Yoga offers so many health benefits - "it should be on the NHS!"

Your guide to the benefits of yoga, different types of yoga, and some of the yoga classes available in Lymington and the New Forest

Yoga is becoming SO popular and for so many good reasons, that we thought it time to write a round up article about the benefits of yoga, what the yoga terms mean, and some of the yoga classes available in Lymington and the New Forest.

If you'd like to be included in updates to this article please get in touch - see below.  

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If you’re a yoga teacher and you’d like your classes mentioned in updates to this article so that it becomes a more comprehensive round up of yoga teachers and classes available in Lymington and the New Forest please contact us (details at the end of the article).  

Meanwhile thanks to Sue Leach, owner of the Natural Health Hub Lymington which provides a range of yoga classes amongst its many classes and workshops, for giving us all the lowdown on the various types of yoga and related benefits. Sue here reveals clinical evidence that proves just how beneficial yoga is not simply for stretching and de-stressing… but for a whole range of ailments, physical, mental and emotional.  As she says:

"The benefits of yoga are many...

Most people associate yoga with destressing, relaxing and switching off from day-to-day brain chunter and pressures. It is also good for you, of course, in obvious physical ways: improving flexibility, strengthening muscles, promoting better posture and balance, and protecting the spine, joints and cartilages.

What is less well known, however, is how therapeutic yoga is for a wide array of illnesses, physical, mental and emotional. So much so that it ought to be on the NHS…

Yoga can help to manage back pain

When researchers at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle tested the benefits of viniyoga against stretching on 228 adults who had moderate back pain, they found sufferers could move more freely and experienced less pain. They even came off painkillers after three months of weekly classes, and were still off their medications three months later after stopping the yoga.

In fact, according to another study, yoga is better than any other form of exercise for back pain. Researchers analysed the results of 12 randomised clinical trials, involving 1,080 men and women aged 34 to 48 suffering from ‘chronic non-specific’ lower back pain (chronic being defined as lasting longer than three months, non-specific that doctors didn’t know the cause). The analysis – comparing yoga, exercise, no exercise and using a self-care book for back problems – suggested that those who did yoga over a period of six to 12 months were more likely to report reduced pain and better flexibility.

So encouraging were the results that lead author of the study Susan Wieland, from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, called for more research to be conducted for a longer period of time.

Yoga can help combat stress & anxiety

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Anecdotally we all acknowledge that yoga makes us feel less anxious and stressed. Unsurprisingly, studies confirm that the more regularly you practise, the more profound this effect. Now research has established one mechanism by which yoga achieves this: it raises levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), a natural tranquiliser responsible for calming nervous activity which gets shut off when we’re stressed.

A study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine has also found that yogic breathing (pranayama) for just 20 minutes is proven to lower stress levels in the body. Researchers examined levels of cytokines in the saliva of 20 participants; cytokines being one of several types of biomolecules that we release when we are het up which act as indicators of both our stress and inflammation levels. Half of the group read for 20 minutes while the other half did specific yoga breathing exercises: 10 minutes of ‘om chanting’ and 10 minutes of rhythmic breathing. And those who practised the yogic breathing exercises had significantly lower cytokine biomarkers than those who were just reading.

Yoga can aid memory and focus

Yoga is better for your mental faculties than 20 minutes of pounding the treadmill; in fact, sweating it out at the gym doesn’t make any difference to your memory or ability to focus. In a study published in 2013, University of Illinois researchers put 30 female undergraduates through their paces, first with 20 minutes of hatha yoga, then 20 minutes jogging or walking on a treadmill (at 60-70% maximum heart rate). The result? The women’s memory, reaction times and cognitive ability were all improved after the yoga session, whereas no differences were recorded after the aerobic exercise.

Yoga can ease asthma and lung function

Medics at the Respiratory Medicine Unit of the City Hospital in Nottingham have endorsed the fact that yoga breathing can be of great benefit to asthma sufferers. Their study, involving 22 patients with mild asthma, found that two yoga breathing exercises not only lessened symptoms and improved all aspects of lung function, it enabled the asthmatics to reduce their histamine intake by close to 20%.

