Yoga: 9 Good, Bad And Ugly Science-Backed Findings

Bending Over Backwards To Find Your Yogi Zen?

You should read this article before you make that stretch.

Our aim was to write an article about the negative effects of yoga, as we felt there are so many articles already streaming on Google promoting the incredible health benefits of yoga, both physically and mentally. And yet there’s so little information on the negative implications.

We started to research why yoga can be bad for you. And quite honestly we did find a few studies backing up our theory that it can’t be all great… However, admittedly it seems the benefits of doing yoga completely outweigh the negatives.

So what we’ve done is highlighted all the good and bad science-backed findings, so you can get stuck in and discover for yourself how to avoid the bad and aim for the good when it comes to flexing your stuff.

To begin, here are some quick-fire facts about yoga in 2019 before we get onto the good sciencey stuff:

  • 14% of all Americans now practice yoga
  • There are around 300 million yoga practitioners worldwide. To put that into perspective, the current US population is 327 million. Just wow.
  • A Yoga Journal survey estimated that Americans spent almost $17 billion on yoga classes, workout clothing and equipment in 2016.
  • The budget for yoga apparel in 2019? Limitless.

1. Laughter Yoga may help to improve well-being for people with Parkinson’s Disease

Laughter Yoga may help to improve well-being for people with Parkinson’s Disease. a woman is doing laughter yoga.

Laughter yoga is a form of yoga in which you pretty much sit/stand and laugh yourself silly for 45 minutes. People often find they start with fake laughter and end up in real hysterics. Scientists measured well-being of participants with Parkinson’s Disease on a “How Do You Feel?” scale which they filled in. It included enthusiasm, energy level, mood, optimism, stress level, level of friendship with group members, level of awareness about breathing, level of muscle relaxation, level of mental relaxation and ability to laugh without a reason.

Incredibly, they found that there were “statistically significant improvements in well-being for adults with Parkinson’s Disease and their caregivers after attending a Laughing Yoga session.” The positive impact was so strong that they now recommend therapists and other clinicians to consider utilising this unique technique with adults who have low-mood conditions.

2. It might not be a good tool for weight loss

People tend to take up yoga for three reasons:

1. To flex their body and become more nimble

2. To relax, chill and become more zen/spiritual

3. To get fit and lose weight

It turns out that the 3rd reason may be pretty much redundant. Often a connection between practicing yoga and losing weight is made, however studies have shown that a usual 50 minute hatha yoga class (hatha includes the practice of yoga postures called asanas and breathing exercises called pranayama) burns off less calories than there are in three tasty Oreo biscuits. You may as well go for a snail-paced walk for similar effects.

How many calories does Power yoga burn off? Less than an equivalent gym session actually. We aren’t saying that people do yoga with the mission to lose weight and burn calories, however it’s worth being aware that it shouldn’t be seen as a weight loss technique if you’re looking to shift a few pounds, but instead a tool to better your body’s outer and inner zen.

Try adding in another activity to your schedule, like swimming or cycling, to up your calorie-burning potential.

3. Yoga can boost male sexual functioning

Yoga can boost male sexual functioning. A man is stretching in a yoga class.

Studies have shown that after completing a yoga session, sexual function scores which were marked by the participant, significantly improved. They marked the sexual function score on the following factors: desire, intercourse satisfaction, performance, confidence, partner synchronization, erection, ejaculatory control, and orgasm. With the fantastic conclusion that “Yoga appears to be an effective method of improving all domains of sexual functions in men.”

4. Egotistical yoga teachers can be dangerous

Egotistical yoga teachers can be dangerous. A yoga teacher is pushing a man's leg to stretch him.

Yoga, like everything, is incredible when you know how to do it. However the ‘modern’ way of practicing it has compromised its position as a safe and healing practice.

The New York Times’ writer William J Broad wrote the article How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body. The articles discusses how Broad met with Glen Black, an expert yoga teacher of more than 4 decades. Black described how “a number of factors have converged to heighten the risk of practicing yoga.” With a main focus on the demographic shift in those studying it, Black describes how traditionally Indian practitioners of yoga “typically squatted and sat cross-legged in daily life, and yoga poses, or asanas, were an outgrowth of these postures.” And now with 2019’s modern lifestyle, we sit at our desks most days and then expect our bodies to contort and stretch for an hour or two a week, on demand. Ignoring signals for existing or potential injury.

