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Yoga can reduce levels of cortisol, the so-called "stress hormone".
In a recent study conducted by Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and the Yoga Research Society, 16 healthy new yogis participated in a 50-minute yoga class every day for seven days. On the day prior to their first class, they were instructed to sit quietly--reading and writing--for 50 minutes.
The subjects' cortisol levels didn't change much during the sitting period; they showed just the normal decrease that usually takes place in the late morning. But when the researchers measured the cortisol levels before and after the yoga class--which included postures such as Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), Salabhasana (Locust Pose), Vrksasana (Tree Pose) and Halasana (Plow Pose)--they discovered a significant decrease after the class.
The study's results don't surprise George Brainard, M.D., a professor of neurology at Thomas Jefferson Medical College. In 1995, he conducted a similar study, which also showed a significant drop in cortisol levels of subjects following a physical yoga practice.
"When I did the first study, I was very surprised that a single set of yoga poses could make a significant change in cortisol," Brainard says. "Now that we have repeated it, we have seen enough promise to consider studying it in challenging situations like chronically ill patients who have abnormally high levels of cortisol, such as those who suffer from depression, type 2 diabetes, Cushing's disease, and high blood pressure."
The findings suggest that practicing yoga--even for the very first time--can normalize cortisol levels that are either too high or too low, says Vijayendra Pratap, Ph.D., president of the Yoga Research Society in Philadelphia. "My hypothesis," he adds, "is that yoga brings the body to balance."
Exactly how it does this is still not clear. But Jennifer Johnston, yoga director and research clinician at the Mind Body Medical Institute in Boston has a theory. "The deep breathing we do in yoga elicits something called 'the relaxation response,' which invokes the restorative functions of the body," Johnston says. "Yogic practices also help to reduce muscle tension and deactivate the stress response."
So in addition to renewing your mind and spirit, yoga has now been proven to provide real benefits for your body. No longer do the everyday stressors of deadlines, a hectic schedule, and other pressures have to wear you down.
Practise yoga regulary to help dissolve inner tensions and decreascortisol levels along the way.
*Research notes reproduced in this answer taken from an article published by Linda Knittel, author of The Soy Sensation (McGraw Hill, 2001).
Sources: Yoga with Divya, http://www.yogawithdivya.co.uk
*Research notes reproduced in this answer taken from an article published in Yoga Journal, written by Linda Knittel, author of The Soy Sensation (McGraw Hill, 2001).