Q: You’ve talked a lot about alternative healing methods. What about yoga? Do you recommend it?
A: Yoga is such a vast topic and there will be no attempt at a comprehensive summary of its methods and concepts in this letter. However I have practiced yoga myself for nearly 30 years.
Yoga first arose more than 3,000 years ago in what we now call India, a country I have traveled to many times. The word “Yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj”, which means “to bind, join, attach, yoke”. Yuj also means “union, to direct and concentrate ones attention on, to use and apply.” Yoga requires concentrating on your mind and body to bind you to the spirit within. It is about disciplining yourself to balance your mind, soul and emotions, so that you can connect with your individual spirit, which is, in turn, part of the supreme or universal spirit. Hatha Yoga, the physical practice, is a form of Raja Yoga. There are many forms of Hatha Yoga in contemporary American life and Hatha Yoga Centers are now in every city of the United States.
A very brief summary of the conditions in which yoga has been shown to have value in controlled scientific research studies include: anxiety, bronchial asthma, cardiovascular disease related to diabetes, chronic sinusitis, constipation, depression, epilepsy, headache, hypertension, insomnia in cancer patients and the elderly, irritable bowel syndrome and gastritis, low back pain, menstrual disorders, multiple sclerosis, peptic ulcer, psychosomatic conditions, stress-related illnesses of many kinds, and even epilepsy. (Iyengar, 2013; Tilbrook et al, 2011; McCall, 2007)
Over time, the definition of Yoga has expanded to include a wide range of disciplines, philosophies and practices. Common elements of the many contemporary forms of yoga include postures (asanas), which are designed to develop strength, flexibility, balance and coordination of the mind, body and breath using controlled breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation. (Kraftsow, 1999) The general aims of yoga practice are the development and integration of the body, mind and breath to produce structural, physiological and psychological health, relaxation and vitality at the same time!
The breathing retraining taught in yoga can help to restore normal nerve and oxygen supply to the heart, even easing disturbances such as palpitations. (Han et al, 1996) Yoga breathing is defined as a manipulation of breath movement, and has been shown to contribute to a physiological response characterized by the presence of decreased oxygen consumption, decreased heart rate and decreased blood pressure, improvement in the theta wave amplitude on EEG recordings, increased parasympathetic activity, accompanied by the experience of alertness and reinvigoration (Sing et al, 2004).
But how does yoga work?
I have referred many patients over the years to yoga teachers and have witnessed how these patients’ health significantly improved. The slow stretches and deep breathing activate areas of the brain (cerebellum and parietal lobe) that have been injured and weakened in various traumas and accidents and yoga serves to rehabilitate these patients’ brain with every session.
Yoga significantly stimulates the brain. When patients begin yoga practice, they are stimulating receptors, such as joint and muscle receptors. These receptors impact the brain and affect how you feel, your muscle tone, your digestive system and more. Practicing yoga has a positive effect on mood, flexibility, pain tolerance and your overall sense of well-being. Why is this exactly? Recent discoveries in neuroscience have allowed us to gain better insight into how different alternative healing modalities affect brain function and thus overall health. (Kharrazian, 2013)
Fatigue is one of the most common causes of disability in patients with stress-related illnesses, neurologic diseases, and pain. Studies have demonstrated the benefit of yoga for these patients, although the mechanisms of action are poorly understood and may not be specific (Oken et al, 2004). Yoga has better therapeutic effects on menstrual disorders as compared with other forms of exercise, although exercise as well as yoga produces benefit in a significant number of participants. (Chen, 2005) The practice of yoga-meditation has also been shown to effectively increase the levels of melatonin in the student, which may assist in normalizing sleep patterns. (Tooley et al, 2000)
The practice and study of yoga help bring about a natural balance of body-and-mind in which optimal health can more readily manifest. (Raub, 2002; Galantino et al, 2000) Yoga helps to keep the spine flexible, the muscles strong, and the bones dense. (Birkel, 1998) Research studies have now shown that through the practice of yoga it is possible to learn to beneficially influence blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory function, metabolic rate, brain waves, body temperature and many other bodily functions. (Tran et al, 2001)
Yoga approaches also emphasize somato-psychic functioning in the present and not with past psychological history, differentiating yoga from most current psycho-therapeutic techniques. (Garde, 1972) Yoga is very good for a psyche that is troubled.
The stretching routines performed during yoga practice have also been shown to improve conditions such as anxiety, depression and neck pain. (Hoyez, 2007) The yoga practices most typically taught in classes are within the guidelines of flexibility training recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine, (2013) including stretches held for 10-30 seconds repeated 2 to 4 times increasing to 60 seconds per stretch. (Iyengar, 2013).
My own mother, who is 77 years old, has been practicing yoga for many years now on my recommendation…and she couldn’t imagine going through a single week without it now!
There are many superb yoga studios in Pueblo…you should call these centers and ask questions about this approach to healing.
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