Yoga: “It really is as healthy as people say,” according to The New York Times

A recent article in The New York Times declared that yoga “really is as healthy as people say,” listing a convincing number of potential health benefits including

  • Stress relief
  • Better sleep
  • Improved cognition
  • Reduced back pain
  • Improved balance, strength, and flexibility
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Reduced symptoms of depression
  • Better mood

The article suggests why yoga might have this broad range of effects: 

One possible reason for yoga’s many benefits: It is an intentional practice that requires focus from both the mind and the body. Many people exercise while also engaging in other activities or distracting their minds to pass the time—they watch shows while doing elliptical training or listen to podcasts while jogging.

In yoga, in contrast, we usually attempt to focus solely on the practice, notes Neha Gothe, MA, PhD, an exercise physiology lab director quoted in the article.* “[Y]our mind is very much present in the moment in the movement,” says Dr. Gothe.

The article continues: “Because of this emphasis on connecting the mind and the body, yoga may lead to greater mental health benefits than other forms of exercise.”

Intention matters

“Yoga attempts to create a state in which we are always present—really present—in every action, in every moment,” writes T. K. V. Desikachar in his book The Heart of Yoga. A yoga therapist, for example, might guide us to pay attention to our breath and to notice internal sensation and how it changes in response to movement (yoga postures), the breath, and time. In this way practicing yoga intentionally cultivates mind-body connections that differ from the results of other forms of exercise and are thought to be key to yoga’s effectiveness.

Attention makes change

As yoga cultivates mind-body-spirit connections by encouraging careful observation, we are able to notice more, including new or different aspects of our experience or perspectives we take. This new information can be the basis for change. Sometimes all it takes is gaining this new awareness, and sometimes we may make different choices based on what we learn by paying close attention to our experience during yoga practice. 

To find an IAYT-certified yoga therapist to support your cultivation of mind-body connections and explore benefits to health search IAYT’s database.

*Dr. Gothe is also a previous speaker at the Symposium on Yoga Research hosted each fall by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), which produces this blog.