Doing a regular yoga practice will bring about positive changes in your life. This is a bold statement, yet yoga benefits are being researched by science and some of claims by yogis are being recognised as true.
What is being found, through science, is that positive lifestyle changes are happening in people's lives and these are quantifiable. So, what are some of these scientifically proven yoga benefits?
1. Lowers stress and anxiety
Many people who do yoga have noticed a sense of peace and calm when they finish the practice. This relaxed feeling can come from whether you do a more physically challenging practice or a gentler practice.
A new report, from 2015, presented at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) Conference "linked yoga to lowering levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, especially in women at risk for mental health problems".
In the study of 52 women, aged 25-45, those with mild anxiety or high stress found yoga to improve their mood and gain better control over anxiety; these effects were felt after practicing yoga twice a week. Other studies, from Mind Body Medical Institute, found that "yogic practices also help to reduce muscle tension and deactivate the stress response".
2. Decrease in depression
Yoga effects on depression have been studied a lot recently and it has been found to reduce depression symptoms in all sorts of people.
In the May 2015 edition of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, researchers found "that women experiencing postpartum depression saw a significant improvement in their anxiety, depression, and health-related quality of life after just eight weeks of yoga (twice a week) compared to their counterparts who did not practise yoga".
These effects are not just for post-partum, in the Indian Journal of Palliative Care, it was found that "breast cancer patients who practised 60 minutes of yoga daily over a 24-week period, which included surgery and radiotherapy or chemotherapy, reported a big drop in depressive symptoms compared to the non-yoga group".
In both studies, yoga was able to provide positive solutions for people who were going through challenging life experiences.
3. Improves cardiovascular health
There can be many factors that can lead to heart conditions yet in research done on the heart health, yoga came out as a way to help cardiac patients.
According to Dr Dilip Sarkar, a cardiac patient himself, yoga "relaxes blood vessels and reduces blood pressure while increasing the blood flow to the heart muscle".
The American Heart Association has weighed in on the area and found that "hand in hand with leading a heart-healthy lifestyle, it really is possible for a yoga-based model to help prevent or reverse heart disease. It may not completely reverse it, but you will definitely see benefits."
4. Rewires the brain
One of the main teachings of yoga is learning to connect the mind with what the breath and body are doing in a yoga pose. We are trying to develop a connection that brings about a sense of calm and wellbeing, but to achieve that there can be some challenges that we go through.
Not every pose is going to feel relaxing, or easy, at first.
According to research by Alex Korb, PhD in neuroscience, through yoga neurological pathways can be rewired "so that your brain stops automatically invoking the stress response. Yoga is simply the process of paying attention to the present moment and calming the mind."
The different postures create connection between the body and mind teaching us to focus on happiness and our overall wellbeing instead of invoking the stress response. This change moves from being just in a yoga class to becoming how we think and act in our everyday lives.
There are many keys to living a healthy lifestyle including diet, exercise, friendships, and a sense of purpose and place in the world.
Yoga isn't going to give you all the answers and solve all of life's problems. Instead, what yoga does, is gives us the tools to deal with challenging and stressful times in life and help us focus on the present, and not worry about what has already happened or could happen in the future.
The good news is that you can practise yoga anywhere and add these benefits to your life, helping you find balance and live the best life possible.
■ Tim Seutter is a firefighter, yoga teacher and manager at The Loft Yoga and Pilates Studio, Whangarei.