What about prenatal yoga?
Although I am not aware of studies to prove how yoga can help expectant
women, prenatal yoga is popping up all over the place; in classes, books, and
exercise videos. Ads for prenatal yoga claim that expectant moms can alleviate
symptoms associated with pregnancy, such as sciatica, fatigue, swelling, and
problems with digestion, and that the asanas will prepare them for labor,
delivery, and postpartum recovery. On the spiritual side, claims are that
prenatal classes will inspire mothers to deeply connect with their babies and
prepare them for their new journey together. Whether any of this is true or not
is hard to say, but it certainly does make sense that conditioning the muscles
and connecting with your body in anticipation of labor and delivery could have a
positive effect. If you're pregnant and your doctor approves of yoga, then I
think a prenatal class where the teacher is trained and knowledgeable could be a
great thing to do.
Is yoga just another fitness fad?
I don't think so. It has been around for thousands of years, and its popularity
worldwide and in the U.S. continues to grow. For what it's worth, I just Googled "yoga" and got 65,900,000 hits and 64,788 results when I searched for
"yoga" at Amazon.com!
What are the health benefits of yoga?
Studies of the benefits of yoga are only beginning to accumulate and so the
evidence is not overwhelming or conclusive at this point. One of the problems
with the studies is that they are done with small numbers of subjects which can
make firm conclusions sketchy, and many are conducted in India and published
only in foreign medical journals, making it difficult to know what rigorous
standards the journals place on the researchers. However, this is not to say
that yoga isn't good for you, and the short list of studies may indicate a trend
toward, or possibility of, benefits. Below is a brief review of some of the
available yoga research.
- High blood pressure (hypertension). Many people believe that practicing
yoga can help lower blood pressure by teaching breathing techniques and reducing
stress. It is true that lifestyle changes like regular physical activity and
stress management can help lower and manage blood pressure, but it doesn't do so
in all cases. As for yoga, there hasn't been enough research to make firm
claims. The American Heart Association Report on Prevention, Evaluation, and
Treatment of High Blood Pressure does not mention yoga even once. However, there
is some indication that yoga can help. In one study, small but significant
reductions in blood pressure were shown in just three weeks of daily yoga, and in
another study, one hour of daily yoga for 11 weeks revealed that both medication
and yoga were effective in controlling hypertension. In one of the best
quantitative studies, systolic blood pressure (the top number) decreased from
142 to 126mmHg and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) decreased from
86 to 75mmHg after 40 days of a yoga regimen. These results do not mean that you
should stop taking your blood pressure medication if you start practicing yoga
(you should never go off medication without the approval of your doctor). More
research needs to be done, but I think it's fair to say that if yoga helps you
manage stress, calm yourself, and gets your muscles toned and strong, then
there's at least a chance it can help with blood pressure, too.
- Mood. After
just one yoga class, men reported decreases in tension, fatigue, and anger after
yoga, and women reported fairly similar mood benefits. It's well known that
physical activity has a mood-elevating effect, and yoga ought to fit right in.
- Cognition and quality of life. A group of 135 men and women 65-85 years
of age participated
in six months of Hatha yoga classes, and at the end of the study, they reported
improvements in quality of life, well-being, energy, and fatigue. They also did
better on balance (one-legged standing) and forward flexibility (bending).
- Diabetes. There is some evidence to suggest that yoga may lower blood glucose.
After just eight days of yoga in 98 men and women 20-74 years of age, fasting
glucose was better than at the beginning of the study, but subjects in this
study were also exposed to dietary counseling and other lifestyle interventions,
and so it's difficult to know if the yoga on its own was responsible for the
- Carpal tunnel syndrome. Individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome who
did yoga twice a week for eight weeks had less pain in their wrists than people
with carpal tunnel who wore a splint. The effect may be due to improved grip
strength in the yoga subjects.
- Strength and flexibility. In one of the most
persuasive yoga studies, men and women 18-27 years of age who participated in two
yoga sessions per week for eight weeks increased the strength in their arms from 19%
to 31%, and by 28% in their legs. Their ankle flexibility, shoulder elevation,
trunk extension, and trunk flexion increased by 13%, 155%, 188%, and 14%,
- Asthma. There is some evidence to show that reducing symptoms of asthma
and even reduction in asthma medication are the result of regular yoga. Again,
this doesn't mean that you should stop taking your asthma medication if you
start practicing yoga, but it does suggest that there could be some positive
result, and you should ask your doctor if you have a question about it.
Independent of studies, I think it's fair to say that the majority of people
who practice yoga regularly enjoy it and find it beneficial, otherwise they
probably would not continue. I believe it's worth trying if you have even the