Most will agree: Yoga is a chill pill.

For decades, it has been used as an adjunct treatment for various medical conditions. From rehabilitating injuries to augmenting substance abuse treatment, yoga has a long history of helping individuals rewire themselves in a profoundly positive way.

But how?

Thanks to f-MRI, genetic mapping, and lots of research, scientists are finally beginning to decode the benefits of this ancient practice. And while some findings are expected—like yoga’s ability to calm your body’s fight-or-flight system—others are surprising.

Yoga, cytokines, and immunity

If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, you’ve probably heard an instructor say something like:

This posture helps you [insert organ here] detox…

Breathing here helps your body’s immune system…

Your body holds tension in [insert body part here], and that causes disease…  

For newbies, those claims can be a major turn-off. If you’re like me, the last thing you want to hear while in a sweaty bind is that your liver is “detoxing”.

Yet, science is slowly beginning to shine some light on these claims.

In one study, 48 family dementia caregivers were split into two groups. One listened to relaxing music, and the other practiced a type of yoga called Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KKM) for just 12 minutes a day. After 8 weeks, the KKM group experienced a down-regulation of cytokines known to cause inflammation.

Writing about the results, researchers concluded:

“A brief daily yogic meditation intervention may reverse the pattern of increased NF-κB-related transcription of pro-inflammatory cytokines and decreased IRF1-related transcription of innate antiviral response genes previously observed in healthy individuals confronting a significant life stressor.”

In other words, a regular yoga practice can help “cleanse” your body as you encounter stress throughout your day. According to the study, this seems to happen by reducing the body’s knee-jerk reaction to produce the stuff that causes inflammation (pro-inflammatory cytokines) when you encounter stressful life events.

So the next time you’re in Twisted Prayer pose and your instructor tells you to “Wring the stress from your body,” maybe just smile and breathe. I know I will.

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