YOGA

July 20th, 2015

YOGA:

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Marilyn Monroe performs dhanurasana (bow pose) in 1948:

Indra Devi opened yoga studio in Hollywood in 1948 and discovered ready students among movie stars, who found yoga’s breathing and relaxation techniques useful to their work. Her students included Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson and Marilyn Monroe.

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Prologue:

A considerable number of studies have identified prayer as a frequent and favoured coping method among patients providing each patient with comfort and strength. A variety of studies have attempted to test the efficacy of prayer and found no medical benefit. Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and well-constructed study proved in 2006. The Cochrane Collaboration published a thorough review reaching the same conclusion in 2011 and counselled, “We are not convinced that further trials of this intervention should be undertaken and would prefer to see any resources available for such a trial used to investigate other questions in health care.” God’s medical career was over. But he left a void in the public discussion of medicine, and yoga has filled it. Studies come out on a near weekly basis trumpeting the benefits of yoga for any problem. Yoga for diabetes. Yoga for high blood pressure. Yoga for heart disease. Yoga for cancer. Yoga is a mind and body practice with historical origins in ancient Indian philosophy. Various styles of yoga combine physical postures, breathing techniques, meditation and relaxation. In thousands of years of yoga history, the term “yoga” has gone through a renaissance in current culture, exchanging the loincloth for a leotard and pair of leggings. Carl G. Jung the eminent Swiss psychologist, described yoga as ‘one of the greatest things the human mind has ever created.’ Yoga is considered science of the mind and fitness was not the chief aim of practice although yoga has become popular as a form of physical exercise based upon asanas (physical poses) to promote bodily or mental control and well-being. Sanskrit, the Indo-European language of the Vedas, India’s ancient religious texts, gave birth to both the literature and the technique of yoga.  The Sanskrit word “yoga” has several translations and can be interpreted in many ways. Many translations point toward translations of “to yoke,” “join,” or “concentrate” – essentially as a means to unite body, mind and spirit. Yoga does not contradict or interfere with any religion, and may be practiced by everyone, whether they regard themselves as agnostics or members of a particular faith. Is yoga hype or science?  I attempt to answer this question.

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Note:

The article is published with sole intention to study scientific basis of yoga.  How to do yoga asana, pranayama and meditation with details of different asanas and different pranayamas, and details of specific asana/ pranayama for specific benefit is beyond scope of this article. Nobody should start doing yoga and nobody should stop doing yoga after reading this article. If you want to learn yoga, please contact competent & experienced yoga teacher. Please do read my article on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) published on this website in august 2010 as medical fraternity consider yoga as part of CAM.

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Yoga terminology:

Yoga (Sanskrit: योग) is a Sanskrit word with a general meaning of “connection, conjunction, attachment, union”: a generic term for several physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines originating in ancient India. Hatha Yoga is the term Yoga is now colloquially (and more commonly) used to refer to as a school which emphasizes physical exercise within the tradition of Raja Yoga. Raja Yoga is a system of meditation in classical Vedanta philosophy. The word yoga, from the Sanskrit word yuj means to yoke or bind and is often interpreted as “union” or a method of discipline. A male who practices yoga is called a yogi, a female practitioner, a yogini.

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A glossary of frequently used Yoga terms:

Asana: Asana is defined as “posture;” its literal meaning is “seat.” Originally, the asanas served as stable postures for prolonged meditation. More than just stretching, asanas open the energy channels (nadiis), and psychic centers (chakras) of the body. Asanas purify and strengthen the body and control and focus the mind. Asana is one of the eight limbs of classical Yoga, which states that asana should be steady and comfortable, firm yet relaxed. There are hundreds of different yoga postures, and they vary among the different styles and disciplines of Hatha Yoga. Teachers will often give the names of the postures in English, Sanskrit or a mix of the two.

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Ashtanga: eight limbs of yoga practice. Each limb relates to an aspect of achieving a healthy and fulfilling life, and each builds upon the one before it.

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Ayurveda: the ancient Indian science of health

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Bhakti: devotion (as in Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion)

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Chakra: Wheel of light – refers to each of the seven physical areas of the body wherein the three main nadis (Sushunma, Ida & Pingala) intersect. The basic system has seven chakras (root, sacrum, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye and crown), each of which is associated with a color, element, syllable, significance, etc.

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Drishti: gazing point used during asana practice

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Mantra: a repeated sound, syllable, word or phrase; often used in chanting and meditation.

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Meditation: Focusing and calming the mind often through breath work to reach deeper levels of consciousness.

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Mudra: a hand gesture; the most common mudras are anjali mudra (pressing palms together at the heart) and gyana mudra (with the index finger and thumb touching)

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Nadi: Channel for the movement of prana running through the body like a super highway. There are said to be 72,000 channels running through each body.

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Namaste: “I bow to you”; a word used at the beginning and/or end of class which is most commonly translated as “the light within me bows to the light within you”; a common greeting in Indian cultures; a salutation said with the hands in anjali mudra.

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Niyama: five living principles that (along with the yamas) make up the ethical and moral foundation of yoga; they include Sauca (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (burning enthusiasm), Svadhyaya (self-study) and Ishvarapranidhana (celebration of the spiritual)

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Om: the original syllable; chanted “A-U-M” at the beginning and/or end of many yoga classes

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Prana: life energy; chi; qi

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Pranayama: Breathing techniques to build prana, or energy, are known as pranayama. This is an important aspect of the yoga tradition and a part of the physical practice. When holding a yoga posture, make sure you can breathe slowly and deeply, using your breath control. A commonly used pranayama in Western classes is known as ujaii breathing, which mimics the sound of the ocean by constricting the throat. This technique links the breath with movements.

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Samadhi: the state of complete Self-actualization; enlightenment

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Savasana: corpse pose; final relaxation; typically performed at the end of every hatha yoga class, no matter what style

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Surya Namaskar: Sun Salutations; a system of yoga exercises performed in a flow or series

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Sutras: classical texts; the most famous in yoga is, of course, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

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Ujjayi (a.k.a as Hissing Breath, Victorious Breath): A type of pranayama in which the lungs are fully expanded and the chest is puffed out; most often used in association with yoga poses, especially in the vinyasa style.

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Vinyasa: Yoga posture sequences are a series of postures arranged to flow together one after the next. This is often called vinyasa or a yoga flow.

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World yoga day:

June 21 was declared as the International Day of Yoga by the United Nations General Assembly on December 11, 2014. The declaration of this day came after the call for the adoption of 21 June as International Day of Yoga by Indian PM Narendra Modi during his address to UN General Assembly on September 27, 2014. In December 2011, international humanitarian, meditation and yoga Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and other yoga gurus supported the cause from the delegation of the Yoga Portuguese Confederation and together gave a call to the UN to declare June 21 as World Yoga Day. Following the adoption of the UN Resolution, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar lauded the efforts of PM Narendra Modi, stating that “It is very difficult for any philosophy, religion or culture to survive without state patronage. Yoga has existed so far almost like an orphan. Now, official recognition by the UN would further spread the benefit of yoga to the entire world.”  “What is performed on the first International Yoga Day are the most popular, easy-to-do loosening exercises,” Isha, a Yoga instructor who learnt the art at Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga (MDNIY) says, adding that there were over 8.4 million of these exercises.  “Only the basic exercises are done on the International Yoga Day. These would certainly help people understand the importance of yoga in life.”

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The figure below shows use of yoga over time:

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Global yoga statistics:

There are 250 million estimated practitioners of yoga globally.

Around 20.4 million Americans practise yoga.

In the past few years, the number of people practicing yoga has grown about 30%. Interestingly, the amount of money that people are spending on this activity has grown by about 100%!

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Yoga in America:

The 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found yoga to be a growing complementary healthcare practice being utilized by approximately 6.1% of U.S. adults. Deep breathing exercises, known in yoga as “pranayama,” and meditation, another aspect often incorporated into yoga practice, were also popular complementary health practices among adults with 12.7% and 9.4%, respectively, of the population practicing (Barnes et al., 2008). The 2007 survey also found that more than 1.5 million children practiced yoga in the previous year. Many people who practice yoga do so to maintain their health and well-being, improve physical fitness, relieve stress, and enhance quality of life. In addition, they may be addressing specific health conditions, such as back pain, neck pain, arthritis, and anxiety. Across America, students, stressed-out young professionals, CEOs and retirees are among those who have embraced yoga, fuelling a $27 billion industry with more than 20 million practitioners — 83 percent of them women. More than 30 percent of Yoga Journal’s readership has a household income of over $100,000.

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Top five reasons people report for taking up yoga are:

1. To increase flexibility;

2. General conditioning of their body and muscles;

3. To find stress relief;

4. To improve their overall health, and;

5. To become more physical fit.

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Yoga in Australia: Results of a national survey in 2012:

Motivations for beginning and continuing yoga practice:

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Table above shows the reasons given for beginning and continuing yoga practice. Respondents were able to select multiple reasons. ‘Health and fitness’, and ‘increased flexibility/muscle tone’ were the most common reasons for starting (both about 71%) and continuing yoga practice (82% and 86% respectively). While 58.4% of respondents gave ‘reduce stress or anxiety’ as a reason for starting, 79.4% found this to be a reason for continuing. Only 19% of students initially saw yoga as a spiritual practice; however, this increased to 43% once practicing. Similarly, 29% initially saw yoga as a form of personal development, increasing to 59% as a reason for continuing to practice. About 20% indicated a specific health or medical reason for practice.

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Why Yoga has become so popular in America? Why India is still not there?

Do you know that there are 20 million yoga practitioners in North America? Yoga has already become a gigantic industry in America if you include yoga studios, yoga retreats, and products like mats, clothing, shoes, and games like Wii fits, conferences, books and videos! Besides, media’s fascination with the fact that celebrities like Madonna and Sting are yoga practitioners glamorizes the image of yoga and leads to more Americans joining this bandwagon. So what is it about it about this 5000-year-old practice, originated in India, to resonate with Americans? All of us know that it can’t be that Americans are running out of options in the market of “keeping fit” as there are just plethora of exercise equipment, gyms, books, videos and exercise programs out there. It is no secret that Americans always had fascination for anything mystique, eastern or oriental with a spiritual flavor. On top of that they have an insatiable need to try anything which can keep them fit. The martial art studios, teaching arts like kung-fu, taekwondo, karate and judo did address both aspects to some extent, but remained confined to teenagers or people who were relatively younger. Somehow, most people could not integrate martial arts as a part of their life style as strenuous routines were hard for people as they got older. Whereas, Yoga’s adoption by all age groups grew in leaps and bounds and you couldn’t surpass a busy street without seeing anyone carrying a yoga mat. There are various flavors of yoga which is common in America like Vinyasa, Iyenger, Kundalini, Kriya, Bikram, power, mild, hath and many others – each is designed to meet you where you are and based on your needs. Yoga practitioners in America actually believe that they can find a yoga pose for every ailment in your body! Finally, Yoga is turning out to be much more than various “stretching” routines and is making them understand difference between “health” and “fitness”. Perhaps the best way to understand yoga’s popularity in America is to go right to the people who practice it. If you ask them why the practice, some of the more common replies you might hear are flexibility, increased energy, improved focus, reduction of the symptoms associated with stress and an overall good feeling. It is claimed that yoga can have a rejuvenating effect on all systems of the body including the circulatory, glandular system, digestive, nervous, musculoskeletal, and reproductive and respiratory systems. Let’s talk about Indian now! What is the state of Yoga in India? According to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a world-renowned spiritual leader, “If an individual can be credited with reviving yoga in India, it is solely Swami Ramdev. Unperturbed by issues and controversies generated, he has done a phenomenal job in re-introducing Yoga at a national level”. But Indians still have a long way to go as far as adaption of yoga at grassroots level is concerned. The percentage of population practicing it daily is very low if you compare it with America. Yoga is free and practice of yoga doesn’t require any investment other than time. Indians should be leading rest of the world again as far as yoga is concerned because it has always been a part of India’s tradition.

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Commercialization of Yoga:

Most of what is billed as yoga around the world is not the yoga described in the Yoga Sutras or any of the original texts. Rather it has morphed into a form of asana without faith, devotion, or understanding underlying it, and therefore, more akin to mere exercise. New types of “yoga” seem to appear and disappear, it seems almost daily, and they are a far cry from the yoga described in the Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad Gita, or Upanishads. In today’s mass commercialization, the term “yoga” is loosely applied to the latest fitness creation that bears little to no resemblance to yoga as citta-vritti-nirodhah. The result of this has been a decline of yoga as an inward, spiritual quest or journey into a multi-million dollar commercialized industry. This commercialization is problematic in general, but it is of particular to concern to Hindus who see yoga being delinked from its roots. And though yoga is a means of spiritual attainment for any and all seekers, irrespective of faith or no faith, its underlying principles are those of Hindu thought. Yoga has gotten so big and has had such great commercial success that there is now a business category known as the “Yoga Industry”. Googling the term “Yoga Industry” reveals about 59,300,000 results.

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Introduction to yoga:

All of us know that Yoga originated in India and the history of yoga can be traced back to Indus Valley civilization. Maharshi Patanjali is regarded as the founder of yoga and “Yoga Sutras” written by him are considered by many as the foundational text of Yoga. The Sanskrit word yoga has many meanings and is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj,” meaning “to control,” “to yoke” or “to unite. The word is basically associated with spiritual and meditative practices in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Ironically, yoga was developed by men and practiced nearly exclusively by men for centuries.  It is only in recent western history that so many women have flocked to the practice. Still, many present day popular teachers and gurus are men.

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Yoga etymology:

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In philosophical terms, yoga refers to the union of the individual self with the universal self. Yoga is one of six branches of classical Indian philosophy and has been practiced for thousands of years. References to yoga are made throughout the Vedas, ancient Indian scriptures that are among the oldest texts in existence. Two thousand years ago the Indian sage Patanjali codified the various philosophies and methodologies of yoga into 196 aphorisms called “The Yoga Sutras,” which helped to define the modern practice of yoga. The Sutras outline eight limbs, or disciplines, of yoga: yamas (ethical disciplines), niyamas (individual observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (self-realization, enlightenment). For common people, the term yoga usually refers to the third and fourth limbs, asana and pranayama, although traditionally the limbs are viewed as interrelated. Currently many styles of yoga are practiced (e.g., Iyengar, Ashtanga, Vini, Kundalini, Bikram), some of which are more closely tied to a traditional lineage than others. It is important to note that each of these approaches represents a distinct intervention, in the same way that psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, and interpersonal therapies each involve different approaches to psychotherapy. These styles of yoga emphasize different components and also have diverse approaches to and standards for teacher training and certification.

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Yoga, in ancient times, was often referred to in terms of a tree with roots, trunk, branches, blossoms and fruits. Each branch of yoga has unique characteristics and represents a specific approach to life.

The six branches are:

1. Hatha yoga – physical and mental branch – involves asana and pranayama practice – preparing the body and mind

2. Raja yoga – meditation and strict adherence to the “eight limbs of yoga”

3. Karma yoga – path of service to consciously create a future free from negativity and selfishness caused by our actions

4. Bhakti yoga – path of devotion – a positive way to channel emotions and cultivate acceptance and tolerance

5. Jnana yoga – wisdom, the path of the scholar and intellect through study

6. Tantra yoga – pathway of ritual, ceremony or consummation of a relationship.

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In other parts of the world where yoga is popular, notably the United States, yoga has become associated with the asanas (postures) of Hatha Yoga, which are popular as fitness exercises. Yoga as a means to enlightenment is central to Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, and has influenced other religious and spiritual practices throughout the world. The ultimate goal of yoga is the attainment of liberation (Moksha) from worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and death. Yoga entails mastery over the body, mind, and emotional self, and transcendence of desire. It is said to lead gradually to knowledge of the true nature of reality. The Yogi reaches an enlightened state where there is a cessation of thought and an experience of blissful union. This union may be of the individual soul (Atman) with the supreme Reality (Brahman), as in Vedanta philosophy; or with a specific god or goddess, as in theistic forms of Hinduism and some forms of Buddhism.

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What does Om mean?

Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions. It is said to be the sound of the universe. Chanting Om allows us to recognize our experience as a reflection of how the whole universe moves—the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the beating of our hearts. As we chant Om, it takes us for a ride on this universal movement, through our breath, our awareness, and our physical energy and we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing.

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Yoga is a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practised for health and relaxation. Yoga is an exercise practice that combines breathing exercises, physical postures, and meditation. The whole system of Yoga is built on three main structures: exercise, breathing, and meditation. The exercises of Yoga are designed to put pressure on the glandular systems of the body, thereby increasing its efficiency and total health. The body is looked upon as the primary instrument that enables us to work and evolve in the world, and so a Yoga student treats it with great care and respect. Breathing techniques are based on the concept that breath is the source of life in the body. The Yoga student gently increases breath control to improve the health and function of both body and mind. These two systems of exercise and breathing then prepare the body and mind for meditation, and the student finds an easy approach to a quiet mind that allows silence and healing from everyday stress. Regular daily practice of all three parts of this structure of Yoga produce a clear, bright mind and a strong, capable body.

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Yoga is a full-body workout that increases flexibility, endurance, strength, balance and mental clarity through the use of postures, breathing techniques and concentration. It combines muscle strengthening and toning with flexibility and stretching exercises as well as breathing and meditation to attain maximum results. It is an exercise and meditation regimen that some people even consider to be a lifestyle. Yoga helps correct posture by increasing core strength and by encouraging correct alignment. To increase strength and endurance, participants practice holding static poses for longer periods of time. The mind and body exercise regimen requires the practitioner to focus on breathing. This helps reduce stress and anxiety and encourages relaxation and a sense of calm.

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This is how I view yoga, a discipline involving controlled breathing, prescribed body positions, and meditation, with the goal of attaining a state of deep spiritual insight and tranquillity. First you have to adopt a specific posture to stretch muscles, improve flexibility and do isometric exercise. While doing posture, you concentrate on breathing. Controlled breathing helps to gain conscious control over bodily functions. Breath control and breathing exercise would lead to meditation and relaxation. Yoga is a synchronisation of posture, breathing and meditation.

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Anyone can practise yoga. You don’t need special equipment or clothes – just a small amount of space and a strong desire for a healthier, more fulfilled life. The yoga postures or asanas exercise every part of the body, stretching and toning the muscles and joints, the spine and the entire skeletal system. And they work not only on the body’s frame but on the internal organs, glands and nerves as well, keeping all systems in radiant health. By releasing physical and mental tension, they also liberate vast resources of energy. The yogic breathing exercises known as pranayama revitalize the body and help to control the mind, leaving you feeling calm and refreshed, while the practice of positive thinking and meditation gives increased clarity, mental power and concentration. Yoga is a complete science of life that originated in India.

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Yoga is traditionally believed to have beneficial effects on physical and emotional health. Over the last several decades, investigators have begun to subject these beliefs to empirical scrutiny. Most of the published studies on yoga were conducted in India, although a growing number of trials have been conducted in the United States and other Western countries. The effects of yoga have been explored in a number of patient populations, including individuals with asthma, cardiac conditions, arthritis, kyphosis, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, headache, depression, diabetes, pain disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, and addictions (among others),as well as in healthy individuals. In recent years, investigators have begun to examine the effects of yoga among cancer patients and survivors. The term cancer survivor here refers to individuals who have completed cancer treatment. The application of yoga as a therapeutic intervention, which began early in the twentieth century, takes advantage of the various psychophysiological benefits of the component practices. The physical exercises (asanas) may increase patient’s physical flexibility, coordination, and strength, while the breathing practices and meditation may calm and focus the mind to develop greater awareness and diminish anxiety, and thus result in higher quality of life. Other beneficial effects might involve a reduction of distress, blood pressure, and improvements in resilience, mood, and metabolic regulation.

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According to the U.S. Department on Aging, there are four components to good physical health: strength, flexibility, balance and aerobic capacity. It is interesting to note that yoga can help you accomplish all these things, and no fancy piece of equipment is needed other than your own body and a yoga mat.  Over the last 100 years, our lives have become very fast paced: cell phones, computers, internet, television. This, along with a strong work ethic, often results in people out of balance – people experiencing a lot of stress. Consequently, there is a strong need to de-stress, to quiet our minds and rejuvenate our bodies. And yoga helps achieve this, helping us return to a state of balance and health.

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Definition of yoga:

There is no single definition of yoga. In order to experience truth through yoga, we must study its classical definitions and reflect on our own understanding of it.  Yoga practices include posture (asana), breathing (pranayama), control of subtle forces (mudra and bandha), cleansing the body-mind (shat karma), visualizations, chanting of mantras, and many forms of meditation.

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The Indian sage Patanjali is believed to have collated the practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutra an estimated 2,000 years ago. Patañjali’s work was composed in 400 CE plus or minus 25 years. The Sutra is a collection of 196 statements that serves as a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are widely regarded as the first compilation of the formal yoga philosophy. The verses of Yoga Sutras are terse. Many later Indian scholars studied them and published their commentaries, such as the Vyasa Bhashya (c. 350–450 CE). Patanjali’s yoga is also referred to as Raja yoga.

Patanjali defines the word “yoga” in his second sutra:

योग: चित्त-वृत्ति निरोध: (yogaḥ citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ) – Yoga Sutras 1.2

The great sage Patanjali, in the system of Raja Yoga, gave one of the best definitions of yoga. He said, ‘Yoga is the blocking (nirodha) of mental modifications (chitta vritti) so that the seer (drashta) re-identifies with the (higher) Self. Patanjali describes Yoga as ‘Chitta Viriddhi Nirodha’ or the opening up of the closed mind. The aim of Yoga is to reach one’s true self and to reach the goal, one has to let go of biases and prejudices. Patanjali’s system has come to be the epitome of Classical Yoga Philosophy and is one of the major philosophies of India. This terse definition hinges on the meaning of three Sanskrit terms. I. K. Taimni translates it as “Yoga is the inhibition (nirodhaḥ) of the modifications (vṛitti) of the mind (citta)”.  Swami Vivekananda translates the sutra as “Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Citta) from taking various forms (Vrittis).”  Edwin Bryant explains that, to Patanjali, “Yoga essentially consists of meditative practices culminating in attaining a state of consciousness free from all modes of active or discursive thought, and of eventually attaining a state where consciousness is unaware of any object external to itself, that is, is only aware of its own nature as consciousness unmixed with any other object.”

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According to Sage Patanjali, there are eight aspects of yoga, referred to as ashtanga yoga (Eight-Limbed Yoga), which includes yama (social discipline), niyama (personal discipline), asana (moulding the body into various positions), pranayama (regulation of the breath), pratyahara (involution of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (state of bliss). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali discuss yoga practice in eight stages or limbs of yoga, which together provide a wholistic practice and the guiding principles to bring real happiness and lasting changes in our lives. Only one limb pertains to ‘asana’ (or postures). Classical yoga texts tell us that the last three of Patanjali’s limbs—dharana (deep concentration), dhyana (awareness of existence) and samadhi (oneness or enlightenment)—are to be practiced once we have a foundational understanding of yoga’s powers of illumination. According to B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, we are ready to practice dharana once “the body has been tempered by asanas, when the mind has been refined by the fire of pranayama, and when the senses have been brought under control by pratyahara.”

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Please do not confuse Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga with power yoga which is also called ashtanga yoga.

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According to Jacobsen, Yoga has five principal meanings:

1. Yoga as a disciplined method for attaining a goal;

2. Yoga as techniques of controlling the body and the mind;

3. Yoga as a name of one of the schools or systems of philosophy (darśana);

4. Yoga in connection with other words, such as “hatha-, mantra-, and laya-,” referring to traditions specialising in particular techniques of yoga;

5. Yoga as the goal of Yoga practice.

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Hatha Yoga:

The earliest references to hatha yoga are in Buddhist works dating from the eighth century. The earliest definition of hatha yoga is found in the 11th century Buddhist text Vimalaprabha, which defines it in relation to the center channel, bindu etc. The basic tenets of Hatha yoga were formulated by Shaiva ascetics Matsyendranath and Gorakshanath c. 900 CE. Hatha yoga synthesizes elements of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras with posture and breathing exercises. Hatha yoga, sometimes referred to as the “psychophysical yoga”, was further elaborated by Yogi Swatmarama, compiler of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika in 15th century CE. This yoga differs substantially from the Raja yoga of Patanjali in that it focuses on shatkarma, the purification of the physical body as leading to the purification of the mind (ha), and prana, or vital energy (tha). Compared to the seated asana, or sitting meditation posture, of Patanjali’s Raja yoga, it marks the development of asanas (plural) into the full body ‘postures’ now in popular usage and, along with its many modern variations, is the style that many people associate with the word yoga today. It is similar to a diving board – preparing the body for purification, so that it may be ready to receive higher techniques of meditation. The word “Hatha” comes from “Ha” which means Sun, and “Tha” which means Moon. This refers to the balance of masculine aspects—active, hot, sun—and feminine aspects—receptive, cool, moon—within all of us. Hatha yoga is a path toward creating balance and uniting opposites. In our physical bodies we develop a balance of strength and flexibility. We also learn to balance our effort and surrender in each pose. The word hatha also means willful or forceful. Hatha yoga includes postures (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), purification techniques (shat karmas), and energy regulation techniques (mudra and bandha). The definition of yoga in the Hatha Yoga texts is the union of the upward force (prana) and the downward force (apana) at the navel center (manipura chakra). Hatha yoga teaches us to master the totality of our life force, which is also called prana. By learning how to feel and manipulate the life force, we access the source of our being. Hatha yoga is a powerful tool for self-transformation. It asks us to bring our attention to our breath, which helps us to still the fluctuations of the mind and be more present in the unfolding of each moment.

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In the 1980s, yoga was connected to health, legitimizing yoga as a purely physical system of health exercises outside of counter-culture or esotericism circles, and unconnected to any religious denomination. Numerous asanas seemed modern in origin, and strongly overlapped with 19th and early-20th century Western exercise traditions. The West in the early 21st century typically associates the term “yoga” with Hatha yoga and its asanas (postures) or as a form of exercise. Since 2001, the popularity of yoga in the USA has risen constantly. The number of people who practiced some form of yoga has grown from 4 million (in 2001) to 20 million (in 2011). The American College of Sports Medicine supports the integration of yoga into the exercise regimens of healthy individuals as long as properly-trained professionals deliver instruction. The College cites yoga’s promotion of “profound mental, physical and spiritual awareness” and its benefits as a form of stretching, and as an enhancer of breath control and of core strength. Today most people practicing yoga are engaged in the third limb, asana, which is a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.

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Modern Yoga versus Traditional Yoga:

The typical public perception of Yoga has shifted significantly in recent years. The starting point of most classes, books, magazines, articles, websites, and blogs on Yoga are so different from traditional Yoga of the ancient sages that it can be fairly called “Not Yoga”. The wave of Not Yoga seems to morph further and further away from Yoga. Yoga is now so totally altered that we can cry, get angry, or laugh, and laughing might be the most positive. Much, if not most of today’s Yoga can be called “gymnastic yoga” as it has emerged from the gymnastic practices of the late 1800s and early 1900s, not from the ancient traditions of Yoga. Other “styles” of modern Yoga are simply gross distortions. Traditional yoga has historically been taught orally, and there are subtle nuances among various lineages and teachers, rather than there being someone, precisely agreed upon “yoga”. Principles are usually communicated in sutra style, where brief outlines are expanded upon orally. For example, yoga is outlined in 196 sutras of the Yoga Sutras and then is discussed with and explained by teacher to student. Similarly, the great depth of meaning of Om mantra is expanded upon orally.

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Traditional yoga:

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Modern yoga:

The modern yoga widely practiced around the world today is derivative of Hatha Yoga, although it places a greater emphasis on asana (physical postures) than is found in traditional Hatha Yoga and includes innovations from Indian and foreign sources that are not to be found in traditional teachings on Hatha Yoga.

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Modern yoga is based on five basic principles that were created by Swami Sivananda.

1. Savasana or proper relaxation;

2. Asanas or proper exercise;

3. Pranayama or proper breathing;

4. Proper diet; and

5. Dhyana or positive thinking and Meditation

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In spite of the immense popularity of postural yoga worldwide, there is little or no evidence that asana (excepting certain seated postures of meditation) has ever been the primary aspect of any Indian yoga practice tradition… The primacy of asana performance in transnational yoga today is a new phenomenon that has no parallel in premodern times. The mere fact that one might do a few stretches with the physical body does not in itself mean that one is headed towards that high union referred to as Yoga. Many people work with diet, exercise and interpersonal relationships. This may include physical fitness classes, food or cooking seminars, or many forms of personality work, including support groups, psychotherapy, or confiding with friends. When done alone, these are not necessarily aimed towards Yoga, and are therefore not Yoga, however beneficial they may be. Yet, work with body, food, and relationships may very much fall under the domain of Yoga, when Yoga is the goal. The key is the goal or destination one holds in the heart, mind, and conviction. Without that being directed towards the state of Yoga, the methods can hardly be called Yoga. The goal of Yoga is Yoga, which has to do with the realization in direct experience of the highest unity of our being.

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Perception has recently shifted: The typical perception of Yoga has shifted a great deal in the past century, particularly the past couple decades. Most of this is due to changes made in the West, particularly in the United States, though it is not solely an American phenomenon. The gist of the shift can be summarized in two perspectives, one of which is modern and false, and the other of which is ancient and true.

•False: Yoga is a physical system with a spiritual component.

•True: Yoga is a spiritual system with a physical component.

