If there exists such a philosophical regime that can bring a person closer to Elysium in every aspect of life—balance, health, aging—its enthusiasts argue that it is yoga. Investigations into the complexities of this physical / mental / spiritual discipline have focused on the almost inexplicable efficacy of its practice. That it is conjectured to effect a return to normal following a physical or mental derangement deserves at least a little attention.
The cognitive behaviors of yoga entail calorie restriction, meditation, breathing techniques and additional practices that separate it from other holistic modalities, and have a distinct affect on the function of the human body. Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York, has classified yoga’s influence on human physiology into four categories that encompass humoral factors (affecting immunity), CNS activity, cell trafficking, and bioelectromagnetism (the study of membrane and action potential). The investigators allowed that, “…yogic practices might optimize health, delay aging, and ameliorate chronic illness and stress from disability.” (Kuntsevich. 2010) A reductionist approach tries to explain complex matters by using the simplest of its facets and nomenclature, but this cannot address the intricacy of yoga and its long-term benefits to the whole person.
From lower back pain, arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome, all the way to functional development in children, yoga has been an oft-visited body of knowledge. Practicing yoga increases flexibility, strength and stamina, and can do that in the gentlest of manners using Hatha techniques, or by employing the more explosive Ashtanga form, which relies on quick movements from one pose to another.
Because lower back pain cannot satisfactorily be treated with surgery and injections, other interventions have been pursued, yoga paramount among them. Chronic back pain has a significant impact on a person’s ability to work and perform daily tasks. The fact that pain is non-specific makes some therapies uncertain, but the physical motions of yoga meet the need for non-invasive remediation. (Carter. 2011) Perhaps it is such that synovial lubrication is enhanced, or that directed movements create healing substances at the cellular level. Whatever the reason, it works.
If yoga intensifies a person’s awareness of his body and helps him to understand his relationship to a body in pain, with the expectation of attenuating discomfort, then the discipline has been effective, particularly in changing cognitions and behaviors towards nociception. (Tul. 2011) Modified forms of Hatha yoga have been tested on such patients with outcomes that were not surprising. Not only were flexibility and reach improved, but also the emotional insults that accompany refractory pain, such as anxiety and mild depression, were reduced, as reported in a study performed at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, providing renewed interest in additional study on the salubrious nature of yoga. (Galantino. 2004)
Recent work at Johns Hopkins examined prior studies on yoga’s application to arthritis, and found that evidence was strong for reduced disease symptoms and disability, especially the tender and swollen joints that characterize the condition. (Haaz. 2011) Noting that it can be tailored to the specific needs of the geriatric population, investigators at the University of Pittsburgh concluded that yoga is among the mind-body interventions associated with reduced pain perception. (Morone. 2007)
Executive function in a human being is that capacity to make decisions in novel situations, outside the domain of normal automatic processes. This is tantamount to thinking outside the box, and appears to be a desirable developmental milestone in children. Yoga is just one of the activities that can help to develop such a trait, one that telegraphs creativity, flexibility, self-control, and self-discipline. The physical benefits are the cherry on top. (Diamond. 2011)
It is accepted that what enters a pregnant woman’s digestive system has an effect on the neonate, as well as on the mother. Could mind-body processes do the same? There is evidence that improvement in perceived stress, mood, and perinatal outcomes may be realized from practicing yoga. Not only that, but also it was found that such practices resulted in higher birth weight, less time in labor, and fewer instrument-assisted births, accompanied by lower stress and anxiety levels in both mother and child. (Beddoe. 2008) Good news, eh?
Other health issues that benefit from yogic practices include metabolic syndrome (Anderson. 2011), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (Fulambarker. 2010), and essential hypertension (Anand. 1999). Each deserves additional attention.
Kuntsevich V, Bushell WC, Theise ND. Mechanisms of yogic practices in health, aging, and disease. Mt Sinai J Med. 2010 Sep-Oct;77(5):559-69.
Carter C, Stratton C, Mallory D. Yoga to treat nonspecific low back pain. AAOHN J. 2011 Aug;59(8):355-61; quiz 362.
Tul Y, Unruh A, Dick BD. Yoga for chronic pain management: a qualitative exploration. Scand J Caring Sci. 2011 Sep;25(3):435-43. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6712.2010.00842.x.
Galantino ML, Bzdewka TM, Eissler-Russo JL, Holbrook ML, Mogck EP, Geigle P, Farrar JT. The impact of modified Hatha yoga on chronic low back pain: a pilot study. Altern Ther Health Med. 2004 Mar-Apr;10(2):56-9.
Haaz S, Bartlett SJ. Yoga for arthritis: a scoping review. Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 2011 Feb;37(1):33-46.
Morone NE, Greco CM. Mind-body interventions for chronic pain in older adults: a structured review. Pain Med. 2007 May-Jun;8(4):359-75.
Diamond A, Lee K. Interventions shown to aid executive function development in children 4 to 12 years old. Science. 2011 Aug 19;333(6045):959-64.
Beddoe AE, Lee KA. Mind-body interventions during pregnancy. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2008 Mar-Apr;37(2):165-75.
Anderson JG, Taylor AG. The metabolic syndrome and mind-body therapies: a systematic review. J Nutr Metab. 2011;2011:276419.
Fulambarker A, Farooki B, Kheir F, Copur AS, Srinivasan L, Schultz S. Effect of Yoga in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Am J Ther. 2010 Oct 22.
Anand MP. Non-pharmacological management of essential hypertension. J Indian Med Assoc. 1999 Jun;97(6):220-5.
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