Category Archives: Yoga

Yoga as fibromyalgia ‘treatment’

Yoga positionI have mixed feelings when I read research reports on the medical applications of things like walking, yoga, healthy eating, and even laughter. The tendency today is to categorize all healthy practices as medical “treatments” for specific diseases or conditions. Walking is a treatment for osteoporosis. Laughter is a remedy for high blood pressure. Raw foods cure cancer.

It’s one thing to tout the health benefits of a certain food, exercise program, or behavior. But to transform it into a “treatment” for a certain condition puts it into a medical category and that bothers me.

Still, I do find these research studies of interest, if for no other reason than to witness the focus shifting away from the use of drugs and surgery to non-invasive methods. That, at least, is a positive.

The latest example of what I’m talking about is a study conducted at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) demonstrating that yoga exercises may have the power to combat fibromyalgia — a medical disorder characterized by chronic widespread pain. The research appeared online on Oct. 14 and is being published in the November 10 online edition of the journal Pain.

“Previous research suggests that the most successful treatment for fibromyalgia involves a combination of medications, physical exercise and development of coping skills,” said James Carson, PhD, a clinical health psychologist and an assistant professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine. “Here, we specifically focused on yoga to determine whether it should be considered as a prescribed treatment and the extent to which it can be successful.”

In this study, researchers enrolled 53 female study subjects previously diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The women were randomly assigned to two research groups. The first group participated in an eight-week yoga program, which included gentle poses, meditation, breathing exercises and group discussions. The second group of women — the control group — received standard medication treatments for fibromyalgia.

Following completion of the yoga program, researchers assessed each study subject using questionnaires and physical tests. The results were then compared with testing results obtained prior to the yoga classes. The members of the control group underwent the same evaluations. In addition, each participant in the yoga group was urged to keep a daily diary to personally assess their condition throughout the entire program.

Comparison of the data for the two groups revealed that yoga appears to assist in combating a number of serious fibromyalgia symptoms, including pain, fatigue, stiffness, poor sleep, depression, poor memory, anxiety, and poor balance.

All of these improvements were shown to be both statistically and clinically significant, meaning the changes were large enough to have a practical impact on daily functioning. For example, pain was reduced in the yoga group by an average of 24%, fatigue by 30% and depression by 42%.

“One likely reason for the apparent success of this study therapy was the strong commitment shown by the study subjects. Attendance at the classes was good as was most participants’ willingness to practice yoga while at home,” added Carson. “Based on the results of this research, we strongly believe that further study of this potential therapy is warranted.” Carson’s previous research showed yoga can be helpful with cancer-related pain.

While I’m a firm believer in the physical, mental and emotional benefits of yoga, I hate thinking of it as “therapy!” I’m sure the women in the study who discovered yoga thanks to this research didn’t care what it was called, as long as it worked for them. I suppose I’m a little paranoid after defending chiropractic from medical detractors for more than 30 years. Will I one day see my yoga teacher carted off to jail for practicing medicine without a license, just as our early chiropractic pioneers were? I’d better go and participate in some laugh therapy to manage my stress reactions over that scary thought.

Yoga: the feel good exercise

I’ve often written about the benefits of yoga, mostly centering on how much it can help improve health and wellness, flexibility and stamina. I sometimes forget that yoga can also offer tremendous emotional and psychological rewards.

Yoga classA recent study that appeared online at The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine was an interesting reminder of that “hidden benefit.” Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) found that yoga may be superior to other forms of exercise in its positive effect on mood and anxiety. The study is the first to demonstrate an association between yoga postures, increased GABA levels and decreased anxiety.

The researchers set out to contrast the brain gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels of yoga subjects with those of participants who spent time walking. Low GABA levels are associated with depression and other widespread anxiety disorders.

The researchers followed two randomized groups of healthy individuals over a 12-week long period. One group practiced yoga three times a week for one hour, while the remaining subjects walked for the same period of time. Using magnetic resonance spectroscopic (MRS) imaging, the participants’ brains were scanned before the study began. At week 12, the researchers compared the GABA levels of both groups before and after their final 60-minute session.

Each subject was also asked to assess his or her psychological state at several points throughout the study, and those who practiced yoga reported a more significant decrease in anxiety and greater improvements in mood than those who walked. “Over time, positive changes in these reports were associated with climbing GABA levels,” said lead author Chris Streeter, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at BUSM.

According to Streeter, this promising research warrants further study of the relationship between yoga and mood, and suggests that the practice of yoga be considered as a potential therapy for certain mental disorders.

SOURCE: “Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study,” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. doi:10.1089/acm.2010.0007. Abstract online.

Can’t sleep? Try yoga, not pills

In the past, whenever I got excited about a new project (or stressed over some problem!) I had trouble sleeping. I’d toss and turn while my mind went spinning. I’d be too tired to get up, but I couldn’t sleep. After eight hours or so, I’d drag myself out of bed exhausted.

Yoga - good for sleepThings changed when I started practicing yoga. The physical and mental disciplines I learned helped me throughout the day — AND at night. Almost all yoga students can attest to this benefit, but if we had any doubts, insomnia experts have confirmed this (interesting how we love getting scientific proof to validate our personal experiences).

