One cannot deny that the profile of yoga around the world has risen tremendously over the past couple of years. The general public are turning to yoga for everything from weight loss, through improving posture, helping bad backs and de-stressing to finding inner peace.
Alongside this, individuals are more aware that they should take greater responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. They are exploring different avenues and methods of healing and most certainly the past 10 years has seen a significant increase in the amount of complementary medicine being accessed through the NHS.
So, why are people seeking out alternative and complementary therapies? For one thing, these therapies are non-invasive. For another, they offer a holistic approach, including body, mind and spirit. And what’s more, research is beginning to document the effectiveness of specific non-traditional therapies, such as yoga.1
Yoga as therapy
Yoga can play an important role in the prevention of chronic, degenerative diseases such as coronary heart disease (CHD). Risk factors such as physical inactivity, smoking, poor diet and stress are all major contributors to these diseases and health risks. By reducing these risk factors we can help prevent premature death from degenerative diseases.
Yoga, as a form of therapy, is based on the ancient principles of therapeutic management, which derive partly from Ayurvedic system of health. It is founded on the recognition that our physical condition, emotional states, attitudes, diet, behavioural patterns, lifestyle and the environment in which we live and work, are all intimately linked to each other and to the state of our health. Considering that traces of the origin of yoga have been dated to 7000 BC, it would seem that the ancient yoga practitioners appear to have understood the underlying principles of epidemiology and its value with therapy management.
What is a session like?
As a practice, yoga can consist of asana (physical postures), pranayama (breath control), meditation and ritual/prayer. Any one, or any combination of these can be used for therapy. Generally there are two means of attaining therapy; ie, in a group setting or on a one-to-one basis. In the UK, you may come across group classes for asthma, low back pain, HIV etc. While these classes have much to offer, not least in the sense of social support, and are certainly helpful in ongoing management of the disease/illness, personal tuition is where maximum therapeutic value can be gained.
All components of yoga – ie, asana, pranayama, meditation and ritual/prayer – have been researched over the years. Many specific conditions are said to benefit from regular yoga practice. These include, but are not exclusive to, hypertension1 respiratory endurance and breathing efficiency,2 asthma,3 and mood enhancement.4 Unfortunately, most studies on yoga do not use adequate scientific methodology, as many of them lack control groups. However, even though many of the studies lack scientific rigour, their findings do suggest sufficient benefit to warrant future research. Yoga has also shown to decrease the debilitating effects of arthritis. Pain, tenderness and finger range of motion was shown to improve after eight weeks of yoga training.5 A follow-up study showed significant decreases in pain intensity for patients with carpal tunnel syndrome after eight weeks of yoga training.6 Regular yoga practice has also been shown to benefit pain management,7 muscle strength,8 and motor control.9 Telles and Naveen have also presented an overview of the literature regarding the role of yoga with the mentally and physically handicapped.10 Their review suggested a benefit of yoga to these patient populations. Studies in this area indicated benefit in the areas of general mental ability, coordination, social adjustment, and behaviour. There are many other reports on the psychosomatic effects of yoga, which include favourable outcomes from studies involving conditions of anxiety, depression, hypochondria, obsessive disorders and phobias.11 Although yoga seems to have the same physical effects as other exercise, it cannot be dismissed as just another form of exercise. Yoga incorporates a holistic, body-mind-spirit approach to the rehabilitation of disorders commonly seen by physical medicine and rehabilitation clinicians. It is true that research into the efficacy of these techniques is just starting. However, what little has been conducted so far is promising. Yoga therapy is not, and should not be, a replacement for physiotherapy and/or medical treatment. Used in conjunction with each other, the individual may find that they are better equipped to deal with and/or accept their condition.
- Examine the Practitioner’s Expertise: The British Wheel of Yoga is the governing body in the UK and will be able to provide you and with information about specific styles of yoga.
- Talk with those who have had experience with this practitioner, both health practitioners and other patients. Find out about the confidence and competence of the practitioner in question and whether there have ever been any complaints from patients.
- Talk with the practitioner in person. Ask about their education, additional training, licenses and certifications, both unconventional and conventional. Ask about the practitioner’s approach to treatment and patients. Find out how open the practitioner is to communicating with patients about technical aspects of methods, possible side effects, and potential problems.
- Look for a practitioner who is easy to talk to. You should feel comfortable asking questions.
- Discuss any issues concerning treatments and therapies with your health care provider.
Where to go
- British Wheel of Yoga www.bwy.org.uk
- Viniyoga Britain www.viniyoga.co.uk
- Yoga Therapy Centre www.yogatherapy.org
References available on request.