By Lara Cornelius, Staff Writer
Many of us have probably seen the recent BBC India video that has gone viral of Nanammal, a 98 year old yoga teacher in India, who continues to teach and practice advanced poses that even her younger students struggle to replicate. In this ‘Bend It Like Granny’ video, Nanammal claims her good health is linked fully to daily yoga practice and that she has never had to go to the hospital. When watching this video, it is difficult not to buy into the idea that maybe practicing yoga, connecting the breath to the mind and body on a daily basis, could in fact help you live longer in better health.
After looking into the subject more, I found an interview with another 98 year old yoga instructor, who has had three hip replacements, and regularly gives 90 minute classes at least twice a day. Her words stuck with me: “When you are in touch with your inner self, you are in touch with the breath of life inside of you.” This could just be yogi talk, for sure, but there must be some truth in this practice since these 98 year old women continuously push the status quo and are living proof of the positive impact this daily practice can have on one’s life. There must be some truth in the statement, “whatever you put in your head materializes.”
So what impact can practicing yoga have on your body and mind? Is there any scientific proof or medical research done on the subject? After watching these elderly women and listening to their words, I began to toy with the idea that yoga could be “the answer to long-term health,” and I was eager to find out more. In fact, there has been a fair amount of clinical studies and research done about the impact of yoga on the overall state of the body and disease.
According Dr. Sakar, one medical doctor who founded the course Yoga Therapy for Medical Professionals, “what I’ve found through studying yoga therapy is that people who have a daily practice have effortlessly and automatically changed their lifestyle. They eat better, they sleep better, their lifestyle is more regulated.”
A study done for the Journal Of Clinical Oncology found that yoga could lower inflammation and boost energy for cancer patients if performed twice a week for a minimum of three months. According to the study, after the active phase of the trial ended, the women in the yoga group reported, on average, a 41% drop in fatigue and a 12% higher vitality score compared to the non-yoga group. Also during this study, doctors measured the presence of three proteins in the blood that indicate inflammation called pro-inflammatory cytokines. After the first three-month point, all three inflammatory protein levels were lower compared to the non-yoga group. One of the physicians in the study stated that some findings were astounding. “We were really surprised by the data because some more recent studies on exercise have suggested that exercise interventions may not necessarily lower inflammation unless people are substantially overweight or have metabolic problems,” Dr. Kiecolt-Glaser said. “In this group, the women didn’t lose weight, but we saw really marked reductions in inflammation. So this was a particularly striking finding biologically.” Cancer treatment often leaves patients with high levels of stress and fatigue, and an inability to sleep well. “Poor sleep fuels fatigue, and fatigue fuels inflammation,” she says. “Yoga has been shown to reduce stress and help people sleep better.”
A study done in 2015 for ADAA indicated that yoga is linked to low levels of the stress hormone cortisol, especially in those with mental health problems. An unrelated study for Indian J. Psychiatry showed that yoga had a significant and direct influence on cortisol response that correlated with yoga’s antidepressant effects. The Journal of Neuroscience Nursing did a study that shows that practicing yoga improves memory and cognitive function in adults as well. In this study, 20 individuals improved enough to advance to a higher-functioning memory group. Furthermore, in a study done on the efficacy of yoga for depressed postpartum women, the Reliable Change Index analyses revealed that 78% of women in the yoga group experienced clinically significant change. In this trial, these woman saw a major improvement in their anxiety and depression just after eight weeks of yoga two times a day. The counterparts who did not practice yoga, did not see the same improvement to their quality of life. Since yoga helps with the digestive fire agni, it helps with your overall digestion system and how your body digests sugar, which in turn, helps control and improve diabetes. According to the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, thirty men with Type Two Diabetes who practiced yoga for six months saw a large decrease in their blood-sugar level. Finally, according to two studies in the 2015 May Issue of Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, the practice of yoga lengthens lifespan and youth as well as reduces PMS.
Based on all of this research and the living proof, there must be some truth to what these two women are not just saying, but showing us through their daily practice of yoga.