Yoga For All
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Lisa Andrews MEd, RD, LD
Yoga is much more than sitting on the floor trying to get your legs into a pretzel formation. The ancient Hindu practice dates back over 5,000 years and includes mental, spiritual and physical exercises. It was initially started as 1:1 teaching, but has grown in Western cultures to include group classes. Though many people practice yoga alone, the word yoga means union. Here are some benefits to hitting the mat.
Yoga has several health benefits and has been found to be beneficial in reducing stress and anxiety. According to Lauren O'Connor, Registered Dietitian, Yoga Instructor and owner of https://nutrisavvyhealth.com/, “Whether 30 minutes or an hour-and-a-half; daily or 3x weekly, a consistent yoga practice will reap the benefits of a mindful practice that can help improve sleep and reduce stress. Specifically, it’s the restorative poses that promote relaxation, and the focus on breath and mindful activity that can reduce those spiraling thoughts that impact our well-being.”
“When it comes to nutrition, digestion is an important factor to consider. Twisting poses gently massage our internal organs and stimulate good blood flow for improved digestion.”
“Since chronic stress can exacerbate/trigger digestive issues such as acid reflux, stress-reduction through yoga is a good option to explore”. O’Connor often recommends it as part of the healing protocol for her patients with GERD.
Reducing Depression and Anxiety
Nonpharmacologic and nonconventional interventions including yoga, meditation and exercise are often used by people with depression and anxiety. According to meta-analysis and systematic reviews, these methods can improve depression and anxiety disorder symptoms. Exercise is most helpful for treatment-resistant depression, unipolar depression and PTSD. Yoga by itself or in combination with other therapy shows positive effects for depression. As an adjunctive therapy, yoga aids in the treatment of anxiety, especially panic disorder. Mindfulness-based meditation has a beneficial impact on depression and its effects and last 6 months or longer.1
Brittany Brockner MS RD LD, yoga instructor and owner of https://www.dietitianbrockner.com/ notes “Yoga has a long history for its use as a therapeutic practice. Some of the well-accepted benefits of yoga are improved body flexibility, reduced stress, improved sleep quality, and improved overall wellness. When talking about the health benefits of yoga it's important to note that yoga is made up of 8 different parts. Each part of yoga is equally important and each provides its own unique set of benefits. The most commonly practiced parts of yoga in western culture are the physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation.”
“Yoga can make the transition to intuitive eating much easier, which does improve diet quality. The yoga practice has many similarities with intuitive eating. Yoga teaches you to slow down and tune into your body, two overlooked skills of intuitive eating that yoga can help with”, according to Brockner.
A study in Minnesota with over 1800 young adults examined yoga interventions and weight-related health. Food questionnaires were completed as well as surveys to evaluate frequency of yoga practice on diet behaviors including fruit and vegetable intake, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, snack food and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Those who practiced yoga regularly had higher servings of fruits and vegetables and fewer servings of sugar-sweetened drinks and snack food and less fast-food consumption. More time was also spent on moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Interviews with participants showed that yoga facilitated healthy eating through better mindfulness, control of emotional eating, more healthy food cravings and the influence of the yoga community.2
Mandy Enright MS, RDN, RYT, the FOOD + MOVEMENT® Dietitian and 500-hour registered yoga teacher also agrees that yoga may improve your diet. “Yoga can increase someone’s ability to be more mindful, which in turn can influence choices around food, including quality of food choices and portion control. Mindful eating helps us to slow down at mealtime, which in turn can reduce how much we ultimately eat at meals and allow us to be more in tune with our hunger and fullness levels. Someone who practices yoga can be more in tune with their body and may notice how much more energized they feel when they consume more wholesome, plant-based foods and are hydrated.”
Enright also touts the health benefits of yoga including “reductions in stress, anxiety, inflammation, and blood pressure, while simultaneously improving digestion, respiration, quality of sleep, flexibility, strength, and overall quality of life. Yoga is recommended to be practiced in some capacity daily. There’s the asana practice, which is more physical, but also practices like meditation which is extremely beneficial for mindfulness and calming the nervous system. In addition to more physical dynamic styles of yoga, such a vinyasa, there are categories of yoga that are slower and more therapeutic, such as yin yoga, or calming and help reset the body, such as restorative yoga." Mandy gives more tips here: https://mandyenright.com
When incorporated into worksite wellness, yoga may aid in stress reduction, too. A systematic review of 13 randomized control studies in adult employees in the workplace were identified. The main benefit of yoga in the workplace was stress reduction while cardiovascular endpoints such as blood pressure and heart rate were unchanged. Researchers note no negative effects were seen, but larger studies are needed to confirm improved health in the workplace.3
Some resources to get started in yoga include:
• Yoga for Everyone: 50 Poses For Every Type of body—Diane Bondy
• Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body—Jivana Heyman
1. Saeed SA, Cunningham K, Bloch RM. Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Benefits of Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation. Am Fam Physician. 2019 May 15;99(10):620-627.
2. Watts AW, Rydell SA, Eisenberg ME, Laska MN, Neumark-Sztainer D. Yoga's potential for promoting healthy eating and physical activity behaviors among young adults: a mixed-methods study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2018 May 2;15(1):42.
3. Puerto Valencia LM, Weber A, Spegel H, Bögle R, Selmani A, Heinze S, Herr C. Yoga in the workplace and health outcomes: a systematic review. Occup Med (Lond). 2019 May 25;69(3):195-203.