The Physical Health Benefits of Yoga


By Kulraj Singh, Principal Physiotherapy at Tavistock Clinic

Although originally practiced as a means for spiritual development, yoga has a host of physical health benefits also.
It’s widely known that yoga helps with flexibility, range of movement in our joints, and can even help battle symptoms of clinical depression, but can it improve muscular strength?

We often expect the only ways we can improve strength is through rigorous weight training exercises or lifting heavy loads, but the scientific research suggests otherwise.

Although yoga is primarily body-weight exercise (meaning, the resistance used is the weight of your own body as opposed to an external weight), the positions we hold during a
yoga routine are uniquely challenging, they test multiple muscles groups at the same time, and the muscles are required to maintain those positions for prolonged periods.

A study done in 2001 published in Preventative Cardiology studied 10 healthy individuals aged 18-27. Each subject has to complete a minimum of two yoga classes per week
for 8 weeks. The study found that muscular strength for elbow extension, elbow flexion and knee extension improved by 31%, 19% and 28% respectively.
This is why we recommend yoga regularly to our clients at our Physiotherapy Crawley Clinic. It can help patients with reduced strength to build muscle and improve their symptoms
of weakness, especially if they have not exercised before.
Another study done in 2013, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found, when testing subjects who underwent 24 yoga sessions in an 8 week period,
that their deadlift strength increased. The study reports: 
“In summary, this short-term yoga training protocol produced beneficial changes in musculoskeletal fitness that were specific
to the training stimulus”.

Prior to both of these studies, as far back as 1992, studies on yoga’s effect on strength have taken place. One study, published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology
found that yoga even improves hand grip strength. 
This makes sense, as holding yoga poses often requires significant grip power and upper body strength.

Here are a few tips we give to all of our client’s when beginning yoga:

  1. Consistency is key - like any exercise, the positive outcomes you are looking for such as improved strength and flexibility, takes time. Multiple sessions per week is ideal,
    however I wouldn't recommend anything less than once per week for maximum results.
  2. Ensure you are completing a class with experienced instructor - you want to be taught by someone who has a deep knowledge and experience of yoga poses, so you get
    the best out of the time you spend in the session.
  3. Ask for help when needed - I remember when I did yoga for the first time, I was the only newbie in the class, and I didn’t know what to do when people were starting new poses.
    I found asking the instructor for a bit more guidance, and letting him/her know I was new, was a great way to ensure I was doing the pose correctly and reducing the risk of injury.

I hope you found this article helpful and informative.

By Kulraj Singh, Principal Physiotherapy at Tavistock Clinic

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