Statistics show that all too many people in industrialised nations are living with anxiety and depression. The World Health Organization has stated that depression was the third most important cause of the global disease burden in 2004 and anxiety disorders (including panic disorder, generalized anxiety, phobias and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) are the most common cause of mental illness. Chronic stress has been linked to depression and anxiety, as well as a plethora of physical illnesses as well, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Keeping our stress levels is down is important not only to prevent disease, but also to ensure positive outcomes when we are receiving treatment for challenging illnesses such as cancer. For this reason, enlightened members of the medical profession are constantly seeking cheap, effective ways to lower stress, without the side-effects of medication. One of the most promising practices they have come across, whose benefits have been documented in a host of scientific studies over the past decade, is yoga.
- Yoga boosts memory and concentration: A fascinating study carried out by scientists at Wayne State University in Detroit, found that just one session of hatha yoga significantly improved subjects’ working memory and concentration, resulting in better test results. They also found that those who had run on a treadmill in lieu of attending yoga class, did not have the same ability to focus mentally. Lead study author, Neha Gothe, notes that controlled breathing and meditation enhance concentration, keeping everyday stressful thoughts at bay. The deep state of relaxation which ensues, argues Gothe, could be the reason for improved memory and concentration.
- Yoga battles stress: One of the most groundbreaking studies undertaken recently on the positive effect of yoga involved women receiving radiotherapy treatment for cancer. Patients recovering from cancer are faced with devastating side-effects, which normally include fatigue, stress and depression. The study showed that women who attended yoga sessions three times a week for six weeks had less fatigue and depression, lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and better sleep quality. It is for these same reasons that yoga is currently one of the most popular complementary treatments in top drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres around the world. Yoga helps recovering addicts gain a sense of control, and it also helps them relax, battle stress and focus on the present moment. It can be a powerful aid in recovery and can enhance their quality of life even after they have overcome addiction.
- Yoga increases self-esteem: A study published in the International Journal of Yoga (2009) found that those who performed yoga enjoyed a greater improvement in self-esteem than those who performed other types of physical exercise.
- Yoga improves the mood: A German study published in 2005 found that women who described themselves as ‘emotionally distressed’ saw great improvements through the regular practice of yoga. For three months the women attended two 90-minute classes every week. At the end of the study period, they had less perceived stress, depression, anxiety and fatigue. They also reported greater well-being and energy.
- Yoga can aid those with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A study on Australian war veterans with severe PTSD found that a combined programme of yoga asanas, controlled breathing, guided medication and information on the reduction of stress, resulted in significant improvement six weeks after the commencement of the study. Improvement was measured by the veterans’ results on the Clinician Administered PTDS Scale (CAPS), which measures the severity of PTSD symptoms. The yoga group lowered their CAPS scores from an average of 57 (moderate to severe PTSY) to 42 (mild to moderate PTSD). Interestingly, the benefits were found to persist some six months after the study had ended. A control group of veterans who had been placed on a waiting list, did not show improvements in their CAPS scores.
- Yoga can aid those suffering from somatization disorder: Somatisation disorder is a chronic condition in which sufferers can have pain in more than one part of the body, despite no physical cause being found. A study published in January, 2014, found that yoga training for a period of 12 weeks was able to reduce somatisation in a group of healthy women. Anxiety, depression, fatigue and hostility levels were also decreased.
- Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) and depression: The experts at Harvard University note that Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY), which can be traced to traditional yoga and which involves cyclical breathing patterns (ranging from slow to fast), has decreased symptoms of depression in two studies thus far. In addition to battling depression, SKY has also been found to lower stress hormone levels, leading researchers to conclude that this technique could be highly useful in treating depression in those in the early stages of recovery from alcohol addiction.