All You Should Know Before You Start Yoga

The World Of Yoga

Table of Contents



The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root Yuj, which means “to join” or “to yoke”.

In the practice of Yoga, the ultimate aim is one of self-development and self-realization.

Yoga is a practical aid, not a religionYoga is an ancient art based on a harmonizing system of development for the body, mind, and spirit. Yoga is an intuitional science that teaches individuals the art of merging with the cosmic spirit. The Sage Patañjali defined yoga as “the stilling of the movement of thought in the mind” in order to “know the true self”. Although, Upanishads crystalized the teachings of Yoga. But around 250 BC a remarkable philosopher Sage Patanjali delineated the quest of yoga in what has become known as the Patañjali Yoga Sūtra. This articulation of yoga became established as one of the six orthodox philosophies of Hinduism.  These sutras hold meaning for us when the perennial questions about what we are, what our existence is, whether it has any meaning at all, arise anew. The word sūtra means “thread”: we reach for that thread to navigate the abyss and reach for the deep, in search of our “complete” self. The very first word of these sūtras is “atha”, meaning “now”. It is a word that is also a symbol, something sacred, something pregnant with meaning: it was the now in which the Sage Patañjali delivered its message; it is the now in which I contact that teaching; it is the now of my readiness to be open and receptive to it – and when I am, that is yoga. He had adopted an even more ancient philosophy that held that while the idea of “I”, the socially constructed self, was a mirage – behind it, masked by it, was an immanent and universal “self” worth the search. Yoga is a means whereby that search is made.

In the centuries that followed, yoga became the sap nourishing the mighty tree of Hinduism, flowing into every branch of its rich philosophy while always remaining rooted in the Vedas. So, is the well-toned figure sweating it out on the yoga mat doing yoga? Yes, by using the body the yogi trains the attention to handle the perennial questions. But the person walking their dog beside the river and contemplating the truth behind the self, life, and death, is also doing yoga. The beauty of yoga is that it meets us wherever we are and then invites us to continue the exploration – like young Nachiketas, the seeker in the Katha Upanishad, questioning even death.

Then, in 1893, at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, a fiery, saffron-clad Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, stood up and began his brief speech with the address: “Brothers and sisters of America … ”, bringing the audience to its feet for a two-minute standing ovation. Vedic philosophy had burst upon the west, bringing yoga with it – and they embraced it. Swami Venkatesananda, a great modern philosopher described yoga as: “Yoga is all those practices that enable us to discover health – which is not the absence of the symptoms of sickness, but which is wholeness and holiness, an inner state of being in which there is no division at all.”

Now, as ever, we live poised at the edge of an abyss, not knowing what the next moment will bring. And in this age of the ascendancy of science, that edge has grown closer – and the abyss deeper – in our consciousness: we are a “biological accident”, so nearly not, and yet here we are, crying out like the poet Rabindranath Tagore: “When should I find myself complete in myself?”

Humans are explorers by nature and have always been peering into the veil of death. We as humans have always asked questions such as “What is all this?” and “Where did it all come from?”, and, most maddening of all, “Who am I?” That, we can speculate, is how all religion, philosophy, and science were born. That is how yoga was born in ancient India.

 From the 18th century onwards, as India was colonized, yoga traveled to Europe and academics took to translating its many texts into their own languages. Despite its global travel, it remains all that we do to still the mind in order to know the true and universal self. But when traditional yoga reached Western shores in the late nineteenth century, it was gradually stripped of its spiritual orientation and remodeled into fitness training. Most modern practitioners know nothing about moral disciplines. They show little or no interest in meditation. The idea of a guru is foreign, even alien, to them, and they consider the concept of liberation outlandish if they are even familiar with it.


Yoga means union of the mind, body, and spirit with the Divine or cosmic spirit and while this refers to a certain state of consciousness both individual and Universal, it is also a method to help one reach that goal.  Yoga, derived from Tantra focusses on the struggle to develop insight and power to overcome all obstacles, internal and external, in individual and collective life. All practitioners of yoga must be adept at handling conflict, internal as well as external. 

The first is a subjective approach with objective adjustment.  This means to seek the guidance of inner spirit first and then to use that insight to meet the demands of the external world.  The opposite often occurs, where individuals seek guidance from outside first and then listen to their inner self later often causing great distress, because the self has been compromised by following the wrong advice, predominantly the voice of someone else or a group, not the voice of authenticity, integrity, and conscience.

The second teaching is to understand dharma and to follow it.  Dharma means characteristic.  The dharma of fire is to burn; the dharma of water is to flow. The dharma of an animal is to eat, to sleep, to reproduce, and to seek safety from threatening situations. The dharma of a human being is to expand on all levels (vistara), to merge with the Cosmic Flow (rasa), to serve all creatures (tapah), and to become established (tad stithih) in these above three traits until they become second nature. Since human beings possess animal dharma, they must struggle to control it and to guide it along the path of human dharma.  The real struggle often occurs inside, coming to grips with animal dharma.

