Yoga has become well known throughout the world, mainly due to its abilities in improving one’s fitness, health and helping some to find inner peace. Yoga’s benefits are quite well known in this day and age, but even then, it still manages to surprise us with new findings in how it can help us improve ourselves.
So grab those mats because we’re going to show you some surprising benefits of yoga that will give you a new appreciation for it.
Helps you live longer
If you have seen yogis who look younger than their calendar age, maintaining flexibility late in life when it does not seem normal or easily attainable, then you might think that there’s a link between yoga and how it is directly able to extend one’s life. Just observe an example of yoga’s age-defying effects through the video below of Swami Yogananda Maharaji Ji, who was 106 at the time the video was filmed.
One study published in 2014 in the the journal Age, found that even brief yoga practice (3 months) resulted in improvements in cardiovascular and neurological function. The research studied active males of three age groups (20-29, 30-39, 40-49) and found that yogic practice resulted in significant reductions in all parameters of heart rate, blood pressure, load in heart, myocardial oxygen consumption and total cholesterol. The conclusion was that yoga might help in the prevention of age-related degeneration by changing cardio metabolic risk factors, stress and improving brain function as well as cognition.
It reduces stress
Now this one is a no-brainer. Yoga’s effects on clearing our minds of any stress are one of the sole reasons people practice yoga, but it also helps improve our bodies as well. Yoga’s many exercises aid in stretching our ligaments and loosening our muscles, whose state influence our mental stress significantly over time.
The destressing effect comes from its heavy focus on breathing and concentration. By focusing on your breath and doing exercises correctly, you’re pushing away all of your worries, allowing you to process the source of conflict and deal with it healthily and stable. This was also proven in the study mentioned previously – levels of “stress hormones” catecholamines decreased following yogic practice, across all age groups.
Yoga improves your memory
A recent study held in Brazil on the effects yoga has on our cognitive abilities astounded everyone. The study focused on 21 female yoga practitioners who were over 60 years old and discovered that their left prefrontal cortex were thicker than the average 60-year-old. The left prefrontal cortex is known for being the one in charge of retaining our memory and attention span intact and, as you might’ve guessed, it thins out the older we get.
According to researcher Elisa Kozasa of Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in São Paulo, Brazil, yoga’s success in helping the prefrontal cortex comes mainly in its reliance on concentration. When we’re performing yoga, we have to be in tune with what we’re doing to relax, which helps the brain strengthen its cognitive capabilities. Of course, more research is in order, but the idea would be phenomenal if true.
It can alter your DNA
As shocking as it might sound, recent test trials centred around yoga and how it influences our bodies have discovered that constant practise of yoga can have positive effects that can even alter our DNA code. The change is owed mostly to the fact that our genetic system is part of the reason why we develop inflammatory proteins, which can increase when we eat a lot of sugar and unhealthy foods or don’t get enough sleep.
However, yoga’s effects on our genetic code work a little differently than that. When we practise yoga, we’re able to cancel out a particular molecule called the NF-kB molecule. NF-kB plays an integral part in our body’s fight or flight response, which can be triggered when we’re undergoing a lot of stress. Unfortunately, NF-kB also causes inflammation on a cellular level, which can lead to many health-related diseases.
Yoga helps one focus, be mindful and relieves stress (as stated above), and it also helps in reducing any inflammation that our body and muscles might have, which in turn decreases the levels of NF-kB released. This means that yoga is, in a way, changing our genetic code at the molecular level by cancelling out production of this molecule!
Yoga helps treat depression
Recent studies posted on Science Daily have, on the other hand, explored yoga’s influence on our mental and emotional conditions more in-depth. Part of the survey at San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center looked at a group of 23 male veterans, and analysed the effects that yoga had on them after they practised it for eight consecutive weeks. The study found that the levels of depression in all subjects had decreased exponentially.
This study was not unique either, where other surveys focused on women and people diagnosed with chronic depression found that their depression levels had decreased as well after practising yoga. A 2014 published study from the Chinese Journal of Nursing found that yoga helped to improve sleep and also significantly reduced the depressive symptoms of elderly participants. Nonetheless, doctors are recommending that yoga should be practised alongside diagnosed therapy sessions to treat depression.
Regardless, it’s still great to know that there’s a way to help improve people’s condition and fight depression, especially since last year’s focus on mental health showcased how there is a need to improve the way we treat mental illnesses.
A coping mechanism and increases resilience
A long-term project held by the University of Cincinnati recently released results that point towards a possible coping mechanism benefit found in yoga. The project analysed a total of 125 subjects and studied their reactions and ways with which they coped with stressful life situations, such as substance abuse or risky sexual situations.
Once the study came to pass, researchers were surprised to discover that patients who went through yoga exercises on a regular basis were able to cope with stressful situations more comfortably, allowing them to take control of their emotions. Being able to deal and keep control of yourself even in daily life also influences your resilience and dedication, as yoga requires you to stay concentrated and dedicated to reap the benefits of it.
With all of these benefits, one has to remember that yoga isn’t just about the research and in order to reap these benefits, one has to experience and practise yoga regularly. You might want to start off by visiting our events page and see whether there’s a yoga event near you today!
Photo Credits: Diario la Calle, Glamour and Ars Tecnica