3 Awesome Benefits Of Yoga, Vol 2
We are already aware that there are many benefits of yoga, but in this series of blogs "3 Awesome Benefits Of Yoga" Volume 2, we will zoom in and look at the research behind the potential benefits and how we may be able to experience the benefits ourselves. In this volume, part 2 of 3 in the series, Awesome Benefits Of Yoga, we look at cognitive functions, pain, and stress reductions.
The Handbook of Cannabis and Related Pathologies 2017 states cognitive functions as "...the intellectual activity that includes mental processes, such as, attention, processing speed, learning and memory, executive function, verbal fluency, and working memory" It has been found that an integrated approach to yoga can improve cognitive functions such as "remote memory, mental balance, attention and concentration, delayed and immediate recall, verbal retention and recognition tests." As stated in An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG).
Much can negatively impact our cognitive functions such as sleep desperation, nutrition and stress, among others. One study found that sleep deprivation had negative effects on our attention and working memory and it impaired other cognitive functions as well.
Another study concluded that 80 students were ready to take their first internal examinations and were subsequently assigned into four different groups at random, with 20 students in each group. A cognitive score was recorded before and after yoga practice over a 6 month period of yoga. Group 1 consisted of no yoga and a lecture on stress reduction, they practised meditation without any yoga instructions. Group 2 practised only pranayama, Group 3 only practised suryanamaskaer (Yoga poses), and Group 4 practised both pranayama and suryanamaskaer. Immediately after the internal assessment, memory and visuospatial abilities were significantly increased in Groups 3 and 4 and over the period of the study significantly reduced their anxiety levels and improved cognitive functions. The study concluded that pranayama (Breathing exercises) and suryanamaskakara (Yoga poses) are more beneficial than physical exercise which mostly affects skeletal muscles. The study goes on to state that "to meet modern lifestyle which is full of challenges and stress, an all-round personality development has become mediatory for the students, this aspect of relaxation and detachment is lacking in our education process and it is this new dimension (yoga) that needs to be added to the curriculum.''
We have all experienced some sort of pain, from lower back pain to migraines, it's safe to say that it's not a great experience! In 2014, the NHS stated that the leading cause of disability was a back pain, according to a study. It was found that lower back pain causes more disability than any other condition, nearly affecting 1 in 10 people and commonly increasing with age. In 2016 The Daily Mail reported that, "Almost half of all UK adults may be living with chronic pain" and in a new review suggested that around 28 million adults in the UK are affected by some type of chronic pain (pain that lasts for more than three months) according to the NHS. The NHS goes on to explain that researchers used data from 19 studies that included 140,000 adults which estimated that around 43% of people in the UK experiencing chronic pain. The research involved chronic pain in one or more locations in the body, chronic widespread pain, fibromyalgia and nerve pain such as numbness and tingling.
Yoga has been known for its multiple benefits, with one benefit being pain reduction and management. We have gathered information from different studies. In one study it was found that "Pilates and yoga group exercise interventions with appropriate modifications and supervision were safe and equally effective for decreasing disability and pain compared with the control group for individuals with mild-to-moderate CNP [chronic neck pain]." - Dunleavy et al (2016), Physiotherapy. Additional research found a reduction in pain that was associated with the practice of yoga in two other studies, "The results suggest that an 8-week Hatha Yoga program improves pain-related factors and psychological experiences in individuals admitted to a rehabilitation and complex continuing care hospital." - Curtis et al (2016), Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and in another study that stated, "We conclude that yoga may reduce immediate anxiety and joint pain in patients with CF [cystic fibrosis]." - McNamara et al (2016), Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Numerous studies of yoga and pain reduction found benefits in consistently practising yoga, combined with safe modifications, and supervision which resulted in the improvement of pain tolerance and the overall reduction of pain. Villemure et al (2013), Cerebral Cortex states, "… These findings suggest that regular and long-term yoga practice improves pain tolerance in typical North Americans by teaching different ways to deal with sensory inputs and the potential emotional reactions attached to those inputs leading to a change in insular brain anatomy and connectivity." Dunleavy et al (2015), Physiotherapy also states that, "Pilates and yoga group exercise interventions with appropriate modifications and supervision were safe and equally effective for decreasing disability and pain compared with the control group for individuals with mild-to-moderate [chronic neck pain]." Note: Use props available to you at a yoga class as this can help you safely align yourself in poses, along with other appropriate modifications that might be advisable. Remember to feel and find what works and feels comfortable for you.
In other studies, it was discovered that yoga helped improve severe chronic lower back pain. "In a… population with moderate to severe chronic low back pain, 12 weeks of once-weekly yoga classes were similarly effective as twice-weekly classes. In conjunction with the convenience and lower expense of once-weekly classes, these data provide clinicians practical information about the minimum number of classes per week they should recommend to patients interested in trying yoga for their chronic low back pain." - Saper et al (2013), Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. In addition to this, Sherman et al (2013) states that "Compared to usual care [for chronic low back pain], yoga demonstrated improved self-efficacy, decreased sleep disturbances due to back pain, and increased hours of back exercise in the past week." in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Stress is not great for your mind or body! We are so use to living in a stressful way, finding that work-life balance, meeting deadlines, dealing with difficult people and the pressures of work. Health and Safety Execute reported in 2017 that 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 16/17 in addition to a report from the HSE that stated that stress is more prevalent in public service industries, such as education, human health and social care work activities along with public administration and defence. Finally, the HSE reported that the main work factors cited by respondents as causing work-related stress, depression or anxiety were: workload pressures which included tight deadlines, too much responsibility, and a lack of managerial support.
Yoga is a wonderful tool that you can melt stress away while physically working your body. An element of yoga called pranayama (breath awareness/yogic breathing) which is practiced throughout a yoga session allows one to deepen the breath which expands your diaphragm and abdomen. As you deepen your breath and breathe in and out of the nose, slowing your breathing peace, your stomach expands outwards and draws inwards towards the spine. Practicing yogic breathing increases oxygen flow, calming and soothing the nervous systems and reducing stress levels.
A study found that a yoga practice reduced students' stress levels in students experiencing high workloads and increased their overall perception of joy. In other studies it had been found that Yoga reduced perceived stress and improved adaptive autonomic response to stress in healthy pregnant women.
An 8 week semantic review by Chong, Cecilia S M et. al (2011) that studied the effects of yoga on stress management in healthy adults found that yoga had a positive effect in either reducing stress levels or stress symptoms. In another semantic review "Yoga as an Alternative and Complementary Approach for Stress Management: A Systematic Review" published in 2013, it looked at a total of 17 interventions from 2001 to May 2013. The review concluded that, "yoga is a promising modality for stress management. All practitioners teaching stress management should teach yoga as one of the approaches to stress reduction."