Modern science agrees: Yoga can help with back pain, anxiety and more

  • Sanchita Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 20, 2016 21:38 IST
The ancient Indian combination of physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama) and relaxation and meditation (dhyana) is rooted in science and, if done under the guidance of a skilled instructor, can bring several health benefits. (Shutterstock)

When yoga enthusiasts take to parks, streets and pavements between 7am and 7:45am across India on International Yoga Day on June 21, they will not only be celebrating an ancient wellness tradition but also an exercise form validated by modern science.

This ancient Indian combination of physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), relaxation and meditation (dhyana) is rooted in science and, if done under the guidance of a skilled instructor, can bring several health benefits. Yoga postures stretch and tone muscles, improving physical fitness and flexibility, lowering stress, improving sleep and enhancing the quality of life.

Read: International Yoga Day: Best yoga retreats for an enriching experience

While it hasn’t yet replaced modern medicine, it is increasingly being prescribed as an adjunct to allopathic medicine and surgery to relieve the symptoms and help people cope with specific diseases, such as depression, anxiety, chronic back pain, high blood pressure, arthritis and post-surgery stress and pain.

Depression, anxiety

A combination of asanas and pranayama lowers psychotic symptoms and depression, improves thought process and quality of life and produces positive neurobiological changes, such as increased levels of the “happy hormone” oxytocin, showed a research at Bangalore’s National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS). Relaxation techniques and postures also help caregivers of schizophrenics cope with the stress of looking after a dependent, 24x7.

An earlier NIMHANS study found that an hour of yoga three times a week boosts the mood and immunity of people who are undergoing cancer treatment.

Chronic back pain

A combination of modified postures, breathing techniques and meditation helps lower pain and improve the ability to walk and move, reported Canadian researchers in the journal Pain Research and Management. Weekly classes of yoga were as effective at reducing lower back pain and improving back movement as physiotherapy involving stretching exercises, found the study. The benefits lasted several months after the classes ended, the study found.

Heart disease

Yoga helps lower risk factors for heart disease much like conventional exercise, such as brisk walking, reported a study in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. The study found that people who did yoga lost an average of two kilos, dropped five points off their blood pressure, and lowered their levels of harmful bad cholesterol (low density lipoprotein) by 12 points.

Read: PM Modi, 57 ministers to lead Yoga Day celebrations across India

“Yoga helps in primary prevention by managing high blood pressure in people who are highly stressed, it helps patients recover from pain and worry associated with bypass surgery, and helps older patients with high blood pressure get gentle exercise,” says DR Ravi R Kasliwall, chairman of preventive cardiology, Medanta-The Medicity. “You must never, though, stop taking prescription medicines just because you have lost weight or feel better,” he cautions.


People with arthritis who do yoga three times a week showed improvements in pain levels, energy, mood and physical health compared to the group that didn’t—and the effects lasted even nine months later, reported a study in the Journal of Rheumatology. Since the major types of arthritis—osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis—are widely different, the benefits of yoga may vary widely.


Yoga postures stretches and tones muscles, improving physical fitness and flexibility, lowering stress, improving sleep and enhancing the quality of life. (Shutterstock)

Gentle yoga postures and breathing exercises help people with diabetes who are unwilling or unable to do physical activity (gym, strength training, running) due to being overweight, limited joint mobility or frozen shoulder, get fit enough for more vigorous forms of exercises needed to have a direct effect on glucose control, reported a 2014 AIIMS study.

“Physical activity improves insulin-sensitivity and blood sugar control but yoga must be used only as an adjunctive treatment. It cannot replace modern medicines prescription to control blood sugar and time-tested therapeutic exercise, such as walking,” says Dr Anoop Misra, chairman, Fortis C-DOC Centre for Diabetes, Metabolic Diseases and Endocrinology, New Delhi.

Read: Yoga posture lights up UN headquarters in NYC ahead of Yoga Day


•Learn from a trained and certified practitioner to avoid stress and injury to your tissue and bones.

•Everyone’s body is different, so modify postures to suit your abilities and needs.

• Do not stop using prescription medication. Use yoga as a complementary therapy.

• Low-impact postures, meditation and breathing exercises are very safe but strains and nerve damage may occur if you push your body too hard without supervision.

• Do not postpone seeing a doctor if you have pain or other medical symptoms.

• Go very gentle if you are pregnant or have medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, glaucoma (high fluid pressure within the eye), and sciatica (pain, weakness or numbing extending from the lower back to the calf, foot, or toes).

•Wear loose, cotton clothes while exercising so you don’t trap heat, which can aggravate conditions such as high blood pressure and push up heart rate.

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