 The third teaching is that all yoga instruction should be given amidst nature, as free as the sun and the air.

 The fourth teaching is that morality is the base, meditation is the means, and liberation is the goal.

 The base contains ten simple teachings, divided into two parts.  The first five are Yama, meaning to control, and the second five are Niyama, meaning to cultivate.


1.  Ahimsa –  Minimizing violence in thought, word and deed.  If attacked, use the least amount of force needed to thwart the attacker.  Do not injure or kill unless absolutely necessary.
2.  Satya –  Thinking and speaking with benevolence.  Keep your mind attached to Truth and Kindness.
3.  Asteya – Respecting the property of others, and not stealing–actually or mentally–from others or yourself.
4.  Brahmacarya –  Recognizing and honoring the spirit of all life forms.
5.  Aparigraha – Detaching from luxuries and donating any extra wealth to charity.


1. Shoaca –   Striving to become clean physically and mentally, avoiding self-obsession.
2. Santosa –  Being content with your lot, even in adversity, while working to improve it with diligence, patience, and grace.
3. Tapah –   Serving all creatures, including your own soul, without expectation of reward.
4. Svadhyaya – Systematic study of scripture to grasp its real and often hidden meaning.
5. Ishvara pranidhana – Accepting the shelter of Cosmic Consciousness and meditating upon It.

The goal of yoga is to unite the mind, which is unruly by nature with Cosmic Spirit.  Rendering service to all creatures, while seeking liberation is considered the correct way of fulfillment of this goal. Good company (satsanga) is essential to follow a yogic lifestyle, as well as to maintain it successfully.  We are surrounded by many depraving forces, and if we are overwhelmed by them, our best intentions will be ground into nothing.


A 3,000-year-old tradition, yoga, is now regarded in the Western world as a holistic approach to health and is classified by the National Institutes of Health as a form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).

Today, many people identify yoga only with asana, the physical practice of yoga, but asana is just one of the many tools used for healing the individual; only three of the 196 sutras mention asana and the remainder of the text discusses the other components of yoga including conscious breathing, meditation, lifestyle and diet changes, visualization and the use of sound, among many others. In Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlines an eightfold path to awareness and enlightenment called ashtanga, which literally means “eight limbs”.

The eight limbs are comprised of ethical principles for living a meaningful and purposeful life; serving as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline, they direct attention towards one’s health while acknowledging the spiritual aspects of one’s nature. Any of the eight limbs may be used separately, but within yoga philosophy, the physical postures and breathing exercises prepare the mind and body for meditation and spiritual development.

Each has its own technique for preventing and treating disease. In the Western world, the most common aspects of yoga practiced are the physical postures and breathing practices of Hatha yoga and meditation. Hatha yoga enhances the capacity of the physical body through the use of a series of body postures, movements (asanas), and breathing techniques (pranayama). The breathing techniques of Hatha yoga focus on conscious prolongation of inhalation, breath retention, and exhalation. It is through the unification of the physical body, breath, and concentration while performing the postures and movements that blockages in the energy channels of the body are cleared and the body energy system becomes more balanced. 

Four basic principles underlie the teachings and practices of yoga’s healing system.

The First principle is the human body is a holistic entity comprised of various interrelated dimensions inseparable from one another and the health or illness of any one dimension affects the other dimensions.

The Second principle is individuals and their needs are unique and therefore must be approached in a way that acknowledges this individuality and their practice must be tailored accordingly.

 The Third principle is yoga is self-empowering; the student is his or her own healer. Yoga engages the student in the healing process; by playing an active role in their journey toward health, the healing comes from within, instead of from an outside source and a greater sense of autonomy are achieved.

The Fourth principle is that the quality and state of an individuals’ mind is crucial to healing. When the individual has positive mind-state healing happens more quickly, whereas if the mind-state is negative, healing may be prolonged.

As participation rates in mind-body fitness programs such as yoga continue to increase, it is important for health care professionals to be informed about the nature of yoga and the evidence of its many therapeutic effects. Thus, this review of the literature is timely and important and provides information regarding the therapeutic effects of yoga in various populations concerning a multitude of different ailments and conditions.


Yoga is a form of mind-body fitness that involves a combination of muscular activity and an internally directed mindful focus on awareness of the self, the breath, and energy. Yoga, an ancient practice and meditation, has become increasingly popular in today’s busy society. For many people, yoga provides a retreat from their chaotic and busy lives. This is true whether you’re practicing downward facing dog posture on a mat in your bedroom, in an ashram in India or anywhere else in the world. Yoga provides many other mental and physical benefits. Some of these extend to the kitchen table.

