In the last few decades, yoga has exploded in popularity in the United States.
After existing as a niche activity in the early 1970s, it's now a $27 billion industry that is practiced by over 20 million Americans. But how good is yoga for you? And what is it actually doing for your body?
A new study by the Journal of Rheumatology just added to the good news.
Using a randomized controlled trial, researchers found that in individuals with arthritis yoga may help "safely increase physical activity, and improve physical and psychological health." The study was performed on a group that was 96 percent female with a mean age of 52. More than half of the participants were white and college educated.
That is an extremely important bit of information for people with arthritis. Studies have shown that 44 percent of people with arthritis say they don't exercise, and 80 percent aren't active enough, according to TIME magazine.
"There's kind of a myth that says if you have arthritis, the good thing to do is to rest your joints," Dr. Clifton O. Bingham III, one of the studies' authors, told TIME. "I think the study is more evidence that, in fact, that's not true."
In order to measure yoga's effect, Bingham and his team recruited 75 people for the study and had half of them participate in two instructed yoga classes a week, plus one at home on their own. The other half was left to exercise as they usually do and then, after eight weeks, the groups were compared.
Researchers found that the benefits were not only prominent in the group that participated in yoga, but that they were still present nine months later when the organizers of the study checked up on them again.
But what about about people who don't have arthritis?
Yoga has different effects on different people.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) has published their insights on yoga's ability to improve people's health. There are a few key takeaways, aside from what we now know about yoga and people with arthritis.
For starters, there are people who need to be careful about doing yoga. NCCIH issues a warning to people with "high blood pressure, glaucoma, or sciatica, and women who are pregnant," and recommends that if you fall into that category you modify your yoga practices.
That being said, two NCCIH funded studies found health benefits from the practice of yoga: in one, 90 people with chronic low-back pain saw improvement in their disability, had less depression and less pain. In another, yoga and stretching were shown to have much better effects on low-back pain than using a self-care book. It has not been show to help asthma patients and until the most recent study there was little evidence it was effective in helping arthritis patients.
But the benefits certainly seem to outweigh the risks:
All in all, there is a good chance you could benefit from practicing yoga. But like anything else, it's best if you consult a personal physical first, or someone who is an expert in the field.