Yoga is an ancient practice–at least 5,000 years old–that has become a modern craze. Fifteen million Americans practice some form of yoga and three-quarters of the nation’s health clubs offer classes. One appeal of yoga is the concept that the person is more important than the disease; yoga works toward the integration of body, mind and spirit through physical poses and breathing. There are few controlled studies but much anecdotal evidence that yoga can help with medical conditions ranging from heart disease to asthma to chronic pain.
One of the theories about yoga’s impact on health is its effect on the lymph system. Like the circulatory system, the lymph system runs through the entire body; its function is to carry infection-fighting white blood cells and drain the waste products of cells. Exercise helps activate the lymph system, and some yoga postures such as downward-facing dog promote lymph drainage.
Another health-promoting aspect of yoga is relaxation. Stress increases blood pressure, pulse and the secretion of hormones that can be detrimental–for example, high catecholamines increase the aggregation or clumping of platelets, which increases the risk of heart attack. Yoga by its very nature–deep breathing, stretching and inward focus–helps your body to relax. The heartbeat slows and blood pressure and breathing decrease.
Research on the health effects of yoga is difficult, because the ideal study is a double-blind study in which only half the group practices yoga to determine what changes occur in the body. The yoga practice must be technically correct and the researchers must look at the specific variable they think yoga will influence–such as blood pressure–over a long enough period to ensure that change can occur. Such studies are expensive and there is little impetus for the usual sponsors–pharmaceutical companies or other manufacturers of medical therapies–to provide funding. Yoga can’t be formulated into a pill.
There is some anecdotal evidence. Barbara Benagh, a yoga teacher, developed asthma after a bout of viral pneumonia. After an attack that was bad enough to land her in the intensive care unit, Benagh experimented with yoga breathing techniques that allowed her to decrease the attacks–she has not been hospitalized or needed steroid medications for a long time and her exercise capacity has increased dramatically.
Cancer Treatment pain is another medical condition for which yoga shows promise. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy can lead to a serious of other side-effects that might feel worse than the actual cancer itself. To promote active cancer treatment doctors recommend yoga and other alternatives to help with the pain and stress. Cancer like pancreatic and mesothelioma are at the top of the list, since aggressive treatments have to be taken to combat the disease.
So try stretching, breathing and posing your way to better health–Namaste!
About the guest author
My name is Allison Brooks who, after graduation, spent most of my time in Bolivia studying the effects of biomedicalization on the culture. I study how this change affects the traditional healing practices of Bolivians. Through my studies, I have witnessed firsthand the incredible effects of certain natural therapies had on the body, and now I am a strong advocate for promoting their acceptance. I am not against conventional medicine or pharmaceuticals at all, but I just want to keep the public mind open about holistic and natural ways to heal, and not deprive people of these sacred ways to heal. I can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.