 The continued practice of yoga leads one to a sense of peace and well-being, and also a feeling of being at one with their environment. The practice of yoga makes the body strong and flexible; it also improves the functioning of the respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and hormonal systems. Yoga brings about emotional stability and clarity of mind. Think of this practice as being the means and tools to realign and rebalance your vehicle (body) on a regular basis. You take control and you can then become your body mechanic instead of having to pay someone else to do it (medical professionals). Because your body is finely tuned you will find that your chances for injuries and illnesses will drop as you are in a much more attuned state.

Yoga also is rapidly emerging in the Western world as a discipline for integrating the mind and body into union and harmony, when adopted as a way of life, yoga improves physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual health. Yoga offers an effective method of managing and reducing stress, anxiety and depression and numerous studies demonstrate the efficacy of yoga on mood-related disorders. Researchers are only beginning to understand how disciplines such as yoga promote personal growth, health, and well-being. By acknowledging the unity of mind, body, and spirit, mind-body fitness programs (i.e. yoga) can assist people in their pursuit of peace, calmness, and greater wholeness and integration in their lives. Health care professionals, health educators and the like, need to be aware of the potential of yoga as an important component of a personal wellness plan. Yoga is a personalized practice and as such, frequency and duration are personal questions with individual answers. Practice should happen with wisdom and should be modified to meet individual needs and goals. Individuals should practice as often as possible, especially in the beginning. 

Therapeutic yoga is defined as the application of yoga postures and practice to the treatment of health conditions and involves instruction in yogic practices and teachings to prevent reduce or alleviate structural, physiological, emotional and spiritual pain, suffering or limitations. Results from this study show that yogic practices enhance muscular strength and body flexibility, promote and improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, promote recovery from and treatment of addiction, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, improve sleep patterns, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life with regular practice of yoga promotes strength, endurance, flexibility and facilitates characteristics of friendliness, compassion, and greater self-control, while cultivating a sense of calmness and well-being. The sustained practice also leads to important outcomes such as changes in life perspective, self-awareness and an improved sense of energy to live life fully and with genuine enjoyment. The practice of yoga produces a physiological state opposite to that of the flight-or-fight stress response and with that interruption in the stress response, a sense of balance and union between the mind and body can be achieved.

Yoga in its full form combines physical postures, breathing exercises, meditation, and a distinct philosophy. There are numerous styles of yoga. Hatha yoga, commonly practiced in the Western world, emphasizes postures, breathing exercises, and meditation.


Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, stress, and insomnia are among the most common reasons for individuals to seek treatment with complementary therapies such as yoga. Yoga encourages one to relax, slow the breath and focus on the present, shifting the balance from the sympathetic nervous system and the flight-or-fight response to the parasympathetic system and the relaxation response. The latter is calming and restorative; it lowers breathing and heart rate, decreases blood pressure, lowers cortisol levels, and increases blood flow to the intestines and vital organs.

One of the main goals of yoga is to achieve tranquility of the mind and create a sense of well-being, feelings of relaxation, improved self-confidence, improved efficiency, increased attentiveness, lowered irritability, and an optimistic outlook on life. The practice of yoga generates balanced energy which is vital to the function of the immune system. Yoga leads to an inhibition of the posterior or sympathetic area of the hypothalamus. This inhibition optimizes the body’s sympathetic responses to stressful stimuli and restores autonomic regulatory reflex mechanisms associated with stress. Yogic practices inhibit the areas responsible for fear, aggressiveness, and rage, and stimulate the rewarding pleasure centers in the median forebrain and other areas leading to a state of bliss and pleasure. This inhibition results in lower anxiety, heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and cardiac output in students practicing yoga and meditation.

Consistent yoga practice improves depression and can lead to significant increases in serotonin levels coupled with decreases in the levels of monoamine oxidase, an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters and cortisol. A range of therapeutic approaches is available for the management of depressive disorders, but many patients turn to complementary therapies due to the adverse effects of medication, lack of response or simply preference for the complementary approach. A number of studies demonstrate the potential beneficial effects of yoga interventions on depression, stress, and anxiety.

Improved flexibility is one of the first and most obvious benefits of yoga. With continued practice comes a gradual loosening of the muscles and connective tissues surrounding the bones and joints; this is thought to be one reason that yoga is associated with reduced aches and pains. Yoga helps to build muscle mass and/ or maintain muscle strength, which protects from conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis and back pain. During a yoga session, the joints are taken through their full range of motion, squeezing and soaking areas of cartilage not often used and bringing fresh nutrients, oxygen, and blood to the area, which helps to prevent conditions like arthritis and chronic pain. Without proper sustenance, neglected areas of cartilage will eventually wear out and expose the underlying bone. Numerous studies have shown that asana, meditation or a combination of the two reduced pain in people with arthritis, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, back pain, and other chronic conditions. Yoga also increases proprioception and improves balance.