The false view spreads: Unfortunately, the view that Yoga is a physical exercise program is the dominant viewpoint. The false view then spreads through many institutions, classes, teachers, books, magazines, and millions of students of modern Yoga, who have little or no knowledge or interest in the spiritual goals of ancient, authentic, traditional Yoga and Yoga Meditation.

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This is not yoga:

The misuse of the word Yoga often involves what logicians call the Fallacy of Composition. One version of the Fallacy of Composition is projecting a characteristic assumed by a part to be the characteristic assumed by the whole or by others. It may lead to false conclusion that whenever a person is doing some action that is included in Yoga, that person is necessarily doing Yoga. Here are some obviously unreasonable and false arguments about the nature of Yoga. These are given as examples of the absurdity of the fallacy of composition.

•Body flexing is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody who flexes the body is practicing Yoga.

•Breath regulation is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody who intentionally breathes smoothly and slowly is practicing Yoga.

•Cleansing the body is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody cleansing the body is practicing Yoga.

•Concentrating the mind is part of Yoga; therefore anybody who concentrates is practicing Yoga.

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Asana, pranayama and meditation:

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Asana:

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Asanas are various body positions designed to improve health and remove diseases in the physical, causal, and subtle bodies. The word “asana” is Sanskrit for “seat”, which refers not only to the physical position of the body but also to the position of the body in relation to divinity. They were originally meant for Meditation, as the postures can make you feel relaxed for a long period of time. The regular practice of Asanas will grant the practitioner muscle flexibility and bone strength, as well as non-physical rewards such as the development of will power, concentration, and self-withdrawal. Asana is defined as “posture or pose;” its literal meaning is “seat.” Originally, there was only one asana– a stable and comfortable pose for prolonged seated meditation.  Asana practice alone is shown to have a myriad of health benefits from lowering blood pressure, relief of back pain and arthritis, and boosting of the immune system. Increasingly, many believe asana practice to reduce Attention Deficit Disorder (AD/HD) in children, and recent studies have shown it improves general behavior and grades.

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And while practicing asana for improved health is perfectly acceptable, it is not the goal or purpose of yoga. Perhaps the two most influential yoga gurus of our time, BKS Iygenar and Pattabhi Jois were clear about the intended purpose of asana. In interviews from 2004, re-published by Namarapa magazine in Fall 2014 issue, the two masters are quoted as follows:

“Asanas are not meant for physical fitness, but for conquering the elements, energy, and so on. So, how to balance the energy in the body, how to control the five elements, how to balance the various aspect of the mind without mixing them all together, and how to be able to perceive the difference between the gunas, and to experience that there is something behind them, operating in the world of man – that is what asanas are for. The process is slow and painstaking, but a steady inquiry facilitates a growing awareness.” – Iyengar

“But using it [yoga] for physical practice is no good, of no use – just a lot of sweating, pushing, and heavy breathing for nothing. The spiritual aspect, which is beyond the physical is the purpose of yoga. When the nervous system is purified, when your mind rests in the atman [the Self], then you can experience the true greatness of yoga. To practice asana and pranayama is to learn to control the body and the senses, so that the inner light can be experienced. That light is the same for the whole world.” – Jois

Still, both yoga masters recognized the importance of asana as vital and necessary to the practice of yoga. Asana is the limb through which most people enter the world of yoga, and its importance should not be diminished. Higher levels of yoga cannot be achieved if the physical body is weak, sick, or injured. Asana, when practiced under the guidance of a guru or an experienced and properly trained teacher, is integral to yoga. Unfortunately, the likes of Iygenar and Jois are difficult to come by, especially in much of today’s yoga culture which is driven by a Western-mentality of commercialization and commodification. Without such insight, wisdom, and proper guidance, modern day “yoga” is asana without understanding, faith, or intention, and therefore, merely remains at the level of physical exercise. In a 2005 interview published in Namarupa magazine, Prashant Iyengar, son of B.K.S. Iyengar, shared a similar view when he said, “We cannot expect that millions are practicing real yoga just because millions of people claim to be doing yoga all over the globe. What has spread all over the world is not yoga. It is not even non-yoga; it is un-yoga.”

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Ideal time to start these asanas is in the morning. Morning times are quiet and conducive to perform asanas. The most important thing to bear in mind is to be aware or conscious of what one is doing during the asana practice. Inattention during the practice does not give favorable results. The aim is to observe, recognize and control the bodily movements. Yoga is one of the best means to understand the nature of the mind, body language and above all, self-study. Asanas are 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical. A regular routine should be adhered to, while following asana practice. While doing the asanas, one should be conscious of the stretch in the limbs and be aware of the flexibility of the joints. A general yoga routine should commence with padmasana, a sitting posture suitable for meditation. Apart from being conscious of bodily movements, one should start to observe breathing, heartbeat and the tension in the muscles. One must be able to distinguish the different states of tension, relaxation and other sensations in the body. The main emphasis of these asanas is, to assume a posture slowly, smoothly, and to be aware of the feelings that the posture helps to develop. The posture should be executed in a slow and controlled manner. Then focus should be on breathing. Controlled breathing helps to gain conscious control over bodily functions. Then one should relax into the posture. Relaxation is an important aspect in yoga practice. One should mentally tune oneself into yoga postures or visualize the posture one is going to practice. All the muscles must be in a relaxed position from the start to the final position, and practicing yoga makes one feel good. They should be executed in a slow, harmonious and continuous manner. To achieve a perfect posture should not be the aim, but rather one should have a non-striving attitude. Observation and concentration play a vital role. Introspection of one’s own thoughts and feelings too play a significant role. When thoughts invade the mind, they should be gently pushed away and attention should be gathered gently. Each yoga posture, which falls into phases, manifests itself in synchrony. One must listen to the body and should not stretch oneself beyond one’s capacity. Always do it in a relaxed and calm manner. The essence of yoga is to transform life into a healthy one. It changes and normalizes the incorrect pattern of living. Yoga re-energizes the mind and body.

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The different postures or asanas include:

•lying postures

•sitting postures

•standing postures

•inverted or upside-down postures

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Asana is one of the eight limbs of classical Yoga, which states that poses should be steady and comfortable, firm yet relaxed helping a practitioner to become more aware of their body, mind, and environment. The 12 basic poses or asanas are much more than just stretching. They open the energy channels, chakras and psychic centers of the body while increasing flexibility of the spine, strengthening bones and stimulating the circulatory and immune systems. Along with proper breathing or pranayama, asanas also calm the mind and reduce stress.

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12 basic asanas:

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Yoga poses with animal names:

There are many yoga poses with animal names. It’s only natural, as the early yogis were influenced by what was around them. Animals have been instinctively practicing asana (yoga poses) for centuries.  In fact, many of the yoga poses we have come to know in class were named after animals both for the resemblance itself, and for the quality of the animal itself. Ancient yogis observed animals in nature; their abilities and beauty. To emulate these animal qualities through asana was considered a high sign of spiritual enlightenment. Along with the dog, this asana menagerie includes other mammals (cow, camel, cat, horse, lion, monkey, bull), birds (eagle, peacock, goose or swan, crane, heron, rooster, pigeon, partridge), a fish and a frog, reptiles (cobra, crocodile, tortoise), and arthropods (locust, scorpion, firefly). There’s even a pose named after a mythic sea monster, the makara, the Hindu zodiac’s Capricorn, which is pictured as having the head and forelegs of a deer and the body and tail of a fish.

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Padmasana:

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Padmasana is a term derived from sanskrit word padma: lotus, and asana: seat or throne. While doing any asana, it is very important to be alert and be conscious of what we are doing. Concentration and relaxation play a vital role in the practice of yoga. Padmasana is also called kamalasana, which means lotus. The form of the legs while performing this asana gives the appearance of a lotus. It is the best asana for contemplation. As we start the asana, one must become conscious of the body. We must try to visualize the posture one is going to practice. This is actually a form of mental tuning. So we have to visualize before doing the asana. As one takes the right posture, one must close the eyes and be aware of the body. The Muscles must be relaxed. One should feel the touch of the legs on the floor. The focus should then be shifted to the breath. A feeling of peace touches the mind. Sit in this posture for a few Minutes before proceeding to the next asana.

Steps to follow for Padmasana:

1. Sit on the ground by spreading the legs forward.

2. Place the right foot on the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh.

3. Place the hands on the knee joints.

4. Keep the body, back and head erect.

5. Eyes should be closed.

6. One can do Pranayama in this asana.

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Mudra:

A mudra is a symbolic or ritual gesture in Hinduism and Buddhism. While some mudras involve the entire body, most are performed with the hands and fingers. In yoga, mudras are used in conjunction with pranayama (yogic breathing exercises), generally while seated in Padmasana, Sukhasana or Vajrasana pose, to stimulate different parts of the body involved with breathing and to affect the flow of prana in the body. The yoga teacher Satyananda Saraswati, founder of the Bihar School of Yoga, continued to emphasize the importance of mudras in his instructional text Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha.

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Savasana (The Corpse Pose):

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The Corpse Pose or Savasana is the classic relaxation pose, practised before each session, between asanas, and in Final

Relaxation. It looks deceptively simple, but it is in fact one of the most difficult asanas to do well and one which changes and develops with practice. At the end of an asana session your Corpse Pose will be more complete than at the beginning because the other asanas will have progressively stretched and relaxed your muscles. When you first lie down, look to see that you are lying symmetrically as symmetry provides proper space for all parts to relax. Now start to work into the pose. Rotate your legs in and out then let them fall gently out to the sides. Do the same with your arms. Rotate the spine by turning your head from side to side to centre it. Then start stretching yourself out, as though someone were pulling your head away from your feet, your shoulders down and away from your neck, your legs down away from your pelvis. Let gravity embrace you. Feel your weight pulling you deeper into relaxation, melting your body into the floor. Breathe deeply and slowly from the abdomen (right), riding up and down on the breath, sinking deeper with each exhalation. Feel how your abdomen swells and falls. Many important physiological changes are taking place, reducing the body’s energy loss, removing stress, lowering your respiration and pulse rate, and resting the whole system. As you enter deep relaxation, you will feel your mind grow clear and detached.

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Yoga series (dynamic asana):

Yoga series consist of asanas done in sequence. The most common yoga series is Surya Namaskara or the Sun Salutation originating in the Hatha Yoga system. Ashtanga yoga (power yoga), Vinyasa Yoga and Bikram yoga are also considered as yoga series.

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Ashtanga yoga:

Ashtanga is based on ancient yoga teachings, but it was popularized and brought to the West by Pattabhi Jois in the 1970s. It’s a rigorous style of yoga that follows a specific sequence of postures and is similar to vinyasa yoga, as each style links every movement to a breath. The difference is that ashtanga always performs the exact same poses in the exact same order. This is a hot, sweaty, physically demanding practice.

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Vinyasa Yoga:

Vinyasa means flow in Sanskrit. In this practice of yoga vinyasas are completed between poses to refresh the body and prepare for the next posture. A vinyasa typically consists of chattaranga, followed by a cobra/ upward dog position into a downward dog. Downward dog is considered to be the restorative posture and is a resting pose to regain the ujjayi breath before moving on to the next posture.

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Bikram Yoga:

Bikram Yoga is a style of yoga developed by Bikram Choudhury and a Los Angeles, California based company. Bikram Yoga is ideally practiced in a room heated to 105 °F (40.5 °C) with a humidity of 40%, and classes, which are 90 minutes long, are a guided series of 26 postures and two non-pranamic breathing exercises.

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Surya Namaskara:

Sanskrit for Sun Salutation owes its name for expressing devotion (bhakti) to Surya, the solar deity in the Hindu pantheon, by concentrating on the Sun. The Sun Salutation is, for many yogis, an exercise to be performed at sun rise, or at least in the morning. Surya Namaskara is a sequence of twelve asanas, where the five beginning asanas are the same as the last five asanas of the sequence. The Sun Salutation can be practiced at varying levels of awareness, ranging from that of physical exercise, to a complete sadhana which incorporates asana, pranayama, mantra and chakra meditation.

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Yoga and breathing:

Breathing is one of the most important parts of yoga. Breathing steadily while you’re in a yoga pose can help you get the most from the pose. But practicing breathing exercises when you’re not doing yoga poses can be good for you, too. It may seem strange to practice breathing, since we do it naturally every moment of our lives. But when people get stressed, their breathing often becomes shallower and more rapid. Paying attention to how you are breathing can help you notice how you’re feeling — it can give you a clue that you’re stressed even when you don’t realize it. So start by noticing how you’re breathing, then focus on slowing down and breathing more deeply.

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The Importance of breath in Yoga:

Awareness of breath and synchronizing breath and movement is what makes yoga, yoga; and not gymnastics or any other physical practice. When focusing on the breath during our asana practice, the control of the breath shifts from the brain stem (medulla oblongata) to the cerebral cortex (evolved part of brain) due to us being aware of the breath. It’s in that moment, when we are aware, when the magic starts to happens. The mind will become quieter and a calm awareness arises.  As a result emotional stress and random thoughts are less likely to occur. So basically the whole system gets a break. The energy, the prana, begins to flow more freely pushing through any emotional and physical blockages and thus freeing the body and mind which results in the “feel good” effect after a yoga practice. So we can safely say that breath has an intimate relationship to the overall movement of prana (life energy) throughout the entire body. Those who have practiced some serious meditation have apparently noticed and seen that when the breath moves, the mind moves as well. Of course this works both ways so as the mind moves, the breath moves too. This basically means that the breath gives us a tool with which we can explore the subtler structures of our mental and emotional worlds. When the breath changes, that tells you that something is happening in your mind. When something happens in your mind, like a disturbing thought for example, your breath will reflect that back to you. You will then understand that, because the breath and mind are so connected, awareness and mindfulness of breathing can lead to insight into the nature of mind. Insight into the nature of the mind leads eventually to freedom from suffering.

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Accurate use of the breath adds an important dimension to the practice of asanas. It brings both physical and mental refinement and leads naturally and easily to the practice of yogic breathing or pranayama. For thousands of years, yogis have realized the profound relationship between one’s mental state and one’s breathing. When we are nervous, frightened, or angry, our breathing is immediately affected, usually becoming short, fast, and shallow. Conversely, when we are relaxed and calm, our breathing is long, slow, and deep. Thus, our breathing often reflects our mental condition. If we consciously develop slow, calm, deep breathing, one result is a relaxed mind. Although the final aim of yogic breathing is not simply to calm the mind, this is an essential first step.

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While priorities may differ between styles and teachers, when to inhale and exhale during asana is a fairly standardized practice element. Here three simple guidelines are offered for pairing breath with types of poses.

1. When bending forward, exhale.

When you exhale, the lungs empty, making the torso more compact, so there is less physical mass between your upper and lower body as they move toward each other. The heart rate also slows on the exhalation, making it less activating than an inhalation and inducing a relaxation response. Since forward bends are typically quieting postures, this breathing rule enhances the energetic effects of 
the pose and the depth of the fold.

2. When lifting or opening the chest, inhale.

In a heart-opening backbend, for instance, you increase the space in your chest cavity, giving the lungs, rib cage, and diaphragm more room to fill with air. And heart rate speeds up on an inhalation, increasing alertness and pumping more blood to muscles. Deep inhalation requires muscular effort that contributes to its activating effect. Poses that lift and open the chest are often the practice’s energizing components, so synchronizing them with inhalations takes optimum advantage of the breath’s effects on the body.

3. When twisting, exhale.

In twists, the inhalation accompanies the preparation phase of the pose (lengthening the spine, etc.), and the exhalation is paired with the twisting action. Posturally, that’s because as your lungs empty there’s more physical space available for your rib cage to rotate further. But twists are also touted for their detoxifying effects, and the exhalation is the breath’s cleansing mechanism for expelling CO2.

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Belly Breathing:

Belly breathing allows you to focus on filling your lungs fully. It’s a great way to counteract shallow, stressed-out breathing:

•Sit in a comfortable position with one hand on your belly.

•With your mouth closed and your jaw relaxed, inhale through your nose. As you inhale, allow your belly to expand. Imagine the lower part of your lungs filling up first, then the rest of your lungs inflating.

•As you slowly exhale, imagine the air emptying from your lungs, and allow the belly to flatten.

•Do this 3-5 times.

This kind of breathing can help settle your nerves before a big test, sports game, or even before bed.

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Yoga and diaphragm:

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The diaphragm is one of the most unique muscles in the body and serves as the crucial actor in one of its most essential functions: breathing. What we might not always realize is that the diaphragm holds great significance beyond its essential role in facilitating the rhythm of breath. Unique in both form and function, the diaphragm creates an umbrella-like dome that sits over the abdominal organs, attaching to the inner surface of the ribs and lumbar vertebrae. When we inhale, the diaphragm flattens downward, putting gentle pressure on the belly’s organs, creating a vacuum that pulls air into the lungs. When we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes, releasing pressure on the organs, allowing the lungs to deflate. Without the diaphragm’s presence, the lungs would remain lifeless pieces of tissue. But with the magic of this special muscle’s movements, the lungs come to life and fill with oxygen for the body to use. On a physical level, this the diaphragm critically assists the body in the inhalation of oxygen and exhalation of carbon dioxide. On an energetic level, this process has deeper meaning. The act of breathing is evidence of our interdependent relationship with the world beyond ourselves. While breathing, we receive the oxygen from our environment and, in turn, offer carbon dioxide back out where it is absorbed by plants, trees and other microorganisms. From this perspective, breathing is more than just an act of individual survival; it is part of the ongoing processes of co-creation and communion with the world we inhabit. The yogi sees this process as an ongoing exchange of prana—the universal life force which flows through us all, driving our every action and sustaining life on our planet. This continuous exchange begins with our very first breath of life and ends with the last. From the moment we are born to the moment we transition, our breath is vital in making the world go round. For this remarkable act of interconnectedness, we have the diaphragm to thank. The unique muscle is located within the realm of the fourth chakra—anahata, the heart chakra (vide infra). This is the place in the body where primal and self-centric instincts begin to drive us toward connections with others, taking us beyond our physical, emotional and mental bodies. Additionally, the fourth chakra and diaphragm reside at the half-way point between the crown chakra and the first chakra regions. The inferior (lower) bodily functions are innately primitive, and the superior (upper) functions are esoteric and intellectual. The region of the fourth chakra then, becomes the point of balance between what exists within (for us personally) and our outward environment. Our ability to interact with the world and the quality of those interactions are evident in the way we breathe. The diaphragm, incredibly powerful yet sensitive enough to detect the subtleties of life, bears the imprints of any emotional, energetic and physical disturbances or highlights we experience. For instance, when we are tense, we tend to shorten or quicken the breath, but when we are relaxed or at ease, our breath is slower and more rhythmic. The breath can be considered a storehouse of memories, showcasing our interactions and personal habits in our breathing patterns.

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Pranayama:

Pranayama is derived from the words “prana” (life-force or energy source) and “ayama” (to control). It is the science of breath control. This is an important part of Hatha Yoga because the yogis of old times believed that the secret to controlling one’s mind can be unlocked by controlling one’s breath. The practice of Pranayama can also help unleash the dormant energies inside our body. Pranayama is the fourth ‘limb’ of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga mentioned in verse 2.29 in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Many yoga teachers advise that pranayama should be part of an overall practice that includes the other limbs of Patanjali’s Raja Yoga teachings, especially Yama, Niyama, and Asana. The aim of pranayama is to inspire. infuse, control, regulate and balance the Prana Shakti (vital energy) in the body. You can do Pranayama 3 to 4 hours after meals. The most suitable and useful time for Pranayama is the morning hours on an empty stomach.

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Our breath has a profound impact on our physiological states. Using breath to address imbalances of the nervous system is a very effective and powerful way to cultivate sattva. For example, did you know that simply extending the length of your exhales beyond the length of your inhales stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system (the “calm down” mechanism in your body)?  On the other hand, taking breaths where your inhales are longer than your exhales has a stimulating (or rajasic) effect. Depending on how your body is feeling (overly stimulated or overly inert), you can choose the breath that brings you closer to balance.

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Pranayama is the method of breath control. Proper breathing and awareness of the breath is very important. Swami Yogananda says, “Breath is the cord that ties the soul to the body”. Your breathing directly affects the mental states. Breathing exercises help to control bodily functions. A regular, deep breath enables one to feel calm and an irregular breath can make you feel anxious. Yoga Breathing helps to re- charge the cells in the body and re- energizes the brain cells; thus, the body is rejuvenated. Pranayama involves exhalation or rechaka pranayama, inhalation or puraka pranayama and retention of breath or kumbakha pranayama.  It is a powerful tool to combat stress. Our mental states, feelings and bodily sensations affect the pattern of breathing. Positive thoughts cause regular breathing and negative thoughts cause uneven breathing. Correspondingly, in this stress filled lifestyle, it becomes imperative to practice yoga, correctly. Swami Svatmarama says, “By the faulty practice of pranayama the aspirant invites all kinds of ailments”. The aspirant should study the capacity of his lungs before embarking on the practice of pranayama. If he indulges in the wrong practice of pranayama, it will sap him of his energy. A wrong course of breath or over -enthusiasm could result in coughs, asthma, headaches, eye and ear pain.

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Types of Pranayama:

•Quiet Breathing , Deep Breathing , Fast Breathing

• Tribandha and Pranayama

• Nadi Shuddhi Pranayama (Alternate nostril breathing – I)

•Anuloma – Viloma (Alternate Nostril Breathing – II)

•Suryan Bhedan Pranayama (Right Nostril Breathing)

• Ujjayi Pranayama

• Bhramari Pranayama

• Pranayama from Hatha Yoga

Surya Bhedan, Bhasrika, Ujjayi, Shitali, Sitkari, Bhramari, Murchha & Plavini Pranayama

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Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate-Nostril Breathing):

This breath technique can help you feel more balanced and calm:

•Sit in a comfortable position.

•Place the thumb of your right hand on your right nostril. Tuck your first and middle fingers down and out of the way.

•As your right thumb gently closes your right nostril, slowly exhale through your left nostril, as you count to 5.

•Now, keeping your right thumb on the right nostril, slowly inhale through the left nostril, as you count to 5.

•Lift your thumb, use your ring finger to close your left nostril, and exhale through your right nostril for 5 counts. Then inhale through your right nostril as you slowly count to 5.

•Change back to putting your thumb over your right nostril. Lift your ring finger from your left nostril, and repeat the whole process — exhaling through your left nostril for 5 counts, then inhaling through the left nostril for 5 counts.

•Continue this pattern (exhale, inhale, change sides) for three more cycles.

This practice of alternating between the right and left nostrils as you inhale and exhale unblocks and purifies the nadis, which in yogic belief are energy passages that carry life force and cosmic energy through the body. While there is no clear scientific evidence to support these effects, one pilot study found that within seven days of practicing this technique, overactive nervous systems were essentially rebalanced.

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Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath or Ocean Breath):

This classic pranayama practice, known for its soft, soothing sound similar to breaking ocean waves, can further enhance the relaxation response of slow breathing, says Patricia Gerbarg, MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College and co-author of The Healing Power of the Breath. Her theory is that the vibrations in the larynx stimulate sensory receptors that signal the vagus nerve to induce a calming effect.  Inhale through your nose, then open your mouth and exhale slowly, making a “HA” sound. Try this a few times, then close your mouth, keeping the back of your throat in the same shape you used to make the “HA,” as you exhale through the nose.

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Kumbhaka Pranayama (Breath Retention):

If you inhale fully and then wait 10 seconds, you will 
be able to inhale a bit more. Holding your breath increases pressure inside the lungs and gives them time to fully expand, increasing their capacity. As a result, the blood that then travels to the heart, brain, and muscles will be more oxygenated. Inhale, inflating the lungs as fully as possible. Hold the breath for 10 seconds. After 10 seconds, inhale a little more. Then hold it for as long as you can.

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Kapalabhati Pranayama (Breath of Fire or Skull-Shining Breath):

This rapid breathing technique is energizing, and activates the sympathetic nervous system. In a study using EEG electrodes to measure brain activity, researchers found that Kapalabhati Pranayama increased the speed of decision-making in a test requiring focus. However for people already under stress, Breath of Fire is not a good idea because you’re throwing gasoline on the fire. To start, take a full, deep inhale and exhale slowly. Inhale again, and begin exhaling by quickly pulling in the lower abs to force air out in short spurts. Your inhalation will be passive between each active, quick exhalation. Continue for 25–30 exhalations.

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Meditation in yoga:

Yoga meditation is not actually a separate aspect of Yoga, due to the fact that Yoga is meditation. However, the phrase Yoga Meditation is being used here to discriminate between Yoga Meditation and the now popular belief that Yoga is about physical postures. Yoga or Yoga Meditation is a complete process unto itself, only a small, though useful part of which relates to the physical body. In the Yoga Meditation of the Himalayan tradition, one systematically works with senses, body, breath, the various levels of mind, and then goes beyond, to the center of consciousness.

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An ordinary person may consider meditation as a worship or prayer. But it is not so. Meditation means awareness. Whatever you do with awareness is meditation. “Watching your breath” is meditation; listening to the birds is meditation. As long as these activities are free from any other distraction to the mind, it is effective meditation. Meditation is not a technique but a way of life. Meditation means ‘a cessation of the thought process’. It describes a state of consciousness, when the mind is free of scattered thoughts and various patterns. The observer (one who is doing meditation) realizes that all the activity of the mind is reduced to one.

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Traditionally, the classical yoga texts, describe that to attain true states of meditation one must go through several stages. After the necessary preparation of personal and social code, physical position, breath control, and relaxation come the more advanced stages of concentration, contemplation, and then ultimately absorption. But that does not mean that one must perfect any one stage before moving onto the next. The Integral yoga approach is simultaneous application of a little of all stages together. Commonly today, people can mean any one of these stages when they refer to the term meditation. Some schools only teach concentration techniques, some relaxation, and others teach free form contemplative activities like just sitting and awaiting absorption. Some call it meditation without giving credence to yoga for fear of being branded ‘eastern’. But yoga is not something eastern or western as it is universal in its approach and application. With regular practice of a balanced series of techniques, the energy of the body and mind can be liberated and the quality of consciousness can be expanded. This is not a subjective claim but is now being investigated by the scientists.

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Benefits of meditation:

- Stress relief

- Lowers high blood pressure and tension-related pain like headaches, insomnia, ulcers and joints pain too.

- Improves the mood, immunity, alertness and energy.

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Sahaja yoga and mental silence:

Sahaja yoga meditation has been shown to correlate with particular brain and brain wave activity.  Some studies have led to suggestions that Sahaja meditation involves ‘switching off’ irrelevant brain networks for the maintenance of focused internalized attention and inhibition of inappropriate information.  A study comparing practitioners of Sahaja Yoga meditation with a group of non meditators doing a simple relaxation exercise, measured a drop in skin temperature in the meditators compared to a rise in skin temperature in the non meditators as they relaxed. The researchers noted that all other meditation studies that have observed skin temperature have recorded increases and none have recorded a decrease in skin temperature. This suggests that Sahaja Yoga meditation, being a mental silence approach, may differ both experientially and physiologically from simple relaxation. Sahaja meditators scored above peer group for emotional wellbeing measures on SF-36 ratings.

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Kundalini yoga:

Kundalini yoga is the science of liberating the dormant potential energy in the base of the spine (kundalini). The definition of yoga in kundalini yoga is the union of the mental current (ida) and the pranic current (pingala) in the third eye (ajna chakra) or at the base chakra (muladhara chakra). This unifies duality in us by connecting body and mind, and leads to the awakening of spiritual consciousness.  Kundalini yoga meditation research has found that there “appears to produce structural as well as intensity changes in phenomenological experiences of consciousness”, and that multiple regions of the brain are active.

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Other types of meditation besides yoga:

There are different meditative techniques to suit different purposes:

- Mindful meditation

- Reflective meditation

- Mantra mediation

- Focused meditation

- Visualisation meditation

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One of the most fascinating studies published on meditation is one from several years ago — but one that is good to keep in mind if you’re interested in mental health and brain plasticity. The study, led by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), found that meditating for only 8 weeks actually significantly changed the brain’s grey matter — a major part of the central nervous system that is associated with processing information, as well as providing nutrients and energy to neurons. This is why, the authors believe, that meditation has shown evidence in improving memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress relief. “Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” Dr. Sara Lazar, a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology said. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.” In the study, 16 participants took a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program for 8 weeks. Before and after the program, the researchers took MRIs of their brains. After spending an average of about 27 minutes per day practicing mindfulness exercise, the participants showed an increased amount of grey matter in the hippocampus, which helps with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection. In addition, participants with lower stress levels showed decreased grey matter density in the amygdala, which helps manage anxiety and stress. “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” Dr. Britta Holzel, an author of the study said.

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Relaxation vis-à-vis meditation:

We often think of watching TV, sitting down with a cocktail or a good book, or simply vegging out as relaxing. But true relaxation is something that is practiced and cultivated; it is defined by the stimulation of the relaxation response. The relaxation response involves a form of mental focusing similar to meditation. Dr. Herbert Benson, one of the first Western doctors to conduct research on the effects of meditation, developed this approach after observing the profound health benefits of a state of bodily calm he calls “the relaxation response.” In order to elicit this response in the body, he teaches patients to focus upon the repetition of a word, sound, prayer, phrase, or movement activity (including swimming, jogging, yoga, and even knitting) for 10-20 minutes at a time, twice a day. Patients are also taught not to pay attention to distracting thoughts and to return their focus to the original repetition. The choice of the focused repetition is up to the individual. Some forms of conscious relaxation may become meditation, and many meditators find that their practice benefits from using a relaxation technique to access an inner stillness helpful for meditating. But while relaxation is a secondary effect of some meditation, other forms of meditation are anything but relaxing. Ultimately, it all comes down to the intention and purpose of the technique. All conscious relaxation techniques offer the practitioner a method for slowly relaxing all the major muscle groups in the body, with the goal being the stimulation of the relaxation response; deeper, slower breathing and other physiological changes help the practitioner to experience the whole body as relaxed.

