Yoga has been around for over 5,000 years, originating in India. As a spiritual system, it focuses on obtaining a higher state of consciousness while releasing your spirit from suffering. As is the case in most religious practices, there are differences in the belief systems, but mainly yoga is an ascetic philosophy in which people achieve purity by withdrawing from the world.
There are different components in a complete yoga system governing individual wisdom, spiritual belief and ethical behavior. Out of all of them, it is the physical practices of “hatha” yoga that have caught on most successfully in the West. Almost all of the types of yoga we recognize are geared toward improving the body. Relaxation and reducing stress are involved in the practice as well, but many people are focused on fitness and flexibility.
There are many styles of hatha yoga: slow and gentle, exercises using props, power yoga, and a new trend in the yoga world where participants do yoga in a room as hot as 105 degrees F. (The latter is known as “bikram” yoga and it would probably be best to wait until you get comfortable with other forms of the practice before it.)
Benefits of Yoga: How Yoga Can Improve Your Sleep (Study Results)
Recently, researchers at the University of Michigan put yoga to a tough test: they wanted to find out whether it could help cancer survivors get a better night’s sleep. According to the researchers, some 80% of cancer patients have trouble sleeping while undergoing treatment, and about two-thirds say the problems persist after treatment ends — quite a high percentage!
For the clinical trial, the research team recruited 410 cancer survivors, average age 54, who had finished treatment two to 24 months before. All the participants still reported significant sleep disruptions. The participants were randomized to receive regular follow-up care for cancer survivors or to receive regular care plus two 75-minute sessions of yoga per week for four weeks. The yoga sessions emphasized breathing from the diaphragm rather than the chest and focused on mindfulness, visualization and guided meditation.
The research team found that the yoga participants reported an improvement in sleep quality of 22%, while the control group reported an improvement of only 12%. Thirty-one percent of participants in the yoga group who had started out with clinically impaired sleep quality recovered, compared to only 16% in the control group.
So there you have it: some pretty convincing numbers! Why not give yoga a try? It could help you to achieve a healthy balance between body and mind in order to promote and keep good health. While yoga will not bring about good health on its own — you must also incorporate a healthy diet, exercise, fresh air, clean air, and overall calm in your routine — it will pave the way to an environment that encourages good health, including getting a good night’s sleep.
—by Cate Stevenson, BA