In another study, published in 1998 in the top medical journal The Lancet, people with lung problems due to congestive heart failure showed improved breathing capacity after being taught yogic breathing for just one month, their average respiratory rate decreasing from 13.4 breaths per minute to 7.6. Their exercise capacity also increased significantly, as did the oxygen saturation of their blood.

Plus it is widely documented that yoga improves various measures of lung function, including the maximum volume of breath we can take and efficiency of exhalation.

Yoga can help with depression

Sudarshan kriya – slow and calm breaths alternated by fast breaths, engendering a calmer, meditative state – has been shown to decrease depression. In a group of 25 people diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), the half who were taught sudarshan kriya, plus some yoga positions, meditation and stress-coping skills, fared far better after two months of practising regularly at home than those who took antidepressants. The yoga group showed ‘significant’ improvements and halved their HDRS (Hamilton Depression Rating Scale) score, a common measure of depressive symptoms. Those just taking the drugs saw no improvement in their score.

Another study at the University of Wisconsin found that consistent yoga practice improved depression and led to a significant increase in serotonin levels and a decrease in the levels of monoamine oxidase (an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters) and cortisol (our stress hormone). Researchers discovered that the left prefrontal cortex showed heightened activity – in lay speak, it made people feel happier.

Yoga even helps with PMS, period pains and hormonal mood swings

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The latest research proves women should all practise yoga for PMS, period pains and hormonal mood swings. Scientists at King’s College London have reviewed every yoga study on the subject over the past 20 years and come to the conclusion that: yoga improves irregular and painful periods for women aged 13-45; it reduces back ache, cramps, anxiety, stress and anger; concentration is improved; and hormonal levels are affected by the yoga breathing and poses, making women better able to deal with stress and mood swings.

The study, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found that the yoga asanas (or postures) that are particularly beneficial for easing PMS, period pains and hormonal mood swings are cobra, cat and fish. In fact, any pose that stretches the abdomen (so camel, bow and bridge as well as the three mentioned above)) is going to be beneficial at period time.

Yoga can help guard against the modern day health hazard of inflammation

Inflammation is a modern-day health hazard, now recognised to be responsible for a whole host of serious illnesses. Regular yoga exercises, however, can lower compounds in the blood that lead to inflammation, research at the Ohio State University has found. Women who had practised yoga for at least two years had lower levels of inflammation-causing compounds in their blood, and the levels didn’t rise when they were put through stressful situations.

Yoga can even help to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome

Wrist twinge after too much computer mouse time? Anyone who does repetitive arm work would do well to take up yoga to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, according to a study at Rush College of Medicine in Chicago. In a randomised, controlled trial sufferers were treated either with yoga exercises or splints, and after eight weeks grip strength was significantly better and pain reduction greater in the yoga group.

Yoga  can help you to overcome food cravings & over-eating

yoga new forest lymington benefits classes 2Regular yoga, with its concomitant spiritual beliefs, has been shown to increase body satisfaction and improve disordered eating, according to a study published in the journal Eating Disorders.

Neuroscientists have also proved that a programme of yoga can help teenagers reduce food preoccupation, as it boosts a part of the front brain, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPCF), that is responsible for quick-fix behaviour – like reaching for that packet of biscuits despite the New Year resolution to shed a few pounds. Low VMPFC levels prompt us to make snap choices (like going for a sugar hit) for instant reward, without considering the longterm consequences.

Yoga is good for heart health & blood pressure

Inverted yoga poses, such as headstand and shoulder stand, encourage the flow of blood from the legs and pelvis back to the heart, where it can be pumped to the lungs to be freshly oxygenated; this can help if you have swelling in your legs from heart or kidney problems. Yoga is also thought to boost levels of haemoglobin and red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues, and thins the blood by making platelets less sticky and cutting the level of clot-promoting proteins – all recipes for reducing your chances of heart attack or stroke.