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Types and styles of yoga:

Yoga comes in many forms, but most classes contain two core components: poses and breathing. Poses are the different movements of yoga, ranging in difficulty from simply lying flat to physically challenging postures. As you perform the poses, you’ll carefully control your breathing and, depending on the type of yoga, meditate or chant. Hatha yoga is the basic form, slow-paced and suited for beginners. Other variations of yoga include the faster-paced ashtanga; Iyengar, which uses items such as straps or chairs to help with the poses; kundalini, which focuses heavily on chants and meditation; and Bikram, which you perform in a heated room.

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Modern forms of yoga have evolved into exercise focusing on strength, flexibility, and breathing to boost physical and mental well-being. There are many styles of yoga, and no style is more authentic or superior to another; the key is to choose a class appropriate for your fitness level. Classes should be chosen depending on your fitness level and how much yoga experience you have. Types and styles of yoga may include:

•Ashtanga yoga: based on ancient yoga teachings but popularized in the 1970s, each of the six established sequences of postures rapidly link every movement to breath. This physically challenging style consists of an unvarying sequence of poses. Typically, you execute 70 poses in one 90-minute to two-hour session.

•Bikram yoga: held in artificially heated rooms at temperatures of nearly 105 degrees and 40% humidity, Bikram is a series of 26 poses and sequence of two breathing exercises. Founder Bikram Choudhury popularized this style of “hot yoga” in the 1970s. To mimic the climate in Choudhury’s hometown in northern India, studios are heated to a saunalike 105 degrees Fahrenheit, with a 40 percent humidity level. The heat loosens your muscles, increasing your ability to stretch.  Each 90-minute class includes a series of 26 poses done twice through, sandwiched between two sessions of breath work (think rapid inhalations and exhalations).

•Hatha yoga: a generic term for any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. When a class is labelled as “hatha,” it is usually a gentle introduction to the basic yoga postures.

•Iyengar yoga: focused on finding the proper alignment in each pose and using props such as blocks, blankets, straps, chairs and bolsters to do so.

•Jivamukti yoga: meaning, “liberation while living,” jivamukti yoga emerged in 1984, incorporating spiritual teachings and vinyasa style practice. Each class has a theme, which is explored through yoga scripture, chanting, meditation, asana, pranayama, and music, and can be physically intense.

•Kripalu yoga: teaches practitioners to get to know, accept and learn from the body. In a Kriplau class, each student learns to find their own level of practice on a given day by looking inward. The classes usually begin with breathing exercises and gentle stretches, followed by a series of individual poses and final relaxation.

•Kundalini yoga: the Sanskrit word kundalini means coiled, like a snake. Kundalini yoga is a system of meditation directed toward the release of kundalini energy. A 90-minute class typically begins with chanting and ends with singing, and in between features asana, pranayama, and meditation designed to create a specific outcome. Expect to encounter challenging breathing exercises, including the rapid pranayama known as Breath of Fire, mini-meditations, mantras, mudras (sealing gestures), and vigorous movement-oriented postures, often repeated for minutes, that will push you to your limit—and beyond. This form of yoga was developed to calm the mind and energize the body through movement, the chanting of mantras, and breathing. The average session is made up of 50 percent exercise, 20 percent breath work, 20 percent meditation, and 10 percent relaxation. The goal is to release the energy that kundalini devotees believe is stored at the base of the spine.

•Power yoga: an active and athletic style of yoga adapted from the traditional ashtanga system in the late 1980s.

•Prenatal yoga: yoga postures carefully adapted for expectant mothers. Prenatal yoga is tailored to help women in all stages of pregnancy or assist with getting back in shape post-birth.

•Restorative yoga: a relaxing method of yoga, spending a class in four or five simple poses using props like blankets and bolsters to sink into deep relaxation without exerting any effort in holding the pose.

•Sivananda: a system based on a five-point philosophy that proper breathing, relaxation, diet, exercise, and positive thinking work together to form a healthy yogic lifestyle. Typically uses the same 12 basic asanas, bookended by sun salutations and savasana poses.

•Vinyasa yoga: meaning, “flow,” vinyasa classes are known for their fluid, movement-intensive practices. Classes are often choreographed to have smooth transitions from one pose to another, in an almost dance-like manner.

•Viniyoga: intended to be adaptable to any person, regardless of physical ability, viniyoga teachers much be highly trained and tend to be experts on anatomy and yoga therapy.

•Yin: a quiet, meditative yoga practice, also called taoist yoga. Yin yoga enables the release of tension in key joints: ankles, knees, hips, the whole back, neck, and shoulders. Yin poses are passive, meaning the muscles are to relax and let gravity do the work.

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Kriya yoga:

Kriya Yoga is described by its practitioners as the ancient Yoga system revived in modern times by Mahavatar Babaji through his disciple Lahiri Mahasaya in 1861. The Kriya yoga system consists of a number of levels of Pranayama, mantra, and mudra based on techniques intended to rapidly accelerate spiritual development and engender a profound state of tranquility and God-communion.

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Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep):

Yoga nidra or “yogic sleep” is a sleep-like state which yogis report to experience during their meditations. Yoga nidra, lucid sleeping is among the deepest possible states of relaxation while still maintaining full consciousness. The distinguishing difference is the degree to which one remains cognizant of the actual physical environment as opposed to a dream environment. This is a form of deep relaxation practiced commonly as part of the ashram life in India. This is the ultimate way to relax and may be practiced daily. Under the direction of Dr. Elmer Green in 1971, researchers used an electroencephalograph to record the brainwave activity of an Indian yogi, Swami Rama, while he progressively relaxed his entire physical, mental and emotional structure through the practice of yoga nidra. What they recorded was a revelation to the scientific community. The swami demonstrated the capacity to enter the various states of consciousness at will, as evidenced by remarkable changes in the electrical activity of his brain. Upon relaxing himself in the laboratory, he first entered the yoga nidra state, producing 70% alpha wave discharge for a predetermined 5 minute period, simply by imagining an empty blue sky with occasional drifting clouds. Next, Swami Rama entered a state of dreaming sleep which was accompanied by slower theta waves for 75% of the subsequent 5 minute test period. This state, which he later described as being “noisy and unpleasant”, was attained by “stilling the conscious mind and bringing forth the subconscious”. In this state he had the internal experience of desires, ambitions, memories and past images in archetypal form rising sequentially from the subconscious and unconscious with a rush, each archetype occupying his whole awareness. Finally, the swami entered the state of (usually unconscious) deep sleep, as verified by the emergence of the characteristic pattern of slow rhythm delta waves. However, he remained perfectly aware throughout the entire experimental period. He later recalled the various events which had occurred in the laboratory during the experiment, including all the questions that one of the scientists had asked him during the period of deep delta wave sleep, while his body lay snoring quietly. Such remarkable mastery over the fluctuating patterns of consciousness had not previously been demonstrated under strict laboratory conditions. The capacity to remain consciously aware while producing delta waves and experiencing deep sleep is the ultimate state of yoga nidra in which there are no dreams, but only the deep sleep state with retained consciousness/awareness. The result is a single, semi-enlightened state of consciousness and a perfectly integrated and relaxed personality.  A 2012 study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology reports yoga nidra may improve blood pressure and heart rate variables in patients with menstrual problems. A recent study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology found yoga nidra may reduce the symptoms of diabetes and help control blood glucose levels. A pilot study conducted at Walter Reed Army Medical Center reports yoga nidra may help relieve PTSD symptoms in soldiers returning home from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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My view:

Delta sleep is our deepest sleep, the point when our brain waves are least like waking. Consequently, it is most difficult stage in which to wake sleepers, and when they are awakened they are usually sleepy and disoriented. Interestingly, delta sleep is when sleep walking and sleep talking is most likely to occur. Since deep sleep with delta waves is associated with sleep walking and sleep talking, there is some consciousness in it, so delta wave deep sleep cannot be considered as unconscious state. What yoga expert does is to enhance this little consciousness by practice.

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Yoga with fast heart rates:

Most yoga asanas reduces your breath and heart rate.  But three types of Yoga are sure to raise your heart rate.

1.  Bikram yoga

2. Ashtanga yoga or power yoga

3.  Vinyasa yoga

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Which style of Yoga is best for you?

If you’re new to yoga, you have a lot of options. There are many types of yoga to choose from. With any style of yoga, you can improve your strength, flexibility, and balance. And all yoga styles release tension in your body, quiet your mind, and help you relax. To get the most benefit, you should choose a yoga style that matches your current fitness level, as well as your personality and goals for practicing yoga. Try different classes and teachers, and see what works for you. If you’re new to yoga, it’s a good idea to take a few classes in a slower style of yoga first to get the feel for the poses. That’s because there’s less individual attention and more focus on moving through the power yoga class.

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Three questions to consider:

To decide on the yoga style that’s right for you, ask yourself these three questions:

1. Are you doing yoga for fitness and to get in shape as well as to explore the mind-body connection? Then choose a more vigorous yoga style like power yoga, ashtanga yoga, or Bikram yoga. All three styles combine an athletic series of poses into a vigorous, total-body workout.

2. Do you have an injury, a medical condition, or other limitations? Then start with a slower class that focuses on alignment, such as Iyengar yoga, Kripalu yoga, or viniyoga.

3. Are the meditative and spiritual aspects of yoga your primary goal? Then try one of the yoga styles that include plenty of meditation, chanting, and the philosophic aspects of yoga. For example, you might try kundalini yoga.

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Burmese yoga:

Bando Yoga or Burmese Yoga is an ancient yoga system that has existed for many centuries, perhaps over 2,000 years.  Bando Yoga is a form of yoga from Myanmar often taught as an adjunct of the martial art of bando. Composed of three major yoga systems, Bando Yoga was greatly influenced by the internal training of Indian martial arts and Indian Kundalini yoga, Tibetan Tantric yoga and Chinese Chi-Gong (from the southwestern region).  Today it is practiced by ethnic Burmese in parts of Southeast Asia, India and Bangladesh. The purpose of Bando Yoga is to maintain health, prevent injury and restore health when injury has occurred.  Originally, the term “Bando” [around 500 B.C.] represented physical, emotional and spiritual discipline. In ancient times, improvement of one’s health and physical dexterity, management of one’s emotional state and development of one’s spiritual experiences were all part of Bando training. Bando Yoga has been called “peasant yoga” since it was often used by peasants/workers to maintain/ restore/ recover/ rehabilitate their health so they could continue working doing their menial work…digging, lifting and pulling heavy loads, cutting trees, moving stones, building structures, etc. for maintaining and restoring health for practical reasons…not for enlightenment as some yoga styles aspire to. Bando Yoga was also used by monks to maintain and restore health and prevent injury in their daily lives as they trod the jungles and hills of Burma to minister to those in need and to help people survive the daily challenges of their harsh lives.

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Dhanda Yoga [Staff or a stick is used to stretch, align and adjust the body]:

In ancient Sanskrit, the term “Dhanda” means staff or stick. Dhanda is the yoga symbol for the human spine through which Prana (vital energy or Chi) flows. According to ancient yogic tradition, there are vital energy centers Chakras, along the spine. Various yogic postures are practiced to allow free flow of energy in the body. Dhanda Yoga uses a rod to assist in performing various asanas (yogic postures). Traditionally the staff was between 3 to 6 feet long. It was made of bamboo, wood, rattan, vine, or root. The staff enhances the alignment and helps maintain a center axis to twist evenly through the spine. This wringing activates all the muscles along the spine including the abdominals which helps squeeze out the stale air and massages the internal organs.

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Lonji Yoga [9-12 foot long cloth or rope is used to stretch, align and adjust the body]:

Longyi is technically a sheet of cloth worn in Burma, similar to a sarong or lungi.

Lonji Yoga is a yoga system using a long rope to help develop:

1. mobility of the core of the body

2. flexibility of the limbs

3. structural balance

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Power yoga:

As yoga became more popular in the Western world, a lot of people preferred a more vigorous form of yoga rather than its usual gentler and slower versions. The more aggressive format came to be known as power yoga. In the West, different people popularized power yoga, adding their own dimensions to the ancient art.  A poor commercial derivative of Ashtanga yoga, power yoga is essentially an up-tempo aerobic workout, where yoga poses are done faster and in continuation. Apart from temporary weight loss, it has virtually no health benefits. Since power yoga is a widely used term that was never trademarked, individual teachers usually lend their personal interpretation to classes. But the aggressive and physical take on the traditional discipline has upset the karma of the normally tranquil world of yoga. Purists dismiss it as a “commercial, supermarket” version of the practice with competitive elements that contradict yoga’s most basic principles. There have even been claims that, in encouraging beginners to try and push their bodies into quick movements and advanced positions, this and other sport versions are temporarily successfully and actually dangerous because they could cause injury. Doing repetitive asanas and 100 surya namaskars with no emphasis on alignment is a sure-shot way to injury. So, instead of progressing to better health, they actually regress. Many of these classes also bypass the core components of yoga — pranayama (with proper sequence and ratio) and yoga nidra (relaxation) at the end. The idea of relaxation is to allow the blood lactate levels to return to normal. If they remain high, they could set off the stress glands, making your power yoga session a stressful one.

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Strayed yoga styles:

How far yoga strayed from original Indian side?

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1. Yoga with dogs or ‘Doga’:

Doga poses involve lifting the animal in the air or resting it on your stomach as you bend backwards. Choose your pooch with care though, and think again if you have a Great Dane.

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2. Paddleboard yoga:

Learning to balance on one leg is not enough for paddleboard yogis who do it in the ocean or on lakes on a board. Practitioners say it reveals if a person isn’t properly distributing their weight–presumably by depositing the yogi in the water.

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3. Antigravity or aerial yoga:

Like most unconventional fitness trends, antigravity yoga was devised in New York. This variation involves transcending gravity using a hammock attached to the ceiling to aid practice. This is not to be confused with acroyoga, which incorporates gymnastic elements. Both should not be tried at home.

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4. Cold yoga:

Hot yoga is over. The new trend is to do yoga poses outside in sub-zero temperatures. One company, Flow Outside, offers ‘Snowga’ classes—participants walk to a snowy location and bend and stretch wearing snow shoes.

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5. Dance yoga:

A Yoga Centre has introduced ‘Dance Yoga’, which contain simple and special exercised that can reportedly cure complications like joint pain, migraine and even diabetes. This new branch of yoga is taught along with exercises like walking yoga, breathing exercises, meditation plus nature cure, acupuncture and acupressure at Zen Yoga Centre. With music playing in the background, dance yoga would give one a feeling of freshness both to the body and the mind. It is being imparted to people by dividing them into small groups, since it comprises hatha yoga, dyanamic breathing, meditation, diet and counselling. Ideally there should never be music when you practice asanas. Music, especially when it contains words, makes it more difficult to focus on the yoga practice. Also, loud music is innately stressful. Hatha yoga demands a certain involvement of your body, mind, energy and the innermost core. If you want the involvement of that which is the source of creation within you, your body, mind and energy must be absolutely involved. You should approach it with a certain reverence and focus. I wonder how dancing to the tune of music would lead to meditation.

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6. Laughter yoga:

Laughter yoga (Hasyayoga) is a practice involving prolonged voluntary laughter. Laughter yoga is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. Laughter is easily stimulated in a group when combined with eye contact, ‘childlike playfulness’ and laughter exercises. Fake laughter quickly becomes real. Laughter Yoga brings more oxygen to the body and brain by incorporating yogic breathing which results in deep diaphragmatic breathing. A handful of small-scale scientific studies have indicated that Laughter Yoga may potentially have some medically beneficial effects, including benefits to cardiovascular health and mood.

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Basics of yoga:

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Practice of yoga involves:

•Physical postures or Asanas.

•Breathing exercises or Pranayama.

•Meditation.

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Who can do yoga?

I’m not flexible—can I do Yoga?

Yes! You are a perfect candidate for yoga. Many people think that they need to be flexible to begin yoga, but that’s a little bit like thinking that you need to be able to play tennis in order to take tennis lessons. Come as you are and you will find that yoga practice will help you become more flexible. Many times those who are not inherently flexible actually benefit from yoga the most. In addition, most yoga poses can be modified for beginners so that everyone can do a version of the poses. Yoga is more than a set of exercises to increase flexibility, however. K. Pattabhi Jois was often quoted as saying, “Do your practice, and all is coming.” Simple wisdom. For yogis to know anything for sure, we must do it. Not argue about it, push it away or call it impossible, but actually engage in the practice and find out for ourselves. Different skills are needed for different yoga poses: some help the practitioner gain strength, others challenge balance, and others train attention and concentration. Yoga is suitable for most adults of any age or physical condition. Because of the nonstrenuous nature of this approach to exercise, even those with physical limitations can find a beneficial routine of Yoga. There are special techniques for those with physical limitations due to age, illness, injury, substance abuse recovery, obesity, or inactivity.  Many Yoga asana are not recommended for women during menstruation, for pregnant women, or for nursing mothers. Regular practice of breathing and meditation, however, is encouraged.

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Can all the yoga techniques be practiced in all age groups?

Although yoga can be practiced in all age groups, some techniques are more suited and desirable for specific age groups. For example, some asanas that involve forward and backward bending are good for children aged 5 to 10 years. At about 10 years of age, the asanas that have an upside down position and deep breathing can be started. Shuddhikriyas should not be practiced every day. They need to be performed as and when required for removal of impurities from the body. However, Kapalabhati Nauli can be done every day. They are generally most suited for people in age group of 20 to 60 years. Relaxation is necessary for all, irrespective of age. People in all age groups can therefore practice meditation regularly. It is desirable that older people avoid asanas that involve excessive stretching, such as the plough pose or halasana. Strenuous poses such as the scorpion or vrischikasana head–stand or shirshasana should also be avoided older people. When yoga is practiced for therapeutic purpose to overcome or cure ailments, other restrictions are necessary. This is why yoga should not be practiced unless you have learned the correct technique from an expert. Children may safely practice meditation and simple breathing exercises as long as the breath is never held.

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Importance of Yoga for Students:

De-Stressed Students:

One of yoga’s primary benefits for adults is the alleviation of stress. Students may be young, but they aren’t immune to stress. Family pressure, financial fears, academic performance standards and peer groups can all take a toll on a student’s psyche and success in school. A study published in the “International Journal of Yoga” in 2009 examined the effect of yoga on academic performance on highly stressed adolescent students. The researchers — from MGN College of Education in Jalandhar, India — found that seven weeks of regularly doing poses, practicing yoga breathing and participating in mediation practice reduced students’ stress levels, which translated into better academic performance. A later study performed by Harvard Medical School researchers and published in the January 2012 issue of the “Journal of Behavioral Health Services and Research” also found that high-school students who participated in yoga instead of traditional physical education offerings for a semester exhibited improvements in mood, anxiety, perceived stress and resilience.

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How to get started:

The best way to get started in Yoga is to either find a qualified teacher or buy a good book or tape. The best way for beginner is to go to a local yoga studio/class. If you’re not comfortable with that, there are tonnes of clips on youtube or you can purchase a DVD. You can even pick up an illustrated book for beginners. The reason I do recommend visiting a yoga studio/class is because there will be an instructor that can properly adjust your yoga poses or show you how to execute it properly. Although you can learn yoga from books and videos, beginners usually find it helpful to learn with an instructor. Classes also offer camaraderie and friendship, which are also important to overall well-being. Everyone’s body is different, and yoga postures should be modified based on individual abilities. Selecting an instructor who is experienced and attentive to your needs is an important first step to a safe and effective yoga practice.  Regardless of which type of yoga you practice, you don’t have to do every pose. If a pose is uncomfortable or you can’t hold it as long as the instructor requests, don’t do it. Good instructors will understand and encourage you to explore — but not exceed — your personal limits. Many of us attend yoga classes to stretch and lengthen our muscles, dreaming of the day our hips may finally allow us to wriggle into a full lotus pose or some other flexi-goal. You should only practise yoga on your own at home after you have learnt the safe and proper way to do the postures. If you don’t do them correctly, you could injure yourself.

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Can you learn yoga from a book?

Today, if you enter any major bookstore, you will find a minimum of 15 to 20 different yoga books. How to learn yoga in seven days, how to become a yogi in 21 days… Many people have caused immense damage to themselves by learning yoga through books. Yoga seems to be very simple, but there is a very subtle aspect to it. It has to be done with perfect understanding and proper guidance. Without this, one can get into deep trouble. A book can inspire you, but it is not meant to teach a practice.

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What are four things people should look for in a prospective yoga teacher?

1. Sincere interest in and care for the student

2. An ability to listen

3. A desire and ability to teach what is appropriate for the student

4. Confidence balanced with a sense of humility

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When it comes to practicing and teaching yoga, it’s not a one size fits all. Yoga teachers vary in approach, style, experience and training. If you’re young and fit, you will be able to handle a wide range of yoga styles and classes. On the other hand, if you’re a 50+ year old male with super tight hamstrings just starting out, it may be better to start with individual yoga sessions with an experienced teacher. The same thing applies if you have any injuries or physical limitations you’re working with. Let your teacher know before the class, and don’t be shy to ask if the class will still be suitable for you. If the teacher isn’t able to offer specific feedback related to your condition, that’s a good indication the teacher might not a good fit for you.

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When to do yoga:

How many times per week should I practice?

Yoga is amazing—even if you only practice for one hour a week, you will experience the benefits of the practice. If you can do more than that, you will certainly experience more benefits. Experts suggest starting with two or three times a week, for an hour or an hour and a half each time. A yoga session usually lasts between 60 and 90 minutes, and involves a series of postures with breath work, and relaxation time at the end of the class. If you can only do 20 minutes per session, that’s fine too. Don’t let time constraints or unrealistic goals be an obstacle—do what you can and don’t worry about it. You will likely find that after a while your desire to practice expands naturally and you will find yourself doing more and more.

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Practicing Yoga outside:

Outdoor yoga is often praised as a special treat, but it can also add a whole new array of challenges to your practice. Unpredictable and uncontrollable temperatures, bugs, noise, uneven or wet ground, and curious bystanders can all make an outdoor practice less than relaxing. Still, getting outside is good for you, and there are steps you can take to make an outdoor yoga practice more enjoyable—beyond just closing your eyes and turning inward.

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Yoga at workplace:

Practicing yoga at the workplace teaches employees to use relaxation techniques to reduce stress and risks of injury on the job. Yoga at the workplace is a convenient and practical outlet that improves work performance by relieving tension and job stress.

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What to wear to yoga:

Proper alignment of yoga postures is important for many types of yoga. Choose clothes that are not too baggy and that help you and your yoga instructor make sure you’re not doing anything harmful to your body. In more physical types of yoga and especially in hot classes, expect to sweat. Wear clothes that dry quickly, wick moisture away, and will keep you as comfortable as possible to get the most out of your yoga class. Fabrics with stretch will help you feel most comfortable as you move from pose to pose. Whatever you choose to wear to class, you should be able to move freely and feel good.

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Yoga pants:

Yoga pants are a type of flexible, form-fitting pants designed for the practice of yoga as well as other physical activities that involve lots of physical movement, bending and stretching. Some of these other activities include martial arts, dancing, pilates, and aerobics. These pants are generally made of cotton, spandex, nylon, polyester or a similarly light and stretchy synthetic material, giving the pants a very smooth and silk-like finish when worn. There are many different colors but the most common type are black, tight-fitted, and have an elastic waistband folded over at the top. Although designed specifically for yoga, the pants are also worn casually by many women.

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Yoga mats:

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Yoga mats are specially fabricated mats used as an aid during the practice of hatha yoga to prevent hands and feet slipping during asana practice. They are also commonly known as non-slip mats, non-skid mats or sticky mats. If you have practiced yoga on the grass, in the sand, or even on a blanket, you know that standing postures require more strength than flexibility. There are definitely benefits to practicing on a mat rather than bare floor, carpet, or earth.

•First and foremost, a mat provides padding, support, and a barrier from the elements. For many people, pressing their palms, knees, elbows, and vertebrae onto the bare ground or floor can be painful. Having additional support enables them to more comfortably perform the pose. Furthermore, it can be especially helpful when practicing on a less-than-clean surface, such as a hotel room carpet.

•Second, a mat can act as a means of absorption if one starts sweating during their practice, as well as a means slipping prevention. This is definitely the case for “hot yoga” classes, where the room is heated. Some people will insist they can’t maintain a downward facing dog pose without a sticky mat. Honestly, for many beginners this is true; however, once you learn proper form and alignment, you can easily practice this pose on many surfaces, even carpet and tile, without the need for a sticky mat.

•Finally, a mat can serve the purpose of transforming any space into a “sacred” one. It becomes a clearly defined area for your practice which can be especially important when practicing at a studio or with a group of people. As you spend more and more time on your mat, it can begin to feel like a welcoming friend. Stepping onto it can help begin your transition into an altered space.

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Yoga blocks:

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Yoga block or brick is one of the most popular yoga props to use in a yoga class. Yoga props were popularized by B.K.S. Iyengar as tools to support the body to allow a deeper expression of a yoga pose’s alignment. Yoga blocks are most often used as an extension of one’s hands, but are also used to support the back, head and hips, and to deepen awareness of alignment. A yoga block is most helpful for beginning students and those experiencing injury or other physical limitations, but more advanced practitioners can utilize props to safely learn new challenging poses. When purchasing a yoga block you will need to consider size, material, cost and number. B.K.S Iyengar’s stated ideal size for a yoga block is 9 x 4.5 x 3 inches, but you will find blocks that are both larger and smaller than this. Choosing a larger or smaller block will depend on the size of your hands and the level of your flexibility. If you have small hands and are fairly bendy you might want to consider a smaller sized block. Conversely, if you have larger hands and less flexibility think about choosing a larger block. Originally yoga blocks were made of wood, but now blocks also come in both foam and cork.

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Yoga bolster:

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A yoga bolster is a yoga accessory used to support the body while doing poses, intensify practice sessions or facilitate stretching. It is usually made of cotton and looks like a cushion with a removable cover. Yoga bolsters take strain off the body when easing from one pose to another. Yoga practitioners use different types of bolsters for different purposes. The most common types of yoga bolsters are rectangular and cylindrical bolsters. Rectangular bolsters are used in restorative yoga because their stable form allows for a deeper forward bend and a gentler chest opening. By contrast, cylindrical bolsters provide more support for forward bends and allow the chest to open deeper.

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Yoga space:

For many with families, small children, and tight spaces, developing a home practice—which can be a great option to counter-act the expense of yoga in studio/class can be challenging, but not impossible. All that you need to practice yoga is a space the size of a yoga mat, even if that’s the only floor space available. Meditation, of course, only requires a seated position. Wherever you allocate your “yoga space,” do something to make it feel sacred, even just lighting a candle or erecting a temporary altar. If you have kids and/or other “distractions” that make it challenging to practice, remember that peace has more to do with our inner, rather than external, environment. Use “distractions” as opportunities to meditate without reacting and to practice breath awareness.

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Three basic actions for yoga:

1. Going back to the breath. Mindful breathing is what elevates yoga above mere exercise. Breath is the link between mind and body, conscious and unconscious, personal and universal. Deep yogic breathing triggers the relaxation response, helping to prevent injuries, reduce stress and allow healing. And while the mind itself is a slippery thing, the breath gives us a tool for self-observation. Continually refining breath awareness will help you move past obstacles and experience more epiphanies (aha! moments).

2. Moving from the center. The safest way to practice most asanas is by initiating, assessing and adjusting from the spine (the body’s axis) to the extremities. When the spine is misaligned, an asana might feel awkward or lifeless—or even lead to injury. It’s essential to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the spine, and to modify poses (by bending the knees in Uttanasana, for example) as needed to keep the spine both long and strong. Doing this not only protects your back, but also frees physical movement and energetic flow.

3. Remembering the details. Our myriad parts and systems are connected on gross (seen) and subtle (unseen) levels: muscle and bone, fascia and fluids, nerve signals and hormones. After you’ve established the breath and aligned your spine, lightly extend your awareness throughout the body. In a standing asana, the feet influence the entire pose. The sitting bones and pelvis are the foundation of seated poses. The shoulders are key to relieving neck tension, freeing the breath and energizing the heart center. The toes, the jaw, the tongue, the scalp and the skin around the eyes are just a few of the places where hardness or stress can hide. Expanding your awareness will reveal pockets of “amnesia” and reinvigorate each asana, like shining a flashlight into the darkest corners of your being.

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Intelligently choose your asana practice:

Hatha yoga is a great way to check in with the body and bring balance to the gunas. Wisely choosing asanas that address your mental, emotional and physical states are an important part of this practice. The gunas come and go in different proportions throughout the courses of one’s day, week and even lifetime. If you’re heading to a yoga class because you feel imbalanced in some way, check-in to discover the cause of your imbalance. For example, if you’re feeling tired and physically unmotivated because of excessive thoughts or emotional stressors, an energetic and rajasic asana practice that challenges the body to move (rather than the mind) might bring about balance. However, if these rapidly moving thoughts are creating a lot of stress and anxiety, asanas that are too rajasic may be overly stimulating. In this case, a slower, tamasic asana practice (think: gentle or yin yoga) intended to ground and encourage the experience of support is an ideal way to bring about balance. When you’re feeling out-of-sorts, consult your intuition, consider your particular constitution, and honor the circumstances in the present-day circumstances in which you find yourself.