Yoga increases blood flow and levels of hemoglobin and red blood cells which allows for more oxygen to reach the body cells, enhancing their function. Yoga also thins the blood which can decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke, as they are often caused by blood clots. Twisting poses wring out venous blood from internal organs and allow oxygenated blood to flow in when the twist is released. Inverted poses encourage venous blood flow from the legs and pelvis back to the heart and then pumped through the lungs where it becomes freshly oxygenated. Many studies show yoga lowers the resting heart rate, increases endurance, and can improve the maximum uptake and utilization of oxygen during exercise. Consistently getting the heart rate into aerobic range lowers the risk of a heart attack. While not all yoga is aerobic, even yoga exercises that do not increase heart rate into the aerobic range can improve cardiovascular functioning.

While yoga is not a cure for cancer, nor a definitive way of preventing it, yoga increases physical, emotional and spiritual wellness, and brings about a certain peace, of which many cancer patients desire. Yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation can reduce stress, promote healing, and enhance the quality of life for patients with cancer. The growth of tumors and other cancer indicators are exacerbated by stress, thus it is especially important for people with cancer to reduce and manage stress effectively. Several premises exist as a rationale for applying yoga-based interventions with cancer patients. Research suggests that yoga can produce an invigorating effect on mental and physical energy that improves fitness and reduces fatigue. Additionally, when practicing yoga, a fundamental emphasis is placed on accepting one’s moment-to-moment experiences creating mindfulness and not forcing the body past its comfortable limits. Having this healthy sense of acceptance is especially important for individuals dealing with life-threatening illness as it decreases the stress one experiences from unpleasant symptomology. Initially, cancer patients likely benefit from the poses themselves which are designed to exercise each and every muscle, nerve, and gland throughout the body.

 The postures precisely address the tension, holding, and blockage of energy in any particular joint or organ. As this tension is released, energy flows more readily throughout the body and allows patients to experience a sense of increased well-being and strength as well as a balance of mind, body, and spirit.

While stimulation is good, too many taxes the nervous system and yoga provide relief from excess stimulation and the stressors and hectic nature of modern life. Restorative postures, savasana, pranayama, and meditation encourage pratyahara, a turning inward of the senses which enables downtime for the nervous system, the byproduct often being improved sleep. Pharmacological treatment of insomnia is often associated with hazardous side effects such as states of confusion, psychomotor performance deficits, nocturnal falls, dysphoric mood, impaired intellectual functioning and daytime sleepiness, especially in older adults. Therefore, alternative forms of therapy for improving sleep are becoming utilized more frequently. These alternative therapeutic approaches can be generally classified into three categories: behavioral-based educative methods (e.g. avoiding caffeine or other stimulants before bedtime), relaxation techniques (e.g. progressive muscular relaxation, yoga, and meditation) and formal psychotherapy. Because of its ability to increase relaxation and induce a balanced mental state, yoga has been studied to evaluate its possible effects on sleep and insomnia.

In summary, stress has a negative impact on the immune system and prolonged exposure increases susceptibility to disease and leads to physical and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Practicing yoga and meditation as a means to manage and relieve both acute and chronic stress helps individuals overcome other co-morbidities associated with diseases and leads to increased quality of life. As a non-pharmacological form of treatment, yoga-based interventions are an alternative option for the treatment of mood disorders. Further investigation of yoga as a therapeutic intervention in depressive disorders is needed and future studies should seek to identify which of the yoga-based interventions is most effective and what levels of severity of depression are more likely to respond to this approach.

In addition to the effects of yoga on mood disorders and stress reduction, yogic practices are shown to improve cardiorespiratory performance, psychological profile, and plasma melatonin levels and also significantly reduced systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, mean arterial pressure, and orthostatic tolerance. Furthermore, yoga helps to improve cardiovascular efficiency and homeostatic control of the body and results in improvements in autonomic balance, respiratory performance, and overall well-being. Yoga-based lifestyle modifications were also shown to aid in the regression of coronary lesions as well as to improve myocardial perfusion in patients with CAD. Inevitably, cardiovascular parameters alter as one age, but these age-related deteriorations in cardiovascular functions are slower in persons who practice yoga regularly as yoga practitioners had lower heart rate as well as lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure than matched controls.

Numerous studies show that asana, meditation or a combination of the two can reduce pain and disability while improving flexibility and functional mobility in people with a number of conditions causing chronic pain. Additionally, in some cases-use of pain medication was reduced or eliminated completely. Yoga was also shown to improve gait function and reduce age-related changes in gait among a group of healthy, non-obese elders.

Regarding yoga’s effects for cancer patients, results show a decrease in post-chemotherapy-induced nausea frequency, nausea intensity, the intensity of anticipatory nausea, and anticipatory vomiting. Additionally, yoga subjects reported decreased anxiety, depression, and distressful symptoms and also showed significantly reduced toxicity scores compared to the controls. Results from another study showed patients experienced significantly lower levels of pain and fatigue, and higher levels of invigoration, acceptance, and relaxation following participation in a yoga intervention. Yoga, breathing exercises and meditation can reduce stress, promote healing, increase energy, decrease adverse treatment effects, and enhance quality-of-life for patients with cancer.

