When it comes to how yoga can improve your health, there’s no shortage of reading material. But Timothy McCall isn’t just any writer – as medical editor of the Yoga Journal, he’s investigated and experienced the healing powers of yoga first hand (and wants you to, too).
Before heading to India to research a story on yoga therapy in 2002, McCall developed a nerve blockage that caused numbness/tingling in his hand. He decided to make himself a guinea pig on his trip, to see if – and how – yoga could help his symptoms. From targeted breathing exercises to specific postures, he found all of the therapies useful, and went home symptom free.
The experience inspired McCall to think about how yoga – i.e., strengthening and awareness exercises, visualizations and practices designed to change the body for the better – really works. As it became clear that there are “dozens of different tools in the yoga toolbox, which work in a variety of different ways,” he turned to science to help explain how yoga can prevent disease and facilitate recovery from illness.
You can download and read McCall’s fascinating article here, or check out a very condensed version of his 50 remarkable findings below:
Musculoskeletal: Yoga’s positive effects on the physical body come primarily from movements that increase flexibility, strengthen muscles, nourish joints, encourage weight loss, improve posture, boost oxygen delivery to cells, lower blood pressure – and lower stress – and more. The practice of asanas or postures can also prevent medical conditions (heart disease, depression) and complement their treatment.
Nervous System: New technology such as functional MRI scans and more sensitive measurements of brain waves are increasing our understanding of how yoga works – i.e., how it can actually help balance the nervous system, build awareness of muscular tension, provide respite from sensory overload and even change activity in the brain.
Organ Function: Yoga seems to help a number of organs and systems in the body operate better, and this includes immune, lung, brain and bowel function. The meditation and stress-reduction aspects offered by yoga have the strongest scientific support in this area to date.
Psychological/Spiritual: From quieting the mind to helping the practitioner to find spiritual meaning, yoga has a number of benefits that can improve health by reducing mental tension, encouraging community involvement, increasing willpower, self-awareness and self-esteem, reducing anger and hostility, encouraging spiritual growth, improving relationships and taking ownership in your own healing.
And More: In addition to all of the above, McCall found (and science has shown) yoga to cut mouth breathing and promote healthier breathing through the nose, improve sleep, relieve pain and lower the need for medication. Amazing!