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If you are considering practicing Yoga:

•Do not use yoga to replace conventional medical care or to postpone seeing a health care provider about pain or any other medical condition.

•If you have a medical condition, talk to your health care provider before starting yoga.

•Ask a trusted source (such as your health care provider or a nearby hospital) to recommend a yoga practitioner. Find out about the training and experience of any practitioner you are considering.

•Everyone’s body is different, and yoga postures should be modified based on individual abilities. Carefully selecting an instructor who is experienced with and attentive to your needs is an important step toward helping you practice yoga safely. Ask about the physical demands of the type of yoga in which you are interested and inform your yoga instructor about any medical issues you have.

•Carefully think about the type of yoga you are interested in. For example, hot yoga (such as Bikram yoga) may involve standing and moving in humid environments with temperatures as high as 105°F. Because such settings may be physically stressful, people who practice hot yoga should take certain precautions. These include drinking water before, during, and after a hot yoga practice and wearing suitable clothing. People with conditions that may be affected by excessive heat, such as heart disease, lung disease, and a prior history of heatstroke may want to avoid this form of yoga. Women who are pregnant may want to check with their health care providers before starting hot yoga.

•Tell all your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

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Yoga class:

Classes can vary in duration from 45 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes. A longer class will give you more time for learning the breathing and relaxation and will give the teacher time to work with your individual ability. It’s worth speaking to a teacher about their approach before you sign up for a class. Yoga classes usually have 10 to 20 people, allowing for individual attention. Suggestions for getting the most out of your yoga class include:

•Wear comfortable clothes and take a blanket or mat, since many poses are performed sitting or lying down.

•Allow at least three or four hours since your last meal.

•Always tell your yoga teacher if you have a specific complaint, so they can advise against any asanas that may aggravate your problem.

•Always tell your yoga teacher if you are pregnant, have had a recent injury, illness, surgery, high blood pressure, heart problems or osteoporosis.

•Don’t talk during the class because it will disturb your own quiet focus and that of others in the class.

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Open Class:

An Open Class is a traditional, slow paced, meditative class that helps encourage proper breathing, flexibility, strength and vitality in the body while calming the mind. Because Yoga is a spiritual system with a physical component, this non-competitive approach helps the practitioner gain much more than just a healthy body. A typical open level class includes pranayama (breathing exercises), warm-ups including Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar), 12 basic asanas (postures) and deep relaxation. The focus is on mastering the basic asanas from which variations are then added to further deepen the practice. The asanas follow an exact order that allows for the systematic movement of every major part of the body in a balanced way that enhances prana or life force energy, keeping the mind quiet and without the need to think beyond each individual pose. Additional variations may also be taught.

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Mobile App for learning Yoga:

The Isha Foundation’s ‘Yoga Tools from Sadhguru’ app offers seven yoga practice video demonstrations of 5 minute each as part of the first International Day of Yoga celebrations.  But the organisation’s founder Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev clarifies, “This is not serious Yoga, this is called as UpaYoga or Pre Yoga. It’s a stepping stone for Yoga. We want people to have a taste of Yoga and experience and well-being that it offers. From that they can graduate to higher levels of yoga later on.”

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Prerequisites for Yoga:

1. Below 12 years of age Yoga postures should not be practiced for long duration and asanas are to be maintained for very short duration.

2. Every day you should practice Yoga for at least 30 to 45 minutes to get maximum results.

3. The best suited time to practice is early morning hours, but it can be practiced in the afternoon after following food restrictions.

4. Food restrictions – stomach should be empty while practicing, that is you should consume solid food 3.5 hours before practicing and liquid 1 hour before.

5. Place should be spacious, clean, airy, bright and away from disturbances.

6. Yoga should not be practiced on bare floor but keep mat or carpet below.

7. Clothes should be comfortable, loose, clean. Undergarments are necessary.

8. Yoga prefers vegetarian diet. But avoid spicy and hot diet as much as possible.

9. Women can practice only some asanas during pregnancy and menstruation.

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Yoga and food:

Yoga food is vegetarian. It is an eating philosophy based on a wholesome vegetarian diet. Its principles of healthy eating use vegetarian ingredients in combination with spices and herbs that have therapeutic value and delicious flavors. Why vegetarian? – Yoga food is based on the idea that foods must be consumed in their most natural forms in order to realize their true benefits. The yogic belief is that several health disorders can be traced to faulty nutrition, poor diet and difficulty in digestion. In order to stay healthy and happy food should be digested very easily! A vegetarian yoga diet ensures that all faculties of digestion work smoothly; absorption, assimilation, and elimination. The diet also contains high amounts of fiber and antioxidants. Yoga food helps to maintain a strong and healthy body, a stress-free mind, and a positive spirituality in our complex lifestyles. The benefits of a well-balanced vegetarian diet can be powerful.

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Yoga Food is classified into 3 categories Sattvic, Rajasic, and Tamasic Foods:

SATVIC FOOD RAJASIC FOOD TAMASIC FOOD
Sattvic foods are those which purify the body and calm the mind They stimulate the body and mind into action. In excess, these foods can cause hyperactivity, restlessness, anger, irritability, and sleeplessness Tamasic food are those which dull the mind and bring about inertia, confusion and disorientation
Cooked food that is consumed within 3-4 hours can be considered sattvic Overly tasty foods are Rajasic Stale or reheated food, oily or heavy food and food containing artificial preservatives fall under this category
Examples – Fresh fruits, green leafy vegetables, nuts, grains, fresh milk , certain spices Examples – Spicy food, onion, garlic, tea, coffee, fried food Example – Non vegetarian diet, stale food, excessive intake of fats, oil, sugary food

Sattvic Foods are foods that should be eaten the most and that are very easily digestible. These foods nourish the body, purify the mind and heal the imbalance in the body by generating good health, energy, vitality, vigor, mental alertness, peace and strength. Rajasic Foods are foods that should be eaten moderately or occasionally and are foods that are not as easily digestible like Sattvic foods. Although, these foods create restlessness and provide extra-stimulation, it is sometimes required when the body needs higher amounts of energy or during the fall and winter seasons. Tamasic Foods are foods that should be eaten the least and are foods that are difficult to digest. These foods require a lot more energy to digest and are known to be the least beneficial to the mind and the body. Tamasic foods can enhance dullness, lethargy, depression the body feel heavy, generating the least amount of energy. When eaten too often or in excess they could destroy the body’s resistance to disease.

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Why are you supposed to refrain from eating two to three hours before Yoga class?

In yoga practice we twist from side to side, turn upside down, and bend forward and backward. If you have not fully digested your last meal, it will make itself known to you in ways that are not comfortable. If you are a person with a fast-acting digestive system and are afraid you might get hungry or feel weak during yoga class, experiment with a light snack such as yogurt, a few nuts, or juice about 30 minutes to an hour before class.

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Who cannot do yoga?

Yoga can be safe for everyone, but depending on the medical condition, certain poses may need to be modified or avoided. A couple of examples of patients who may need to avoid certain yoga poses include:

•Patients who have been diagnosed with advanced spinal stenosis should avoid extreme extension of the spine such as back bends in yoga.

•Patients with advanced cervical spine disease should avoid doing headstands and shoulder stands in yoga.

Most of the precautions surrounding the yoga poses can be determined by understanding the specific medical condition, using common sense, and finding a good yoga teacher to assist.

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Should you practice Yoga when you’re Sick?

When illness has you feeling down, you may wonder, “Should I still practice yoga?” Though we cannot speak on behalf of doctors, most yoga teachers suggest sticking with your practice during times of illness—though your “practice” may differ from when you’re feeling physically well. Asana, especially in gentle forms, is inherently healing and balancing to the body. Same goes for meditation and certain purification and cleansing practices. The important thing to remember if practicing while sick is to be gentle and listen to your body (sometimes the most yogic thing you can do is rest!).

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Yoga precautions:

Yoga is generally considered safe for most healthy people when practiced under the guidance of a trained instructor. But there are some situations in which yoga might pose a risk.  See your health care provider before you begin yoga if you have any of the following conditions or situations:

•A herniated disk

•A risk of blood clots

•Deconditioned state

•Eye conditions, including glaucoma

•Pregnancy

•Severe balance problems

•Severe osteoporosis

•Uncontrolled blood pressure

You may be able to practice yoga in these situations if you take certain precautions, such as avoiding certain poses or stretches. If you develop symptoms or concerns, see your doctor to make sure you’re getting benefit and not harm from yoga.

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Yoga Safety Tips:

•Work with a qualified yoga instructor. Ask about his or her experience and credentials. If you choose to use a yoga DVD at home, look for one that comes highly recommended by your physician or other reliable sources.

•Warm up thoroughly before a yoga session. Cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are vulnerable to injury. Make sure you cool down as well to relax your muscles and restore your resting heart rate and breathing rhythm.

•Wear appropriate clothing that allows for proper movement. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.

•Select the class level that is appropriate for you. Start by taking a single beginner or introductory class before signing up for a complete session or class series.

•If you are unsure of a pose or movement, ask questions. Your instructor should be able to suggest modified positions for older adults.

•Know your limits. Do not try positions beyond your experience or comfort level. Beginners should start slowly and learn the basics first, focusing on gentle stretching and breathing rather than trying to accomplish difficult poses.

•Learn what type of yoga you are performing. There are hundreds of different forms of yoga, some more strenuous than others. It is important to learn which type of yoga will best suit your needs.

•Listen to your body. If you experience pain or exhaustion while participating in yoga, stop or take a break. If pain persists, speak with your physician.

•Discuss any known illness or injury with your yoga instructor prior to the class so that he or she can recommend pose modifications.

•If you have an underlying joint or spinal injury or arthritis, gentle stretching helps avoid stiffness. Remember, however, that just as in all other activity, flare-ups of pain or injury may occur with yoga if tissues are stretched or stressed too quickly and beyond their physiologic level.

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Advantages of yoga:

Yoga has many advantages over other methods of maintaining health, such as gymnastics, athletics, aerobics, games, and various other forms of exercise. It does not need any costly equipment and materials, or playgrounds, swimming pool, gyms, etc. Yoga can be practiced throughout the year. It can also be practiced inside the house or in the open, singly or in groups. The only requirement is a thick carpet spread on the floor and covered with a clean sheet of cloth. Yoga should only be practiced on empty stomach. You can do it at any time during the day. It will benefit you irrespective of whether you are young or old, lean or heavily built, highly educated or unlettered, rich or poor, from higher or lower middle class, busy, over busy, or retired or worker in the factory or in the field. To reap the intangible benefits of yoga, it helps to be humble and to realize that yoga is meant to be practiced, not perfected. It’s a non-competitive activity. Yoga has something very valuable, and useful to offer to everyone. It is often described as the best form of health insurance for all from the age of 7 to 77 or more. Two main advantages of Yoga are prevention of disorders and ailments, and maintenance of health and fitness in daily life. Other advantage include flexible muscles, supple joints, relaxed and tension–free mind and efficiently working vital organs such as the heart, lungs, endocrine glands, liver, pancreas and good balance between various functions, such as neuromuscular coordination, etc.

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Disadvantages of Yoga:

If you only have 20 minutes a day to spend on your body and your foremost goal is to burn lots of calories, yoga will disappoint you. Although yoga is a sound adjunct to any weight–loss program and has even been shown to promote gradual weight loss, it is not primarily a fat–burning enterprise. Another potential pitfall is finding a qualified teacher. Before enrolling in a class, ask what type of training the instructor had. A good yoga instructor asks each student if she has strains or injuries, and will tailor the instructions to any injured students. Currently, there is no national certification program for yoga instructors. Voluntary certification is available from various groups, but some organizations award teaching certificates to people who have completed only a weekend course. The Yoga Alliance – a voluntary national coalition of yoga organizations and individual yoga teachers – is seeking to establish voluntary national standards for yoga teachers, but not all yoga instructors agree with those standards or support the alliance’s philosophy. Even for the most open–minded beginner, yoga is not easy to learn. Although you don’t need to be flexible or in shape to do yoga, the practice is physically, emotionally and mentally challenging. The Yogasana process is far more complex than it looks. It takes a lot of time to reach the highest level of perfection. When you don’t start Yogasana as a basic point and ignore your physical and emotional ability to do it, this can end up into serious injury.  So we can say that, although yoga has several advantages, it has also proved to be harmful if not worked out properly and according to the need of an individual.  One of yoga’s draws is its potential to help you better listen to yourself, connecting your mind with your body and helping you to meditate and de-stress. However, some modern variations of yoga now incorporate elements like music and similar Western-style gimmicks. This can detract from yoga’s meditative purposes and reduce some of its advantages.

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Origin of yoga:

Yoga began in India as early as 3000 B.C. according to archaeological evidence. It emerged in the later hymns of the ancient Hindu texts (Upanishads or Vedanta) (600–500 B.C.). It is mentioned in the classic Indian epic Mahabharata (300 B.C.) and discussed in the most famous part, the Bhagavad Gita. Yoga was systemized by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras (400 CE). Patanjali defined the purpose of yoga as knowledge of the true “Self” and outlined eight steps for direct experience of “Self.”  Hatha yoga texts emerged around 11th century CE, and in its origins was related to Tantrism. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, yoga masters began to travel to the West, attracting attention and followers. This began at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago, when Swami Vivekananda wowed the attendees with his lectures on yoga and the universality of the world’s religions. In the 1920s and 30s, Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India with the work of T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda and other yogis practicing Hatha Yoga. Krishnamacharya opened the first Hatha Yoga school in Mysore in 1924 and in 1936 Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the holy Ganges River. Krishnamacharya produced three students that would continue his legacy and increase the popularity of Hatha Yoga: B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar and Pattabhi Jois. Sivananda was a prolific author, writing over 200 books on yoga, and established nine ashrams and numerous yoga centers located around the world. The importation of yoga to the West still continued at a trickle until Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947. Since then, many more western and Indian teachers have become pioneers, popularizing hatha yoga and gaining millions of followers. Hatha Yoga now has many different schools or styles, all emphasizing the many different aspects of the practice. In the 1980s, yoga became popular as a system of physical exercise across the Western world. Yoga in Indian traditions, however, is more than physical exercise, it has a meditative and spiritual core.

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Yoga and religion:

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Philosophical schools of Hinduism:

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Yoga is a classical philosophy: Yoga is one of six schools of Hindu philosophy. These are Nyaya, Visheshika, Mimasa, Sankhya, Yoga, and Vedanta. Yoga is one of the systems of Hindu philosophy which has been discussed in various Indian scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita, the Ahirbudhyna Samhita, the Upanishads and the yoga sutra-s of Sage Patanjali.  Yoga is a Hindu physical, mental, and spiritual practice or discipline. Yoga is a philosophy of Hinduism that requires mental, physical and spiritual connection in order to achieve enlightenment. Lord Shiva was the first yogi as per the authentic Vedic texts in which Yoga was first taught. According to legend, Lord Shiva is credited with propounding hatha yoga. It is said that on a lonely island, assuming nobody else would hear him, he gave the knowledge of hatha yoga to the Goddess Parvati, but a fish heard the entire discourse, remaining still throughout. The fish (Matsya) later became a siddha and came to be known as Matsyendranath. Matsyendranath taught hatha yoga to his disciple Gorakshanath. Patañjali, a siddha of the 4th century BCE, in his treatise on Yoga, The Yoga Sutras, describes asana and pranayama as two limbs of the practice of Ashtanga Yoga, although many assert that Patanjali’s sutras do not support the practice of asana as physical exercise. There is a broad variety of schools, practices and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism (including Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism) and Jainism.

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Hindu practitioners of yoga are proud of their religious traditions, while non-Hindu practitioners claim that yoga may be practiced sincerely by those who have not accepted the Hindu religion. While the yoga tradition remains rooted in India, the fact that some modern yogis like Swami Vivekananda and Paramahansa Yogananda came to the West suggests that they saw hope the yoga tradition could also flourish there. Critics of yoga as practiced in the West charge that it is sometimes watered down, corrupted, or cut off from its spiritual roots (e.g. the popular view that yoga is primarily physical exercises). If yoga is one of India’s great gifts to the world, the widespread acceptance of that gift – with the concomitant diversity – is sometimes incomprehensible to traditional Hindu practitioners of yoga. Yet the sheer number of people practicing yoga outside India suggests the need to define yoga both by its historical roots and its modern adaptations.

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Malaysia’s top Islamic body in 2008 passed a fatwa, prohibiting Muslims from practicing yoga, saying it had elements of Hinduism and that its practice was blasphemy, therefore haraam.  Some Muslims in Malaysia who had been practicing yoga for years, criticized the decision as “insulting.”  Sisters in Islam, a women’s rights group in Malaysia, also expressed disappointment and said yoga was just a form of exercise. This fatwa is legally enforceable.  However, Malaysia’s prime minister clarified that yoga as physical exercise is permissible, but the chanting of religious mantras is prohibited.  In 2009, the Council of Ulemas, an Islamic body in Indonesia, passed a fatwa banning yoga on the grounds that it contains Hindu elements. These fatwas have, in turn, been criticized by Darul Uloom Deoband, a Deobandi Islamic seminary in India. Similar fatwas banning yoga, for its link to Hinduism, were issued by the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa in Egypt in 2004, and by Islamic clerics in Singapore earlier. In Iran, as of May 2014, according to its Yoga Association, there were approximately 200 yoga centres in the country, a quarter of them in the capital Tehran, where groups can often be seen practising in parks. This has been met by opposition among conservatives.  In May 2009, Turkey’s head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs, Ali Bardakoğlu, discounted personal development techniques such as reiki and yoga as commercial ventures that could lead to extremism. His comments were made in the context of reiki and yoga possibly being a form of proselytization at the expense of Islam.

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Is Yoga a religion?

No.

Because yoga has its roots in the Hindu culture of India, there is a popular misconception that yoga is a religion. Just as the practice of the Japanese martial arts of karate and aikido does not require becoming a Buddhist, the practice of yoga does not require you adopt Hinduism. Rather yoga is nonsectarian, promoting health and harmonious living. Yoga offers a simple, accessible and inclusive means to promote physical and spiritual health. And yoga does not discriminate; to varying degrees, all people can practise, regardless of their relative strength, age or ability.

Here are a few of the things that are usually part of religions, but which are missing with Yoga:

Yoga has no deity to worship.

Yoga has no worship services to attend.

Yoga has no rituals to perform.

Yoga has no sacred icons.

Yoga has no creed or formal statement of religious belief.

Yoga has no requirement for a confession of faith.

Yoga has no ordained clergy or priests to lead religious services.

Yoga has no institutional structure, leader or group of overseers.

Yoga has no membership procedure.

Yoga has no congregation of members or followers.

Yoga has no system of temples or churches.

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Samkhya, yoga, dualism and atheism:

Many traditions in India began to adopt systematic methodology by about first century CE. Of these, Samkhya was probably one of the oldest philosophies to begin taking a systematic form.  Patanjali systematized Yoga, building them on the foundational metaphysics of Samkhya. In the early works, the Yoga principles appear together with the Samkhya ideas. Vyasa’s commentary on the Yoga Sutras, also called the Samkhyapravacanabhasya (Commentary on the Exposition of the Sankhya Philosophy), describes the relation between the two systems. The two schools have some differences as well. Yoga accepted the conception of “personal god”, while Samkhya developed as a rationalist, non-theistic/atheistic system of Hindu philosophy. Sometimes Patanjali’s system is referred to as Seshvara Samkhya in contradistinction to Kapila’s Nirivara Samkhya. The parallels between Yoga and Samkhya were so close that Max Müller says that “the two philosophies were in popular parlance distinguished from each other as Samkhya with and Samkhya without a Lord….”

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Samkhya is known for its theory of gunas (qualities, innate tendencies).  Guna, it states, are of three types: Sattva being good, compassionate, illuminating, positive, and constructive; Rajas guna is one of activity, chaotic, passion, impulsive, potentially good or bad; and Tamas being the quality of darkness, ignorance, destructive, lethargic, negative. Everything, all life forms and human beings, state Samkhya scholars, have these three gunas, but in different proportions. The interplay of these gunas defines the character of someone or something, of nature and determines the progress of life. The Samkhya theory of gunas was widely discussed, developed and refined by various schools of Indian philosophies including Buddhism. Samkhya’s philosophical treatises also influenced the development of various theories of Hindu ethics.

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While Western philosophical traditions, as exemplified by Descartes, equate mind with the conscious self and theorize on consciousness on the basis of mind/body dualism; Samkhya provides an alternate viewpoint, intimately related to substance dualism, by drawing a metaphysical line between consciousness and matter — where matter includes both body and mind. The Samkhya system espouses dualism between consciousness and matter by postulating two irreducible, innate and independent realities: Purusha and Prakriti. While the Prakriti is a single entity, the Samkhya admits a plurality of the Puruṣas in this world. Unintelligent, unmanifest, uncaused, ever-active, imperceptible and eternal Prakriti is alone the final source of the world of objects which is implicitly and potentially contained in its bosom. The Puruṣa is considered as the conscious principle, a passive enjoyer (bhokta) and the Prakriti is the enjoyed (bhogya). Samkhya believes that the Puruṣa cannot be regarded as the source of inanimate world, because an intelligent principle cannot transform itself into the unconscious world. It is a pluralistic spiritualism, atheistic realism and uncompromising dualism.

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Samkhya accepts the notion of higher selves or perfected beings but rejects the notion of God. Classical Samkhya argues against the existence of God on metaphysical grounds. Samkhya theorists argue that an unchanging God cannot be the source of an ever changing world and that God was only a necessary metaphysical assumption demanded by circumstances. The Sutras of Samkhya have no explicit role for a separate God distinct from the Puruṣa. Such a distinct God is inconceivable and self-contradictory and some commentaries speak plainly on this subject.

The following arguments were given by the Samkhya philosophers against the idea of an eternal, self-caused, creator God:

1. If the existence of karma is assumed, the proposition of God as a moral governor of the universe is unnecessary. For, if God enforces the consequences of actions then he can do so without karma. If however, he is assumed to be within the law of karma, then karma itself would be the giver of consequences and there would be no need of a God.

2. Even if karma is denied, God still cannot be the enforcer of consequences. Because the motives of an enforcer God would be either egoistic or altruistic. Now, God’s motives cannot be assumed to be altruistic because an altruistic God would not create a world so full of suffering. If his motives are assumed to be egoistic, then God must be thought to have desire, as agency or authority cannot be established in the absence of desire. However, assuming that God has desire would contradict God’s eternal freedom which necessitates no compulsion in actions. Moreover, desire, according to Samkhya, is an attribute of prakriti and cannot be thought to grow in God. The testimony of the Vedas, according to Samkhya, also confirms this notion.

3. Despite arguments to the contrary, if God is still assumed to contain unfulfilled desires, this would cause him to suffer pain and other similar human experiences. Such a worldly God would be no better than Samkhya’s notion of higher self.

4. Furthermore, there is no proof of the existence of God. He is not the object of perception, there exists no general proposition that can prove him by inference and the testimony of the Vedas speak of prakriti as the origin of the world, not God.

Therefore, Samkhya maintained that the various cosmological, ontological and teleological arguments could not prove God.

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Yoga is closely related to Samkhya in its philosophical foundations. The Yoga school derives its ontology and epistemology from Samkhya and adds to it the concept of Isvara (God). However, scholarly opinion on the actual relationship between Yoga and Samkhya is divided. Yoga is a philosophical school in Hinduism, and sometimes referred to as Rāja yoga. Yoga, in this context, is one of the six āstika schools of Hinduism (those which accept the Vedas as source of knowledge).  The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is considered as a central text of the Yoga school of Hindu philosophy.  As a school of philosophy, Yoga is a way of life, and incorporates its own epistemology, metaphysics, ethical practices, systematic exercises and self-development techniques for body, mind and spirit. Its epistemology (pramanas) is same as the Samkhya school. Both accept three reliable means to knowledge – perception (pratyākṣa, direct sensory observations), inference (anumāna) and testimony of trustworthy experts (sabda, agama). Both these orthodox schools are also strongly dualistic.

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Spirituality and yoga:

Spirituality is a sense of connectedness with something greater than oneself. Spirituality is inclusive. We all participate in the spiritual at all times, whether we know it or not. There’s no place to go to be separated from the spiritual. The most important thing in defining the spirit is the recognition that spirit is an essential need of human nature.  Many people begin to cultivate a greater sense of connection with each other, with the physical world and with the ‘self’ simply by practicing the physical postures, control of the breath and meditation. People who choose to can also study the moral precepts of yoga. These guidelines for healthy living are known as the yamas and the niyamas. The yamas are universal guidelines for ways of interacting with others and include nonviolence, truthfulness, no stealing, moderation and no hoarding. The niyamas are personal observances and include purity, contentment, zeal, self-study and devotion to a higher power. Together, the yamas and the niyamas are moral and behavioral observances that serve as a catalyst to self-acceptance, healthy relationships and spiritual growth.

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Physiology of yoga:

Yoga physiology are the descriptions of the human body, its layers, and the energy channels running through it used in various yoga systems.

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According to the Doctrine of the Three bodies in the Vedanta and Yoga, the human being is composed of three Sariras or “bodies”. They are often equated with the five koshas (sheets), described in the Taittiriya Upanishad describes five koshas or sheets which cover the Atman or “Self”.

They are:

1. Sthula sarira, the Gross body, composed of the Annamaya Kosha

2. Suksma sarira, the Subtle body, composed of:

A. Pranamaya Kosha (Vital breath or Energy),

B. Manomaya Kosha (Mind),

C. Vijnanamaya Kosha (Intellect)

3. Karana sarira, the Causal body, composed of the Anandamaya Kosha (Bliss)

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Chakras are energy points or knots in the subtle body. They are located at the physical counterparts of the major plexuses of arteries, veins and nerves. Chakras are part of the subtle body, not the physical body, and as such are the meeting points of the subtle (non-physical) energy channels, called nadiis. Nadiis are channels in the subtle body through which the life force (prana), or vital energy moves. Various scriptural texts and teachings present a different number of chakras. There are many chakras in the subtle human body according to the tantric texts, but there are 7 chakras that are considered to be the most important ones. Their name derives from the Sanskrit word for “wheel” or “turning”, but in the yogic context a better translation of the word is ‘vortex or whirlpool’.

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Nadi:

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Nāḍi (tube, pipe”) are the channels through which, in traditional Indian medicine and spiritual science, the energies of the subtle body are said to flow. They connect at special points of intensity called chakras. In normal biological reference, a nadi can be translated into “nerve” in English. However, in yogic, and specifically in Kundalini yoga reference, a nadi can be thought of as a channel (not an anatomical structure). In regard to Kundalini yoga, there are three of these nadis: Ida, pingala, and sushumna. Ida (spoken “iRda”) lies to the left of the spine, whereas pingala is to the right side of the spine, mirroring the ida. Sushumna runs along the spinal cord in the center, through the seven chakras – Mooladhaar at the base, and Sahasrar at the top (or crown) of the head. It is at the base of this sushumna where the Kundalini lies coiled in three and a half coils, in a dormant or sleeping state.

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Chakras:

 

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The word chakra means “spinning wheel.” According to the yogic view, chakras are a convergence of energy, thoughts, feelings, and the physical body. They determine how we experience reality from our emotional reactions, our desires or aversions, our level of confidence or fear, even the manifestation of physical symptoms.  When energy becomes blocked in a chakra, it is said to trigger physical, mental, or emotional imbalances that manifest in symptoms such as anxiety, lethargy, or poor digestion. The theory is to use asanas to free energy and stimulate an imbalanced chakra.

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Seven chakras:

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1. Sahasrara: the “thousand petaled” or “crown chakra” represents the state of pure consciousness. This chakra is located at the crown of the head and signified by the color white or violet. Sahasrara involves matters of inner wisdom and death of the body.

2. Ajna: the “command” or “third-eye chakra” represents a meeting point between two important energetic streams in the body. Ajna corresponds to the colors violet, indigo or deep blue, though it is traditionally described as white. The chakra is connected to the pituitary gland, growth and development.

3. Vishuddha: the “especially pure” or “throat chakra” is symbolized by the color red or blue. This chakra represents the home of speech and hearing, and the endocrine glands that control metabolism.

4. Anahata: the “unstruck” or “heart chakra” is related to the colors green or pink. Key issues involving Anahata involve complex emotions, compassion, tenderness, unconditional love, equilibrium, rejection and well-being.

5. Manipura: the “jewel city” or “navel chakra” is symbolized by the color yellow. This chakra is associated with the digestive system, along with personal power, fear, anxiety, opinion formation and introversion.

6. Svadhishthana: “one’s own base” or “pelvic chakra” represents the home of the reproductive organs, the genitourinary system and the adrenals.

7. Muladhara: the “root support” or “root chakra” is located at the base of the spine in the coccygeal region. It is said to hold our instinctual urges around food, sleep, sex, and survival. It is also the realm of our avoidance and fears.

