National Geographic News
Student Nicola Protetch ( 17) does the bow posture with a smile as she takes part in a yoga class.

Yoga practitioners, like these students in the bow posture, could experience reduced stress and better sleep.

PHOTOGRAPH BY RENE JOHNSTON, GETTY IMAGES  

Susan Brink

for National Geographic

Published February 7, 2014

The more we learn about yoga, the more we realize the benefits aren't all in the minds of the 20 million or so devotees in the U.S. Yoga helps people to relax, making the heart rate go down, which is great for those with high blood pressure. The poses help increase flexibility and strength, bringing relief to back pain sufferers.

Now, in the largest study of yoga that used biological measures to assess results, it seems that those meditative sun salutations and downward dog poses can reduce inflammation, the body's way of reacting to injury or irritation.

That's important because inflammation is associated with chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. It's also one of the reasons that cancer survivors commonly feel fatigue for months, even years, following treatment.

Researchers looked at 200 breast cancer survivors who had not practiced yoga before. Half the group continued to ignore yoga, while the other half received twice-weekly, 90-minute classes for 12 weeks, with take-home DVDs and encouragement to practice at home.

According to the study, which was led by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State University, and published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the group that had practiced yoga reported less fatigue and higher levels of vitality three months after treatment had ended.

Laboratory Proof

But the study didn't rely only on self-reports. Kiecolt-Glaser's husband and research partner, Ronald Glaser of the university's department of molecular virology, immunology, and medical genetics, went for stronger, laboratory proof. He examined three cytokines, proteins in the blood that are markers for inflammation.

Blood tests before and after the trial showed that, after three months of yoga practice, all three markers for inflammation were lower by 10 to 15 percent. That part of the study offered some rare biological evidence of the benefits of yoga in a large trial that went beyond people's own reports of how they feel.

No one knows exactly how yoga might reduce inflammation in breast cancer survivors, but Kiecolt-Glaser lays out some research-based suggestions. Cancer treatment often leaves patients with high levels of stress and fatigue, and an inability to sleep well. "Poor sleep fuels fatigue, and fatigue fuels inflammation," she says. Yoga has been shown to reduce stress and help people sleep better.

Other smaller studies have shown, by measuring biological markers, that expert yoga practitioners had lower inflammatory responses to stress than novice yoga practitioners did; that yoga reduces inflammation in heart failure patients; and that yoga can improve crucial levels of glucose and insulin in patients with diabetes.

Yoga for Other Stresses

Cancer is an obvious cause of stress, but recent research has pointed to another contributing factor: living in poverty. Maryanna Klatt, an associate professor of clinical family medicine at Ohio State University, has taken yoga into the classrooms of disadvantaged children. In research that has not yet been published, she found that 160 third graders in low-income areas who practiced yoga with their teacher had self-reported improvements in attention.

"Their teachers liked doing it right before math, because then the kids focused better on the math work," she says. "Telling a kid to sit down and be quiet doesn't make sense. Have them get up and move."

While it would be too complicated and intrusive to measure biological responses to yoga in schoolchildren, Klatt has done similar research on surgical nurses, who are under the daily stress of watching suffering and death. She said she found a 40 percent reduction in their salivary alpha amylase, a measure of the fight-or-flight response to stress.

And she's about to begin teaching yoga to garbage collectors in the city of Columbus before they head out on their morning shift. At the moment, her arrangement with the city is not part of a study. She just hopes to make their lives less stressful. And she does not plan to check their inflammatory response, though she admits she'd love to.

40 comments
Peewee Sanchez
Peewee Sanchez

Funny sometimes we call ourselves "modern" but we are still trying to catch up with Ancient knowledge.

RIDHI KALE
RIDHI KALE

Yoga's healing powers are many. Having experienced Sanatan Kriya under the guidance of Yogi Ashwini, of Dhyan Foundation (www.dhyanfoundation.com), I can tell you with certainty that not only is it healing, it also gives you the shape you desire and you start experiencing energies that run this creation. It is an amazing science, more such studies should be conducted. 

