced inflammation.
The Mayo Clinic, a leading health facility in the United States, considers yoga an effective way to manage chronic health conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure. Mayo Clinic touts yoga’s ability to not only maintain or increase fitness levels, to but reduce stress.
Yoga’s capacity to bring down stress levels is even lauded in the Ivy League, as the Harvard Medical School states that “by reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems.”
The best news, perhaps, is that the positive effects of yoga are immediate. Significant reduction in stress levels are achieved after a single class, and maintained through regular practice. The stress and inflammation controlling effects of yoga extend to those currently experiencing or recently suffering from illness, even cancer, as well. Whether practiced every day, once a week, or in workshops or retreats, every time we practice yoga we promote and contribute to our health and well-being.
Yoga Fights Disease
Yoga is helpful in decreasing levels of stress, which, in turn, reduces inflammation. Reduced inflammation increases our bodies’ ability to appropriately respond effectively to disease-causing stimuli. By practicing yoga, we are helping our bodies achieve normal levels of cortisol, which allows us to use inflammation when we need it, rather than living in a constant state of elevated stress and inflammation levels.
Science is increasingly shedding new light on what yogis and yoginis already intuit: a regular yoga or meditation practice can and does have positive effects on our health. Scientists are now beginning to understand the links between stress, hormonal levels, inflammation and using yoga to fight disease on a biological level.
Yoga first emerged in the Indian civilization over 3000 years ago, and has since been gaining popularity around the world. The word ‘yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit word, yuj which means ‘to join’. While your workout at the gym may focus on physical activity, weight control, or strengthening of the body, it definitely ignores the mind. It is yoga’s ability to connect the mind and the body together that helps it to positively enhance human well-being.
There are several types of yoga that can be practised by individuals to deal with specific health problems:
Ashtanga and power yoga are best suited to those looking for an aerobic type of workout where you push yourself to flow from one pose to another.
A bikram yoga class is practised in a room with heightened temperatures of 37°Celsius, where you posture yourself to twenty-six poses. The high temperature makes your body more flexible and increases the removal of toxins from your body.
A more relaxed form of yoga is Iyengar yoga. This form utilizes the same postures ofashtanga yoga, where the postures are held for a longer period of time and focuses more on posture and alignment.
Jivamukti yoga caters to spirituality with meditation, chanting and spiritual readings.
Kundalini yoga strengthens the physical, mental and spiritual discipline. It aims to awaken the creative spirituality of a person by waking up a coil of energy at the base of the spine.
Ananda yoga focuses on creating an inner awareness and power control.
But no matter what subset of yoga you prefer and choose to perform, they all lead to one basic fundamental truth – that your mind and body are two sides of the same coin and they must be kept healthy in a consistent manner. Its primary focus has never been weight loss, although that is a wonderful and definite outcome! Yoga aims to cleanse your breathing, your posture, your thoughts, and your diet in order to achieve a healthier life.
Today, when almost everyone is suffering from some form of ailment or the other, yoga is an effective way to deal with your problems. Yogic meditation allows the mind and body to slow down, controls the heart rate and breathing, and relaxes the mind. Balance is an important element of yoga. Yoga exercises allow you to shift weight to different organs of your body, allowing oxygenated blood to enter these organs and flush out the toxins. Yoga postures push your muscles to hold their stances, and strengthen their core. There are three systems that help in elimination of waste from the body – circulatory, digestive and lymphatic – and the stretching and breathing exercises of yoga work at all three levels. Various poses in yoga help in improving bowel movements and several yoga exercises drain the lymph nodes of toxins. Here are some diseases that yoga can help with:
If you suffer from asthma, the daily practice of yoga can help you overcome it, and prevent asthma attacks. Deep breathing as practised in yoga, pushes your lungs to take in more oxygen and, at the same time, regulates your breathing rate.
Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of asthma.
Indigestion and stomach ailments
Practice of the child pose, or the wind relieving pose is known to cure indigestion problems by helping in bowel movements.
Migraines and headaches
Migraines and headaches are common problems with far too many people these days. The primary cause of migraine attacks is the lack of oxygen to the brain. The sirsasana pose or the headstand is known to increase the flow of oxygen to the brain.
Bone, joint and muscle pains
The tadasana or the tree pose aims at correct back alignment, strengthening the lower back muscles and helping to relieve any pain. Stretching the body, as in Surya namaskaras, is an effective way to deal with joint pains and arthritis.
The bhujangasana or the cobra pose, helps in stretching the chest and opening the chest area, allowing more blood flow to the heart, thus stimulating it.
The kapalbhati is a breathing exercise which is effective in dealing with cardiac disease, since it enhances the absorption of oxygen in the blood stream.
Surya namaskara, which is a twelve step yogic routine of stretching and breathing, is extremely effective in controlling diabetes, as it promotes the production of insulin from the pancreas.
Anxiety and depression
The breathing techniques from yoga are an effective method to help your mind relax, and fight against depression and hypertension. When your body and mind go into panic mode, your body is flooded with the ‘fight or flight’ hormone. Simple yogic breathing exercises lower stress hormones, relaxing the mind and enhancing the immune system. Yoga practices such as deep breathing, force the heart rate to slow down and your lungs to take in more oxygen.
Life threatening diseases
Intensive treatment for AIDS and Cancer can be terrible for patients. However, practiced with yoga, it can be used as a coping facility. Yoga helps treat the body and mind and is also a great way to overcome addictions such as alcoholism or drug abuse, helping the body reject excess doses of poison while helping the mind pull itself together.
Yoga offers healthier and more natural options than your local doctor, and the constant barrage of pill-popping. It deals with the body and mind in a combination of ways to strengthen your individual organs. As much as yoga cures many ailments, it also prevents problems from arising. It’s not for nothing that the who’s who of the world has taken to practising yoga to calm their nerves, and keep fit. Everyone from Madonna to Gwyneth Paltrow to Matthew McConaughey to Robert Downey Jr., swear by yoga and its benefits. Don’t get left out!
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- How Yoga Fights Disease