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Each chakra is associated with a certain part of the body and a certain organ which it provides with the energy it needs to function. Additionally, just as every organ in the human body has its equivalent on the mental and spiritual level, so too every chakra corresponds to a specific aspect of human behavior and development. Our circular spirals of energy differ in size and activity from person to person. They vibrate at different levels relative to the awareness of the individual and their ability to integrate the characteristics of each into their life.  The lower chakras are associated with fundamental emotions and needs, for the energy here vibrates at a lower frequency and is therefore denser in nature. The finer energies of the upper chakras corresponds to our higher mental and spiritual aspirations and faculties.  The openness and flow of energy through our chakras determines our state of health and balance. Knowledge of our more subtle energy system empowers us to maintain balance and harmony on the physical, mental and spiritual level. All meditation and yoga systems seek to balance out the energy of the chakras by purifying the lower energies and guiding them upwards.  Through the use of grounding, creating “internal space,” and living consciously with an awareness of how we acquire and spend our energy we become capable of balancing our life force with our mental, physical and spiritual selves. The yogic chakra system consists of seven chakras which are normally depicted as a sort of ‘spinal column’ with three channels called nadis (ida, pingala and sushumna) which interweave, the crossing-points being the sites of the chakras. These seven chakras, or energy centers, in the body become blocked by longheld tension and low self-esteem. But practicing poses that correspond to each chakra can release these blocks and clear the path to higher consciousness. The postures precisely address the tension, holding, and blockage of energy in any particular joint or organ. As this tension is released, energy flows more readily throughout the body and allows patients to experience a sense of increased well-being and strength as well as a balance of mind, body and spirit. More than just stretching and toning the physical body, the yoga poses open the nadis (energy channels) and chakras (psychic centers) of the body. Yoga poses also purify and help heal the body, as well as control, calm and focus the mind. The different categories of postures produce different energetic, mental, emotional and physical effects.

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Chakras are said to determine how we experience reality from our emotional reactions, our desires or aversions, our level of confidence or fear, even the manifestation of physical symptoms.

The figure above shows that chakras are having effects on endocrine glands.

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Physiology of Pranayama:

‘Prana’ refers to the universal life force and ‘ayama’ means to regulate or lengthen. Prana is the vital energy needed by our physical and subtle layers, without which the body would perish. It is what keeps us alive. Pranayama is the control of prana through the breath. These techniques rely on breathing through the nostrils. Prana flows through thousands of subtle energy channels called ‘nadis’ and energy centers called ‘chakras’. The quantity and quality of prana and the way it flows through the nadis and chakras determines one’s state of mind. If the Prana level is high and its flow is continuous, smooth and steady, the mind remains calm, positive and enthusiastic. However, due to lack of knowledge and attention to one’s breath, the nadis and chakras in the average person may be partially or fully blocked leading to jerky and broken flow. As a result one experiences increased worries, fear, uncertainty, tensions, conflict and other negative qualities. The ancient sages of India realized these breathing techniques. Some common pranayamas include Bhastrika, Kapalabhati, and Nadi shodan pranayama. Regular practice increases and enhances the quantity and quality of prana, clears blocked nadis and chakras, and results in the practitioner feeling energetic, enthusiastic and positive. Practiced correctly under the right supervision prananyama brings harmony between the body, mind and spirit, making one physically, mentally and spiritually strong.

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Hatha Yoga and energy system:

It is similar to a diving board – preparing the body for purification, so that it may be ready to receive higher techniques of meditation. The word “Hatha” comes from “Ha” which means Sun, and “Tha” which means Moon. Hatha Yoga blends energizing and dynamic yoga postures (represented by the sun) with relaxing and meditative yoga postures (represented by the moon). By combining both types of postures, the body receives the maximum benefit. Our body is made up of a highly intricate energy system. To experience good health and wellness, the energy flow should be in balance. Too little energy (Tamas) can result in a dull and lethargic mind, and a heavy and inert body. Excess energy (Rajas) results in an angry and irritable mind, and a restless body. When the energy is in balance, health and vitality is experienced and this constitutes the goal of Hatha Yoga. This state of perfect balance of energy in the system is called Satva, and is expressed by a relaxed, alert mind, and a light and energetic body. Hatha Yoga offers a balanced and well-rounded sequence of Yoga Postures. For example, the Art of Living Yoga sequence of postures intertwines active and passive postures so that the energy in the body is guided to the perfect place of equilibrium. Here, the emphasis is on practicing asanas (postures) and pranayamas (breathing techniques) with strong (hatha also means ‘strong’) determination.

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Kundalini:

 

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Yoga asana vs. exercise:

It is very true that exercise and Asana are related to the muscular system of body. But in exercise, more emphasis is given on movement and stress of the muscles whereas, in Asana, it is given on steadiness of muscles. Yoga Maharshi Patanjali has defined Yoga Asana as, “Asana means a steady and comfortable state.” Patanjali, who is the founder of eight-fold Hatha/Ashtanga Yoga, has said that to perfect a posture, one should be able to hold it comfortably for 3 hours. In light of this definition, it can be noticed that exercise and Asana are two distinct concepts, i.e. they work in the exactly opposite directions to each other. In the state of Asana, stability and comfort of the body parts and muscles is to be achieved by practicing a specific movement, slowly with control. If the movements are fast, then it will be difficult to attain steadiness in later states of Asana. While practicing such movements, some muscles may get stressed. At this time, if you try to keep muscles relaxed, breathing and speaking to your body, then both the pressure and stress on the muscles will be relieved. Try to concentrate on your body movements. Muscles that take part in these movements will be pressed to the required extent only, and little to no stress or discomfort will be incurred. With the help of such movements, the expected results can be experienced, the Yoga practitioner can breathe deeply and freely, and the body will remember the position comfortably and positively. It is helpful to know the impact of these movements on other systems of the body as well. In exercise, if we increase the speed of movements, then muscles are under strain. The speed of blood circulation and blood pressure increases, and the heart has to perform extra work. Exactly opposite results are obtained due to Asana. Once you have undergone any particular state in an Asana, blood requirement is reduced as the body is relaxed, and stress on the heart is actually relieved. The same effect takes place on the respiratory system during exercise. Due to rapid movements, the lungs have to perform extra tasks. The muscles need an increase of oxygen, and breathing takes place rapidly. If the speed of the heartbeat increases, speed of breathing also increases. In Asana, the body’s requirement of oxygen and thus, the speed of respiration reduce so there is no overload on the respiratory system. The tortoise breathes once every 5 minutes; he requires little oxygen and is the longest living creature on earth. The second longest lifespan is that of the elephant, breathing once every 3 minutes. Reduction in the speed of respiration equals longevity. While performing exercise, muscle strength is increased and through Asana muscle stamina is increased. Asana enables the muscles to work for a longer period of time without strain. This increased tolerance to strain lies in the manner of how you practice both Asana and exercise. In some case, both heartbeat and speed of respiration may increase during Asana practice. Hence, provisions for breathing are also made while performing Asana. It is difficult to maintain the steadiness of muscles initially, but it is easy to practice the movements into the Asana steadily. In the study of yoga, all stages are important and easy to practice slowly with control. Yoga does not cause fatigue like other workout. Even at any age you can do yoga while other workouts cannot be done in elderly.

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Yoga and exercise are not the same. Yoga is different from exercise as it doesn’t involve speedy movements, but instead very slow and steady movements. Exercises are aimed at building your muscles and physical strength and endurance.  Exercises involve repetition of certain movements aimed at building a certain group of muscles, thereby increasing the muscle weight and improving strength of those body parts. It increases the blood supply to those parts. Most exercises increase your breath rate and heart rate. You consume more oxygen during exercises than when you are doing your daily routine activities. Yoga asanas on the other hand, work in a totally different fashion. The idea of asanas is not building muscles, but harmonizing the body, breath and mind, thereby contributing to the overall health of the individual. In the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, asana is described as “Sthiram Sukham Asanam”, which means that which gives steadiness, stability and pleasure is called Asana. From this definition, it is clear that unlike exercises, you cannot do asanas with strain or tension. There is no extra load on the respiratory and cardiac systems. It has to be done in a steady and calm manner and should induce peace and sense of well-being. The oxygen consumption during asanas is lesser than your daily regular activities. Asanas reduces your breath and heart rate. Yoga decreases your Basal Metabolic Rate while exercises increase it. When performing asanas, your body is learning to use much less resources and be more efficient. Yoga asana doesn’t burn your calories as much as exercises. Yoga practitioners will need less food consumption than those who do exercises. Exercises can build up toxins in the body, while Yoga asanas help in eliminating toxins. Asanas help in optimal secretions of the endocrinal glands, thereby balancing the emotions and improving relationships and social interactions. The effect of yoga goes beyond the body. Benefits of yoga include not only strength and steadiness of the body, but also physiological and mental health. Yoga prevents as well as alleviates health problems. Finally, one has to understand that Yoga asanas were developed as part of spiritual science. The goal of yoga is primarily spiritual. Health and other benefits are secondary, though today most practitioners take to yoga for its physical and mental benefits. Yoga improves awareness in all our activities. Asanas are a prerequisite for the higher practices of pranayama, meditation and samadhi. In yoga you work the entire body in harmony in every single pose. The aim is to create a balance of skin, muscles, and bone so that our energy, breath, and fluids can flow without obstruction. Of course, this may not be your immediate experience because certain body parts are stronger than others. Instead you may feel more effort or get tired in areas that are not as strong. That’s just part of the process of gaining equal strength and awareness throughout the entire body. Another thing that sets yoga apart: In some workout regimes, you can tell if you are not doing an exercise correctly because you don’t “feel” anything. In yoga if you don’t feel anything, it may mean that you are in complete balance and as a result, your physical sensations are harmonious. When you do feel one area more intensely than another, you may notice that your mind fixates on that spot. If this happens, it can serve as a wake-up call to bring the attention back to the breath and let go of the effort throughout the body. When you experience equanimity of body, the mind starts to come to stillness and experience equanimity as well. Yoga is a done in one place, as a stationary exercise, and the movements are not jerky or hurried. It is done with bare feet and there is no need for equipment of any kind. A floor mat and perhaps a folded towel to support the back for the exercises that are done while lying down are required. Yoga does not burn body fat as fast as aerobic exercises do. It also lays greater emphasis on the release of contained energy and the mind-body-spirit connection.

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Yoga Benefits versus Exercise Benefits:

Yoga Benefits:

•Parasympathetic Nervous System dominates

•Subcortical regions of brain dominate

•Slow dynamic and static movements

•Normalization of muscle tone

•Low risk of injuring muscles and ligaments

•Low caloric consumption

•Effort is minimized, relaxed

•Energizing (breathing is natural or controlled)

•Balanced activity of opposing muscle groups

•Noncompetitive, process-oriented

•Awareness is internal (focus is on breath and the infinite)

•Limitless possibilities for growth in self-awareness

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Exercise Benefits:

•Sympathetic Nervous System dominates

•Cortical regions of brain dominate

•Rapid forceful movements

•Increased muscle tension

•Higher risk of injury

•Moderate to high caloric consumption

•Effort is maximized

•Fatiguing (breathing is taxed)

•Imbalance activity of opposing groups

•Competitive, goal-oriented

•Awareness is external (focus is on reaching the toes, reaching the finish line, etc.)

•Boredom factor

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Is Yoga Cardio?

The definition of Cardio:

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines aerobic (cardio) exercise as “any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously, and is rhythmic in nature.” It is also defined as exercise that increases the need for oxygen and elevates the heart rate to a specific level, typically at least 60-70% of one’s max heart rate. Your maximum heart rate is about 220 minus your age. Traditional forms of cardio (think running, biking, swimming) use the largest muscle groups in the body in a rhythmic, continuous nature. This is what increases the heart rate to what is defined as an “aerobic” level and holds it there for several minutes at a time. Jogging, brisk walking, cycling, swimming and dancing are examples of aerobic exercise. Your heart rate increases to a minimum of 55 percent of maximum for low- to moderate-intensity training or as high as 90 percent of maximum for vigorous-intensity aerobics. The official position of the American College of Sports Medicine on cardiorespiratory training is that you should do bouts lasting 10 minutes or longer to accumulate at least 20 to 60 minutes total, three to five times per week.

The Benefits of Cardio:

Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart and lungs (which make up the cardiovascular system). During exercise, your muscles demand more oxygen-rich blood and give off more carbon dioxide and other waste products. As a result, your heart has to beat faster to keep up. When you follow a consistent aerobic exercise plan, your heart grows stronger so it can meet the muscles’ demands without as much effort. Everyone, regardless of their weight, age, or gender, can benefit from aerobic exercise. In addition, cardio burns more calories than any other type of exercise, making it the go-to type of exercise for weight loss. As we know, the more calories you burn, the more weight you’ll be able to lose. So if weight-loss is a goal of yours, calorie burning is key.

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It can be hard to make a blanket generalization about yoga when there are so many styles and disciplines under the yoga umbrella. Some are definitely not much of a workout. Others can be fast-paced and more intense.  But most types of yoga share the same poses—just done at different paces. Some of those poses use the “large muscle groups” of the body. Others don’t. Holding any one pose (even though this is strength-building isometric exercise) for more than a couple of seconds diminishes the rhythmic nature and therefore the cardio workout potential. Other types of yoga, such as faster-paced Ashtanga or “power” styles involve fewer holds/pauses and move practitioners quickly from one pose to the next. While these involve more “rhythmic” and “continuous” movements, it may or may not be enough to elevate your heart rate to an aerobic level—depending on the class itself and your own fitness level. Here’s a related example. Walking can be a great form of exercise. Leisurely walking (what most of us do in everyday life) meets most of the cardio criteria (large muscles, rhythmic nature, continuous movement); but at an easy pace, it typically will not meet the heart rate guideline—and therefore would not count as a true cardio workout. Only walking that is brisk enough to bring up your heart rate for an extended period of time truly offers the health and calorie-burning benefits of “cardio” exercise.

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A study published “BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine” in 2007 found that practicing Hatha, a common form of yoga, resulted in low levels of physical activity equal to walking on a treadmill at about 2.5 mph. Although the goal of yoga is not a cardiorespiratory workout, more physically active asana practices may afford some mild aerobic benefits. “Bodywork and Movement Therapies” in January 2007 compared the heart-rate increasing effects of one of the most active forms of yoga, Ashtanga, to more gentle forms of yoga. The researchers found that Ashtanga did raise the heart rate significantly more than the quieter forms, but only to an average of 95 bpm, which represents low-intensity aerobic activity for people over age 50. One study conducted by Copenhagen City Heart in 2012 showed that women who jog live an average of 5.6 years longer, and males add 6.2 years to their lives with regular jogs. As for yoga, it appears to add to longevity by strengthening your core muscles. A 2005 study by the American Council on Exercise looked at the aerobic benefits and calories burned by a Hatha yoga class, which is considered one of the most beginner-friendly and popular forms of yoga.  The study concluded that while the yoga group showed numerous improvements in participants’ strength and endurance as well as improved balance and flexibility, they did not burn a significant amount of calories by practicing yoga. “In fact, one 50-minute session of Hatha yoga burns just 144 calories, similar to a slow walk,” according to researchers.  That’s about half the number of calories that traditional forms of cardio burn in the same amount of time. Total calories burned are a good indicator of how aerobically challenging any movement truly is. The harder it is, the more your heart rate elevates, and the more calories you burn—one sign of a good cardio workout. But this doesn’t mean that yoga isn’t worth the time, because exercise is about more than just burning calories.  It just means that you might want to reconsider swapping a yoga class for your cardio workout, and instead, use it as a complement to a well-rounded fitness routine.

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Oxygen uptake:

To measure the intensity of yoga compared to other activities, researchers turn to maximum oxygen uptake, or VO2 (the rate at which the body carries oxygen to active muscles). And the higher that rate, the harder the body is believed to be pushed. One study found that the VO2 rate of 10 young adults increased by 7 percent when hitting the yoga mat for eight weeks, while another put the elderly to the test, finding a VO2 boost of 11 percent in just six weeks. However, aerobic training (cardio) saw a 24 percent increase in oxygen uptake, signifying it may be best to be a part-time yogi, mixing up the mat with other forms of high-intensity aerobic training.

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Yoga exercise limitation:

While yoga can increase your heart rate, no research has ever indicated it is an effective source of cardiovascular exercise.  A 2005 study in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” indicated that you expend more oxygen walking than in doing basic yoga. A study conducted in 2012 at Colorado State University followed young adults who performed Bikram three days a week for eight weeks and found no cardiovascular benefit at all. Even strenuous power yoga burns only 237 calories over 50 minutes, according to the American Council on Exercise. Some yoga classes supplement the exercise with a cardiovascular component such as cycling or dancing, though the American Council on Exercise cautions against hybrid cardio-yoga classes, as they reduce the flexibility and balance benefits. Because of the importance of cardiovascular exercise in preventing heart disease, getting aerobic exercise should be your priority when planning a fitness regimen. That doesn’t mean, however, that yoga shouldn’t be part of that regimen. Aerobics pioneer and physician Kenneth Cooper recommends that people in their 30s or younger adopt routines that are 80 percent aerobic exercise with a 20 percent concentration on muscles and relaxation, such as yoga. As you get older, yoga can become a larger part of your fitness plan. As a bonus, the added flexibility it provides also will make you less likely to injure yourself during aerobic exercise.

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For decades, aerobic exercise—the type that raises your heart and breathing rates, such as running or cycling—has been touted by scientists as the gold standard in terms of the number of health benefits it brings. More energy, improved mood, lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers, better sleep, better thinking, better sex, and on and on. But as it turns out, there may be another form of exercise that does even more for you: yoga.

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In 2010, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Nursing published a comparative analysis of 81 studies that examined yoga’s health benefits and the health benefits of aerobic exercise. The researchers found yoga to be especially effective at reducing stress. This may not be news to those who practice yoga, but even die-hard enthusiasts will be surprised at the number of other health benefits yoga can confer—often to a larger degree than aerobic exercise. The researchers found that yoga outperformed aerobic exercise at improving balance, flexibility, strength, pain levels among seniors, menopausal symptoms, daily energy level, and social and occupation functioning, among other health parameters.  Neuroendocrinology researchers have found yoga can reduce stress and inflammation, as well as better regulate the autonomic nervous system than walking or simple exercise. (Yadav et al 2012, Streeter et al 2010, Streeter et al 2012)

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Experts believe that yoga can result in increased muscle strength and endurance because the regular stretching makes the muscles larger in size and also better able to extract and use the oxygen available more efficiently in the body. Also, regular practice of Pranayam increases lung capacity, allowing the lungs to expand fully as the ribs, shoulder and back areas become more flexible. Simply put – you can exercise for longer and reach maximum oxygen uptake levels, and also improve VO2 max levels. Of course, the longer one can hold such poses increases the benefits that come from rigorous yoga training.

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Yoga as Neuromuscular Exercise:

The American College of Sports Medicine classifies yoga as neuromuscular exercise, which is sometimes referred to as “functional” training. This type of exercise emphasizes your motor skills and helps hone balance and coordination. For older adults, neuromuscular exercise, such as yoga, can improve daily function and prevent falls. ACSM recommends you perform 20 to 30 minutes of this type of exercise daily. Many types of yoga could also fall under the rubric of flexibility training, which the ACSM also encourages you do as part of your weekly fitness routine. Yoga can help you meet the guidelines of performing stretches for the major muscle groups two to three times per week for 10- to 30-second holds to accumulate a total of 60 seconds total.

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Yoga better for your brain than exercise, 2013 study finds:

Twenty minutes of yoga is better for boosting brain activity than vigorous exercise for the same amount of time, a study has found. Researchers found that following yoga practice the participants were better able to focus their mental resources, process information quickly and more accurately and also learn, hold and update pieces of information more effectively than after performing an aerobic exercise bout.  “The breathing and meditative exercises aim at calming the mind and body and keeping distracting thoughts away while you focus on your body, posture or breath,” Professor Neha Gothe, who led the study, reported.  “Maybe these processes translate beyond yoga practice when you try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities.”  The study team said several factors could explain the results. Prof Gothe said: “Enhanced self-awareness that comes with meditational exercises is just one of the possible mechanisms. Besides, meditation and breathing exercises are known to reduce anxiety and stress, which in turn can improve scores on some cognitive tests.”

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Pilates and yoga:

In the 1920s, physical trainer Joseph Pilates introduced Pilates into America as a way to help injured athletes and dancers safely return to exercise and maintain their fitness. Since then, Pilates has been adapted to suit people in the general community. Pilates can be an aerobic and non-aerobic form of exercise. It requires concentration and focus, because you move your body through precise ranges of motion. Pilates lengthens and stretches all the major muscle groups in your body in a balanced fashion. It requires concentration in finding a centre point to control your body through movement. Each exercise has a prescribed placement, rhythm and breathing pattern. In Pilates, your muscles are never worked to exhaustion, so there is no sweating or straining, just intense concentration. The workout consists of a variety of exercise sequences that are performed in low repetitions, usually five to ten times, over a session of 45 to 90 minutes. Mat work and specialised equipment for resistance are used. Pilates is a method of exercising that lengthens and stretches all the major muscle groups in the body in a balanced fashion. Yoga brings the body and mind together and is built on three main elements – exercise, breathing and meditation. Yoga and Pilates both improve muscular and postural strength.

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Purported yoga benefits:

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Children:

There are five key areas where kids benefit from the practice of yoga, and each of them improves their overall well-being.

1. It enhances physical flexibility.

Yoga promotes physical strength because kids learn to use all of their muscles in new ways. Whether a pose is done standing, sitting, or lying down, each one can challenge various muscle groups while helping a child become aware of his body and how it efficiently functions.

2. It refines balance and coordination.

Balance is a key element of yoga. Balancing poses were created to promote mental and physical poise, as mental clarity and stability emerge from the effort of trying the poses. Even if a child has difficulty standing on one foot, she learns mental and physical balance if she can stay calm when she falls and when she gets up to try again. As children learn to improve their physical balance, they will be filled with a sense of accomplishment. Coordination is also closely tied to balance and promotes overall dexterity. Some yoga teachers and occupational therapists use finger yoga and other specialized techniques to help children with gross and fine motor coordination.

3. It develops focus and concentration.

The act of practicing poses encourages children to clear their mind and focus on the effort. As a result of this single focus to achieve a particular pose or stay balanced, yoga helps children to focus and concentrate in school and get better grades, several studies note.

4. It boosts Self-Esteem and confidence.

Yoga helps to instil confidence and to bring learning to children on an experiential level.

5. It strengthens the Mind-Body connection.

Yoga helps kids achieve a sound mind in a sound body by exercising the physical body and calming the mental spirit.

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Yoga is beneficial to children of all ages, but it has been found to be particularly so for kids with special needs. Studies have shown that yoga benefits children with autism and ADHD. NPR has reported that researchers surveyed teachers at a Bronx public school that had a daily yoga program and found that the program reduced kids’ aggressive behavior, social withdrawal, and hyperactivity, compared with a control group of kids with autism who did not practice yoga. Kristie Patten Koenig, Ph.D., an associate professor of occupational therapy at New York University who led the study, says that yoga was effective because it seemed to play to the strengths of kids with autism while also reducing stress. Autism Key, an autism support website, says that yoga helps address kids’ heightened anxiety, poor motor coordination, and weak self-regulation, something that otherwise is very difficult to do.

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Yoga benefits for adults:

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There are many benefits of yoga, including:

1. Stress relief:

The practice of yoga is well-demonstrated to reduce the physical effects of stress on the body. The body responds to stress through a fight-or-flight response, which is a combination of the sympathetic nervous system and hormonal pathways activating, releasing cortisol – the stress hormone – from the adrenal glands. Cortisol is often used to measure the stress response. Yoga practice has been demonstrated to reduce the levels of cortisol. Most yoga classes end with savasana, a relaxation pose, which further reduces the experience of stress.

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2. Pain relief:

Yoga can ease pain. Studies have shown that practicing yoga asanas (postures), meditation or a combination of the two, reduced pain for people with conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, auto-immune diseases as well as arthritis, back and neck pain and other chronic conditions.

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3. Better breathing:

Yoga includes breathing practices known as pranayama, which can be effective for reducing our stress response, improving lung function and encouraging relaxation. Many pranayamas emphasize slowing down and deepening the breath, which activates the body’s parasympathetic system, or relaxation response. By changing our pattern of breathing, we can significantly affect our body’s experience of and response to stress. This may be one of the most profound lessons we can learn from our yoga practice.

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4. Flexibility:

Yoga can improve flexibility and mobility and increase range of motion. Over time, the ligaments, tendons and muscles lengthen, increasing elasticity. Yoga is a wonderful tool to increase joint flexibility. Factors like sedentary lifestyles, our jobs and even our age can have strong effects on our flexibility and without it, poor postural habits and incorrect movements start to appear in our daily tasks (like going from sitting to standing and lifting). These habits, because of perceived, real or anticipated aches and stiffness can lead to joint immobility. A regular Yoga practice can have wonderful restorative effects on your joints, muscles, organs and mind.

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5. Increased strength:

Yoga asanas use every muscle in the body, increasing strength literally from head to toe. A regular yoga practice can also relieve muscular tension throughout the whole body.

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6. Weight management:

While most of the evidence for the effects of yoga on weight loss is anecdotal or experiential, yoga teachers, students and practitioners across the country find that yoga helps to support weight loss. Many teachers specialize in yoga programs to promote weight management and find that even gentle yoga practices help support weight loss. People do not have to practice the most vigorous forms of yoga to lose weight. Yoga encourages development of a positive self-image, as more attention is paid to nutrition and the body as a whole. A study from the Journal of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that regular yoga practice was associated with less age-related weight gain. The lifestyle study of 15,500 adults in their 50’s covered 10 years of participants’ weight history, physical activity, medical history and diet.

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7. Improved circulation:

Yoga helps to improve circulation by efficiently moving oxygenated blood to the body’s cells.

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8. Cardiovascular conditioning:

Even a gentle yoga practice can provide cardiovascular benefits by lowering resting heart rate, increasing endurance and improving oxygen uptake during exercise.

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9. Massaging of all Organs of the Body:

Yoga is perhaps the only form of activity which massages all the internal glands and organs of the body in a thorough manner, including those – such as the prostate – that hardly get externally stimulated during our entire lifetime. Yoga acts in a wholesome manner on the various body parts. This stimulation and massage of the organs in turn benefits us by keeping away disease and providing a forewarning at the first possible instance of a likely onset of disease or disorder.

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10. Complete Detoxification:

By gently stretching muscles and joints as well as massaging the various organs, yoga ensures the optimum blood supply to various parts of the body. This helps in the flushing out of toxins from every nook and cranny as well as providing nourishment up to the last point. This leads to benefits such as delayed ageing, energy and a remarkable zest for life.

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11. Boost Immunity:

A recent Norwegian study found that yoga practice results in changes in gene expression that boost immunity at a cellular level. And it doesn’t take long: The researchers believe the changes occurred while participants were still on the mat, and they were significantly greater than a control group who went on a nature hike while listening to soothing music. Yoga also helps to boost immunity by simply increasing overall health, says Mitchel Bleier, a yoga teacher of 18 years and owner of Yogapata in Connecticut. “As you breathe better, move better and circulate better, all the other organs function better.”

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12. Ease Migraines:

Research shows that migraine sufferers have fewer and less painful migraines after three months of yoga practice. The cause of migraines isn’t fully understood, but it could be a combination of mental stressors and physical misalignment that create migraines and other issues. Hunching over a computer or cell phone with your shoulders up and head forward causes overlifting of your trapezius and tightening of the neck. This pulls the head forward and creates muscle imbalances that can contribute to headaches and migraines.

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13. Boost Sexual Performance:

Studies have found that 12 weeks of yoga can improve sexual desire, arousal, performance, confidence, orgasm and satisfaction for both men and women. How? Physically, yoga increases blood flow into the genital area, which is important for arousal and erections and strengthens the “moola bandha,” or pelvic floor muscles. Mentally, the breathing and mind control involved with the practice can also improve performance.

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14. Sleep Better:

Researchers from Harvard found that eight weeks of daily yoga significantly improved sleep quality for people with insomnia. And another study found that twice-weekly yoga sessions helped cancer survivors sleep better and feel less fatigued. This can be attributed to yoga’s ability to help people deal with stress. Breathing and mental exercises allow the mind to slow down, so you’re going to start to see yourself sleep better.

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15. Fight Food Cravings:

Researchers from the University of Washington found that regular yoga practice is associated with mindful eating, an awareness of physical and emotional sensations associated with eating. By causing breath awareness, regular yoga practice strengthens the mind-body connection. The awareness can help you tune in to emotions involved with certain cravings, and yoga breathing exercises can help you slow down and make better choices when cravings strike.

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For 5,000 years, hardcore yoga practitioners have been touting yoga’s mental and physical powers. Luckily, you don’t have to be an expert to reap the benefits — adding just a few poses to your daily routine can help your health in all kinds of unexpected ways. On a physical level, yoga helps improve flexibility, strength, balance, and endurance. On an energetic level, yoga teaches you how to cope better with stress by cultivating a sense of ease in both active or passive poses. On a psychological level, yoga helps to cultivate mindfulness by shifting your awareness to the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that accompany a given pose or exercise.

