How Your Prostate Benefits from Yoga
As research continues to suggest yoga benefits for men, and specifically for the prostate gland, you may want to take a closer look at adding the practice to your health regimen.
"Yoga is good for everybody; you could be 80, 100, you could be 25," said Elizabeth Kavaler, M.D., the medical director at Total Urology Care of New York and a urological surgeon/transvaginal surgeon. "Not everybody can do the same kinds of poses, but everybody can do something."
The prostate gland is located between the bladder and penis, and surrounds the urethra. When a person ejaculates, the gland excretes fluid that accompanies and protects sperm. About the size of a walnut in a healthy individual, the prostate enlarges with age, potentially causing difficulty with urinating, decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction (ED) and reduced sexual satisfaction. Along with prostate enlargement known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), prostate cancer is prevalent among men, especially as they age, affecting about 13 in 100 American males, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While yoga is not a cure for any disease, research indicates it could assuage certain symptoms of prostate conditions and improve outcomes for cancer patients, especially as part of a holistic treatment plan. Physical activity, including yoga, may reduce the risk of BPH and help preserve prostate health, too.
Strengthening the pelvic floor
One of yoga's primary benefits for urological health is its potential to strengthen the pelvic floor, improve muscle control and flexibility, and release muscle tension.
"Yoga helps with lengthening pelvic floor musculature, which is what surrounds the prostate, so for men with prostatitis or any inflammation within the prostate—and often, category three chronic prostatitis is the tightening of the pelvic floor muscles—yoga helps to lengthen the muscles to decrease inflammation, which is, overall, very helpful," said Sonia Bahlani, M.D., a New York City-based pelvic pain specialist and sexual health advisor for Astroglide, a lubricant manufacturer.
Pelvic floor issues and associated symptoms may affect people with or without an enlarged prostate, said Kavaler, who added that improved muscle control and reduced pelvic floor tension can make it easier to void the bladder and reduce irritation or the feeling of always having to urinate. Urinary difficulties can be a result of tense pelvic floor muscles or, in the case of incontinence, lack of muscle control.
"If a man is tense and contracts and tightens the pelvic floor, the symptoms feel like there's something there, which is the tension of the muscles," Kavaler said. "So it feels like it's hard to urinate."
'Yoga helps with lengthening pelvic floor musculature, which is what surrounds the prostate, and helps to lengthen the muscles to decrease inflammation.'
Weak or tense pelvic floor muscles, or a lack of muscle control, can also contribute to sexual dysfunction and pelvic pain, as outlined in a 2016 report published in the journal Sexual Medicine Reviews.
Nydia Darby has worked on multiple studies investigating the effects of yoga on cancer patients, including a pilot randomized clinical trial that observed the effects of yoga on people preparing for radical prostatectomies. The San Antonio-based therapeutic yoga instructor and owner of Nydia's Yoga Therapy said the pelvic floor is the foundation of the core, which includes the abdominal and back muscles, and abdominal and pelvic diaphragms.
Multiple factors—surgery, scar tissue, illnesses, physical activity level, even posture—can change how core elements function.
"They're all connected, so when we have the process of a surgery or an illness or a tumor, something that is changing the dynamics of this area, it is significant," Darby said. "So our therapeutic yoga with an awareness of breath can begin to mobilize and move, bring awareness to this area."
Sessions begin with breathwork to draw attention to the pelvic floor and its sensations and movements, to enhance awareness and confidence. Simply being aware of the pelvic floor and its potential can be empowering, Darby said. Students then begin engaging the muscles through isometric activation. Over time, the combination of the two methods can improve blood flow, flexibility, mobility and elasticity.
Other benefits of yoga
Numerous studies indicate yoga can reduce inflammation and stress, which may yield multiple benefits for the prostate and overall health.
A 2005 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found stress can exacerbate BPH. Stress may also contribute to pelvic muscle tension and sexual difficulties, and increase cancer risk. Research indicates chronic inflammation can cause various harmful conditions, such as impeding the immune system and, according to the National Cancer Institute, cellular DNA damage that may lead to cancer.
Dharam Kaushik, M.D., the lead researcher for the clinical trial that observed the effects of yoga on patients awaiting radical prostatectomies, said the goal of the trial was to determine whether a small, easy-to-implement practice such as yoga could enhance prostate cancer patients' quality of life.
"Twenty to 30 percent of the men who develop prostate cancer will have depression and anxiety," said Kaushik, an associate professor of urology at the University of Texas Health San Antonio School of Medicine and a cancer surgeon with the Mays Cancer Center.
He explained that depression and anxiety can affect various aspects of men's lives and increase their risk of further health problems, including cardiac events and suicide.
"That tells us in the grand scheme how much impact it has on their well-being. It just consumes them," Kaushik said.
Evaluating results from blood samples and questionnaires, Kaushik and his team found yoga improved patients' quality of life compared to the standard of care. Specifically, patients in the yoga group reported feeling less tired and experiencing improved sexual function. Yoga participants also reported improved functional, physical and social well-being.
The researchers also found reductions in biological inflammatory and stress markers and changes in immune cell status, specifically an increase in circulating CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, which are important contributors to immune health.
Kaushik said the benefits likely stem, in part, from yoga's ability to calm the sympathetic nervous system while activating the parasympathetic nervous system.
"What we found was yoga not only improved the quality of life in these men, their mental, physical and emotional well-being, but also enhanced the immune system and decreased their inflammatory markers," Kaushik said. "We also noticed there was an increase in a specific kind of immune cells that, in the long run, can act against cancer cells. It needs to be validated and more research is needed, but it is important."
Poses for prostate health
Darby said every yoga pose influences the pelvic floor and can potentially benefit prostate health. However, some poses target the pelvic area more directly than others:
Begin seated with your legs stretched out in front of you. Bend the knees, bring the soles of the feet together and let your knees fall to either side. Pull your feet as close to the body as is comfortable. Press the outer edges of your feet firmly together. Sit tall, elongating the spine, and keep your shoulders drawn back and away from the ears.
Sit with the soles of your feet together, knees out to either side. Sit tall, elongating the spine and drawing your navel inward. Grab each foot with your hands, placing your elbows against your inner thighs. Inhale and, while exhaling, slowly lower the torso forward. Pause and hold the stretch for 30 seconds or more.
Head-to-knee forward bend
Begin seated with both legs outstretched. Bend the left knee, placing the sole of the left foot on the right inner thigh. Inhale, then exhale and bend from the pelvis to bring the torso down to your extended leg.
Whatever your routine of choice, consistency is key. Darby recommended doing sessions at least three times a week to experience notable changes within about four to six months. For an optimal, empowering experience, she advised finding an experienced therapeutic yoga teacher who works with beginners.
"It's about learning how to connect with the self," she said. "Every part of the practice should feel good."