Yoga’s ability to increase relaxation and induce a balanced mental state was studied to evaluate its effect on sleep quality and improving insomnia. Regular practice of yoga resulted in a significant decrease in the time taken to fall asleep, an increase in the total number of hours slept, and in the feeling of being rested in the morning. Additionally, yoga had a positive influence on sleep patterns in individuals with lymphoma. Furthermore, participation in yoga classes improved self-reported quality-of-life as well as measures of physical function among an elderly population.

According to Buddhist philosophy, the roots of addiction are in the mind and the practice of mindful meditation encourages addicts to accept the basic impermanence of human experience and helps them to develop a detached awareness of thoughts. Yoga and meditation practices exert a positive influence on addictive behaviors. Through the practice of yoga, addicts shift from self-inflicted harm and disrespect toward their bodies to more respectful, caring, and loving behaviors. Eating disorders are a specific type of addiction and yoga appears to be beneficial in improving body image disturbances and useful in the recovery from eating disorders. One study found that female yoga practitioners attribute their positive feelings and sense of well-being to yoga practice and report less self-objectification, greater satisfaction with physical appearance and fewer disordered eating attitudes compared to non-yoga practitioners.

The findings of the aforementioned studies examining the psychological and physical outcomes of yoga prove difficult to summarize and draw concrete conclusions due to variation in the research designs, differences in the duration and frequency of yoga classes, and differences in the specific yoga programs and populations being studied. Nonetheless, results for the included studies demonstrate many of the numerous therapeutic effects, benefits and profound healing power of yoga.

Woodyard C.Int J Yoga. 2011 Jul;4(2):49-54. doi: 10.4103/0973-6131.85485.PMID:22022122


Meditation is a simple practice available to all, which can reduce stress, increase calmness and clarity and promote happiness. Learning how to meditate is straightforward, and the benefits can come quickly. Here, we offer basic tips to get you started on a path toward greater equanimity, acceptance, and joy.

Meditation is a highly personal practice. Once you’ve developed a practice that works for you, chances are that you’ll continue to hone that practice until you notice its benefits permeating your life. You’re likely to feel more balanced, less stressed, and more present and aware. In the early stages of our practice, however, many of us feel stuck, trying to get it just right.

There is no one way to “get it right,” and there are some common myths and misconceptions about meditation that may hinder you from progressing as smoothly or as quickly as you’d like. 

Many studies have been conducted to look at how meditation may be helpful for a variety of conditions, such as high blood pressure, certain psychological disorders, and pain. A number of studies also have helped researchers learn how meditation might work and how it affects the brain. Some research suggests that practicing meditation may reduce blood pressure, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression, and insomnia. Evidence about its effectiveness for pain and as a smoking-cessation treatment is uncertain. Meditation is generally considered to be safe for healthy people. However, people with physical limitations may not be able to participate in certain meditative practices involving movement.

Meditation is a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being. Mind and body practices focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior.

There are many types of meditation, but most have four elements in common: a quiet location with as few distractions as possible; a specific, comfortable posture (sitting, lying down, walking, or in other positions); a focus of attention (a specially chosen word or set of words, an object, or the sensations of the breath); and an open attitude (letting distractions come and go naturally without judging them).

Many studies have investigated meditation for different conditions, and there’s evidence that it may reduce blood pressure as well as symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and flare-ups in people who have had ulcerative colitis. It may ease symptoms of anxiety and depression and may help people with insomnia.


  • Research about meditation’s ability to reduce pain has produced mixed results. However, in some studies, scientists suggest that meditation activates certain areas of the brain in response to pain.
  • A small 2016 study funded in part by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) found that mindfulness meditation does help to control pain and doesn’t use the brain’s naturally occurring opiates to do so. This suggests that combining mindfulness with pain medications and other approaches that rely on the brain’s opioid activity may be particularly effective for reducing pain. Visit the NCCIH Web site for more information on this study.
  • In another 2016 NCCIH-funded study, adults aged 20 to 70 who had chronic low-back pain received either mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) training, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), or usual care. The MBSR and CBT participants had a similar level of improvement, and it was greater than those who got usual care, including long after the training ended. The researchers found that participants in the MBSR and CBT groups had greater improvement in functional limitation and back pain at 26 and 52 weeks compared with those who had usual care. There were no significant differences in outcomes between MBSR and CBT. Visit the NCCIH Web site for more information on this study.


Yoga can help relieve the agony of back pain, a major review of medical evidence found. NHS, UK

The review concluded there is evidence yoga may help improve function and relieve pain associated with chronic lower back pain in some people. 

The review looked at 12 studies that compared the effects of yoga with other treatments, such as physiotherapy, as well as no treatment. 

Researchers found yoga had some benefit for people with lower back pain compared with people who did no exercise for their back.

The results were less convincing for those who were already engaged in some other form of exercise.

Yoga includes the integration of physical poses and controlled breathing, sometimes also with meditation.