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Potential health benefits for adults:

While much of the medical community regards the results of yoga research as significant, others point to many flaws which undermine results. Much of the research on yoga has taken the form of preliminary studies or clinical trials of low methodological quality, including small sample sizes, inadequate blinding, lack of randomization, and high risk of bias. Long-term yoga users in the United States have reported musculoskeletal and mental health improvements, as well as reduced symptoms of asthma in asthmatics. There is evidence to suggest that regular yoga practice increases brain GABA levels, and yoga has been shown to improve mood and anxiety more than some other metabolically-matched exercises, such as walking. The three main focuses of Hatha yoga (exercise, breathing, and meditation) make it beneficial to those suffering from heart disease. Overall, studies of the effects of yoga on heart disease suggest that yoga may reduce high blood-pressure, improve symptoms of heart failure, enhance cardiac rehabilitation, and lower cardiovascular risk factors. For chronic low back pain, specialist Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs has been found 30% more beneficial than usual care alone in a UK clinical trial. Other smaller studies support this finding. The Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs programme is the dominant treatment for society (both cheaper and more effective than usual care alone) due to 8.5 fewer days off work each year. A research group from Boston University School of Medicine also tested yoga’s effects on lower-back pain. Over twelve weeks, one group of volunteers practiced yoga while the control group continued with standard treatment for back pain. The reported pain for yoga participants decreased by one third, while the standard treatment group had only a five percent drop. Yoga participants also had a drop of 80% in the use of pain medication. There has been an emergence of studies investigating yoga as a complementary intervention for cancer patients. Yoga is used for treatment of cancer patients to decrease depression, insomnia, pain, and fatigue and to increase anxiety control. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs include yoga as a mind-body technique to reduce stress. A study found that after seven weeks the group treated with yoga reported significantly less mood disturbance and reduced stress compared to the control group. Another study found that MBSR had showed positive effects on sleep anxiety, quality of life, and spiritual growth in cancer patients. Yoga has also been studied as a treatment for schizophrenia. Some encouraging, but inconclusive, evidence suggests that yoga as a complementary treatment may help alleviate symptoms of schizophrenia and improve health-related quality of life. Implementation of the Kundalini Yoga Lifestyle has shown to help substance abuse addicts increase their quality of life according to psychological questionnaires like the Behavior and Symptom Identification Scale and the Quality of Recovery Index. Yoga has been shown in a study to have some cognitive functioning (executive functioning, including inhibitory control) acute benefit.

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Yoga as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapy:

There is a growing body of research into the efficacy of yoga and meditation practices, either stand-alone or as an adjunct to conventional therapy, for a range of health issues and medical conditions. Yoga has long been associated with musculoskeletal therapy. This is well supported in the literature by studies demonstrating the benefit of yoga practices for acute and chronic pain, lower back pain, joint pain, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, functional disability and pain medication usage. However, there is also promising evidence for the use of yoga and meditation for mental health issues such as stress management, non-psychotic mood, high trait anxiety and generalized anxiety disorders and mild-to-moderate depression,  usually as part of a multi-disciplinary approach. For women who practice yoga, there is good evidence of assistance with pre-menstrual syndrome and menopausal symptoms, while pre-natal yoga has been shown to lower rates of pre-term labor, increase birth weights and reduce pregnancy-related complications.  Regular yoga practice has also been shown to positively impact on risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes such as hypertension, obesity, hyperlipidemia, glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, oxidative stress, sympathetic activation and cardiovagal function.  Intensive lifestyle change, based on yogic lifestyle, including a low fat vegetarian diet, non-smoking, moderate exercise, stress management and psychosocial support, has been shown to reverse coronary artery stenosis, to reduce recurrence of adverse cardiovascular events and reduce angina pain. Other conditions for which yoga has shown some benefit in the literature include gastrointestinal, respiratory, cognitive function and neurological, geriatric quality of life and symptomatic relief for cancer sufferers.

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Ayurveda and yoga:

With its origin in the Vedas, Ayurveda also incorporates certain principles of yoga within its folds. With its main focus on physiological balance and cleansing, Ayurveda which is one of the most ancient systems of healing; makes use of medication based on herbs and natural resources apart from bringing about suitable modifications to lifestyle and diet management. Besides these, Ayurveda also includes yoga or union as one of its therapeutic tools. Yoga which makes for the union of mind, body and soul, is another naturopathic healing tool. Paving way for the best possible integration of mental, physical and spiritual forces of energy ,yoga includes in its scope certain postures or ‘asanas’; breathing exercises or ‘pranayama’; and meditation which is supposed to be giving way to perfect bliss. Both Ayurveda and ‘yoga’ are similarly geared to the prospect of healing and preventing the occurrence of disease by striking in the human system a perfect balance amongst its three fold natural elements of fire, phlegm and air. Since time immemorial, with their inception during the Vedic Age, the twin concepts of Ayurveda and yoga have been going hand in hand. To focus particularly on yoga, its multifarious benefits apart from therapeutic healing include mental and physical rejuvenation, increased focus on things, prolonged existence and mental calm. Yogic postures linked with Ayurvedic healing are numerously manifold in terms of their technical modes and therapeutic use. Both yoga and ayurveda are based upon the principles of trigunas (sattva, rajas and tamas) and the panchamahabuthas (earth, air, fire, water, space). Yoga and ayurveda also encompass an understanding of how the body works (Dosha-Dhatu-Mala/humor-tissue-waste material theory) and the effect that food and medicines have on the body (Rasa-Veerya-Vipaka/taste-energy-post digestive effect concept). Both of these sciences have eight branches: Ashtanga yoga and Ashtanga ayurveda. The two have a common understanding of health of the body being dependent on the health and balance of the mind. They share virtually the same metaphysical anatomy and physiology, which consists of 72,000 nadis (subtle channels), seven main chakras (energy centers), five bodily sheaths and the kundalini shakti (energy). In treatment, both yoga and ayurveda advocate for the regular practice of pranayama and meditation as well as the use of herbs, body purification procedures, food and chanting of mantras for physical and mental health. In yoga, the body purification procedures have been explained as ‘Satkriyas’ whereas in ayurveda they are known as ‘Panchakarma’. Both recognize that keeping the body healthy is vital for fulfilling the four aims of life: dharma (duty), artha (wealth), kama (desire), and moksha (liberation). It is quite a revelation to see how yoga and ayurveda are interrelated.

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Scientific mechanisms of yoga effects:

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Yoga and stress:

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The figure above shows impact of stress on the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system. Research has described the negative effects of stress on the body. Linked to the release of the stress-hormones adrenalin and cortisol, stress raises the heart rate and blood pressure, weakens immunity and lowers fertility. By contrast, the state of relaxation is linked to higher levels of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and to the growth hormone which repairs cells and tissue. Indeed, studies show that relaxation has virtually the opposite effect, lowering heart rate, boosting immunity and enabling the body to thrive.

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The autonomic nervous system:

To appreciate the role of stress in disease and of relaxation in prevention and recovery, it’s important to understand the function of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which controls the function of the heart, liver, intestines, and other internal organs. The ANS has two branches that work in conjunction: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). In general, when activity is high in the SNS, it is lower in the PNS, and vice versa. The SNS, in conjunction with such stress hormones as adrenaline and cortisol, initiate a series of changes in the body, including raising blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels. These changes help a person deal with a crisis situation. They mean more energy and more blood and oxygen flowing to the large muscles of the trunk, arms, and legs, allowing the person to run from danger or do battle (the so-called “fight-or-flight” response).  As the catch phrase suggests, the sympathetic division prepares your body for action, priming you to react to dangerous or stressful conditions. Your liver releases glucose (blood sugar), your breathing speeds up, air passages in your lungs widen, your heart pounds, and systolic blood pressure rises. Those responses are vital for survival when you’re faced with an immediate threat. The parasympathetic nervous system brings us back to normal when danger has passed. Because exercise is also a stressor, albeit a controlled one, the same mechanisms kick in when you’re doing cardio. Problems start when stress becomes overwhelming or overly prolonged. Stressors like car alarms, stock market crashes and tax deadlines aren’t physically threatening, yet the sympathetic nervous system reacts as if they were. And although short-lived spikes in glucose, breathing rate or blood pressure are healthy and necessary when dealing with a real threat, if they become chronic they cause serious health problems. The PNS, in contrast, tends to slow the heart and lower the blood pressure, allowing recovery after a stressful event. Blood flow that was diverted away from the intestines and reproductive organs, whose function isn’t essential in an emergency, returns. In contrast to fight or flight, these more restorative functions can be thought of as “rest and digest.” They are also sometimes dubbed the relaxation response. While the sympathetic nervous system responds to external events, marshalling resources to deal with threats, the parasympathetic system maintains the body’s normal internal environment, what French physiologist Claude Bernard called the “milieu interieur.” Many aspects of that environment must be maintained within narrow limits for us to function and stay healthy, a process termed homeostasis. For example, the parasympathetic system stimulates digestion, keeps heart rate and blood pressure within normal levels, and promotes healthy immune function. Many yoga practices, including quiet asana, slow breathing, meditation, and guided imagery, increase activation of the PNS and lead to mental relaxation. Yoga techniques are more than just relaxation, however. Practices like vigorous sun salutations, kaphalabhati breathing, and breath retentions actually activate the SNS. One of yoga’s secrets, documented in research from the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Research Foundation near Bangalore, is that more active practices followed by relaxing ones lead to deeper relaxation than relaxing practices alone.

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The stress and stress-induced disorders like hypertension and angina are fast growing epidemics and bane of “modern” society. The holistic science of yoga is the best method for prevention as well as management of stress and stress-induced disorders. Numerous studies have shown yoga to have an immediate down-regulating effect on both the HPA axis responses to stress. Effectiveness of yoga against stress management is well established. It was also found that brief yoga-based relaxation training normalizes the function of the autonomic nervous system by deviating both sympathetic and parasympathetic indices toward more “normal” middle region of the reference values. Studies show that yoga decreases levels of salivary cortisol, blood glucose, as well as plasma rennin levels, and 24-h urine nor-epinephrine and epinephrine levels. Yoga significantly decreases heart rate and systolic and diastolic blood pressures. These studies suggest that yoga has an immediate quieting effect on the HPA axis response to stress. While the precise mechanism of action has not been determined, it has been hypothesized that some yoga exercises cause a shift toward parasympathetic nervous system dominance, possibly via direct vagal stimulation. Shapiro et al. noted significant reductions in low-frequency heart rate variability – a sign of sympathetic nervous system activation – in depressed patients following an 8-week yoga intervention. Regardless of the pathophysiologic pathway, yoga has been shown to have immediate psychological effects: decreasing anxiety and increasing feelings of emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. Several literature reviews have been conducted that examined the impact of yoga on specific health conditions including cardiovascular disease metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, and anxiety.

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A small but intriguing study further characterizes the effect of yoga on the stress response. In 2008, researchers at the University of Utah showed that among control subjects and yoga practitioners, by functional MRIs, that yoga practitioner had the highest pain tolerance and lowest pain-related brain activity during the MRI. The study underscores the value of techniques, such as yoga, that can help a person regulate their stress and, therefore, pain responses. Tooley et al. found significantly higher plasma melatonin levels in experienced mediators in the period immediately following meditation compared with the same period at the same time on a control night. It was concluded that meditation can affect plasma melatonin levels. It remains to be determined whether this is achieved through decreased hepatic metabolism of the hormone or via a direct effect on pineal physiology. Either way, facilitation of higher physiological melatonin levels at appropriate times of day might be one avenue through which the claimed health promoting effects of meditation occur. In another study, Harinath et al. evaluated the effects of 3 month hatha yoga practice and Omkar meditation on melatonin secretion in healthy subjects. Yoga group subjects practiced selected yogic asanas for 45 min and pranayama for 15 min during the morning, whereas during the evening hours these subjects performed preparatory yogic postures for 15 min, pranayama for 15 min, and meditation for 30 min daily for 3 months. Results showed that yoga practice for 3 months resulted in an improvement in cardiorespiratory performance and psychological profile. The plasma melatonin also showed an increase after 3 months of yogic practice. Also, the maximum night time melatonin levels in the yoga group showed a significant correlation with well-being score. These observations suggest that yogic practices can be used as psychophysiologic stimuli to increase endogenous secretion of melatonin, which, in turn, might be responsible for improved sense of well-being. In some other studies, it has been found that subjects trained in yoga can achieve a state of deep psychosomatic relaxation associated with highly significant decrease in oxygen consumption within 5 min of practicing savitri pranayama (a slow, rhythmic and deep breathing) and shavasana.

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How does heart rate variability fit into this?

The primary pacemaker of the heart is the sino-atrial node, a region of specialized cardiac muscle cells in the right atrium of the heart. The sino-atrial node rhythmically fires at a rate of about 60 to 100 beats per minutes, creating electrical signals that propagate throughout the heart, stimulating contraction. Inputs from the autonomic nervous system modify that basic sinus rhythm, particularly inputs from the vagus nerve, the major nerve of the parasympathetic system. When vagal (parasympathetic) tone increases, heart rate slows down. As that input is withdrawn, the sino-atrial node returns to its baseline firing rate. When the sympathetic system kicks in, heart rate can speed up above 100 beats per minute. Left to its own devices, the sino-atrial node would beat out a regular rhythm like a metronome. But, largely because of vagal stimulation, a healthy person’s heart rate actually varies considerably under normal circumstances. You may be able to feel the normal variation in your heartbeat that accompanies breathing—termed respiratory sinus arrhythmia. Take a few long, slow breaths and notice how your heart rate accelerates as you inhale and decreases as you exhale. Slow breathing increases respiratory sinus arrhythmia, making it easier to sense, but even when you’re sitting quietly and breathing normally, your heart rate varies with the breathing cycle. As you exhale, parasympathetic tone increases and your heart rate slows. When you inhale, there is a decrease in vagal input, and your heart rate speeds up. It’s not clear why that is, but one theory suggests that soaking the lungs with extra blood during an inhalation uses the heart’s output more efficiently. Whatever the reason, the fact that heart rate variability is tied to autonomic tone makes it a useful marker for measuring the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions. Today researchers use complex mathematical models to identify several frequency components of heart rate variability. The low-frequency range is generally a marker of sympathetic tone while the high-frequency band is linked to parasympathetic activation. The ratio between the two describes the relative balance between the two autonomic divisions. In a study, Santaella and his colleagues found that the group who practiced pranayama experienced a reduction in the low-frequency band as well as in the low-to-high-frequency ratio, suggesting a shift from a sympathetic to a more parasympathetic state. In other words, the bhastrika practitioners were less stressed than their counterparts in the control group. There is evidence that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body’s ability to respond to stress more flexibly. A growing body of research on heart-rate variability and yoga provides evidence that the practice can help people in their quest for healthier stress responses. One of the first studies was conducted at Newcastle University in England and published in 1997 in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation. Researchers found that six weeks of practicing hatha yoga increased the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming side) without decreasing the influence of the sympathetic (the arousing side). Researchers took 26 healthy but sedentary adults and randomly split them into two groups. One group was given an aerobic exercise program, the other a yoga regimen that included two 90-minute sessions per week with breathing, poses, and relaxation. In the week following the six-week intervention, the yoga participants were reported to have higher heart-rate variability (and a lower resting heart rate, another indicator of well-being) after the study than before. The aerobics group showed no significant changes. A second study, done by researchers at the University of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany and published in 2007 in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, suggests that even a single session of yoga practice can encourage the nervous system to find flexibility and balance. Researchers hooked up 11 healthy yoga practitioners to instruments that recorded their heart-rate variability over 24 hours. During that time, participants did 60 minutes of active Iyengar Yoga poses and 30 minutes of restorative poses. Heart-rate variability increased during the yoga session, and—as in the previous study—this change was driven by the increased influence of the parasympathetic nervous system, not by changes to the sympathetic system. In other words, after yoga practice, participants weren’t just more relaxed; they were in a state of autonomic balance and flexibility driven by the parasympathetic—which is exactly the type of balance and flexibility that predicts greater resilience to stress. This study provides promising evidence that a yoga practice can prepare you to meet life’s challenges, not just recover from them.

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Yoga and neuroendocrine:

Over time, the constant state of hypervigilence resulting from repeated firing of the HPA axis can lead to deregulation of the system and ultimately diseases such as obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, depression, substance abuse, and cardiovascular disease. A growing body of evidence supports the belief that yoga benefits physical and mental health via down-regulation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Yoga helps dampen the body’s stress response by reducing levels of the hormone cortisol, which not only fuels our split-second stress reactions, but it can wreak havoc on the body when one is chronically stressed. So reducing the body’s cortisol level is generally considered a good thing. Reducing circulating cortisol removes a barrier to effective immune function, so yoga could help prevent illness by boosting immunity. Yoga also boosts levels of the feel-good brain chemicals like GABA, serotonin, and dopamine, which are responsible for feelings of relaxation and contentedness, and the way the brain processes rewards. All three neurotransmitters are the targets of various mood medications like antidepressants (e.g., SSRIs) and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) drugs.

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Slow deep breathing in yoga:

It is known that the regular practice of breathing exercise (pranayama) increases parasympathetic tone, decreases sympathetic activity, improves cardiovascular and respiratory functions, decreases the effect of stress and strain on the body and improves physical and mental health. It has been demonstrated that yoga training that includes pranayama, improves autonomic and pulmonary functions in asthma patients. Regular practice of breathing exercise is shown to improve autonomic functions by decreasing sympathetic activity or by increasing vagal tone. The improvement of parasympathetic activity following practice of slow breathing exercise in may possibly be due to increased oxygenation of tissues due to increased alveolar ventilation. As oxygenation does not improve in fast breathing due to decreased alveolar ventilation, no significant change in autonomic activity was observed in fast breathing group. Pranayamic breathing has been shown to contribute to a physiologic response characterized by the presence of decreased oxygen consumption, decreased heart rate, and decreased blood pressure, as well as increased theta wave amplitude in EEG recordings, increased parasympathetic activity accompanied by the experience of alertness and reinvigoration. The mechanism of how pranayamic breathing interacts with the nervous system affecting metabolism and autonomic functions remains to be clearly understood.

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Yoga and genes:

Harvard researchers found that yoga, meditation and even repetitive prayer and mantras all induced the relaxation effect.  A comprehensive scientific study showing that deep relaxation changes our bodies on a genetic level has just been published. What researchers at Harvard Medical School discovered is that, in long-term practitioners of relaxation methods such as yoga and meditation, far more ”disease-fighting genes” were active, compared to those who practised no form of relaxation. In particular, they found genes that protect from disorders such as pain, infertility, high blood pressure and even rheumatoid arthritis were switched on. The changes, say the researchers, were induced by what they call ”the relaxation effect”, a phenomenon that could be just as powerful as any medical drug but without the side effects. ”We found a range of disease-fighting genes were active in the relaxation practitioners that were not active in the control group,” Dr Herbert Benson, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who led the research, says. The good news for the control group with the less-healthy genes is that the research didn’t stop there. The experiment, which showed just how responsive genes are to behaviour, mood and environment, revealed that genes can switch on, just as easily as they switch off. ”Harvard researchers asked the control group to start practising relaxation methods every day,” says Jake Toby, hypnotherapist at London’s BodyMind Medicine Centre, who teaches clients how to induce the relaxation effect. ”After two months, their bodies began to change: the genes that help fight inflammation, kill diseased cells and protect the body from cancer all began to switch on.” More encouraging still, the benefits of the relaxation effect were found to increase with regular practice: the more people practised relaxation methods such as meditation or deep breathing, the greater their chances of remaining free of arthritis and joint pain with stronger immunity, healthier hormone levels and lower blood pressure. Benson believes the research is pivotal because it shows how a person’s state of mind affects the body on a physical and genetic level. It might also explain why relaxation induced by meditation or repetitive mantras is considered to be a powerful remedy in traditions such as Ayurveda in India or Tibetan medicine.

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A recent study conducted by the University of Oslo asked ten participants to attend a week-long yoga retreat in Germany. For the first two days, participants spent two hours practicing yoga, including yogic postures, yogic breathing exercises, and meditation. For the next two days, they spent that same time period going on an hour-long nature walk and then listening to either jazz or classical music. “The researchers found that the nature walk and music-driven relaxation changed the expression of 38 genes in these circulating immune cells. In comparison, the yoga produced changes in 111.” Fahri Saatcioglu of the University of Oslo, whose team conducted the research, wrote in the study that “the data suggest that previously reported (therapeutic) effects of yoga practices have an integral physiological component at the molecular level, which is initiated immediately during practice.” Compared with wellness activities like exercise and listening to music, yoga’s impact was far more widespread, which indicates the practice “may have additional effects over exercise plus simple relaxation in inducing health benefits through differential changes at the molecular level.”

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Yoga and chromosomes:

A study of breast cancer survivors showed an increase in telomere length after participating in a weekly meditation program for 12 weeks. The participants were split into three groups. The first group was taught mindfulness meditation techniques and a hatha yoga sequence during a series of group sessions and a retreat; they were also instructed to meditate and practice yoga for forty-five minutes a day at home. The women in the second group were sent to group therapy sessions led by clinical psychologists or social workers. These women met for 90 minutes weekly over the course of 12 weeks, sharing feelings and developing relationships with one another with the goal of teaching coping skills and developing a mutual support system. The third group functioned as the control group; the women in this group were assigned to a single, six-hour “stress management seminar.”  Significantly, the study found that the women who received ongoing treatment—both the yoga/meditation group and the therapy group—maintained telomere length, while the women in the control group showed shortened telomeres. Telomeres protect chromosomes by keeping them intact and preventing them from breaking down or fusing with another chromosome. Longer telomeres are indicative of healthy cells, while shortened telomeres are a type of cell degeneration.  Shortened telomeres are also associated with diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s and longer telomeres are generally thought to help protect us from disease.

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My view:

Inside the nucleus of a cell, our genes are located on twisted, double-stranded molecules of DNA called chromosomes. A telomere is a region of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromosome. It protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration or from fusion with neighbouring chromosomes. Telomeres have been compared with the plastic tips on shoelaces because they prevent chromosome ends from fraying and sticking to each other, which would scramble an organism’s genetic information to cause cancer, other diseases or death. Yet, each time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. When they get too short, the cell no longer can divide and becomes inactive or “senescent” or dies. Once the telomeres are depleted, due to the cell dividing many times, it will no longer divide having reached its Hayflick limit. This process does not take place in cancer cells due to an enzyme called telomerase. This enzyme maintains telomere length, which results in the telomeres of cancer cells never shortening. This gives these cells infinite replicative potential.  A proposed treatment for cancer is the usage of telomerase inhibitors that would prevent the restoration of the telomere, allowing the cell to die like other body cells. While lengthened telomeres are helpful to prevent aging and degenerative disorders, lengthened telomeres would worsen cancer. Here yoga is increasing telomere length in cancer patients which would worsen cancer rather than bringing good health.

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Yoga and brain:

Meditation and brain:

A Harvard University study conducted a few years ago, demonstrated that as little as 27 minutes of meditation per day changed the physical structure of the brain in just eight weeks. Participants in the study group who practiced meditation had an increase in grey matter in the parts of the brain associated with learning, memory, self-awareness and compassion, and a decrease in grey matter in areas associated with anxiety and stress. None of these changes were present in the control group. While other studies have been able to replicate these results, some have also shown that different styles of meditation may affect the body in different ways. In one study, the brain activity of participants practicing either Vajrayana or Theravada meditation was measured. The two types of Theravada meditation, Shamatha and Vipassana, resulted in increased relaxation, seen through an increase in parasympathetic nervous system responses. Those practicing one of the two types of Vajrayana meditation, visualization and Rig-pa, showed increased arousal, seen through increased sympathetic nervous system activity.

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Yoga changes the Brain: a 2013 study:

Using MRI scans, Villemure detected more grey matter—brain cells—in certain brain areas in people who regularly practiced yoga, as compared with control subjects. “We found that with more hours of practice per week, certain areas were more enlarged,” Villemure says, a finding that hints that yoga was a contributing factor to the brain gains. Yogis had larger brain volume in the somatosensory cortex, which contains a mental map of our body, the superior parietal cortex, involved in directing attention, and the visual cortex, which Villemure postulates might have been bolstered by visualization techniques. The hippocampus, a region critical to dampening stress, was also enlarged in practitioners, as were the precuneus and the posterior cingulate cortex, areas key to our concept of self. All these brain areas could be engaged by elements of yoga practice, Villemure says. The yogis dedicated on average about 70 percent of their practice to physical postures, about 20 percent to meditation and 10 percent to breath work, typical of most Western yoga routines. Villemure presented the work in November 2013 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego.

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Fluid intelligence and brain functional organization in aging yoga and meditation practitioners: a 2014 study:

Numerous studies have documented the normal age-related decline of neural structure, function, and cognitive performance. Preliminary evidence suggests that meditation may reduce decline in specific cognitive domains and in brain structure. Here authors extended this research by investigating the relation between age and fluid intelligence and resting state brain functional network architecture using graph theory, in middle-aged yoga and meditation practitioners, and matched controls. In this fMRI study, researchers observed greater resting state functional connectivity (i.e., an index of brain connectivity captured when one is not actively performing a task) in similar brain regions among Kripalu yoga and meditation practitioners when compared to non-practitioners. Dr. Tim Gard and colleagues hypothesize that the findings may help to explain the improved mental health and well-being commonly seen among those who practice yoga and meditation (findings were similar in both groups). The researchers used fMRI to compare the resting state brain functional connectivity of 16 Kripalu yoga practitioners, 16 Vipassana meditators and 15 controls (i.e., those with minimal lifetime yoga/meditation practice). Meditators, with an average age of 54, were all trained in insight meditation/ Vipassana/ “mindfulness” and had an average of about 7,500 hours of practice w/a standard deviation of 5,700 hrs. Yoga folk, w/an average age of 49, were trained in Kripalu Yoga and had an average of about 13,500 hrs of experience w/a standard deviation of about 10,000 hrs. The study employed graph theoretical analysis, a “hot” area now in modelling the complexity of brain functional connectivity, to assess the effects of aging on network integration and fluid intelligence as well as “resilience” or the brain’s ability to respond to damage from brain lesions and neuronal death.  Both yogis and meditators showed much less decline in fluid intelligence with age than did the controls – the yogis appearing to do better than the meditators.   However, due to the large data spread, while the difference from controls was significant, the difference between yogis and meditators was not statistically significant. The researchers found the caudate nucleus (i.e., a brain structure linked with learning and communication) different in contemplative practitioners and controls. Their findings revealed stronger connectivity between the caudate nucleus and other brain regions (i.e., frontal, temporal and parietal) in meditators and yogis than in controls. To test whether these findings could be replicated, the same analysis was conducted on a second sample of meditators versus controls, with remarkably consistent findings. The caudate is implicated as a key aspect of brain circuits (i.e., basal ganglia-thalamocortical) related to goal directed (rather than habitual) learning. Thus, the researchers theorize that the greater connectivity observed between the caudate and the prefontal cortex may explain positive associations between mindfulness and cognitive and behavioral flexibility (i.e., the ability to change what you are thinking about, and how you are thinking about it, and the ability to flexibly adapt your behavior). Fluid intelligence declined slower in yoga practitioners and meditators combined than in controls. Resting state functional networks of yoga practitioners and meditators combined were more integrated and more resilient to damage than those of controls. Furthermore, mindfulness was positively correlated with fluid intelligence, resilience, and global network efficiency. These findings reveal the possibility to increase resilience and to slow the decline of fluid intelligence and brain functional architecture and suggest that mindfulness plays a mechanistic role in this preservation.

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Yoga and Depression:

Low brain levels of the neurotransmitter GABA are often found in people with depression; SSRIs, electroconvulsive therapy, and now yoga, it seems, can boost GABA. Preliminary research out of the Boston University School of Medicine and Harvard’s McLean Hospital found that healthy subjects who practiced yoga for one hour had a 27 percent increase in levels of GABA compared with a control group that simply sat and read for an hour. This supports a growing body of research that’s proving yoga can significantly improve mood and reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

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Increased dopamine tone during meditation-induced change of consciousness (Yoga Nidra):

This is the first in vivo demonstration of an association between endogenous neurotransmitter release and conscious experience. Using 11C-raclopride PET authors demonstrated increased endogenous dopamine release in the ventral striatum during Yoga Nidra meditation. Yoga Nidra is characterized by a depressed level of desire for action, associated with decreased blood flow in prefrontal, cerebellar and subcortical regions, structures thought to be organized in open loops subserving executive control. In the striatum, dopamine modulates excitatory glutamatergic synapses of the projections from the frontal cortex to striatal neurons, which in turn project back to the frontal cortex via the pallidum and ventral thalamus. The present study was designed to investigate whether endogenous dopamine release increases during loss of executive control in meditation. Participants underwent two 11C-raclopride PET scans: one while attending to speech with eyes closed, and one during active meditation.

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Yoga and inflammation:

New research suggests a regular practice of yoga may lower an inflammatory protein that is normally linked to aging and stress.  The study, done by Ohio State University researchers and just 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. The women 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 an important part of the body’s inflammatory response and has been implicated in 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 suggest. “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.”

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Summary of scientific yoga mechanisms:

A literature overview employs a systematic search to include articles of clinical investigation, synthesis or review that focus on potential underlying mechanisms for yoga’s effect on prevention and treatment of disease. Results indicate that strong evidence exists for yoga mechanisms in areas of hormonal regulation, sympathetic activity in the nervous system and the betterment of physical health attributes such as improved balance, flexibility, strength and cardiorespiratory health. Empirical evidence exists for effect of yoga on metabolism, circulation, behaviour, oxidative stress, inflammation and psychological thought processes, while hypothesis exist in immunology, nerve conduction and bioelectromagnetism.

