Ancient practice for the 21st century

Strike a pose: Researchers document the transformative power of yoga

Strike a pose: Researchers document the transformative power of yoga

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Where have Wall Street traders and bankers turned to cope with the market’s instability? Yoga, according to a recent Bloomberg article. Facing the uncertain market each day, many executives have turned to this rigorous discipline to handle the stress.  Professionals point to the emotional and physical benefits of 90-minute, 106 degree Bikram yoga classes. 

“I’ve been able to handle things much better,” says Michael Pintar, a currency portfolio manager who lives in Manhattan. “There’s always going to be ups and downs in trading or managing money, and I think before I reacted much more negatively to…bad days trading, than I do now.”

Yoga’s popularity on Wall Street is reflective of a growing body of literature touting wide reaching benefits of the ancient practice.  Research has established yoga’s positive effects on physical fitness, pain, mood and psychopathology.

Physical Fitness

According to researchers at the University of California at Davis (via Yoga Journal), regular yoga practice improves muscular strength, flexibility and cardiorespiratory endurance. A study done at Ball State University (also via Yoga Journal) demonstrated yoga’s ability to increase lung capacity, which serves to enhance fitness in a diverse range of people, including smokers and already fit athletes. 

Physical benefits extend across age categories too. In an article published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, Lieila Castro Goncalves and others suggest that yoga contributes to improved autonomy and quality of life for elderly people by increasing range of motion and reducing time required to perform daily living activities.

Pain Relief

Evidence shows that yoga reduces pain by helping the brain regulate the release of natural painkillers in the body, says Iranian researcher Zahra Rakhshaee, who demonstrated in a randomized clinical trial that yoga reduces the severity and duration of menstrual cramps. Additionally, relaxation that comes with yoga alleviates tension and, in turn, supports pain management.

Researchers Marion Brands, Helen Pruperhart and Judity Deckers-Kocken conducted a recent pilot study in the Netherlands indicating that yoga decreases pain frequency and intensity in children with irritable bowel syndrome and betters the quality of life in kids with functional gastronomical disorders. Other findings from the University of Rajasthan and SMS Medical College in India indicate that yoga reduces the intensity and duration of migraine headaches.

Anxiety and Mood

Yoga improves mood and anxiety levels, according to a randomized controlled study that compared yoga and walking. Researchers saw greater improvements in mood, anxiety and GABA levels in subjects who practiced yoga. GABA is another name for aminobutyric acid, reduced levels of which have been linked to epilepsy and mood disorders.

Psychopathology

As a complement to psychiatric treatment, yoga enhances the quality of life for schizophrenic adults. In an article published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers Elizabeth Visceglia and Stephen Lewis credit twice weekly 45-minute yoga therapy sessions with easing stress and modulating the autonomic nervous system, resulting in reduced psychopathology in patients.

You don’t have to work on Wall Street to feel burdened by life circumstances. I started practicing yoga almost three years ago in pursuit of anxiety relief. Always a runner, ever the perfectionist and perpetually a critic of my body, I found that yoga stretched out the tightness caused by running, melted away my tension and turned my focus inward to become more self-accepting. Yoga grounds me and has become an essential part of my weekly routine.

To practice yoga is an individual decision but often the experience of practicing is communal. Next week I will look at the role of community in yoga, and consider our yoga community in Houston.

Until then, Namaste.