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Science-Based Benefits of Yoga

From Your Heart to Your Spine

There’s a reason more than 36 million Americans practice yoga. Whether you come to your mat to become more limber, or just to be away from your phone for an hour, yoga offers a host of health benefits. Here are those backed by science.

While we typically think of yoga as just poses, the postures are just one of the eight limbs of yoga. Breathing exercises and meditation are two other limbs of yoga that also offer health benefits.

Yoga for Your Spine

“The spine can become rigid — almost fused — over time if you don’t move it, causing pain and other complications,” says Northwestern Medicine Neurosurgeon Sheri Dewan, MD. “Kundalini yoga combats this. It focuses on the spine with a nice blend of meditation, which is key for pain management.”

Yoga postures and meditation have also been proven to combat the pain associated with fibromyalgia, a condition that causes widespread pain all over the body.

Read more about the benefits of Kundalini yoga for spine health.

Yoga for Your Heart

Research shows that long-term yoga practice improves ambulatory systolic blood pressure and therefore is a lifestyle change that can help reduce hypertension.

A study of people over the age of 40 showed that yoga can help reduce age-related cardiovascular deterioration as well.

Yoga for Your Mind

Yoga is often touted as a stress reliever, and many studies back this claim. Practicing yoga regularly can help decrease the stress hormone cortisol.

Yoga can also help with anxiety and depression. A study of 64 women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) showed that practicing yoga once per week reduced symptoms. After practicing yoga for 10 weeks, 54 percent of study participants had no symptoms of PTSD at all.

Additional research suggests that yoga can help with stress-related depression and is a valuable supplemental treatment option for depression.

Yoga for Your Lungs

In people with bronchial asthma, pranayama exercises have improved symptoms.

“Yoga has been shown to improve many aspects of lung function and even appears to be useful in asthma treatment,” says Northwestern Medicine Integrative Health Physician Anna B. Shannahan, MD.

Benefits of Your Favorite Yoga Poses

Upward-Facing Dog

Upward-facing dog opens the shoulders and anterior chest wall, helping to reverse the slumping posture many of us use while typing or texting. This slumping posture can restrict rib movement and limit air intake. Upward-facing dog helps improve your posture and improve oxygen flow to your tissues, according to Dr. Shannahan.

Downward-Facing Dog

Downward-facing dog stretches the lower half of the body and strengthens the upper body. “Inversion poses like downward dog, where your head is below your heart, may help open up sinuses for those struggling with allergies or nasal congestion,” adds Dr. Shannahan.

Warrior I

Warrior I strengthens the lower body. This pose strengthens both the body and the mind. Since it involves bearing your body weight on your two legs, it strengthens the bones and helps prevent osteoporosis.

Tree Pose

Tree pose helps with balance and is a great exercise for mindfulness, as it requires awareness and focus. Improvement in balance helps prevent falls as you get older.

Want to feel the effects of yoga for yourself? Northwestern Medicine offers several options in downtown Chicago and the suburbs:

Downtown Chicago: Northwestern Medicine Osher Center for Integrative Health

North suburbs: Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Health and Fitness Center

West suburbs: Northwestern Medicine Delnor Health & Fitness Center

Northwest suburbs: Northwestern Medicine Huntley Health & Fitness Center and Northwestern Medicine Crystal Lake Health & Fitness Center

Greater DeKalb County: Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Health & Wellness Center

Wellness for Body and Mind

The Science-Based Benefits Behind Your Favorite Yoga Poses