Yoga: Practice for Life

(Published in the July 2008 issue of the Santa Clarita Valley Magazine)

According to Valerie Jeremijenko, author of How We Live Our Yoga, “Yoga heals, nourishes, and challenges us. The practice infiltrates every corner of our lives”. The ancient practice of yoga yields an extensive list of physiological, mental, and emotional benefits. I will suggest a few of these benefits from the viewpoint of a healthcare professional and as a student of yoga.

As a healthcare provider, I am an advocate of yoga because of its positive physiological effects on the systems of the body. Cardiovascular disease, which affects over 70 million Americans, continues to be the number one killer in the U.S. Several trials have found that yoga can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and resting heart rates, and help slow the progression of atherosclerosis—all risk factors for heart disease, says Erin Olivo, PhD, director of Columbia University’s Integrative Medicine Program.

Relief for low-back pain is another proven benefit of yoga. Yoga eases lower back pain, by stretching and strengthening the muscles of the lower back. It increases blood circulation, which brings healing nutrients to the injured tissues. Yoga also helps maintain a natural curvature of the spine that is crucial in avoiding lower back pain. According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, a study suggests that yoga may be more likely to improve back function, ease chronic back pain, and reduce the need for pain medication than conventional exercise or reading a self-care book.

Another important benefit of yoga is in the mind-body connection. While almost any exercise is good for the heart, the meditative component of yoga may help to stabilize the endothelium, which is the lining of the blood vessels. When this lining is irritated, it reacts to stress. Because meditation lowers stress hormones, yoga could reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

According to research at Boston University School of Medicine, yoga does have a beneficial effect on the emotions. Yoga can significantly improve mood as well as reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety through the increase of certain neurotransmitters.

In conclusion, yoga supports cardiovascular health, back strength, and emotional calmness. From a professional perspective, I strongly recommend yoga for its cardiovascular and spinal benefits. As a former competitive athlete and dancer who has worked out extensively and cross-trained in several forms of exercise, I personally endorse yoga as a means of physical strengthening and toning and for its calming effect on the emotions.

Dr. Jennifer M. Vaccaro, DC, BS, LMT is a graduate of Southern California University of Health Sciences. She also has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Science from California State University, Northridge, and is a Licensed Massage Therapist. She lives in Santa Clarita, and in her spare time loves to read, run, sing, dance, and take classes at Hot Yoga Valencia.