Finding Relief with Yoga from Chronic Diseases
By: Caitlin Evans
When looking for ways to relieve the symptoms of chronic disease, it’s best to start with what’s causing the illness in the first place. Often disease triggers are external. People may have reactions to a variety of outside sources such as food, chemicals, environmental factors, or medication. But for others, the internal response to stress plays the biggest role in making their immune system turn against their bodies.
While science still hasn’t found a way to cure many chronic conditions, we have managed to make huge improvements in the way we treat them. Now more than ever, it is obvious that the key to health lies not in medication, but rather in the lifestyle we lead.
So, in addition to making sure we eat right, get plenty of sleep, and try to get enough exercise, we can also adopt habits that have proven to be beneficial in relieving chronic disease symptoms. One practice that is increasingly gaining popularity among those looking for relief is yoga.
How yoga helps with stress
One of the best-known benefits of yoga is its effectiveness at managing stress levels. Two relatively recent studies looked at the effect of daily practice on cortisol levels, as well as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
The findings clearly show that as little as three months of practicing yoga could have significant health gains, including lowering cortisol, reducing inflammation (which has a strong link to autoimmune disease and cancer), and improving overall mental health.
This comes as no surprise. After all, the practice itself focuses on holistic wellbeing, mindfulness, and acceptance, and it is performed in a calm environment that allows for introspection. By connecting the mind and the body while focusing on the coursing of energy with each breath, you are allowing yourself to take a break from your day-to-day worries.
Furthermore, when practiced regularly, this conscious working towards a balanced mental state grows into a habit that can be applied in stressful everyday situations.
How yoga helps an ailing body
Those suffering from chronic disease can have a particularly difficult time engaging in regular physical activity. A gentle yet beneficial exercise regimen can be a great way to activate all muscle groups, without risking pain or injury.
As we’ve already mentioned, one of the main physical benefits of yoga includes an improved immune system, and a lower level of inflammatory markers in the blood. Combining this effect with a diet that further helps remove inflammation in the body (like an AIP meal plan), yoga can significantly help ward off autoimmune disease flare-ups.
As a form of physical activity, it is moderate (as there is no impact, as opposed to most aerobic exercise), and it can be easily adjusted to anyone’s level. It helps build strong yet flexible muscles, and it is especially useful for spine and joint health through stabilizing areas in which the skeletal structure itself isn’t strong enough.
In addition to overall fitness, regular physical exercise has other important effects on the body as well. It elevates energy levels, which can often be low among those suffering from autoimmune disease. Furthermore, training helps the brain release endorphins, which reduce anxiety and have been shown to help combat depression.
Finally, it is important to note that gentle active and static stretches, such as those performed during yoga, may help relieve pain, especially in problematic areas such as the lower back.
While yoga is gentle on the body, it is still extremely important to take all possible precautions to prevent the worsening of symptoms. Those with a chronic illness will have to consider more than just their physical fitness level before getting started. They’ll have to be mindful of energy levels, as well as any position that might do harm instead of good.
With this in mind, it becomes obvious that the best practice session will be that which is supervised by an experienced instructor. This will allow for any necessary modifications to be made and will ensure that all poses are done correctly, without having too big of an impact on sensitive areas of the body.
For a number of people suffering from chronic illness, working out might be the last thing on their mind, and that’s perfectly understandable. However, it’s important to remember that engaging in gentle physical activity actually offers a number of health benefits. That’s why an increasing number of scientific studies are examining the way in which yoga helps relieve the symptoms of chronic disease.
This ancient practice can greatly contribute to lowering inflammation levels, managing stress and anxiety, improving cognitive function, strengthening muscles, and relieving pain. Combined with other positive lifestyle choices, its impact on life quality becomes ob