7 health benefits of yoga

Yoga was once the preserve of hippies and gurus but no longer. Community centres, village halls and gyms up and down the country offer an abundance of yoga-related classes. What's more, with the advent of online classes you can be 'Ommm-ing' your way to health in the comfort of your own home. So if you were considering trying your hand at a downward dog or needed a nudge to embrace your inner yogi, this may help.

1. Anxiety and depression

The beneficial effects of yoga on anxiety and depression have been known for many years. It is thought that the positive results are due to the combination of both mindfulness and physical exertion. Recent studies looking at yoga and symptoms of anxiety have also been encouraging, especially for specific conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Self-help methods for managing mental health conditions are popular, and yoga is certainly a technique worth exploring.

2. Lower back pain

For many years yoga enthusiasts have self-treated back pain with yoga, but only now have these methods hit the mainstream. In 2012 the results of a large study carried out by The Arthritis Research Council and University of York were published. The research suggested that patients who practised regular yoga experienced less pain and had improved movement. Since more sick days are lost each year due to musculoskeletal problems than any other condition, perhaps more of us should try rolling our yoga mats out once in a while.

3. High blood pressure

The effects of yoga on blood pressure are now starting to make headlines and, it would seem, with good reason. It is thought that the combination of both physical and meditative exercise can reduce stress, weight and heart rate, all of which have a bearing on blood pressure. Although for most people yoga won't replace medication, it certainly may go some way towards controlling high blood pressure.

4. Type 2 diabetes

You can barely open a newspaper nowadays without reading about the type 2 diabetes epidemic we are facing. It is well understood that type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes can often be avoided by changes to lifestyle, and research suggests that incorporating yoga into the mix is highly beneficial. Yoga has been proven to reduce both weight and waist circumference, as well as resulting in more controlled blood sugars. A win:win situation.

5. Asthma

The breathing techniques which are the mainstay of yoga practice can be helpful for patients with asthma. Some studies have shown that yoga can improve lung function, as well as reducing the risk of asthma attacks. The science is still unclear as to why this may happen but it could in part be due to the stress-busting effects of yoga.

6. Irritable bowel syndrome

The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can become overwhelming for some, causing a plethora of symptoms. Research suggests that regular yoga practice can not only reduce the frequency of bowel symptoms but also the severity of symptoms. It may be worth a try if other methods, such as adjusting your diet, have failed to help.

7. Wellbeing

As with many forms of exercise, yoga often results in a general feeling of wellbeing. It's hard to quantify the benefits of this but it does appear to help promote not only good mental health, but good physical health too. 'Namaste' to that I say.

Dr Jessica Garner is a GP and health blogger. Visit her blog here.