Yoga has long been extolled for its mind-body benefits — better flexibility, increased mobility and spiritual enlightenment are just a few examples. But it turns out the benefits of yoga may be even greater than we thought when it comes to things like helping the immune system, improving resilience to stress, and supporting the central nervous system.
Pretty impressive, no?
Researchers from the University of Southern California assessed 38 participants before and after a 3-month yoga and meditation retreat in which they practiced Isha yoga, participated in mantra breathing meditations and stuck to a vegetarian diet.
Participants reported feeling less anxiety and depression as well as an increase in mindfulness at the end of the retreat. But what was most intriguing to the researchers was the participants’ protein and hormone levels — specifically, increases in the protein BDNF and the cortisol awakening response in the central nervous system.
According to ScienceDaily, an increase in BDNF contributes to better learning and memory as well as improved regulation of inflammation, immunity, mood regulation, stress response and metabolism. Essentially, the higher the BDNF levels are, the more positive one's mood will be. Meanwhile, an increase in participants’ cortisol awakening responses suggest better resilience to stress.
So in other words, the yoga retreat was responsible for a significant and impressive increase in both mental and physical health. Following the retreat, participants also had increased levels of anti-inflammatory substances in their immune system as well as decreased levels of pro-inflammatory substances.
Now, bear in mind the researchers did note that more research is needed to determine how other factors in the study influenced the results (such as the vegetarian diet, the social dynamics between the participants, and the yoga teacher’s influence). However, they’re fairly confident — based on previous studies as well — that yoga and meditation had a substantial impact on the results.
So, keep up your yoga practice — and if your immunity and stress resilience happen to get a boost in the process, all the better!