Ramadevi Gourineni, MD, director of the Comprehensive Insomnia Clinic at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, noted in May that “simple lifestyle changes can replace the need for medications to achieve a better night’s sleep.”

The clinic put priority on educating patients about behavioral changes they can make that will help them sleep. Examples of behavioral changes are kicking bad habits such as consuming caffeine before bedtime and not using the bedroom for work or watching TV. They also counsel patients on stress management techniques and to reduce the worry and anxiety that often keeps people awake at night.

One of the best behavioral changes people can make is to practice yoga. According to the American Yoga Association: “If you suffer from insomnia, whether often or occasionally, yoga can help. Through relaxing physical exercise, breathing techniques and complete relaxation, you can promote more regular and restful sleeping patterns without resorting to sleep-inducing drugs. Such drugs interfere with your body’s natural sleep cycle and can create psychological dependence and undesirable side effects.”

A report published in Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback noted: “In this preliminary study, a simple daily yoga treatment was evaluated in a chronic insomnia … For 20 participants completing the protocol, statistically significant improvements were observed…”

Gourineni also conducted a study which showed that practicing deep relaxation techniques, such as yoga, during the daytime can help improve sleep at night. The patients in her study saw improvements in sleep quality, total sleep time, and depression.

In the future, Gourineni and other clinic doctors hope to work with Chicago-area yoga teachers to build a network of recommended places for patients to practice yoga.

SOURCES: “Treatment of chronic insomnia with yoga: a preliminary study with sleep-wake diaries,” Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 2004 Dec; 29(4):269-78).

“Behavioral Changes As Effective As Medication In Treating Insomnia,” Northwest Memorial Hospital, May 7, 2010.

Too Old to Exercise

I’ve always loved exercising, working out, doing yoga, and practicing martial arts. But there are times I’d much rather roll over and stay in bed, sit in front of the computer, or do just about anything but move my body. While I’ve come up with some incredibly inventive excuses, “I don’t have time” and “it’s not a priority right now” are two of my best standbys. And, in the last few years, I’ve added another good one to my repertoire: “I’m getting too old to exercise like I used to.”

Too old to exercise - by Terry A. RondbergMost people over 50 (or even over 40!) use the “I’m too old to exercise” excuse and it’s the worst thing they can do for their health.  Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the guru of aerobics, put it this way: “We do not stop exercising because we grow old, we grow old because we stop exercising.”

It’s not just an astute observation; it’s a proven fact. A recent study at Ohio State University focused on yoga, but we’d probably see the same results from any similar type of exercise. The researchers found the regular practice of yoga exercises may lower a number of compounds in the blood and reduce the level of inflammation that normally rises because of both normal aging and stress.

The study, reported in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, showed that women who routinely practiced yoga had lower amounts of the cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) in their blood. They also showed smaller increases in IL-6 after stressful experiences than did women who were the same age and weight but who were not yoga practitioners.

IL-6 is a normal and important part of the body’s innate inflammatory response — but too much stress (and/or too little exercise) causes it to elevate to a level where it can contribute to heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, arthritis, and a host of other age-related debilitating diseases. Reducing inflammation may provide substantial short- and long-term health benefits, the researchers suggested.

“We know that inflammation plays a major role in many diseases. Yoga appears to be a simple and enjoyable way to add an intervention that might reduce risks for developing heart disease, diabetes and other age-related diseases,” wrote co-author Ron Glaser, a professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics.

“In addition to having lower levels of inflammation before they were stressed, we also saw lower inflammatory responses to stress among the expert yoga practitioners in the study,” explained Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology and lead author of the study. “Hopefully, this means that people can eventually learn to respond less strongly to stressors in their everyday lives by using yoga and other stress-reducing modalities.”

Bill Malarkey, a professor of internal medicine and another of the project’s researchers, pointed to the inflexibility that routinely comes with aging. “Muscles shorten and tighten over time, mainly because of inactivity,” he said. “The stretching and exercise that comes with yoga actually increases a person’s flexibility and that, in turn, allows relaxation which can lower stress.”

Prof. Malarkey sees the people’s adoption of yoga or other regular exercise as one of the key solutions to our current health care crisis. “People need to be educated about this. They need to be taking responsibility for their health and how they live. Doing yoga and similar activities can make a difference.”

Since I can’t use the “too old” excuse, I guess I’ll have to either rely on the “too busy” one or, better yet, stop making excuses and drag out the yoga mat!

The Science of Yoga and the Four Yogas

Those of you who know me recognize that yoga is a big part of my life. Many people think yoga is associated with a certain type(s) of religion, but that’s not the case. I wrote this article to demystify the practice of yoga and to provide some background on the yoga’s science and systems.

The Science of YogaYoga is an Age-Old Science

by Terry A. Rondberg, DC

Yoga is an age-old science, meaning to ‘yug’ or to merge the soul with universal wisdom. But most of us cannot define our soul and universal wisdom is beyond our comprehension. Universal intelligence is identified differently by different nationalities. It is referred to as Brahman, Paramatma, Consciousness, Universe, Life, Sat Nam, the Word, God; The Absolute etc.