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Scientific studies on yoga and yoga therapy:

In January 2007, yoga therapy was defined as the “process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the philosophy and practice of Yoga”. Nearly 14 million Americans (6.1% of the population) say that a doctor or therapist has recommended yoga to them for their health condition. In the United Kingdom, national healthcare services promote yoga as a safe and effective way to promote physical activity, improving strength, balance, and flexibility as well as a potential benefit for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, aches and pains, depression, and stress. Yoga research in medical health literature continues to increase. Over 2000 journal articles in yoga therapy have been published online. In 2012, 274 new yoga articles were added to PubMed, with 46 results after a “systematic review” title search on the US National Library of Medicine. However, the quality and direction of evidence for yoga therapy is unclear. In one clinical review, results show psychological symptoms and disorders (anxiety, depression, and sleep), pain syndromes, autoimmune conditions (asthma, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis), immune conditions (lymphoma and breast cancer), pregnancy conditions, and weight loss are all positively affected by yoga. An overview from 2010 includes 21 systematic reviews that yield unanimous positive results for just two conditions—cardiovascular risk reduction and depression. Current research suggests that a carefully adapted set of yoga poses may reduce low-back pain and improve function. Other studies also suggest that practicing yoga (as well as other forms of regular exercise) might improve quality of life; reduce stress; lower heart rate and blood pressure; help relieve anxiety, depression, and insomnia; and improve overall physical fitness, strength, and flexibility. But some research suggests yoga may not improve asthma, and studies looking at yoga and arthritis have had mixed results.

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Yoga in Australia: Results of a national survey in 2012:

Perceived effect of yoga practice on health and medical conditions by category are shown in the table below:

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Together, stress management (15.63% of all conditions reported) and anxiety (8.25%) were more commonly being addressed by yoga practice than by back (11.84%), neck (6.69%) and shoulder (2.33%) pain and related musculoskeletal problems. Women’s health was the next largest category (8.81% of conditions) with reported improvement in pre-menstrual and menopausal symptoms and assistance during and after pregnancy, ahead of gastrointestinal (6.77%), respiratory (6.42%), and cardiovascular conditions (3.66%), with consistent improvement reported across all categories. Weight management (4.77%) was also seen to be assisted by yoga practice. Health conditions were only seen to worsen in 19 of 4,754 instances.

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Flexibility:

Regardless of your preferred type, a yoga workout provides several research-tested health benefits. The poses will improve your strength, balance and flexibility. A 2005 study at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, found that after eight weeks of yoga classes, participants’ flexibility increased between 13 percent and 35 percent, especially in the shoulder and trunk area. Their strength, particularly in the chest and abdominal area, also increased significantly. Additionally, the relaxation and meditation aspect of yoga has health benefits. The movements and breathing will help you reduce stress and manage such conditions as sleep problems and fatigue.

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Back pain:

Often a stress-related musculoskeletal problem, back pain seems an appropriate indication for treatment with yoga, and there is a large body of literature on the subject. In a systematic review, Chou and Huffman found only 3 studies meeting inclusion criteria on yoga’s effectiveness for subacute or chronic low back pain. One large study found 6 weeks of Viniyoga was superior to conventional exercise programs and a self-care booklet in reducing pain and “bothersomeness” scores, as well as reducing the need for analgesic medication.  Physician visits for back pain were not reduced in the treatment group, however. Also included in the systematic review were 2 smaller studies of Iyengar yoga on low back pain; results did not rise to statistical significance. A review by Posadzki and Ernst included 4 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) not included in Chou and Huffman, although only one of these had >50 subjects. Yoga practices for the treatment groups were mostly Iyengar and Viniyoga and lasted for 12 to 24 weeks, although one study used a 7-day intensive inpatient treatment program. Yoga practitioners had lower pain scores and lower Roland Morris Disability scores.  A 2004 Clinical Inquiry in The Journal of Family Practice found limited evidence to suggest yoga may speed healing for patients with chronic back pain. Most recently, Cramer et al found 12 studies meeting inclusion criteria that reported on Viniyoga, Iyengar, and Hatha yoga interventions. Ten of these studies were included in the meta-analysis, which strongly favored yoga over control interventions for reducing pain and disability scores.

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Nonpharmacologic Therapies for Acute and Chronic Low Back Pain:

A Review of the Evidence for an American Pain Society/American College of Physicians: a 2007 study:

Therapies with good evidence of moderate efficacy for chronic or subacute low back pain are cognitive-behavioral therapy, exercise, spinal manipulation, and interdisciplinary rehabilitation. For acute low back pain, the only therapy with good evidence of efficacy is superficial heat.

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Researchers find Yoga may be effective for Chronic Low Back Pain in Minority Populations: a 2009 study:

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Boston Medical Center found that yoga may be more effective than standard treatment for reducing chronic low back pain in minority populations. This study appears in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.

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A systematic review and meta-analysis of yoga for low back pain: a 2013 review:

MEDLINE, the Cochrane Library, EMBASE, CAMBASE, and PsycINFO, were screened through January 2012. Randomized controlled trials comparing yoga to control conditions in patients with low back pain were included. Two authors independently assessed risk of bias using the risk of bias tool recommended by the Cochrane Back Review Group. Main outcome measures were pain, back-specific disability, generic disability, health-related quality of life, and global improvement. For each outcome, standardized mean differences (SMD) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated. Ten randomized controlled trials with a total of 967 chronic low back pain patients were included. Eight studies had low risk of bias. There was strong evidence for short-term effects on pain (SMD=-0.48; 95% CI, -0.65 to -0.31; P<0.01), back-specific disability (SMD=-0.59; 95% CI, -0.87 to -0.30; P<0.01), and global improvement (risk ratio=3.27; 95% CI, 1.89-5.66; P<0.01). There was strong evidence for a long-term effect on pain (SMD=-0.33; 95% CI, -0.59 to -0.07; P=0.01) and moderate evidence for a long-term effect on back-specific disability (SMD=-0.35; 95% CI, -0.55 to -0.15; P<0.01). There was no evidence for either short-term or long-term effects on health-related quality of life. Yoga was not associated with serious adverse events. This systematic review found strong evidence for short-term effectiveness and moderate evidence for long-term effectiveness of yoga for chronic low back pain in the most important patient-centered outcomes. Yoga can be recommended as an additional therapy to chronic low back pain patients.

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Depression and anxiety:

Yoga therapy for depression and anxiety has been commonly studied, given that aspects of mindfulness and relaxation are thought to be important parts of treatment. Moreover, patients uncomfortable with pharmacologic therapy for their disorders may be amenable to yoga treatment. In a recent Clinical Inquiry, Skowronek et al found evidence (strength of recommendation B) for yoga to treat depression and anxiety symptoms based on 3 recently published review articles that commented on a total of 23 RCTs. A handful of additional review papers on this subject have selected slightly different groups of studies to include in their analyses, but all have found generally positive results.  Inclusion criteria varied: one review omitted breathing-only modalities such as Sudarshan Kriya yoga, while another included them. One omitted Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which is a program developed in the United States based on several Eastern and Western methodologies including yoga.  MBSR already has a large body of literature supporting its use for anxiety and depression.  One of these reviews, which involved a meta-analysis of 9 studies regarding depression, also included a meta-analysis of 5 studies on yoga for anxiety. Pooled results for depression showed significant benefit for yoga over usual care, and smaller but still significant benefit for yoga over aerobic exercise or other relaxation techniques. For anxiety, pooled analysis showed yoga to be equal to usual care but superior to other relaxation modalities.  As with earlier reviews, study groups were heterogeneous and included young and older adults, caregivers for dementia patients, and those receiving inpatient treatment for alcohol dependency; symptoms of depression ranged from mild to severe. In a review focusing on anxiety disorders, Kirkwood et al located 8 trials, 6 of which were randomized. Many of these were published in the 1970s and 80s. The yoga interventions varied and included weekly Kundalini sessions, pranayama techniques, and savasana (a pose in which practitioners lie supine while focusing on breathing and muscle relaxation). These practices were compared with anxiolytic medication, progressive muscular relaxation, placebo capsule, and no treatment. All found a statistically significant reduction in anxiety indices in the yoga treatment groups, and the authors noted that the positive effects of yoga for those suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorders are particularly well documented.  More recently, Li and Goldsmith reviewed 6 interventional studies that included some trials without randomization, blinding, or a control group. Subjects of the studies included cancer patients, postmenopausal women, pregnant women, and firefighters. Six of 9 trials showed improvement in externally validated anxiety indices such as the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory or Perceived Stress Scale.

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A 2010 review evaluated eight trials based on individuals with clinical depression and elevated depression symptoms. Benefits were found in relation to mindfulness, physical activity, decreased stress reactivity, sleep regulation, decreased rumination, regulating neurotransmitters, promotion of adaptive thinking, and promotion of behavioural activation. A type of controlled breathing with roots in traditional yoga shows promise in providing relief for depression. The program, called Sudarshan Kriya yoga (SKY), involves several types of cyclical breathing patterns, ranging from slow and calming to rapid and stimulating. One study compared 30 minutes of SKY breathing, done six days a week, to bilateral electroconvulsive therapy and the tricyclic antidepressant imipramine in 45 people hospitalized for depression. After four weeks of treatment, 93% of those receiving electroconvulsive therapy, 73% of those taking imipramine, and 67% of those using the breathing technique had achieved remission. Another study examined the effects of SKY on depressive symptoms in 60 alcohol-dependent men. After a week of a standard detoxification program at a mental health center in Bangalore, India, participants were randomly assigned to two weeks of SKY or a standard alcoholism treatment control. After the full three weeks, scores on a standard depression inventory dropped 75% in the SKY group, as compared with 60% in the standard treatment group. Levels of two stress hormones, cortisol and corticotropin, also dropped in the SKY group, but not in the control group. The authors suggest that SKY might be a beneficial treatment for depression in the early stages of recovery from alcoholism. And a 2007 study supports yoga’s potential as a complementary treatment for depressed patients taking antidepressant medication but only in partial remission. University of California, Los Angeles, psychologist David Shapiro, PhD, found that participants who practiced Iyengar yoga three times a week for eight weeks reported significant reductions in depression, anxiety and neurotic symptoms, as well as mood improvements at the end of each class (Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Vol. 4, No. 4). Many of the participants achieved remission and also showed physiological changes, such as heart rate variability, indicative of a greater capacity for emotional regulation, Shapiro says.

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Yoga for depression:  systemic review 2005:

Searches of the major biomedical databases including MEDLINE, EMBASE,  ClNAHL, PsycINFO and the Cochrane Library were conducted. Specialist  complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and the IndMED databases were also searched and efforts made to identify unpublished and ongoing research.  Searches were conducted between January and June 2004. Relevant research was categorised by study type and appraised. Clinical commentaries were obtained for studies reporting clinical outcomes.  Five randomised controlled trials were located, each of which utilised different forms of yoga interventions and in which the severity of the condition ranged from mild to severe. All trials reported positive findings but methodological details such as method of randomisation, compliance and attrition rates were missing. No adverse effects were reported with the exception of fatigue and breathlessness in participants in one study.  Overall, the initial indications are of potentially beneficial effects of yoga interventions on depressive disorders. Variation in interventions, severity and reporting of trial methodology suggests that the findings must be interpreted with caution. Several of the interventions may not be feasible in those with reduced or impaired mobility. Nevertheless, further investigation of yoga as a therapeutic intervention is warranted.

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Here are five poses that can specifically help with depression:

1. Forward fold (Uttanasana).

2. Head-to-Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana).

3. Cobra (Bhujangasana).

4. Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

5. Supported Headstand (Salamba Sirsasana).

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Yoga for anxiety: a systematic review of the research evidence: year 2005:

Between March and June 2004, a systematic review was carried out of the research evidence on the effectiveness of yoga for the treatment of anxiety and anxiety disorders. Eight studies were reviewed. They reported positive results, although there were many methodological inadequacies. Owing to the diversity of conditions treated and poor quality of most of the studies, it is not possible to say that yoga is effective in treating anxiety or anxiety disorders in general. However, there are encouraging results, particularly with obsessive compulsive disorder. Further well conducted research is necessary which may be most productive if focused on specific anxiety disorders.

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Effects of Yoga versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels:

A Randomized Controlled MRS Study of 2010:

Yoga and exercise have beneficial effects on mood and anxiety. γ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA)-ergic activity is reduced in mood and anxiety disorders. The practice of yoga postures is associated with increased brain GABA levels. This study addresses the question of whether changes in mood, anxiety, and GABA levels are specific to yoga or related to physical activity. Healthy subjects with no significant medical/psychiatric disorders were randomized to yoga or a metabolically matched walking intervention for 60 minutes 3 times a week for 12 weeks. Mood and anxiety scales were taken at weeks 0, 4, 8, 12, and before each magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) scan. Scan 1 was at baseline. Scan 2, obtained after the 12-week intervention, was followed by a 60-minute yoga or walking intervention, which was immediately followed by Scan 3. The yoga subjects (n = 19) reported greater improvement in mood and greater decreases in anxiety than the walking group (n = 15). There were positive correlations between improved mood and decreased anxiety and thalamic GABA levels. The yoga group had positive correlations between changes in mood scales and changes in GABA levels. The 12-week yoga intervention was associated with greater improvements in mood and anxiety than a metabolically matched walking exercise. This is the first study to demonstrate that increased thalamic GABA levels are associated with improved mood and decreased anxiety. It is also the first time that a behavioral intervention (i.e., yoga postures) has been associated with a positive correlation between acute increases in thalamic GABA levels and improvements in mood and anxiety scales. Given that pharmacologic agents that increase the activity of the GABA system are prescribed to improve mood and decrease anxiety, the reported correlations are in the expected direction. The possible role of GABA in mediating the beneficial effects of yoga on mood and anxiety warrants further study.

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Mood and functioning:

In a German study published in 2005, women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed” are treated with 90-min yoga classes a week for 3 months. At the end of 3 months, women in the yoga group reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being. Depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%. Initial complaints of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality also resolved much more often in the yoga group than in the control group. Another 2005 study examined the effects of a single yoga class for inpatients at the New Hampshire psychiatric hospital, 113 participants among patients with bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia it is found after yoga class, tension, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, and fatigue dropped significantly. Further controlled trials of yoga practice have demonstrated improvements in mood and quality of life for elderly, people caring for patients with dementia, breast cancer survivors, and patients with epilepsy.

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Using Yoga to relieve Stress:

Yoga-based guided relaxation reduces sympathetic activity judged from baseline levels.

35 male volunteers whose ages ranged from 20 to 46 years were studied in two sessions of yoga-based guided relaxation and supine rest. Assessments of autonomic variables were made for 15 subjects, before, during, and after the practices, whereas oxygen consumption and breath volume were recorded for 25 subjects before and after both types of relaxation. A significant decrease in oxygen consumption and increase in breath volume were recorded after guided relaxation (paired test). There were comparable reductions in heart rate and skin conductance during both types of relaxation. During guided relaxation the power of the low frequency component of the heart-rate variability spectrum reduced, whereas the power of the high frequency component increased, suggesting reduced sympathetic activity. Also, subjects with a baseline ratio of LF/HF > 0.5 showed a significant decrease in the ratio after guided relaxation, while subjects with a ratio < or = 0.5 at baseline showed no such change. The results suggest that sympathetic activity decreased after guided relaxation based on yoga, depending on the baseline levels.

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Yoga and cortisol: a 2011 study:

Cohen and his colleagues found that while simple stretching exercises counteracted fatigue, patients who participated in yoga exercises that incorporated controlled breathing, meditation and relaxation techniques experienced improved ability to engage in their daily activities, better general health and better regulation of the stress hormone cortisol. To conduct the study, 191 women with breast cancer (stage 0-3) were randomized to one of three groups: 1) yoga; 2) simple stretching; or 3) no instruction in yoga or stretching. Participants in the yoga and stretching groups attended sessions specifically tailored to breast cancer patients for one-hour, three days a week throughout their six weeks of radiation treatment. Women who practiced yoga had the steepest decline in their cortisol levels across the day, indicating that yoga had the ability to help regulate this stress hormone. According to Cohen this is particularly important because higher stress hormone levels throughout the day—known as a blunted circadian cortisol rhythm—have been linked to worse breast cancer outcomes. Although these findings focused on patients with cancer, it is likely that the cortisol regulating benefits of yoga are universal.

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Yoga and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):

Psychologists are also examining the use of yoga with survivors of trauma and finding it may even be more effective than some psychotherapy techniques. In a pilot study at the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Mass., women with PTSD who took part in eight sessions of a 75-minute Hatha yoga class experienced significantly reduced PTSD symptoms compared with those participating in a dialectical behavior therapy group. The center recently received a grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to conduct a randomized, single-blind, controlled study to further examine whether, as compared with a 10-week health class, yoga improves the frequency and severity of PTSD symptoms and other somatic complaints as well as social and occupational impairments among female trauma survivors.

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Yoga and insomnia:

Pharmacological treatment of insomnia is often associated with hazardous side effects such as states of confusion, psychomotor performance deficits, nocturnal falls, dysphoric mood, impaired intellectual functioning and daytime sleepiness, especially in older adults. Therefore, alternative forms of therapy for improving sleep are becoming utilized more frequently. These alternative therapeutic approaches can be generally classified into three categories: behavioral based educative methods (e.g. avoiding caffeine or other stimulants before bedtime), relaxation techniques (e.g. progressive muscular relaxation, yoga, and meditation) and formal psychotherapy. Because of its ability to increase relaxation and induce a balanced mental state, yoga has been studied to evaluate its possible effects on sleep and insomnia.  An as-yet-unpublished randomized control trial by Khalsa offers insight into how yoga may reduce insomnia. In this study, 20 participants who practiced a daily 45-minute series of Kundalini yoga techniques shortly before bedtime for eight weeks reported significant reductions in insomnia severity as compared with those told to follow six behavioral recommendations for sleep hygiene.

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Yoga in schizophrenia: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Year 2012:

The objective of this systematic review was to assess the effectiveness of yoga as a complementary treatment on general psychopathology, positive and negative symptoms and health-related quality of life (HRQL) for people with schizophrenia. Only three RCTs met the inclusion criteria. Lower Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) total scores and subscale scores for positive and negative symptoms were obtained after yoga compared with exercise or waiting list control conditions. In the same way, the physical, psychological, social and environmental HRQL as measured with the abbreviated version of the World Health Organization Quality of Life questionnaire (WHOQOL-BREF) increased more significantly after yoga than after exercise or waiting list control conditions. None of the RCTS encountered adverse events. Dose-response relationships could, however, not be determined. Although the number of RCTs included in this review was limited, results indicated that yoga therapy can be an useful add-on treatment to reduce general psychopathology and positive and negative symptoms. In the same way, HRQL improved in those antipsychotic-stabilised patients with schizophrenia following yoga.

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Asthma and COPD:

Yoga and lungs:

Madanmohan et al. have reported that 12 weeks of yoga practice results in a significant increase in maximum expiratory pressure, maximum inspiratory pressure, breath holding time after expiration, breath holding time after inspiration, and hand grip strength.  Joshi et al. have also demonstrated that 6 weeks of pranayama breathing course resulted in improved ventilatory functions in the form of lowered respiratory rate, and increases in the forced vital capacity, forced expiratory volume at the end of first second, maximum voluntary ventilation, peak expiratory flow rate, and prolongation of breath holding time. Similar beneficial effects were observed by Makwana et al. after 10 weeks of yoga practice. An increase in inspiratory and expiratory pressures suggests that yoga training improves the strength of expiratory and as well as inspiratory muscles. Respiratory muscles are like skeletal muscles. Yogic techniques involve isometric contraction which is known to increase skeletal muscle strength. Breath holding time depends on initial lung volume. Greater lung volume decreases the frequency and amplitude of involuntary contractions of respiratory muscles, thereby lessening the discomfort of breath holding. During yoga practice, one consistently and consciously over-rides the stimuli to respiratory centers, thus acquiring control over the respiration. This, along with improved cardio-respiratory performance, may explain the prolongation of breath holding time in yoga-trained subjects.

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Asthma:

With its focus on awareness of breath and the mechanics of breathing, yoga would seem a natural adjunct to conventional asthma therapy. One systematic review found 4 trials (3 RCTs) that showed statistically significant improvements in spirometric measurements in patients with asthma who practiced yoga techniques. An additional 3 RCTs showed no improvements with yoga over conventional treatments.  Overall, the reviewers noted that study quality was poor, although they said several studies were appropriately designed. Again, the interventions described as “yoga” varied considerably, from Iyengar type classes to meditation-focused techniques to pranayama exercises. Follow-up ranged from 6 weeks to 6 months. A more recent and thorough review found 14 RCTs using yoga to treat asthma symptoms. The investigators performed pooled analysis despite significant heterogeneity in the studies. The analysis showed some improvement in the yoga group compared with usual therapy, but no difference in comparison with sham yoga or non-yoga breathing exercises.

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Yoga for asthma: a systematic review and meta-analysis, 2014:

MEDLINE/PubMed, Scopus, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, PsycINFO, CAM-Quest, CAMbase, and IndMED were searched through January 2014. Randomized controlled trials of yoga for patients with asthma were included if they assessed asthma control, symptoms, quality of life, and/or pulmonary function. For each outcome, standardized mean differences (SMDs) or risk ratios (RRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated. Risk of bias was assessed using the Cochrane tool. Fourteen randomized controlled trials with 824 patients were included. Evidence for effects of yoga compared with usual care was found for asthma control (RR, 10.64; 95% CI, 1.98 to 57.19; P = .006), asthma symptoms (SMD, -0.37; 95% CI, -0.55 to -0.19; P < .001), quality of life (SMD, 0.86; 95% CI, 0.39 to 1.33; P < .001), peak expiratory flow rate (SMD, 0.49; 95% CI, 0.32 to 0.67; P < .001), and ratio of forced expiratory volume in 1 second to forced vital capacity (SMD, 0.50; 95% CI, 0.24 to 0.75; P < .001); evidence for effects of yoga compared with psychological interventions was found for quality of life (SMD, 0.61; 95% CI, 0.22 to 0.99; P = .002) and peak expiratory flow rate (SMD, 2.87; 95% CI, 0.14 to 5.60; P = .04). No evidence for effects of yoga compared with sham yoga or breathing exercises was revealed. No effect was robust against all potential sources of bias. Yoga was not associated with serious adverse events. Yoga cannot be considered a routine intervention for asthmatic patients at this point. It can be considered an ancillary intervention or an alternative to breathing exercises for asthma patients interested in complementary interventions.

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An Integrated Approach of Yoga Therapy for Bronchial Asthma: A 3–54-Month Prospective Study: 2015:

After an initial integrated yoga training program of 2 to 4 weeks, 570 bronchial asthmatics were followed up for 3 to 54 months. The training consisted of yoga practices—yogasanas, Prānāyāma, meditation, and kriyas—and theory of yoga. Results show highly significant improvement in most of the specific parameters. The regular practitioners showed the greatest improvement. Peak expiratory flow rate (PFR) values showed significant movement of patients toward normalcy after yoga, and 72, 69, and 66% of the patients have stopped or reduced par-enteral, oral, and cortisone medication, respectively. These results establish the long-term efficacy of the integrated approach of yoga therapy in the management of bronchial asthma.

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Yoga Therapy decreases Dyspnea-Related Distress and improves Functional Performance in people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): A Pilot Study:

The primary purpose of this pilot study was to evaluate a yoga program for its safety, feasibility, and efficacy for decreasing dyspnea intensity (DI) and dyspnea-related distress (DD) in older adults with COPD. The major findings of this pilot study were that this 12-week yoga program was safe, feasible, and enjoyable for older adults with COPD. In addition, patients who participated in the program improved their exercise performance and self-reported functional performance and decreased their DD more than subjects who received educational pamphlets on COPD. Although the minimal clinically important difference (MCID) has not yet been established for DD measured on the modified Borg scale, the MCID for DI is one point. Using this criterion as a proxy, the improvement in DD experienced after participation in the yoga intervention would be considered clinically significant. DI and pulmonary function did not change; however, the ability of these patients to walk longer without feeling as bothered by dyspnea may indicate an improvement in their perceived ability to control their dyspnea during exercise. This was a pilot feasibility study, not specifically powered to detect changes even in the primary outcome of dyspnea. Therefore, it must be acknowledged that these positive findings may be due to chance, given the small sample, the multiple comparisons, and very modest changes in the secondary outcomes.

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Hypertension:

It is well known that many antihypertensive agents have been associated with numerous undesirable side effects. In addition to medication, moderately intense aerobic exercise is well known to lower blood pressure. Yoga, together with relaxation, biofeedback, transcendental meditation, and psychotherapy, has been found to have a convincing antihypertensive effect. The mechanism of yoga-induced blood pressure reduction may be attributed to its beneficial effects on the autonomic neurological function. Impaired baroreflex sensitivity has been increasingly postulated to be one of the major causative factors of essential hypertension. The practice of yogic postures has been shown to restore baroreflex sensitivity. Yogic asanas that are equivalent to head-up or head-down tilt were discovered to be particularly beneficial in this regard. Tests proved a progressive attenuation of sympatho-adrenal and renin-angiotensin activity with yogic practice. Yogic practice, through the restoration of baroreceptor sensitivity, caused a significant reduction in the blood pressure of patients who participated in yoga exercise. Yoga has proven efficacy in managing secondary cardiac complications due to chronic hypertension. Left ventricular hypertrophy secondary to chronic hypertension is a harbinger of many chronic cardiac complications, such as myocardial ischemia, congestive cardiac failure, and impairment of diastolic function. Cardiovascular response to head-down-body-up postural exercise (Sarvangasana) has been shown to be particularly beneficial in preventing and treating hypertension-associated left ventricular hypertrophy and diastolic dysfunction. In one study, the practice of sarvangasana for 2 weeks caused resting heart rate and left ventricular end diastolic volume to reduce significantly. In addition, there was mild regression of left ventricular mass as recorded in echocardiography. One can always rely on B.K.S. Iyengar for straightforward guidance on asanas to support our physical health. In Light on Yoga he contends that Halasana (Plow Pose), Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee Pose), Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold), Virasana (Hero’s Pose) and Savasana (Corpse Pose) aid in lowering high blood pressure because the poses are calming in nature. These poses would be of particular help to those with stress related blood pressure issues. Additionally, restorative inversions like Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose) use gravity to bring blood flow from feet back down to the torso. This has a nourishing effect on the central nervous system and gives the heart a “blood flow break” for the duration of the pose. If possible, holding this pose for 10-20 minutes is recommended to receive the full benefits, but better to practice it for less time than not at all. Regular practice of this pose, as simple as it may seem, can have notable effects on your stress levels and overall bodily balance. Interestingly enough, Iyengar recommends some of the same poses—Halasana, Paschimottonasana, and Virasana—for those with low blood pressure. This is because these poses calm and regulate the nervous system bringing the body into balance in whatever way it needs. Poses like Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand) and Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) are a bit more stimulating to the system (think: blood and energy flow to the brain) and therefore recommended more for raising blood pressure than lowering it. When it comes to pranayama (breath control), simple breathing practices are available for those with high or low blood pressure. An easy one to try is Nadi Sodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. Note that however you may have been instructed with this breath in the past, it is important for those with blood pressure issues (and those newer to pranayama) to not hold the breath at the top of the inhale. Retentions of the breath are best practiced after building a strong foundational understanding of the bandhas, and not necessarily of utmost importance when aiming to regulate blood pressure. Meditation and relaxation techniques can also be effective in balancing your blood pressure. Research conducted by the National Institute of Health has shown that people who meditate regularly experience a significant reduction in blood pressure, with nearly 50% showing lower rates of heart attack, stroke and mortality. Though meditation is a simple practice (all one needs is a place to sit), it has proven time and time again to enhance health and happiness.

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Yoga is often said to reduce blood pressure (BP), which would make sense given the emphasis put on relaxation by many schools of yoga. In the past few years, 3 review articles have been published, as well as 2 relevant RCTs not included in those reviews. Hagins et al found 17 RCTs using yoga to treat adults with hypertension and prehypertension. These included both blinded and unblinded studies, and yoga interventions were compared with usual treatment, education, or non-yoga exercise. The authors included only studies of asanas intervention, and excluded interventions using only breathing or relaxation techniques. In meta-analysis, pooled data showed the yoga treatment decreased both diastolic BP (DBP) and systolic BP (SBP) by 3 to 4 mm Hg compared with usual treatment, but not when compared with other exercise therapies.  Reviewers concluded that yoga was likely as effective for lowering BP as other types of physical activity. In a review without meta-analysis, Posadzki et al also found 17 blinded RCTs using yoga to treat hypertension or prehypertension in adults. Eleven of the 17 studies favoured yoga, with 8 showing a decrease in SBP and 5 in DBP. All but 2 studies were found to be of poor quality, especially with regard to blinding. The authors noted that studies using subjects with prehypertension or hypertension with comorbidities were more likely to show significant results, speculating that yoga may be more effective for these populations. In an ambitious review article on yoga as treatment for a variety of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, Cramer et al located 28 RCTs that addressed effects of yoga on BP. Seven of the studies in the Posadzki review were included. Meta-analysis showed a statistically significant decrease in SBP of 5.85 mm Hg and in DBP of 4.12 mm Hg. Although wide in scope, this meta-analysis included many studies of healthy patients without hypertension who could conceivably have differing neuroendocrine responses to yoga practice. In a pilot RCT, Cohen et al found a significant decrease in BP among subjects randomized into Iyengar yoga classes for 24 weeks compared with a control group educated about lifestyle modification.  These studies were unique in that no subjects were currently being treated with antihypertensive medications; most other trials on this subject enrolled participants on antihypertensive medications if their regimens had been stable for some time. In an RCT published recently by Hagins et al, subjects with pre- or stage I hypertension were randomized into Ashtanga yoga classes or non-aerobic exercise classes formulated to burn equivalent METs. After 12 weeks of treatment, the yoga subjects’ BP had significantly decreased from starting values, but was not improved compared with the exercise subjects. This further supports the assertion that yoga is equivalent to other forms of physical activity in decreasing BP among hypertensive subjects.

