As yoga becomes more popular in the Western Hemisphere, more research is being conducted to determine the benefits and holistic values of this ancient practice. While it is well-known that yoga can make for an engaging and significant workout regimen, word is quickly spreading that yoga, when studied through a holistic lens, can do wonders for one’s overall well-being. This 5,000-year old practice has proven its value in aligning one’s mind, body, and spirit, and allowing these three dimensions to harmonize in order to promote internal and external wellness. We’ll be exploring exactly why we should view yoga as a holistic approach, and how it is able to positively impact different spheres of our well-being. 

In honor of International Yoga Day in 2018, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, Vice President of India, presented a speech that centered on the comprehensive benefits of yoga: “Yoga is a holistic science embodying the basic principle of organic, interconnectedness of different facets of life…it goes beyond the physical exercises and connects the body with thought processes. It seeks to build a lifestyle that values calmness, harmony, and positive thinking. It is probably one of the most effective therapies for many psychosomatic disorders.” The practice of yoga harbors an innate ability to redirect the mind and allow our thought patterns to gravitate more towards positive thinking; this is one of the great contributive impacts on the well-being of yoga practitioners. Yoga has the capacity to adjust and regulate the body’s stress response systems, which in turn reduces the risk of certain physical conditions. Through the process of neuroplasticity, yoga is also able to improve upon cognitive functions and memory. 

The popularity of prenatal yoga is also skyrocketing, as the benefits that can be reaped by fetus and mothers are now scientifically acknowledged. The notion of blossoming new life and motherhood are some of the greatest wonders of life, but they do unfortunately come with certain physical and mental drawbacks. Pregnant women often deal with increased anxiety, nausea, insomnia, and severe pain and discomfort throughout the body. Through many practicing facets of yoga, these side effects can be minimized and prepare you for the road ahead. For one, meditation leads to stress reduction, and the breathing techniques that accompany meditation can both soothe the mind and aid in shortness of breath. Additionally, stretching and mild endurance exercises that are practiced throughout a prenatal yoga session will prepare expectant mothers for the physical stressors and trials of labor. Studies have also confirmed a correlation between the practice of prenatal yoga and the reduced risk of hypertensive complications that may occur during pregnancy. 

Studies have long been conducted about the effects of yoga on physical health and chronic pain. In a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine, it was determined that over 300 participants – all suffering from chronic lower back pain – attended a weekly yoga class and reported seeing a greater increase in mobility than they did when they were receiving standard medical care. Furthermore, a study conducted by West Virginia University revealed that participants who completed a 4-month long yoga program reported a drastic decrease in back pain. As for the logistical means by which yoga can reduce pain, it is believed that mindfulness exercises and meditative techniques are able to calm the nervous system and reduce muscle tension, which subsequently reduces one’s pain levels. 

As various research studies have deduced, yoga sets itself apart from other forms of exercise in that it is able to align both mind and body, and simultaneously intertwine these two spheres in order to target a myriad of conditions and ailments. Its ability to reduce stress, relieve chronic pain, and even provide prenatal benefits is what makes yoga such a significant and applicable holistic treatment.

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