Some consider yoga a science. Dogmatic rituals are not supported by yoga and yoga encourages continuous religious practice. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, is against rules because it can enslave the mind. The purpose of yoga is to erase the ego and bring the inner peace.

As human beings, we all want love, joy and peace, which yoga defines as the experience of truth. One path would uphold for everyone since our levels of intelligence and personal experiences vary.

Each person has their unique philosophy, which creates diversity and is quite beneficial, allowing individuals to discover their unique path. But we are all more alike than we are different. For example, every human being is made of the same five elements, consciousness and energy and the desire to be happy, joyous and free.

The yoga systems (sadhanas), are designed to transcend the mind, so we may become more aware. Yoga’s four categories offer something different for every person but all four types can be practiced together. Typically, we prefer one type which may be the primary focus of our yoga practice.

The four Yogas are Jnana Yoga, Raja Yoga (Hatha Yoga), Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. Most yoga practices fall in one of these categories.

JNANA YOGA

Jnana means wisdom which translates to worldly knowledge and self-knowledge. Jnana Yoga is the latter. Many of us often wonder, who we are and where we came from instead of asking, in which direction are we headed?

Jnana Yoga disregards abstract ideas and beliefs. Jnana Yoga teaches a student to sit quietly, close the eyes and ask, what do I know? One must be completely honest and question previous notions. Honestly answer, who am I? Are you certain you are living up to you given name?

Jnana Yoga is a path of inquiry. Some of the great Jnani Yogis were, Buddha, Gandhi, Maharishi, Nishagahata Maharaj, and Socrates.

The goal of modern-day Jnana Yogi is to continuously ask who is successful, who has failed, who is happy, who is sad, who is altruistic and who is egotistical?

BHAKTI YOGA

Bhakti Yoga centers around unconditional love for all and is said to be the path to God’s glory. Bhakti is utter selfless love focusing on sacrifice and acts of service. Bhakti Yogis practice the oneness of mankind and do not discriminate against race, gender and religion.

Bhakti Yoga has three stages: being a servant of God; a child of God and God and His servant become one. These are the three philosophies: Dwaita (duality – us and God), Vishistadwaita (non-qualified duality – we are one), and Adwaita (non-dualism – all is one without separation).

The first order under Bhakti Yoga is to establish one’s level of experience and act accordingly. One should not live a belief system if he has not experienced it.

If our experience does not involve God, then Bhakti Yoga would encourage us to dedicate and selflessly work for God. This helps the disciple erase the ego and connect more with God.

In the Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna says God has a higher and lower nature. God’s higher nature, Purusha or consciousness, resembles the reflection of sunlight on water. It remains unaffected from this nether world.

God’s lower nature involves the mind, the intellect and the ego, which are referred to as Prakriti or nature. Nature’s three qualities, inertia, activity, harmony (tamas, ragas and sattva), are considered responsible for all that takes place in our world.

Vedanta philosophy states that truth or untruth (mithya) does not exist. Like the scene on a movie projector, the truth is not influenced by the scene (energy or nature) on the projector.

One way to see our universe is to comprehend that energy or light combines with consciousness. Though consciousness and light are often referred to as two different things, realistically, they are one.

RAJA YOGA

Raja Yoga (king) aims at mastering the mind and is referred to as the king of methods.
However, practitioners differ on which method is most useful. For example, Bhakti Yogis claims it is the ultimate path, offering happiness. Raja Yoga is a disciplined path, involving hours of practice in asana, pranayama and meditation.

Hatha Yoga is said to be a preliminary of Raja Yoga. Ashtanga (eight limbs) Yoga is for more advanced practioners. In Patanali’s Yoga Sutras Patanali starts by saying, “Atta Yoganushasanam,” meaning ‘now, the practice of Yoga begins,’ emphasizing that preparation is necessary before you begin practicing Ashtanga Yoga.

There are no rituals in Hatha Yoga but in Ashtanga Yoga, universal and individual codes of conduct lead to more advanced techniques. Without a clear mind, asana, pranayama, and mediation are useless for spiritual growth.

KARMA YOGA

Karma Yoga is the path of action and suits 99% of the people. However, the ability to sit with a still mind is difficult. For those who tend to be more spiritual, Karma Yoga is the act of submission to God. Karma Yoga involves actively using our senses. Observing the mind’s reactions is also part of Karma Yoga.

With Karma Yoga you:

Eat when you eat,
Work when you work,
Play when you play,
Sleep when you sleep.

It is paramount to act completely selfless and disregard any potential rewards from your actions. Yoga’s purpose is to still the mind and connect better with God. If we are only concerned with fulfilling our desires, we may get what we wish for and probably crave more. Some call this greed. If we don’t get our way, we may get angry. Neither greed nor anger still the mind.

“Motivated action i.e., action performed with an eye on the fruits thereof, is far inferior to desireless action; seek thou refuge in equanimity; wretched are the result seekers”. Bhagavad-Gita

It is evident the various yoga methods offer some benefit for every unique individual.