The results also demonstrated that a minority of participants had worse back pain after following a yoga regime, but the authors suggest this may be the same for any exercise.


  • The few studies that have looked at mindfulness meditation training for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) found no clear effects, the American College of Gastroenterology stated in a 2014 report. But the authors noted that given the limited number of studies, they can’t be sure that IBS doesn’t help.
  • Results of a 2011 NCCIH-funded trial that enrolled 75 women suggest that practicing mindfulness meditation for 8 weeks reduces the severity of IBS symptoms.
  • A 2013 review concluded that mindfulness training improved IBS patients’ pain and quality of life but not their depression or anxiety. The amount of improvement was small.


  • A 2014 literature review of 47 trials in 3,515 participants suggests that mindfulness meditation programs show moderate evidence of improving anxiety and depression. But the researchers found no evidence that meditation changed health-related behaviors affected by stress, such as substance abuse and sleep.
  • A 2012 review of 36 trials found that 25 of them reported better outcomes for symptoms of anxiety in the meditation groups compared to control groups.
  • In a small, NCCIH-funded study, 54 adults with chronic insomnia learned mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a form of MBSR specially adapted to deal with insomnia (mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia, or MBTI), or a self-monitoring program. Both meditation-based programs aided sleep, with MBTI providing a significantly greater reduction in insomnia severity compared with MBSR


  • The results of 13 studies of mindfulness-based interventions for stopping smoking had promising results regarding craving, smoking cessation, and relapse prevention, a 2015 research review found. However, the studies had many limitations.
  • Findings from a 2013 review suggest that meditation-based therapies may help people quit smoking; however, the small number of available studies is insufficient to determine rigorously if meditation is effective for this.
  • A 2011 trial comparing mindfulness training with a standard behavioral smoking cessation treatment found that individuals who received mindfulness training showed a greater rate of reduction in cigarette use immediately after treatment and at 17-week follow-up.
  • Results of a 2013 brain imaging study suggest that mindful attention reduced the craving to smoke, and also that it reduced activity in a craving-related region of the brain.
  • However, in a second 2013 brain imaging study, researchers observed that a 2-week course of meditation (5 hours total) significantly reduced smoking, compared with relaxation training, and that it increased activity in brain areas associated with craving.


  • Results from a 2011 NCCIH-funded study of 279 adults who participated in an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program found that changes in spirituality were associated with better mental health and quality of life.
  • Guidelines from the American College of Chest Physicians published in 2013 suggest that MBSR and meditation may help to reduce stress, anxiety, pain, and depression while enhancing mood and self-esteem in people with lung cancer.
  • Clinical practice guidelines issued in 2014 by the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIC) recommend meditation as supportive care to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue in patients treated for breast cancer. The SIC also recommends its use to improve the quality of life in these people.
  • Meditation-based programs may be helpful in reducing common menopausal symptoms, including the frequency and intensity of hot flashes, sleep and mood disturbances, stress, and muscle and joint pain. However, differences in study designs mean that no firm conclusions can be drawn.
  • Because only a few studies have been conducted on the effects of meditation for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), there isn’t sufficient evidence to support its use for this condition.
  • A 2014 research review suggested that mind and body practices, including meditation, reduce chemical identifiers of inflammation and show promise in helping to regulate the immune system.
  • Results from a 2013 NCCIH-supported study involving 49 adults suggest that 8 weeks of mindfulness training may reduce stress-induced inflammation better than a health program that includes physical activity, education about diet, and music therapy.


Some research suggests that meditation may physically change the brain and body and could potentially help to improve many health problems and promote healthy behaviors.

  • In a 2012 study, researchers compared brain images from 50 adults who meditate and 50 adults who don’t meditate. Results suggested that people who practiced meditation for many years have more folds in the outer layer of the brain. This process (called gyrification) may increase the brain’s ability to process information.
  • A 2013 review of three studies suggest that meditation may slow, stall, or even reverse changes that take place in the brain due to normal aging.
  • Results from a 2012 NCCIH-funded study suggest that meditation can affect activity in the amygdala (a part of the brain involved in processing emotions), and that different types of meditation can affect the amygdala differently even when the person is not meditating.
  • Research about meditation’s ability to reduce pain has produced mixed results. However, in some studies, scientists suggest that meditation activates certain areas of the brain in response to pain.


  • Meditation is generally considered to be safe for healthy people.
  • People with physical limitations may not be able to participate in certain meditative practices involving movement. People with physical health conditions should speak with their health care providers before starting a meditative practice, and make their meditation instructor aware of their condition.
  • There have been rare reports that meditation could cause or worsen symptoms in people with certain psychiatric problems like anxiety and depression. People with existing mental health conditions should speak with their health care providers before starting a meditative practice, and make their meditation instructor aware of their condition.
  • Don’t use meditation to replace conventional care or as a reason to postpone seeing a health care provider about a medical problem.
  • Ask about the training and experience of the meditation instructor you are considering.
  • Tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care. National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health, USA, Department of Health & Human Services


 2013 study presented at the 73rd Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association found restorative yoga burns subcutaneous fat and promotes weight loss in overweight women.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, assigned 171 clinically obese women either to a restorative yoga program or stretching sessions for 48 weeks. The yoga and stretching groups practiced twice weekly for the first 12 weeks, twice monthly for the next six months, and then on their own for three months. Subcutaneous (fat directly under the skin) and visceral (belly) fat measurements were obtained from the participants.

