Valued as a form of exercise and recreation, yoga is also emerging as an adjunct to medical treatment in clinical and hospital settings.
Yoga for treating dis-ease
Yoga means ‘union’ and is one of the oldest holistic approaches to mind/body health. The fundamental premise in yoga is that suffering begins in the mind and comes from a sense of separation: when you lose connection with your own values, purpose, sense of self or spiritual inspiration, dis-ease occurs. Yoga treatment addresses the re-integration of the body, mind, breath and, ultimately, the spiritual self.
Yoga is not a religion. The spiritual component of a yoga therapy program should incorporate your own faith and philosophy and not impose anything from another culture or tradition. The techniques of breathing, relaxation and meditation are universal and can be applied to any lifestyle or religious belief.
Yoga is traditionally linked with Indian Ayurvedic medicine. Vaidyas, or Ayurvedic doctors, often prescribe certain movements, breathing practices, meditation techniques or even mantra repetitions among their treatments for numerous complaints.
Techniques of yoga, including simple stretching postures, progressive relaxation and meditation practice, have been appropriated into mind/body medicine programs in the US and now also in Australia as a complement and adjunct to traditional medical treatment. In several programs that use yoga techniques substantial research supports its benefits in terms of health improvement.
Alleviating chronic stress
Dr Dean Ornish, a cardiologist in California, USA, believes the stress-reducing effects of yoga can benefit cardiac patients and possibly prevent the necessity for repeated bypass and artery surgery.
Dr Ornish’s study, conducted over a period of five years in the late 1980s and published in the journal Lancet in 1990, revealed that patients who followed a program of stress reduction using practices like yoga postures, relaxation and meditation, along with walking, a low-fat vegetarian diet and communication support groups, were able to reverse artery damage and avoid surgery. These patients also reported their chest pain was reduced or disappeared and they felt more energetic and happy.
Another pioneer in the field of mind/body medicine is Dr Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School, USA. According to Dr Benson, “Many patients with chronic stress-related conditions, for lack of self-help strategies, never get better. Whether the condition is migraines, back pain, PMT [pre-menstrual tension] or hot flushes, drugs or surgery will not be sufficient. Too often when people are diagnosed with an illness, they are left to fend for themselves.” Over the past several years, research has been conducted by Dr Benson’s Mind/Body Clinic in the Behavioral Medicine Department, with patients following a program of techniques including yoga postures, relaxation techniques and meditation. Some of the results from these studies are as follows:
- Insomnia patients were able to fall asleep four times more rapidly.
- Visits to the doctor were decreased by 36 per cent.
- Symptoms of severe pre-menstrual tension were reduced by 58 per cent.
- One-third of patients in the infertility program became pregnant within six months.
- In menopausal patients hot flushes were reduced without the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).