Shavasana, at the end of a yoga class when you lie down to relax in ‘corpse pose’, can actually reduce your blood pressure, according to a report in The Lancet. When medics compared the effects of shavasana and just splashing out on a couch on people suffering from hypertension, they found that after three months of practice the yoga relaxation position was associated with a 26-point drop in systolic blood pressure and a 15-point drop in diastolic – in fact, the higher the person’s blood pressure, the bigger the drop.

A further new study that tracked 58 men and women for six months found that practising yoga two or three times a week lowered blood pressure from average readings of 133/80 to 130/70mmHg. These results were lower than in patients who only followed a diet tailored to help with hypertension without doing the yoga.

Yoga can assist lymph drainage

As you contract and stretch muscles, move organs around, and come in and out of yoga postures, you gently increase the drainage of lymph cells – vital for fighting infection, destroying cancerous cells and disposing of the toxic waste products of cellular functioning.

Yoga can help if you suffer from sinus congestion

A study from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute suggests that humming sounds – such as chanting ‘om’ in yoga – open the sinuses and facilitate drainage.

Yoga can beat some headaches and ease pain

Several studies have found that guided visualisation, often used by yoga teachers, reduces post-operative pain, decreases the frequency of headaches and improves the quality of life for people with cancer and HIV.

Yoga can reduce the worst symptoms of fibromyalgia

Research at the Oregon Health & Science University has found that a course of yoga, comprising gentle poses, meditation and breathing exercises, can reduce the worst symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Researchers divided 53 fibromyalgia sufferers into one group who took part in an eight-week yoga programme and another who carried on with conventional medication and exercise. The yoga group showed huge improvements not only in pain, fatigue, stiffness and balance, but also poor sleep and memory, depression and anxiety. Pain levels were reduced by 24%, fatigue by 30% and depression by 42%.

Yoga can help the psychological well-being of children in care

A Nottingham University study has proved that yoga can help the psychological well-being of children in care. After undertaking a 20-week yoga programme in three children’s homes in the Midlands, researchers found that regular classes, especially when participation was good, encouraged togetherness and mutuality and improved health and psychological outcomes. All the children reported positive social and meaningful benefits, including feeling more open and relaxed. They said they found the yoga particularly good because they could use it at other times outside their classes, such as just before going to bed or during emotionally challenging times."

Yoga types and classes available in Lymington and the New Forest

Yoga at the Natural Health Hub

Natural Health Hub logo

The Natural Health Hub offers three types of yoga, so there’s something for everyone, young or older, fit or not so, experienced or beginner:

Hatha yoga: Hatha is the generic term used for all types of yoga postures and breathing, it is as gentle or tough as you make it and suitable for all experience levels.

Vinyasa yoga: Vinyasa yoga is more of a continuous flowing exercise class, suitable for the reasonably fit (you don’t need to be a gym bunny, though!).

Vinyasa yoga classes start in September, Tuesday lunchtimes at the Natural Health Hub.

Yoga Gold: For older folk or those with injuries, and anyone who feels they may struggle with a standard yoga class and wants something gentler.

To book yoga classes online visit the Natural Health Club website  or call 01590 670955 and have a chat first. Classes are £10 or £48 for a block of six classes, bookable in advance.  (The Natural Health Hub, 87b High Street, Lymington SO41 9AN is tucked behind Lymington High Street, along the passageway behind Halifax and Dogs Trust, it’s the white building on the right in the courtyard at the far end.)

Other Lymington and New Forest contributors to this article are welcome...

If you’re a yoga teacher and you’d like your yoga classes to be included in this article you will need to be on one of the Lymington.com paid membership plans.

Please emailThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to express your interest and we’ll send you full details of our membership plans including terms and payment details.

You’ll also need to register on Lymington.com to add details of your classes – venues, dates, times, details etc – www.lymington.com/add-event