The researchers found the yoga group lost 34 square centimeters of subcutaneous fat, compared with 6 square centimeters for the stretch group. Furthermore, the yoga group lost more weight, an average of 1.7 kg, while the stretch group lost 0.7 kg.

According to the American Journal of Managed Care, “One explanation for the difference may be that restorative yoga reduces levels of cortisol, which rises during times of stress and is known to increase abdominal fat.”

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reports a short-term yoga program reduces weight and heart disease risk in overweight men.

Researchers assigned 51 overweight and obese men to supervised yoga practice for 10 days. The yoga-based lifestyle intervention program included yoga postures (asana), breathing exercises (pranayama), and lifestyle discussions.

After only 10 days, the researchers found a significant reduction in weight (an average of 1.9 kg) and BMI (an average of 0.57 kg/m(2)). Furthermore, there was a significant reduction in heart disease risk including lowered blood pressure, decreased inflammatory marker IL-6 and increased adiponectin (helps regulate glucose and fat metabolism). Inflammatory markers such as IL-6 are implicated in many chronic degenerative diseases such as heart disease.

Researches have been conducted to establish whether or not yoga helps in weight loss and reduces risks of obesity-related diseases. This narrative review assessed the quantity and quality of clinical trials of yoga as an intervention for weight loss or as a means of risk reduction or treatment for obesity and diseases in which obesity is a causal factor. This review summarized the studies’ research designs and evaluated the efficacy of yoga for weight loss via the current evidence base. The results of the research findings have been documented and the outcome was that overall, therapeutic yoga programs are frequently effective in promoting weight loss and/or improvements in body composition. The effectiveness of yoga for weight loss is related to the following key features: (1) an increased frequency of practice; (2) a longer intervention duration (3) a yogic dietary component; (4) a residential component; (5) the comprehensive inclusion of yogic components; (5) and a home-practice component. Thus the conclusion of the research reveals that Yoga appears to be an appropriate and potentially successful intervention for weight maintenance, prevention of obesity, and risk reduction for diseases in which obesity plays a significant causal role. Rioux JG, Ritenbaugh C. Altern Ther Health Med. 2013 May-Jun;19(3):32-46. Review. PMID:23709458

Yoga focuses on pranayamas (breath-controlled exercises). These are followed by a series of asanas (yoga postures), which end with savasana (a resting period). The principles of yoga allow its practitioners to focus on body and mind in a different way and the regime promotes weight loss through the indulgence of the following :

A Better Body Image

Yoga develops inner awareness. It focuses your attention on your body’s abilities at the present moment. It helps develop breath and strength of mind and body. It’s not about physical appearance.

Yoga studios typically don’t have mirrors. This is so people can focus their awareness inward rather than how a pose — or the people around them — looks. Surveys have found that those who practiced yoga were more aware of their bodies than people who didn’t practice yoga. They were also more satisfied with and less critical of their bodies. For these reasons, yoga has become an integral part of the treatment of eating disorders and programs that promote positive body image and self-esteem.

Becoming A Mindful Eater

Mindfulness refers to focusing your attention on what you are experiencing in the present moment without judging yourself.

Practicing yoga has been shown to increase mindfulness not just in class, but in other areas of a person’s life.

Researchers describe mindful eating as a nonjudgmental awareness of the physical and emotional sensations associated with eating. They developed a questionnaire to measure mindful eating using these behaviors:

  • Eating even when full (disinhibition)
  • Being aware of how the food looks, tastes and smells
  • Eating in response to environmental cues, such as the sight or smell of food
  • Eating when sad or stressed (emotional eating)
  • Eating when distracted by other things

The researchers found that people who practiced yoga were more mindful eaters according to their scores. Both years of yoga practice and the number of minutes of practice per week were associated with better mindful eating scores. Practicing yoga helps you be more aware of how your body feels. This heightened awareness can carry over to mealtime as you savor each bite or sip, and note how food smells, tastes and feels in your mouth.

A Boost to Weight Loss and Maintenance

People who practice yoga and are mindful eaters are more in tune with their bodies. They may be more sensitive to hunger cues and feelings of fullness.

Researchers found that people who practiced yoga for at least 30 minutes once a week for at least four years, gained less weight during middle adulthood. People who were overweight actually lost weight. Overall, those who practiced yoga had lower body mass indexes (BMIs) compared with those who did not practice yoga. Researchers attributed this to mindfulness. Mindful eating can lead to a more positive relationship with food and eating.

