The Health Benefits of Yoga

Yoga can have real health benefits.

Sept. 15, 2008 — -- Cheryl Kain says she has battled her weight and mood her entire life.

"Weight's been on my mind since I came out of the womb," Kain said. "You lose the weight and then you gain that and more."

To drop pounds, she tried a variety of options, including ditching carbs, trimming fat and eliminating specific foods from her daily intake.

"I'd tried everything," she said.

But her weight worries reached a poignant point when she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 2½ years ago.

"My body was in a state of emergency all the time," Kain said.

So she turned to Dr. Mark Pettus, who runs the health for life program at the Kripalu center in Stockbridge, Mass., where people like Kain come to transform their health.

"If someone were to hand me a blank piece of paper and say, 'Mark, you know, put down something on that paper that would have an impact more than anything on potential to reduce disease risk, to improve health and vitality,' it would be yoga," Pettus said.

"Yoga's one of the few things that enlivens almost every system in the body," said Garrett Sarley, chief of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.

Medical studies show the poses, along with meditation and specific yoga breathing techniques, reduce stress responses, which significantly influences health.

"There are specific areas of the brain that have been shown to change with advanced yoga and meditation practitioners. These areas of the brain are those areas that deal with the control or the ability to self-regulate emotion, the ability to maintain attention," said Harvard Medical School assistant professor of medicine Sat Bir Khalsa. "And so if you put these practitioners in the brain scanner, you can see that these areas of the brain light up more than other areas of the brain."

Yoga has been shown to help insomnia and relieve chronic pain conditions. In Kripalu's program, Kain began to cultivate a yoga practice, and she studied nutrition and food preparations. She practiced meditating and went on 4-mile hikes.

Throughout her time there, she felt something happening.

"It's one of those stealth things that creeps up on you. That's how I felt. And that — that's a really good way to work with me because if something hits me over the head, I'm gonna rebel," Kain said.

Now Kain believes yoga truly has transformed her health.

"I am down to one pill a day from three. And I'm praying that, you know, six months to nine months I'm medication free," she said.