The Power of Yoga

by Christina on September 30, 2009

Excellent article from 2001 Time Magazine, and some key points and questions raised:


  • Can the benefits of yoga be measured by conventional medical standards? Can yoga be a science? Or is it possible that yoga cannot be studied with western methodology where truth and fact are proved through randomized, double-blind tests. As the article says:

“The double-blind test, beloved of traditional researchers, is impossible when one group in a study is practicing health yoga; what is the control group to practice–bad yoga?”

  •  The issue of funding (funding –> studies –> evidence): 

“The traditional funder of studies, the pharmaceutical giants, see no financial payoff in validating yoga: no patentable therapies, no pills.”

  • The medical world’s skepticism of yoga: 

“At the heart of the western medical establishment’s skepticism of yoga is a profound hubris: the belief that what we have been able to prove so far is all that is true. At the beginning of the 20th century, doctors and researchers surely looked back at the beginning of the 19th century and smiled at how primitive “medical science” had been. A century from now, we may look back at today’s body of lore with the same condescension.”

    • How little the medical world actually knows, how fragmented it is, how specialists have conflicting opinions, and how disempowering this can be for patients. Complementary and alternative medicine is appealing because it gives patients a feeling of control over their health. People aren’t going to wait for doctors to have the “evidence” so it’s important for physicians to be aware of what their patients are doing.
    • At the time of this article (2001), there had been a few controlled studies on yoga. They discussed Dean Ornish’s 1990 study that demonstrated how lifestyle changes of yoga and a low-fat vegetarian diet could reverse coronary artery disease. Ornish then published a study in 1998 showing that 80% patients in the experimental group avoided bypass or angioplasty, and that these lifestyle interventions would save an average of $18,000 per patient (while the cost in the control group was over $47,000). Thought it may seem more likely that this change was from diet alone, Ornish said, “Adherence to the yoga and meditation program was as strongly correlated with the changes in the amount of blockage as was the adherence to diet.”
    • The discussion on yoga and the immune system (I’m looking for these studies!): 

    “Exercise in general activates the flow of lymph through the body, speeding up the filtering process; but yoga in particular promotes the draining of the lymph. Certain yoga poses stretch muscles that from animal studies are known to stimulate the lymph system. Researchers have documented the increased lymph flow when dogs’ paws are stretched in a position similar to the yoga “downward-facing dog.” 

    •  Ornish’s discussion of the reception of his findings by his colleagues: 

    “I used to think good science was enough to change medical practice, but I was naive. Most doctors still aren’t prescribing yoga and meditation. We’ve shown that heart disease can be reversed. Yet doctors are still peforming surgery; insurance companies are paying for medication — and they’re not paying for diet and lifestyle change education.” 

    • For yoga to be a sucessful preventive health measure, it has to be accessible to everyone, not only the wealth and already-fit:

    “America has the fittest people inthe world, and the most obese. Yoga, typically, is practiced by the fit. Exercise, the care and feeding of body and possibly mind, their second career. The folks in urgent need of yoga are the ones who are at the fast-food counter getting their fries supersize; who would rather take a pill than devote a dozen hours a week to yoga; for whom meditation is staring glassily at six hours of football each Sunday; and who might go under the surgeon’s knife more readily than they would ingest anything more Indian than tandoori chicken.”

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