Enhancing Fitness

Yoga is known for its ability to soothe tension and anxiety in the mind and body. But it can also have an impact on a person’s exercise capacity.

Researchers studied a small group of sedentary individuals who had not practiced yoga before. After eight weeks of practicing yoga at least twice a week for a total of 180 minutes, participants had greater muscle strength and endurance, flexibility and cardio-respiratory fitness.


Restorative yoga uses props, blankets, mats and bolsters to support the body, maximize stretch, and promote relaxation. Initially, yoga was practiced on the grass and then the skin of animals, but in a tropical or temperate climate where it’s either too hot or too cold to go out in the open and practice yoga on grass may not be an option. Early 20th-century yogis used towels and cotton mat-like sheets to support themselves, but in 1967, an English yoga instructor named Angela Farmer, improvised with a piece of foam carpet padding to create a makeshift mat. Her idea took off, and Farmer’s father contacted the carpet foam manufacturer to create retail yoga mats. Although, while yoga doesn’t require much equipment, a yoga mat is important for safety and improved performance.

It’s advisable to use Yoga Mats for traction, cushioning, grip and improved balance specially when attempting difficult postures. It is important to position oneself properly while attempting postures and keep the feet solidly planted on the ground. It is advisable to avoid wearing socks while doing yoga and if possible it’s very important to get a yoga mat which is multi-layered, soft and has a good grip on any kind of surface as well as it supports as a cushion for your body. Please make sure that you have a yoga mat that is your size and not shorter as it will cause imbalance while practicing yoga or any other form of exercise. Many are made of PVC, a type of plastic because it’s long-lasting and cleans easily. TPE, or thermoplastic elastomer, is another common yoga mat material which is a combination of rubber and plastic. However, Yoga mats are also crafted from natural materials, such as jute, natural rubber, and cotton. You need to choose the best for the environment you are in.


Current research suggests that a carefully adapted set of yoga poses may reduce low-back pain and improve function. Other studies also suggest that practicing yoga (as well as other forms of regular exercise) might improve quality of life; reduce stress; lower heart rate and blood pressure; help relieve anxiety, depression, and insomnia; and improve overall physical fitness, strength, and flexibility. But some research suggests yoga may not improve asthma, and studies looking at yoga and arthritis have had mixed results.

  • One NCCIH-funded study of 90 people with chronic low-back pain found that participants who practiced Iyengar yoga had significantly less disability, pain, and depression after 6 months.
  • In a 2011 study, also funded by NCCIH, researchers compared yoga with conventional stretching exercises or a self-care book in 228 adults with chronic low-back pain. The results showed that both yoga and stretching were more effective than a self-care book for improving function and reducing symptoms due to chronic low-back pain.
  • Conclusions from another 2011 study of 313 adults with chronic or recurring low-back pain suggested that 12 weekly yoga classes resulted in better function than usual medical care.

However, studies show that certain health conditions may not benefit from yoga.

  • A 2011 systematic review of clinical studies suggests that there is no sound evidence that yoga improves asthma.
  • A 2011 review of the literature reports that few published studies have looked at yoga and arthritis, and of those that have, results are inconclusive. The two main types of arthritis—osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis—are different conditions, and the effects of yoga may not be the same for each. In addition, the reviewers suggested that even if a study showed that yoga helped osteoarthritic finger joints, it may not help osteoarthritic knee joints. National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health, USA, Department of Health & Human Services


  • Yoga is generally low-impact and safe for healthy people when practiced appropriately under the guidance of a well-trained instructor.
  • Overall, those who practice yoga have a low rate of side effects, and the risk of serious injury from yoga is quite low. However, certain types of stroke, as well as pain from nerve damage, are among the rare possible side effects of practicing yoga.
  • Women who are pregnant and people with certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, glaucoma (a condition in which fluid pressure within the eye slowly increases and may damage the eye’s optic nerve), and sciatica (pain, weakness, numbing, or tingling that may extend from the lower back to the calf, foot, or even the toes), should modify or avoid some yoga poses. National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health, USA, Department of Health & Human Services


Dozens of scientific trials of varying quality have been published on yoga. While there’s scope for more rigorous studies on its health benefits, most studies suggest yoga is a safe and effective way to increase physical activity, especially strength, flexibility, and balance. There’s some evidence that regular yoga practice is beneficial for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, aches, and pains – including lower back pain – depression and stress.

A yoga class typically last between 45 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes. A longer class will give you more time for learning breathing and relaxation techniques and will give the teacher time to work with your individual ability. It’s worth speaking to a teacher about their approach before you sign up for a class.

It is advisable to start with a class to learn the poses and breathing techniques correctly. Although there are DVDs available in the market, the constraint would be that there will be nobody to correct your mistakes, which may lead to injury over time. With some experience of being in a class, a DVD can then be helpful for keeping up the practice.