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Yoga: What You Need To Know

Yoga is an ancient and complex practice, rooted in Indian philosophy. It began as a spiritual practice but has become popular as a way of promoting physical and mental well-being.

Although classical yoga also includes other elements, yoga as practiced in the United States typically emphasizes physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dyana).

There are many different yoga styles, ranging from gentle practices to physically demanding ones. Differences in the types of yoga used in research studies may affect study results. This makes it challenging to evaluate research on the health effects of yoga.

Yoga and two practices of Chinese origin—tai chi and qigong—are sometimes called “meditative movement” practices. All three practices include both meditative elements and physical ones.

What are the health benefits of yoga?

Research suggests that yoga may:

Help improve general wellness by relieving stress, supporting good health habits, and improving mental/emotional health, sleep, and balance.

Relieve neck pain, migraine or tension-type headaches, and pain associated with knee osteoarthritis. It may also have a small benefit for low-back pain.

Help people with overweight or obesity lose weight.

Help people quit smoking.

Help people manage anxiety symptoms or depression.

Relieve menopause symptoms.

Be a helpful addition to treatment programs for substance use disorders.

Help people with chronic diseases manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

What does research show about yoga for wellness?

Studies have suggested possible benefits of yoga for several aspects of wellness, including stress management, mental/emotional health, promoting healthy eating/activity habits, sleep, and balance.

Can yoga help with pain management?

Research has been done on yoga for several conditions that involve pain, including low-back pain, neck pain, headaches, and knee osteoarthritis. For low-back pain, a large amount of research has been done, and the evidence suggests a slight benefit.

For the other conditions, the evidence looks promising, but the amount of research is relatively small.

Is practicing yoga a good way to lose weight?

There’s evidence that yoga may help people lose weight.

Can yoga help you quit smoking?

There’s evidence that yoga may help people stop smoking.

A 2019 NCCIH-funded study with 227 participants compared yoga classes with general wellness classes as additions to a conventional once-weekly counseling program. The people in the yoga group were 37 percent more likely to have quit smoking by the end of the 8-week program. However, 6 months after treatment, there was no difference between the groups in the proportion of people who were still not smoking.

A study published in 2020 showed a reduction in cigarette cravings after a single yoga session, as compared with a wellness education session. The study participants were people who were trying to cut back or stop smoking.

How does yoga affect mental health?

Yoga can be a helpful addition to treatment for depression. It may also be helpful for anxiety symptoms in a variety of populations, but there’s little evidence of a benefit for people with anxiety disorders. Yoga might have benefits for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Can yoga help with menopause symptoms?

Yoga seems to be at least as effective as other types of exercise in relieving menopause symptoms. A 2018 evaluation of 13 studies (more than 1,300 participants) of yoga for menopause symptoms found that yoga reduced physical symptoms such as hot flashes as well as psychological symptoms such as anxiety or depression.

Is yoga helpful for substance use disorders?

A small amount of research has looked at the possible benefits of incorporating yoga into treatment programs for various types of substance use disorders (opioid, alcohol, or tobacco use disorders or others).

In a 2021 review of 8 studies (1,889 participants), 7 studies showed evidence of beneficial effects in terms of reduced use of the substance or reduction in symptoms such as pain, stress, or anxiety.

Is yoga helpful for people with chronic diseases?

There’s promising evidence that yoga may help people with some chronic diseases manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Thus, yoga could be a helpful addition to treatment programs.

What does research show about practicing yoga during pregnancy?

Physical activities such as yoga are safe and desirable for most pregnant women as long as appropriate precautions are taken. Yoga may have health benefits for pregnant women, such as decreasing stress, anxiety, and depression.

Does yoga have benefits for children?

Research suggests that yoga may have several potential benefits for children.

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