Kim Preveza
Kim Preveza

One of our missions is to offer yoga resources to children with cancer. www.childhoodcancerkids.org.  This is a great study to share about yoga's benefits. 

Ruth Mclean
Ruth Mclean

Those who already practice yoga will recognise the healing power of yoga by the nature in which it brings balance to the body & mind.   As a Yoga Coach (www.ruthmclean.co.uk) its wonderful to have some factual research information to further endorse Yogas many benefits.

mavlankar triveni
mavlankar triveni

Yoga has been my way of life as a HINDU.....I feel so happy that our Sacred Hinduism is spreading here in America & around the world.......There is a lot more to be learnt in our TRUE  HINDUISM.......Please continue to search to enjoy  peace &  happiness......

Sunil Pareek
Sunil Pareek

Great research work. Congratulations to the team. 

C Trice
C Trice

Why do we argue trying to "define" a practice? It is as individual as each cell. However it may speak... However it may heal... Let yoga BE as unique as each individual, regardless of class, religion or ethnicity. As long as the practice contains ahimsa, or compassion, in every living THING, it IS yoga.

C Trice
C Trice

Yoga's meaning is as individual to each person who practices... No matter what the religion or ethnicity, as long as the practice contains ahimsa, or compassion, it is yoga.

craig hill
craig hill

Yoga mean Yoke, or being bound together, or Union---same thing. Realizing Union with Self, as Self IS All.

Param Swami
Param Swami

Obviously, Susan and others are approaching this so-called "yoga" from a very misinformed point of view. Real Yoga are the many teachings and practices of the Hindu religion; taught by Hindus and not for a fee. Indeed, the Hindu/Yogic religion is profound but denying what is Yoga, one begins with really no foundation.

Kaleo Kaluhiwa
Kaleo Kaluhiwa

Good to see research being conducted on "alternative" therapies, which used to simply be known as spiritual or religious practices.  Yoga, Chi Gung, Meditation--all have benefited humanity for centuries.  With western cultures becoming more individualistic and influenced by patriarchal/hierarchical religions, we lost our indigenous healing and health practices.  More recently, the pharmacological industry has dominated with the message that one can take a pill for instant cure for just about any health problem.


We don't need to wait for science to validate what the wisdom traditions have known for centuries.

Gaby Maass
Gaby Maass

This is a very interesting article about the latest scientific discoveries of YOGA'S HEALING POWERS. Please read and share. xxxx

Erica Ragusa
Erica Ragusa

As a yoga teacher and certified massage therapist in Breckenridge, CO, I have received approval from a worker's comp insurance company to offer yoga to a patient who was injured while at work and experiencing chronic low back pain.  I think this is a testament that the medical community is taking yoga more seriously.  

www.ambika.massagetherapy.com

Jan Cleghorn
Jan Cleghorn

Of course we know how great yoga is so it's good to see research backing it up for the non-believers!

Doris Edsell
Doris Edsell

I truly believe in the power of yoga. I have practiced it for over 30 years and now I am a teacher of yoga. I teach at a local gym and at the psychiatric center from which I retired a few years ago. It has helped the patients so very much, and you can see the difference in their mood right after a session. We have some patients who only respond to yoga. I believe so very much that I have created booklets on topics of yoga, spirituality and meditation on my healthy living blog-- you can take a look-- www.body-mindhealth.com This week I have taken a collection of my work from this website and turned the posts into booklets, and one is on the topic of yoga. Hoping you take a look.

Just go to Amazon.com and type in my name- Doris Edsell.

Take care,

Namaste,

Doris

Christian Gonzalez
Christian Gonzalez

I believe thoroughly that yoga is exceptionally good for the body. Every morning at 5:45, I do Super Brain Yoga for 15 minutes. It really clears my mind, and It helps me concentrate more, and learn faster. It is my suggestion to you that you do Super Brain Yoga. 

Mary Apodaca
Mary Apodaca

I love seeing this woman stretching backwards. Yoga has too many positions that mimic what we all do dozens of times a day: reach forward. Reaching forward and then back up with something heavy contributes to sciatica.  

Susan Jewell MD
Susan Jewell MD

I have recently integrated yoga and meditation studies into the MarsCrew134 Analogue Astronaut expedition at Mars Desert Research Station, MDRS, using cutting-edge technologies, humanoid robotics and EEG head biosensors and AI,  The project is aimed at developing mitigation countermeasures for maintaining psychological health and wellness for long duration space missions and future colonization of off-world planets, such as Moon and Mars.

Brian Carey
Brian Carey

It's absolutely amazing how many benefits yoga has!

Gayna Uransky
Gayna Uransky

This is wonderful! Yoga has certainly changed My life. It should indeed be used in schools. I was able to stop biting my fingernails that had been bitten since almost birth. And have managed to keep them un-bitten now for 40 years! Best thing I ever did was to commit to doing yoga. And teaching it for 40 years now....

Peewee Sanchez
Peewee Sanchez

@mavlankar triveni Yoga is a science that predates Hinduism by several thousand years. The oldest archeological evidence of Yoga comes from the sites at Harappa and Mohenjo Daro - and there is no evidence of Hindu Gods in the artifacts unearthed, although there is evidence of yoga. When Sita-Rama, Hanuman and Krishna walked the earth, yoga was already being practiced by the sages. Finially not all Hindus know how to do yoga since it was only available to the Brahmin Caste. Even now in India, not all Indian Hindus know alot about yoga.

kumar vasist
kumar vasist

I believe Yoga is not connected to a religion.  There was no country known as India or perhaps a religion called Hinduism then.  It is a mistake to identify the practice with religion.  This human learning is universal.  Coming out of practice with focus is to attain higher human values and peace. 

RIDHI KALE
RIDHI KALE

@Param Swami With all due respect - the word Hindu was actually given by the Persians. Yoga was propounded when we followed the Vedic Philosophy. Tht was not religion. To quote Yogi Ashwini, "Yoga is not bound by, age, diet, religion or caste. Yoga sets you free." It is a perfect science; yes it is part of our cultural heritage; but to call it a religion, to bind it by it would be wrong.  

GlobalVision Tours
GlobalVision Tours

@Param Swami   I never think Yoga is a part of Hinduism. People thinking so, because this lifestyle was created by Hindu monks. Also Ayurveda is taking as same by people. We need to change this attitude. 

craig hill
craig hill

@Param Swami  Hinduism is but one vehicle to Union/Yoga/Yoke. There are many Yogas, some not even essentially physical. All lead to the same end: Union and peace with, and acceptance of, one's universe.

RIDHI KALE
RIDHI KALE

@Xiang Li That's a great thought Xiang Li. If you have time you can go through dhyanfoundation.com it teaches yoga the way it was taught thousands of years ago. I myself have been healed thanks to them. But there is really more to yoga that just healing - tht is  a by-product.  :) 

RIDHI KALE
RIDHI KALE

@Susan Jewell MD That sound's really interesting, Being a member-volunteer with Dhayn Foundation (www.dhaynfoundation.com) dedicated to spreading the msg of Yoga the way it was taught. Do let me know if there is any way we can help. You can also mail me at dhyan@dhyanfoundation.com or share your email id.

R Hite
R Hite

@Susan Jewell MD  

Dear Dr.Jewell, Are you familiar with using sensory nerve energy pulses alternating across the hemispheres to reduce symptoms of trauma, reduce capillary constriction, relax chronic tension and pain signals from muscle?

Nic Parton
Nic Parton

@Susan Jewell MD I would love to stay abreast of your work, please provide a link or resources for more information? Thanks!

RIDHI KALE
RIDHI KALE

@kumar vasist I agree Kumar. Yoga is a science a 100%, perfect science. You might find where I go to learn Yoga www.dhyanfoundation.com interesting. 

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