Black believes that “Today many schools of yoga are just about pushing people… You can’t believe what’s going on — teachers jumping on people, pushing and pulling and saying, ‘You should be able to do this by now.’ It has to do with their egos.” In fact he tells Broad that when yoga teachers come to him for help after suffering major traumas, Black tells them, “Don’t do yoga.”

So what’s the answer here? Avoid it altogether? No. Just do your research, know your own limits and take it at your own pace.

5. Yoga doesn’t remedy the cause of the problem

Do you want to do yoga because you’re in pain and/or discomfort and/or need some mental healing? If so, you may need to get to the root of the problem first before seeking help from an instructor.

Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani (yep, her name really does have yogi in it…) discusses yoga’s role in suppressing the root cause of an issue in her research Are We Practicing Yoga Therapy or Yogopathy?

Bhavanani believes that “Managing and suppressing the manifest symptoms with yoga techniques is just as good or bad as modern medicine that focuses primarily on symptomatic management without ever getting close to the real cause of most disorders.” She refers to treating the symptoms with yoga rather than remedying the cause as Yogapathy.

Perhaps the answer is to tap into any issues bubbling or lying dormant under the surface. And only then throwing some slow paced shapes on your mat.

6. The more stressed you are the more beneficial it is

The more stressed you are the more beneficial yoga is. A woman looks stressed in the tube.

With tonnes of research supporting the theory that yoga is a super stress-buster, it’s no wonder that it’s even more effective the more stressed you are. An interesting study investigated the acute positive and negative effects of Bikram yoga on anxiety levels, by monitoring the perceived stress levels of its participants. What is bikram? Crudely put, it’s yoga done in a heated environment. (Sweaty mess is an understatement!)

The study focused on 53 habitual Bikram participants and found that “Statistically significant positive changes emerged in three psychological measures after the 90-min Bikram yoga session.” They concluded that Bikram yoga “reduces negative-affect and state-anxiety and the reduction is directly related to the perceived stress.” In other words, how stressful you viewed something before the class actually decreased after the Bikram class.

So rather than reaching for that glass of red to “relax and de-stress,” why not reach for the ultimate downward dog in an uncomfortably hot and sweaty Bikram class?

7. Women aged 45+ may get a sex boost

Researchers discovered that after the completion of yoga sessions; the sexual functions scores of women significantly improved. With a focus on desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, and pain. Although the study was done on all ages, they found that improvement was seen much more in older women aged 45 plus.

(Now that’s an evening plan and a half.)

8. Yoga may improve lung function

Yoga is known for teaching breathing techniques to aid relaxation and body function. A study explored yoga breathing techniques (known as pranayama) and their positive impact on the lungs. Over a period of six weeks using healthy volunteers, they found that there was “improvement in peak expiratory flow rate and forced expiratory volume.” This means that the volunteers could control their breathing more and take deeper breaths and that these breathing techniques could be beneficial to so many parts of life.

9. It can help to improve quality of life in obese individuals

A study looking at the quality of life in yoga experienced and yoga naïve Asian Indian adults with obesity (niche but relevant) found that “Obese adults with yoga experience appear to have better quality of life in specific aspects, compared to yoga naïve persons with a comparable degree of obesity.” These quality of life aspects were based on enjoyment in physical activities, ability to work, self-esteem, and social satisfaction. The point here is that yoga was found to be strongly related to positive cognitive health and mental function.

Key takeaway points?

  1. Laugh more with laughing yoga.
  2. Don’t solely rely on yoga for weight loss.
  3. Yoga can be a sex booster.
  4. Choose your yoga teacher wisely.
  5. Get to the crux of your mental/physical block rather than solving it with just yoga.
  6. Use yoga as a stress-busting tool.
  7. Your lungs may love you for it.
  8. You may feel the quality of your life improving.  

Now it’s time for you to decide whether to namaste or namago to a quality yoga class.

Sources Cited:

Maisie Bygraves

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