Better than botox? How yoga refreshes mind, body and soul

By Alive & Well

So I’m in yoga class sweating through a shoulder stand when my teacher starts talking about research that proves the benefits of inversion poses to health, healing and longevity.

“It’s better than botox!” she said. Hmmm I thought, and resolved to find out more…

Turns out there’s something to it.

As you might already know, yoga is a tradition that originated in India around 5,000 years ago; its postures, breathing exercises and mental disciplines are designed to improve strength, flexibility, health and happiness, and it can be a deeply spiritual experience that creates ‘space’ in busy lives.

Credit: AmbroA holiday for your hormones – and so much more

Each yogic pose affects different parts of the body, encouraging fresh, richly oxygenated blood to flow to specific areas to regenerate and stimulate organs. The ‘botox effect’ refers specifically to the inversion poses – the ones where your feet are above your head. That includes shoulder standshead stands or just lying perpendicular to the wall with your legs up against it.

During these poses, especially shoulder and head stands, fresh blood flows to your head and – importantly – your thyroid. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits just below your adam’s apple and helps to regulate energy use throughout your body (it’s HQ for your hormone system, keeping your metabolism, immunity and cellular health strong). When your thyroid receives fresh blood, it springs into action, creating fresh hormones and commands for your endocrine system. It’s kind of like when you take time out from work – a holiday or even just a day off – and you feel refreshed and ready for action again afterwards.

Inversion poses are also fantastic for relieving tension in the neck, shoulders and throughout the body. Stress interferes with proper thyroid function, so doing these poses can be particularly helpful with controlling some of the symptoms of an underactive thyroid (aka hypothyroidism).

And yes, there’s plenty of research to back this up these days. One comprehensive study undertaken last year[1] compared the health benefits of yoga and exercise, and found that yoga may be as effective or better than exercise at improving health outcomes as diverse as blood glucose, salivary cortisol, blood lipids, oxidative stress, kidney function, immune function, menopausal hot flushes, strength, balance, social and occupational functioning – in both healthy and ‘diseased’ people. Yoga was also subjectively reported (ie. a solid ‘scientific’ measure wasn’t used) to be more effective at managing fatigue, pain and sleep disturbances.

So it’s no wonder it’s better than botox! For women and men.

Tips for rookie yogis and yoginis

Yoga can feel a bit overwhelming at first, particularly if you’re in a class with experienced practitioners executing their acrobatics with ease. But there are so, so many benefits to yoga, it’s worth persisting. Here are some simple suggestions that might help:

  1. Find a good teacher: A good teacher at the right school makes all the difference. Find a local class and learn the ropes in a supported environment. That’s what I’m doing.
  2. Start small and lay a foundation: Many of the poses in yoga work as building blocks for the inversion poses. For example, the downward-facing dog or dolphin pose help you build the right muscles for inversions. Master these before tackling harder poses. Don’t worry about what other people in the class are doing – they’re focused on their own practice, not yours.
  3. Support yourself: If you have never done inversion poses before, start by lying perpendicular to the wall with your legs up against it. As you get stronger, try taking on the more challenging poses – and keep using the wall if you need to. Don’t be afraid of the wall – it is your friend!
  4. Keep trying: If you have trouble holding the pose, that’s more than OK. You are building and stretching and giving your body a fantastic internal massage. In fact, if you’re not tumbling, you are not trying hard enough! Make mistakes, keep going.

Do you do yoga? How do you feel after the inversion poses? Better than botox? How did you find a school you liked?

[1] Ross A, Thomas S, 2010, The health benefits of yoga and exercise: a review of comparison studies. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine; 16(1): 3-12