There have been a few interesting articles in the press in the last couple of weeks about yoga and its benefits, which, for the sceptical amongst us, are linked to scientific research.
I often hear people say, “I couldn’t possibly do yoga, I’m not flexible enough” or “It’s for young bendy people, not people like me”. Well, the The Daily Telegraph ran an article called “Mind and body secrets of the silver yogi set” (20 June 2016), outlining that yoga is soaring in popularity among the over-fifties, termed the silver yogis, as it is now being shown to boost memory, improve heart health, eliminate back pain and help you stay slim!
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that a three month course of yoga and meditation was more effective than brain training exercises for minimising age-related memory loss. Another study found it could improve sleep in breast cancer survivors who had an average age of 54.
Yoga is also a great way to stay fit and remain supple, but also acts on our parasympathetic nervous system, which can help with stress, anxiety and depression. If you’re lucky enough not to have to deal with such issues in your life, it can still bring about a state of calm and wellbeing, to keep you centred and well-balanced, mentally and emotionally.
A 2014 systematic review of yoga and cardiovascular disease published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology showed that yoga may help lower heart disease as effectively as conventional exercise such as brisk walking as it reduces stress, a big contributor to heart disease. Stress hormones raise blood pressure and heart rate, which can increase the likelihood of blood clots.
Yoga has been included in an NHS primary care trust’s rehabilitation programme for back pain by Sarah Shone, a musculoskeletal physiotherapist and yoga teacher, and 87% of participants reported a reduction in their pain. NICE now recommend yoga and stretching as useful forms of exercise for lower back pain. It has also been shown to help incontinence at bay, because it targets the muscles of the pelvic floor. It is also a weight bearing form of exercise so can help increase bone density.
The battle against Alzheimer’s disease is being taken a stage further, according to the The Times on 4 July 2016, with British people being amongst the first to try a customised recovery plan that has been shown in early trials to reverse memory loss. The 36 point treatment (the Bredesen protocol, named after Dale Bredesen, University of California) uses lifestyle changes, such as fasting, yoga and moderate exercise to reverse underlying factors behind the condition. There is no current drug to halt this disease in its tracks and, despite the fact that critics argue the evidence to far is inconsistent, doctors on both sides of the Atlantic are gearing up to recruit up to 200 patients for “pre-trials”.
If you have read this far, you may be wondering about the relevance of the photograph at the start. As you can see, it’s an elephant which is one of several in Udaipur over-looking the lake city. Elephants are famed for their long memories, so, if you ponder a moment on the beauty of this wonderful city, perhaps you will consider (and remember) that yoga may have something to offer you, your body, your mind and your spirit.
If you’re over fifty, remember that it’s definitely not too late to start and, if you’ve not yet reached that milestone, why wait?
© Sarah Swan (July 2016)