Yoga: What Every Woman Needs To Know
By: Sabrina K. Sikka, MD Posted on August 14, 2017
Yoga: Beneficial for the Mind and Body
Before I started residency, I enrolled in a yoga teacher-training program in my hometown of Minneapolis, MN. Not knowing what I was stepping into, I eagerly attended my first class, rolled out my mat, and began to embrace the beauty of the practice. Since then, my journey has continued and I have seen both growth and evolution in nearly all facets of my life. I have been able to witness firsthand the benefits that yoga has on the body, both physically and mentally. Just 4 years into my training, I remain a strong advocate for consistent practice for all of my patients for its many health benefits.
5 ways that Yoga can improve your overall health
1. Yoga for Anxiety
Anxiety is the most common form of mental illness in the U.S. Affecting nearly 40 million adults, women are two times more likely to be affected by anxiety than men. Yoga therapy focuses on a mind-body connection through controlled breathing and mindfulness. Research suggests that those who incorporate the same mindfulness they have on their mat into their regular lives have less day-to-day anxiety. Similarly, yoga has been said to increase levels of GABA in the brain, a neurotransmitter whose levels are directly correlated to the following:
Yoga also helps to improve body awareness and fosters self-compassion, which can in turn lead to greater self-acceptance. Those who use yoga as a means to control their emotions have been shown to have an overall better quality of life. Additionally, there have been several reports that propose that weekly yoga therapy can even help improve ailments such as:
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
For the several individuals that are affected by anxiety, yoga therapy remains a worthwhile alternative for managing anxiety, stress and depression.
2. Yoga for Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a common condition in women in which there is a decrease in the density and quality of bone. Typically, a woman will reach peak bone mass by 30, and are able to maintain this for several years. Unfortunately, more rapid bone loss is seen at age 50, or when a women transitions into menopause. Some studies show that yoga, because it is a low impact exercise, can increase the density of bones. One study showed women who had already diagnosed osteoporosis or osteopenia who had completed 12 minutes of yoga a day had an increase in their bone mineral density as seen on DXA scans. Additionally, yoga works to:
- Improve balance
- Strengthen muscles around painful joints
- Increase flexibility, thereby reducing fracture risk.
Most all women should be taking 2,000iu of Vitamin D3 per day in addition to getting adequate dietary calcium to help build stronger bones. Yoga in combination with daily vitamin D3, can help slow the progression of bone loss in postmenopausal women.
3. Yoga for Sleep
If there is one thing everyone in this world needs, it’s adequate sleep. Many women, particularly during the menopausal transition can suffer from significant sleep disturbance for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s due to increased hot flashes, stress, or physical irritation, all of these things have an equal negative effect on the quality of sleep. Because yoga promotes meditation and controlled breathing, it can be used to relax the mind and promote mental clarity.
Preliminary studies suggest performing yoga before bedtime can improve total sleep time and overall sleep efficiency. Other studies show that daily Bikram yoga, also known as heated yoga, can improve the overall quality of sleep by reducing the number of nighttime awakenings. We all need an ample amount of sleep to survive and yoga can certainly help us achieve that by helping us lead more productive and healthy lives.
4. Yoga for Weight Loss
Many people believe that yoga as a primary form of exercise won’t make you lose weight because it doesn’t torch calories quite like other aerobic exercises. The reality is that yoga can help you lose weight in a more “non-conventional way.”
As we have said before, yoga promotes body awareness, meaning if you are more aware of your body you will likely be more particular of what you put in it. As we age, our metabolism slows and our muscle mass decreases. Yoga can help to build muscle, which can in turn lead an increased basal metabolic rate – or the amount of calories you burn at rest at any given time. In fact, a recent narrative review assessing yoga intervention proves that regular yoga practice is a suitable method for weight maintenance and for the prevention of obesity. Am I saying that yoga is the magic recipe for weight loss? No, as there is NO simple magic recipe for weight loss; however, yoga will help enhance your body composition and make you stronger and more flexible.
5. Yoga for Cardiovascular Disease
The incidence of heart disease increases as we age. However, women are far more susceptible to developing it after menopause. Whether it’s due to the loss of estrogen or the changes in overall lifestyle in a woman’s midlife, the risks of cardiovascular disease are severe enough to make it the number one cause of death in women.
The Framingham Risk Score (FRS) is a gender specific calculation that many physicians use to evaluate an individual’s 10-year risk for developing cardiovascular disease. A study published in the 2017 Journal for Alternative Complementary Medicine looked at the effects of yoga over a 2-week span in those who were high risk for cardiovascular disease. They saw that just 2 weeks, or a minimum of 10 yoga sessions, had significant impact in reducing the risk score and cholesterol. Other studies suggest that regular yoga practice may have potential to reduce blood pressure as well. Yoga, or other exercise, coupled with proper nutrition and diet, may greatly reduce your risk for developing heart disease.
It’s clear that yoga has some clear benefits and can dramatically improve your quality of life. Yoga can best be viewed as an excellent adjuvant to your daily life – as women, we need to be more aware of how our bodies change over time and be mindful of the decisions we make. Be sure to optimize health to its full potential and work with your women’s health physician to achieve this.
So, grab your yoga mat and…
Be Strong. Be Healthy. Be In Charge!
-Sabrina K. Sikka, MD
- Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause