Sunday 12 July 2015

Yoga and Meditation for Women’s Health

Today, there is a wave of yoga and meditation going around the world. We get to read and hear a lot of information about yoga, meditation and their benefits from newspapers, magazines and televisions touting. Worldwide many research studies have been conducted to ascertain the significance and dynamism of these ancient cultures. Now let us see what is yoga and meditation.

With expansion in diversity across the world, it has become challenging to set forth a single, common definition of yoga. The word yoga comes from an ancient Indian language, Sanskrit. It has been derived from the word “yuj”, which means to unite or to integrate. The crux of yoga is in harmonizing our body with mind and soul by means of various breathing exercises (pranayama), yoga postures (asanas) and meditation. Let us move further to understand the meaning of an integral part of yoga i.e. meditation. As our life is moving faster without relaxation, we oftentimes tend to find calmness and want to unplug ourselves to give our minds a rest. Meditation is one such way to unwind and calm our mind.

Yoga and meditation have their roots in history that goes back to 1000s of years. The researchers have successfully demonstrated that these ancient practices are like an asset to human being. In yoga, body is treated with utmost care which positively impacts our health and leads to serenity.

In this post we will be talking about the health benefits of yoga and meditation specifically for women. So for all the ladies out there, just adding few postures to your everyday exercise routine can help you achieve potential health benefits. And these benefits will be at physical and mental level too! Following are the various positive health impacts of yoga and meditation on women’s wellness.

·      Stress, anxiety and depression
We all experience stress, anxiety and feel panicky time to time in our life. However, women are reported to be more vulnerable to stress, anxiety and depression. Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports women are twice as likely to experience anxiety disorder as men [1]. Generalized stress, anxiety and depression if not taken care of, may lead to panic attacks and phobias in future. Yoga has apparently been proven as an effective method to manage stress that can improve the emotional disturbance in women. A one year study conducted in 2009 showed that women participating in twice weekly yoga classes (Ashtanga yoga exercises) of 90 minutes for two months demonstrated significantly lowered anxiety. The researchers also asserted that yoga can be considered as an alternative for medical therapy for the treatment of anxiety disorders [2]. Also, practicing meditation on a regular basis reduces anxiety and provides emotional health boost in women [3].

·      Weight loss
Most women at some point struggle with their weight gain. There are many reasons why women put on the pounds. The predominant factors are sedentary lifestyle, genetic composition or environmental influences that cause weigh gain in women. You might know that sometimes there is unintentional weight gain due to hypothyroidism, chronic depression, menopause, Hashimoto’s diseases or postpartum depression. Yoga poses have magical powers that help women in shedding those extra pounds and lead a healthy life. A study conducted by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle included 15,500 middle‑aged healthy men and women as participants. It was inferred that regular yoga practice indeed strongly helped people lose weight or at least attenuate weight gain [4]. Yoga poses like half‑moon pose, warrior pose, chair pose, tree pose, forward bending pose and sun salutation help women in weight loss and feel healthy.

·      Backache and posture problems
Do you experience gnawing back pain even after doing light physical activities? Then yoga is a powerful remedy for your back problems which improves postures too. General reasons for back pain in women include sitting or standing for long hours, incorrect posture, lack of exercise, obesity or weak back muscles. The researchers from Korea carried out a study in pre­‑menopausal women with chronic low back pain. The women practiced yoga three times a week for 12 weeks. It was observed that yoga reduced the symptoms of back pain and improved back flexibility in study participants [5]. You can strengthen your back muscles by practicing simple yoga postures such as triangle pose, knee‑to‑chin pose, cat stretch and standing spinal twist pose.

·      Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis
Osteoporosis (reduction in bone density) and osteoarthritis (inflammation and degeneration of joints) in knees, wrist, fingers, toes and hips are commonly occurring painful disorders in women due to low bone mass. Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis can impair your ability to walk and can cause prolonged or permanent incapacity. Most doctors prescribe heavy dose medications for such conditions. Yoga appears to be a natural and economical way to build bone mineral density. A clinical study published in European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine in 2010 proved yoga as a successful alternative physical therapy for the rehabilitation of osteoporotic women [6]. The effective yoga poses for bone disorders include mountain pose, Warrior pose II, bound angle pose and staff pose.

·      Menstrual problems and post‑menopausal hormonal imbalances
A normal menstrual cycle is of 28±7 days. But, your menstrual cycle is not always regular. You may experience pain, cramps and heavy blood flow during menstruations which may lead to anxiety and depression. The irregular and painful periods are majorly related to the hormonal imbalances. The factors that trigger irregular or missed menses may include obesity, excessive dieting and exercise, stress, medications, polycystic ovarian syndrome and age. A natural way to cure menstrual problems is yoga and meditation. The safe and simple yoga poses can heal problems like hormonal menstruation disorders, heavy blood flow and painful menses. Three yoga poses called cobra pose, cat pose and fish pose are known to be very effective in reducing the severity and duration of menstrual pain [7]. It has been proven that Yoga Nidra (relaxation therapy) reduces the psychological problems like anxiety and depression associated with menstrual disorders [8].
Now coming to post-menopause; it is defined as the time after menopause. Natural post‑menopause usually begins in women between their late 40s to early 60s. During post‑menopausal time, many women face bothersome symptoms such as hot flushes, insomnia, mood fluctuations, anxiety and weight gain. Nowadays, varied treatment modalities ranging from acupuncture to hormone replacement therapy are available for post‑menopausal symptoms. However, amongst these, yoga is the most natural treatment option which works wonderfully. It includes breathing techniques, postures, and relaxation poses designed specifically for post‑menopausal symptoms. Improvement in the symptoms such as hot flushes and insomnia has been noted with yoga and meditation [9].

·      Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism is a medical term used for underactive thyroid gland wherein your thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone. It most commonly occurs in females than males. The symptoms of hypothyroidism include muscle and joint pain, fatigue, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, dry skin, hair loss, fertility problems, weight gain and poor memory.
Hypothyroidism can be kept under control by taking generic or syntheroid hormone pills once a day. However, yoga and breathing exercises can assist in overcoming thyroid problems along with medications. A study conducted in 2011 to assess the quality of life of female hypothyroid patients, states that yoga is a supportive therapy which helps hypothyroid patients to manage their disease-related symptoms [10]. The yoga poses such as shoulder stand, inverted pose, fish pose, plow pose, cat stretch and fast-paced sun salutation are recommended for hypothyroidism.

·      Psychological impacts in breast cancer patients
According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 230,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer every year [11]. Being diagnosed with breast cancer can be most distressing for women. The stress continues even after the treatment as the disease extends over a longer period of time. Yoga and meditation relax the mind and decrease the vulnerability of women with breast cancer. Research has shown that yoga improves physical functioning, reduces fatigue, stress, and improves sleep and quality of life of women [12]. The corpse pose, bridge pose, warrior II pose, crescent lunge pose and hero pose are advised for alleviating breast cancer emotional symptoms.

·      Infertility
Can yoga actually help in treating infertility in women? The answer is yes, it can. Clinical studies show that yoga and meditation reduce stress which is one of the leading causes of infertility. Research has also proven that specific yoga poses and meditation can help promote ovulation process by increasing blood circulation, stimulating hormone-producing glands, and releasing muscle tension. Yoga also tones and nourishes your reproductive organs and encourages them to function optimally. Practicing yoga postures like staff pose, half ankle to knee pose, bridge pose, mountain pose, high lunge with side stretch, Yogini squat, corpse pose and goodness pose can help in curing infertility problems [13].
Thus, yoga and meditation is a holistic approach which improves your body flexibility, strength, posture and strengthen other physical and mental powers. Science has proven yoga to be a promising mind‑body practice which treats various disorders. Therefore practice yoga regularly under trained instructor’s guidance and bring about positive lifestyle changes.

2.     Javnbakht M., Kenari R. H., and Ghasemi M. 2009. Effects of yoga on depression and anxiety of women. Practice. 15(2): 102‑104.
3.     Tacón A. M., McComb J., Caldera Y., and Randolph P. 2003. Mindfulness meditation, anxiety reduction, and heart disease: a pilot study. Family & Community Health. 26(1): 25‑33.
4.     Kristal A. R., Littman A. J., Benitez D., and White E. 2005. Yoga practice is associated with attenuated weight gain in healthy, middle-aged men and women. Alternative Therapies. 11(4): 28‑33.
5.     Lee M., Moon W., and Kim J. 2014. Effect of yoga on pain, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and serotonin in premenopausal women with chronic low back pain. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
6.     Tüzün S., Aktas I., Akarirmak U., Sipahi S., and Tüzün F. 2010. Yoga might be an alternative training for the quality of life and balance in postmenopausal osteoporosis. European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine. 46(1): 69­‑72.
7.     Zahra R. 2011. Effect of three yoga poses (cobra, cat and fish poses) in women with primary dysmenorrhea: a randomized clinical trial. Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology. 24(4): 192‑196.
8.     Rani K., Tiwari S. C., Singh U., Agrawal G. G., Ghildiyal A., and Srivastava N. 2011. Impact of Yoga Nidra on psychological general wellbeing in patients with menstrual irregularities: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Yoga. 4(1): 20‑25.
9.     Booth-LaForce C., Thurston R. C., and Taylor M. R. 2007. A pilot study of a Hatha yoga treatment for menopausal symptoms. Maturitas. 57(3): 286‑295.
10.  Singh P., Singh B., Dave R., and Udainiya R. 2011. The impact of yoga upon female patients suffering from hypothyroidism. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 17(3): 132‑134.
12.  Cramer H., Lange S., Klose P., Paul A., and Dobos G. 2012. Yoga for breast cancer patients and survivors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Cancer. 12: 412.