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Yoga for Essential Hypertension: A Cochrane Systematic Review 2103:

MEDLINE, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) in the Cochrane Library were searched until June, 2013. Authors included randomized clinical trials testing yoga against conventional therapy, yoga versus no treatment, yoga combined with conventional therapy versus conventional therapy or conventional therapy combined with breath awareness. Study selection, data extraction, quality assessment, and data analyses were conducted according to the Cochrane standards. A total of 6 studies (involving 386 patients) were included. The methodological quality of the included trials was evaluated as generally low. A total of 6 RCTs met all the inclusion criteria. 4 of them compared yoga plus conventional therapy with conventional therapy. 1 RCT described yoga combined with conventional therapy versus conventional therapy combined with breath awareness. 2 RCT tested the effect of yoga versus conventional therapy alone. 1 RCT described yoga compared to no treatment. Only one trial reported adverse events without details, the safety of yoga is still uncertain. There is some encouraging evidence of yoga for lowering SBP and DBP. However, due to low methodological quality of these identified trials, a definite conclusion about the efficacy and safety of yoga on hypertension cannot be drawn from this review. Therefore, further thorough investigation, large-scale, proper study designed, randomized trials of yoga for hypertension will be required to justify the effects reported here.

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Balance and stability in the elderly:

With its emphasis on strength, balance, and body awareness, yoga would seem a helpful intervention for older patients at risk of injury from falls. Unfortunately this area of research lacks significant numbers of controlled trails. In a Cochrane review of exercise interventions for improving balance in the elderly, the reviewers were unable find any studies specifically using yoga that met their criteria. Jeter et al  attempted a review more recently, and found 15 studies meeting inclusion criteria, 5 of which were RCTs. Overall, however, the poor quality of the studies and variation in both the type of yoga used as intervention and measurements of balance precluded pooled analysis, although some studies did have positive results. A small but well-designed pilot RCT was recently published showing that an Iyengar yoga intervention significantly improved timed one-leg balancing among community dwelling older adults. However, this study did not show a significant difference in a standardized fall risk survey after the intervention.  Cautioning against yoga in this context are several articles chronicling increased risks of some yoga exercises, especially for those with osteoporosis or other risks for fractures.  At this point, the well-documented risks of yoga practice in this group probably outweigh the unsubstantiated rewards.

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Exercise for improving balance in older people: Cochrane review 2012:

This updated review includes 94 (62 new to this update) randomised controlled trials involving 9821 participants. Most participants were women living in their own home. Some studies included frail people residing in hospital or residential facilities. 3D (3 dimensional) exercise include Tai Chi, qi gong, dance, yoga for which there were15 studies out of which seven provided data for one or more primary outcome. Positive effects were found for the Timed Up & Go Test; standing on one leg for as long as possible with eyes open, and with eyes closed; and the Berg Balance Scale.  Authors concluded that there is weak evidence that some types of exercise (gait, balance, co-ordination and functional tasks; strengthening exercise; 3D exercise and multiple exercise types) are moderately effective, immediately post intervention, in improving clinical balance outcomes in older people. Such interventions are probably safe.

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Yoga and diabetes:

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Various yoga practices for treatment of type 2 DM:

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Purported studies of yoga on diabetes:

Studies have also confirmed that practising certain asanas such as Ardha Matsyendrasana (half-twist pose) combined with Dhanurasana (bow pose), Vakrasana (twisted pose), Matsyendrasana (half-spinal twist), Halasana (plough pose) squeezes and compresses the abdomen and helps stimulate the pancreatic secretions or hormonal secretions. As a result, more insulin is pushed into the system. This rejuvenates the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas of diabetics suffering from both type 1 and 2. Practising the postures in a relaxed manner, without exertion, meditation and breathing techniques help most patients control the triggers or causes of diabetes. A study, by S A Ramaiah in Washington, compared the effects of exercise such as walking, jogging on a treadmill, static cycling with asanas such as Upavishta Bakasana (sitting crane), Bakasana (standing crane) and Dhanurasana. It was found that these asanas were the most effective as they helped stimulate the hormonal secretion of the pancreas and rejuvenate its capacity to produce insulin. They also strengthened the back muscles which enhance toning of abdominal viscera (muscles and internal organs).The balancing in Bakasana improves interaction between the pituitary gland and pancreas. Aside from asanas, breathing exercises especially anulom vilom (alternate nostril breathing) and kapalbatti (one-time inhale; exhale 30 to 50 times quickly) is extremely beneficial. Anulom vilom is found useful in diabetes as alternate nostril breathing has calming effects on the nervous system, facilitating homeostasis (internal equilibrium in the function of all the systems). This manages the stress levels, helping in diabetes treatment. Kapalbhatti, on the other hand, stimulates the pancreas to release insulin, thus helping control diabetes. Pranayam makes the mind calm, thus balancing the interaction between the pituitary gland and the pancreas. Kapalabhati combined with Nauli Kriya (pressure manipulations and isolation of abdominal-recti muscles) help control blood sugar. These practices balance the Basic Metabolic Rate (BMR) which in turn helps stabilise sugar levels.  Once you are through with the practice, relax in shavasana (lying flat on the ground) to cool off. A yogic diet that is high in fibre, whole grains, legumes and vegetables complements the regimen. It is recommended to lose excess weight and stabilise blood sugar levels.

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The beneficial effect of yoga in diabetes, a 2005 study:

Twenty NIDDM subjects (mild to moderate diabetics) in the age group of 30-60 years were selected from the outpatient clinic of G.T.B. hospital. They were on a 40 days yoga asana regime under the supervision of a yoga expert. 13 specific Yoga asanas < or = done by Type 2 Diabetes Patients included. Surya Namaskar, Trikonasana, Tadasana, Sukhasana, Padmasana, Bhastrika Pranayama, Pashimottanasana, Ardhmatsyendrasana, Pawanmuktasana, Bhujangasana, Vajrasana, Dhanurasana and Shavasana are beneficial for diabetes mellitus. Serum insulin, plasma fasting and one hour postprandial blood glucose levels and anthropometric parameters were measured before and after yoga asanas. The results indicate that there was significant decrease in fasting glucose levels from basal 208.3 +/- 20.0 to 171.7 +/- 19.5 mg/dl and one hour postprandial blood glucose levels decreased from 295.3 +/- 22.0 to 269.7 +/- 19.9 mg/dl. The exact mechanism as to how these postures and controlled breathing interact with somatoendocrine mechanism affecting insulin kinetics was worked out. A significant decrease in waist-hip ratio and changes in insulin levels were also observed, suggesting a positive effect of yoga asanas on glucose utilisation and fat redistribution in NIDDM. Yoga asanas may be used as an adjunct with diet and drugs in the management of Type 2 diabetes.

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A 2007 review looked at 25 studies that evaluated the metabolic and clinical effects of yoga in adults with diabetes mellitus type 2. Beneficial changes were found in several areas including glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, lipid profiles, blood pressure, oxidative stress, coagulation profiles, pulmonary function and specific clinical outcomes.

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Effect of 3-Month Yoga on Oxidative Stress in Type 2 Diabetes With or Without Complications: a 2011 study:

The study involved 123 patients stratified according to groups with microvascular complications, macrovascular complications, and peripheral neuropathy and without complications and assigned to receive either standard care or standard care along with additional yoga for 3 months. In comparison with standard care alone, yoga resulted in significant reduction in BMI, glycemic control, and malondialdehyde and increase in glutathione and vitamin C. There were no differences in waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, blood pressure, vitamin E, or superoxide dismutase in the yoga group at follow-up. Yoga can be used as an effective therapy in reducing oxidative stress in type 2 diabetes. Yoga in addition to standard care helps reduce BMI and improve glycemic control in type 2 diabetic patients.  Oxidative stress has been implicated as the root cause underlying the development of insulin resistance, β-cell dysfunction, diabetes, and its associated clinical conditions such as atherosclerosis, microvascular complications, and neuropathy. Yoga has been found to be beneficial in reducing oxidative stress in type 2 diabetes, but there is a lack of controlled trials to demonstrate the same. This report describes the effect of yoga on oxidative stress, glycemic control, blood pressure control, and anthropometry in type 2 diabetic patients with or without complications compared with control subjects on standard care.

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Speeds Nerve Impulses:

One of the major problems from long term diabetes is nerve damage due to constant high sugar levels in the body. This nerve damage leads to the slowing of nerve impulses, decreased sensation, numbness of the feet, and poor bowel function. Can yoga help? Scientists at Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital, in Delhi, India, studied a group of 20 type 2 diabetic subjects between the ages of 30-60 years. Their aim was to see whether Yoga asanas had any effect on nerve conduction. TheYoga asanas included Suryanamskar Tadasan, Konasan, Padmasan Pranayam, Shavasan, Pavanmukthasan, Sarpasan and Shavasan. The Yoga exercises were performed for 40 minutes every day for 40 days in the above sequence. The subjects continued their normally prescribed medicines and diet. Blood sugar and nerve conduction velocity of the median nerve (in the hand) were measured and repeated after 40 days of the Yogic regime. Another group of 20 type 2 diabetes subjects of comparable age and severity, called the control group, were kept on prescribed medication and light physical exercises like walking. Their initial & post 40 days parameters were recorded for comparison. At the end of the 40 days, those who did the yoga had improved the nerve impulse in their hands. The hand nerve conduction velocity increased from 52.8 meters per second to 53.8 m/sec. The control group nerve function deteriorated over the period of study, indicating that diabetes is a slowly progressive disease involving the nerves. The authors conclude that Yoga asanas have a beneficial effect on blood sugar control and improve nerve function in type 2 diabetics who have mild nerve damage.

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Yoga Practice for the Management of Type II Diabetes Mellitus in Adults: A systematic review 2007:

The effect of practicing yoga for the management of type II Diabetes was assessed in this systematic review through searching related electronic databases and the grey literature to the end of May 2007 using Ovid. All randomized controlled clinical trials (RCTs) comparing yoga practice with other type of intervention or with regular practice or both, were included regardless of language or type of publication. Each study was assessed for quality by two independent reviewers. Mean difference was used for summarizing the effect of each study outcomes with 95% confidence intervals. Pooling of the studies did not take place due to the wide clinical variation between the studies. Publication bias was assessed by statistical methods. Five trials with 363 participants met the inclusion criteria with medium to high risk of bias and different intervention characteristics. The studies’ results show improvement in outcomes among patients with diabetes type II. These improvements were mainly among short term or immediate diabetes outcomes and not all were statistically significant. The results were inconclusive and not significant for the long-term outcomes. No adverse effects were reported in any of the included studies. Short-term benefits for patients with diabetes may be achieved from practicing yoga. Further research is needed in this area. Factors like quality of the trials and other methodological issues should be improved by large randomized control trials with allocation concealment to assess the effectiveness of yoga on diabetes type II. A definitive recommendation for physicians to encourage their patients to practice yoga cannot be reached at present.

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My view:

Type II diabetes mellitus (T2DM) is the commonest type of diabetes. The first indicator of T2DM is increased post-prandial plasma glucose more than 140 mgs per 100 ml blood. Fasting plasma glucose rises later. However, by the time PPPG rises to detect T2DM, 50 % of the insulin producing pancreatic beta cells are already dead.  It is impossible for any yoga or any exercise that would stimulate pancreas to rejuvenate dead cells. Diet modification and physical exercise do help by reducing glucose load on pancreas and by increasing insulin sensitivity thereby control hyperglycaemia. Yoga diet is a vegetarian diet with most food items having low glycaemic index reducing glucose load on pancreas and yoga asanas are isometric exercise increasing insulin sensitivity. Therefore yoga does help in diabetic control by yoga diet and yoga exercise akin to traditional diet control and physical exercise.

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Yoga and heart:

The debate rages on about yoga and cardiovascular health, and while there is no clear answer, it is possible that yoga has no effect in this area. In fact, that CSU study showed no change in aerobic or cardiovascular fitness whatsoever. Aerobic activity, however, has known cardio benefits. Such exercise broadens blood vessels for increased oxygen and nutrient delivery. It also strengthens your heart, improving efficiency. What’s more, aerobic exercise lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol levels while raising “good” HDL cholesterol, resulting in less plaque to clog up your arteries. A recent review of yoga and cardiovascular disease published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology indicates that yoga may help lower heart disease risk as much as conventional exercise, such as brisk walking. The studies in the review looked at different types of yoga, including both gentler and more energetic forms. The participants ranged from young, healthy individuals to older people with health conditions. Over all, people who took yoga classes saw improvements in a number of factors that affect heart disease risk. They lost an average of five pounds, shaved five points off their blood pressure, and lowered their levels of harmful LDL cholesterol by 12 points. Performing a variety of yoga postures gently stretches and exercises muscles. This helps them become more sensitive to insulin, which is important for controlling blood sugar. Deep breathing can help lower blood pressure. Mind-calming meditation, another key part of yoga, quiets the nervous system and eases stress. All of these improvements may help prevent heart disease, and can definitely help people with cardiovascular problems. Two other ancient practices that join slow, flowing motions with deep breathing — tai chi and qigong — seem to offer similar advantages.  Because yoga is less strenuous than many other types of exercise and is easy to modify, it’s perfect for people who might otherwise be wary of exercise. It can be a good addition to cardiac rehabilitation, which can help people recover from a heart attack or heart surgery.

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In a randomized controlled study, patients with angiographically proven coronary artery disease who practiced yoga exercise for a period of 1 year showed a decrease in the number of anginal episodes per week, improved exercise capacity and decrease in body weight. Serum cholesterol levels (total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels) also showed greater reductions as compared with control groups. It is evident in recent studies that yoga can control LDL cholesterol and hypertension. Revascularization procedures were required less frequently in the yoga group. Follow-up angiography at 1 year showed that significantly more lesions regressed in the yoga group compared with the control group. Thus, yoga exercise increases regression and retards progression of atherosclerosis in patients with severe coronary artery disease. However, the mechanism of this effect of yoga on the atherosclerotic plaque remains to be studied. A modified form of yoga focusing on cardiac patients, yoga for heart disease reduces heart rate and blood pressure in addition to calming the nervous system. It also increases exercise capacity and lowers inflammation levels, as shown by an ever-growing number of research studies. Patients use mats, pillows and chairs to ensure comfort while they perform yoga’s gentle exercises; although it may sound like barely enough motion to break a sweat, the positive effects of cardiovascular yoga are measurable. Eight weeks of yoga helped to safely improve overall quality of life in 19 heart failure patients, even reducing markers of inflammation associated with heart failure, according to a November 2007 study by researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Meanwhile adults with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that significantly raises cardiovascular risk, were able to reduce their waist circumference, blood pressure, blood sugar and triglycerides after practicing yoga for just three months (Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice 12/07).

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Yoga for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease: Cochrane review 2014:

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a global health burden. Nevertheless, it is thought that the risk of CVD can be lowered by changing a number of risk factors, such as by increasing physical activity and using relaxation to reduce stress, both of which are components of yoga. This review assessed the effectiveness of any type of yoga in healthy adults and those at high risk of CVD. Authors found 11 trials (800 participants), none of them were large enough or of long enough duration to examine the effects of yoga on decreasing death or non-fatal endpoints. There were variations in the style and duration of yoga and the follow-up of the interventions ranged from three to eight months. The results showed that yoga has favourable effects on diastolic blood pressure, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and triglycerides (a blood lipid), and uncertain effects on low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. None of the included trials reported adverse events, the occurrence of type 2 diabetes or costs. Longer-term, high-quality trials are needed in order to determine the effectiveness of yoga for CVD prevention.

Quality of the Evidence:

These results should be considered as exploratory and interpreted with caution. This is because the included studies were of short duration, small and at risk of bias (where there was a risk of arriving at the wrong conclusions because of favouritism by the participants or researchers).

Authors’ conclusions:

The limited evidence comes from small, short-term, low-quality studies. There is some evidence that yoga has favourable effects on diastolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and uncertain effects on LDL cholesterol. These results should be considered as exploratory and interpreted with caution.

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Yoga and scoliosis:

Dr. Loren Fishman, who studied with B.K.S. Iyengar in Pune, India, applies his yogic experience to his specialty of Rehabilitation Medicine. In a recent study of scoliosis patients, he found that a daily practice of holding Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose) led to marked improvement in spinal curvature. Dr. Fishman’s peer-reviewed research focused on 25 patients with idiopathic and degenerative types of scoliosis, with curvatures from 6 to 120 percent. All patients improved, with the greatest improvement (up to 49 percent) noted in those who adhered to the daily regimen.

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Yoga and inflammation:

A study from Ohio State University found that practicing yoga for as little as three months can reduce fatigue and lower inflammation in breast cancer survivors. The more the women in the study practiced yoga, the better their results.  The research team focused on breast cancer survivors because the rigors of treatment can be so taxing on patients. “Though many studies have suggested that yoga has numerous benefits, this is the largest known randomized controlled trial that includes biological measures,” said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study. The participants of the Ohio study had completed all breast cancer treatments before the start of the study. Only yoga novices were recruited for the randomized, controlled clinical trial. At the six-month point of the study—three months after the formal yoga practice had ended—results showed that on average, fatigue was 57 percent lower in women who had practiced yoga compared to the non-yoga group, and their inflammation was reduced by up to 20 percent. Chronic inflammation is linked to numerous health problems, including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the frailty and functional decline that can accompany aging. To gauge the participants’ inflammation levels, the scientists measured the activation of three proteins in the blood that are markers of inflammation—called pro-inflammatory cytokines.

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Yoga practitioners at less risk of inflammatory diseases: a 2015 study:

Yoga practitioners are at lesser risk of developing inflammation that could lead to cardiovascular diseases, cancer and Alzheimer, a study by Indian Institute of Science (IIS) has revealed. The study found that regular exercise in the form of yoga can help optimise the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines– Tumour Necrosis Factor (TNF) alpha and Interleukin-6 (IL-6). The results of the research indicate that yoga, which enhances mind-body relaxation achieved through a combination of proper breathing, meditation and physical exercises, can help keep TNF-alpha and IL-6 at optimal levels. The results showed that yoga practitioners fared better than non-yoga practitioners when it came to pro-inflammatory cytokine levels after a moderate-to-strenuous exercise trial.

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Yoga for rheumatic diseases: a systematic review 2013:

Yoga is widely used by patients with a variety of rheumatic diseases. According to the 2002 National Health Interview Survey, patients with rheumatic diseases were 1.56 times more likely to have practiced yoga within the last 12 months compared with the general population. The aim of this systematic review was to evaluate the quality of available evidence and the strength of the recommendation for yoga as a therapeutic means in the management of rheumatic diseases. Eight RCTs with a total of 559 subjects were included; two RCTs had a low risk of bias. In two RCTs on FM (fibromyalgia) syndrome, there was very low evidence for effects on pain and low evidence for effects on disability. In three RCTs on OA (osteoarthritis), there was very low evidence for effects on pain and disability. Based on two RCTs, very low evidence was found for effects on pain in RA (rheumatoid arthritis). No evidence for effects on pain was found in one RCT on CTS. No RCT explicitly reported safety data.  Based on the results of this review, only weak recommendations can be made for the ancillary use of yoga in the management of FM syndrome, OA and RA at this point.

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Effects of yoga interventions on pain and pain-associated disability: a meta-analysis 2011:

Authors searched databases for controlled clinical studies, and performed a meta-analysis on the effectiveness of yoga interventions on pain and associated disability. Five randomized studies reported single-blinding and had a higher methodological quality; 7 studies were randomized but not blinded and had moderate quality; and 4 nonrandomized studies had low quality. In 6 studies, yoga was used to treat patients with back pain; in 2 studies to treat rheumatoid arthritis; in 2 studies to treat patients with headache/migraine; and 6 studies enrolled individuals for other indications. All studies reported positive effects in favor of the yoga interventions. With respect to pain, a random effect meta-analysis estimated the overall treatment effect at SMD = -0.74 (CI: -0.97; -0.52, P < .0001), and an overall treatment effect at SMD = -0.79 (CI: -1.02; -0.56, P < .0001) for pain-related disability. Despite some limitations, there is evidence that yoga may be useful for several pain-associated disorders. Moreover, there are hints that even short-term interventions might be effective. Nevertheless, large-scale further studies have to identify which patients may benefit from the respective interventions. This meta-analysis suggests that yoga is a useful supplementary approach with moderate effect sizes on pain and associated disability.

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Yoga and cancer:

Earlier reviews have reported that yoga is beneficial for people with cancer in managing symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, mood disturbances and stress, and improving quality of life. Many cancer patients experience cancer-related psychological symptoms, including mood disturbances, stress, and distress.  Ledesma and Kumano showed mindfulness-based stress reduction programs may indeed be helpful for the mental health of cancer patients. Thus, yoga may have long-term psychological effects for patients with cancer. According to the some review, no significant differences were observed on the measure of physical health. Because of the limited number of studies and different measurement tools, the effects of yoga on physical health in people with cancer remain unclear. Only one study examined the effects of yoga on physical fitness; therefore, future study could include outcome measures that not only include subjective feelings in questionnaires but also include physical performance, physical strength, endurance, and flexibility. All studies included in the meta-analysis investigated participants with a diagnosis of cancer; however, the types of cancer varied among studies. Of the 10 included studies, 7 investigated breast cancer, 2 recruited mixed cancer populations, and 1 included patients with lymphoma. The result of Cohen’s study on lymphoma showed no significant differences between groups in terms of anxiety, depression, distress, or fatigue; thus, it has little influence on our result. Therefore, since the majority of studies focused on breast cancer, future research needs to examine the use of yoga among male cancer patients and female non-breast cancer patients. In addition, various factors are associated with the execution of the intervention such as yoga styles and treatment doses that may influence effect size. Four different styles of yoga were used among the included studies: restorative, integrated, hatha, and Tibetan. Treatment dose, including duration and frequency, and the adherence to yoga intervention and home practice may also affect treatment outcome. According to the Carson’s study of yoga for women with metastatic breast cancer,  patients who practiced yoga longer on a given day were much more likely to experience less pain and fatigue and greater invigoration, acceptance, and relaxation on the next day. A 2009 review evaluated 10 studies which explored the impact of yoga on the psychological adjustment of cancer patients. Positive results were found in relation to improved sleep, quality of life and stress levels, improved mood, increased energy and acceptance of their condition. In summary, most of the studies show potential benefits of yoga for people with cancer in improvements in psychological health. But, more attention must be paid to the physical effects of yoga and the methodological quality of future research, as well as to improve these areas in the future.

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Yoga for breast cancer patients and survivors: a systematic review and meta-analysis of year 2012:

Twelve RCTs with a total of 742 participants were included. Seven RCTs compared yoga to no treatment; 3 RCTs compared yoga to supportive therapy; 1 RCT compared yoga to health education; and 1 RCT compared a combination of physiotherapy and yoga to physiotherapy alone. Evidence was found for short-term effects on global health-related quality of life (SMD = 0.62 [95% CI: 0.04 to 1.21]; P = 0.04), functional (SMD = 0.30 [95% CI: 0.03 to 0.57), social (SMD = 0.29 [95% CI: 0.08 to 0.50]; P < 0.01), and spiritual well-being (SMD = 0.41 [95% CI: 0.08; 0.74]; P = 0.01). These effects were, however, only present in studies with unclear or high risk of selection bias. Short-term effects on psychological health also were found: anxiety (SMD = −1.51 [95% CI: -2.47; -0.55]; P < 0.01), depression (SMD = −1.59 [95% CI: -2.68 to −0.51]; P < 0.01), perceived stress (SMD = −1.14 [95% CI:-2.16; -0.12]; P = 0.03), and psychological distress (SMD = −0.86 [95% CI:-1.50; -0.22]; P < 0.01). Subgroup analyses revealed evidence of efficacy only for yoga during active cancer treatment but not after completion of active treatment.

Conclusions: This systematic review found evidence for short-term effects of yoga in improving psychological health in breast cancer patients. The short-term effects on health-related quality of life could not be clearly distinguished from bias. Yoga can be recommended as an intervention to improve psychological health during breast cancer treatment.

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Yoga and epilepsy:

Epilepsy is a disorder where recurrent seizures are caused by abnormal electrical discharges in the brain. Most seizures can be controlled by antiepileptic drugs but sometimes seizures develop which are resistant to those drugs. People may also wish to try non-drug treatments such as yoga. It is widely accepted that stress can trigger seizures for many people with epilepsy. In one survey of 177 patients, 58 per cent identified that seizures occurred more frequently when they were stressed, with seizures occurring sometimes days or weeks later (Mattson, 1991). Similar studies also indicate that stress is the most frequent trigger of seizures, and is linked with sleep deprivation and fatigue (Frucht, Quigg, Schwaner & Fountain, 2000). In a more recent survey of 89 patients, 64 per cent of people with epilepsy reported that they believed stress increased the frequency of their seizures (Haut, Vouyiouklis & Shinnar, 2003); 32 per cent had tried stress reduction techniques, and of those who hadn’t, 53 per cent were willing to try. A variety of relaxation techniques exist which aim to relieve stress and tension, reduce blood pressure, and improve feelings of control over our lives. Workshops and classes in progressive muscular relaxation, meditation, yoga, tai chi, massage, and acupuncture can be found in increasing numbers. Many of these techniques have reported improved sleep, decreased aggravation and tension during the day, increased overall health, and reduced fear of seizures, indicating a greater sense of well-being (Rosseau, Hermann & Whitmann, 1985). In addition, the general observation that techniques like meditation are side effect-free (in contrast to drugs) is of great appeal. It is important to note that relaxation techniques are recommended as a complementary approach, and not a replacement to medication.  A Cochrane Review on relaxation therapy and seizure control indicates only possible beneficial effects on seizure frequency (Ramaratnam, Baker & Goldstein, 2005). An updated version of the original Cochrane review is published in 2012. No reliable evidence to support the use of yoga as a treatment for control of epilepsy. One single small trial showed modest benefits of Sahaja yoga over sham yoga and no intervention. Sample size is important because single small trials are unlikely to overcome the effects of chance; their results are likely to be misleading. Larger studies would be more informative.

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Yoga for sinusitis:

One of the most important Yoga practices for the prevention and management of sinusitis is the Neti Kriya that is one of the Shat Karmas of Hatha Yoga. Neti is the practice of cleaning the nasopharyngeal tract with liquids or thread. Types of Neti include Jala Neti (nasal irrigation with lukewarm saline water) and Sutra Neti (nasal cleaning with a thread or catheter. Others are Dugdha Neti (with milk), Ghrta Neti (with ghee) and Jala Kapalabhati that includes Vyutkrama and Seetkrama Kapalabhati. Hypertonic nasal irrigation is a therapy that flushes the nasal cavity with saline solution, facilitating a wash of the structures within. Originally part of the Yogic tradition as Neti, this technique is anecdotally regarded as safe and effective. It has been suggested as adjunctive therapy for sinusitis and sinus symptoms. Potential efficacy is supported by the observation that hypertonic saline improves mucociliary clearance, thins mucus, and may decrease inflammation. According to Dr. Marple, professor of otolaryngology at the University of Texas saline nasal irrigation is a highly effective, minimally invasive intervention for people suffering from nasal issues. David Shoseyov and colleagues have shown that hypertonic saline improves both clinical scores and plain Waters’ projection radiology scores in children with chronic sinusitis. They have also commented that the treatment is tolerable, inexpensive, and effective. A study by DG Heatley and colleagues in the University of Wisconsin has shown that daily nasal irrigation using a bulb syringe, nasal irrigation pot, and daily reflexology massage were equally efficacious and resulted in improvement in the symptoms of chronic sinusitis in over 70% of subjects. Medication usage was decreased in approximately one third of participants regardless of intervention. LT Tamooka and colleagues at the University of California have shown that patients who used nasal irrigation for the treatment of sinonasal disease experienced statistically significant improvements in 23 of the 30 nasal symptoms queried. Improvement was also seen in the global assessment of health status using the Quality of Well-Being scale. David Rabago and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin have shown that daily hypertonic saline nasal irrigation improves sinus-related quality of life, decreases symptoms, and decreases medication use in patients with frequent sinusitis.

Nada pranayama in sinusitis:

Chanting has always been an important aspect of the spiritual life in India. Chanting Mantras, performing Japa, singing Bhajans and the use of Nada Pranayamas such as the Bhramari and the Pranava are important parts of the Yogic life. Recent studies have shown that chanting creates sound vibrations that encourage air to move back and forth between the sinus membranes and nasal passages. This air movement helps open the tiny ducts, or ostia, that connect the nose to the sinuses, allowing the sinuses to drain properly. This can help prevent infections from settling down in the sinuses and create a healthy environment therein. All the sinuses are effectively ventilated by humming and this is an important benefit as previous research has shown that poor sinus ventilation increases the risk for sinusitis. When the sinuses are well ventilated infections have no chance of settling down at all. A study done by Jon Lundberg and Eddie Weitzberg of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden has shown that the daily humming or “Om” chanting may actually prevent infections from taking hold. They found that humming increased nitric oxide levels fifteenfold, compared to quiet exhalations without sound. The exhalations of people with healthy sinuses tend to have high nitric oxide levels, indicating that more air is able to flow between the sinuses and the nose. The Nada Pranayamas such as the Bhramari and the Pranava are similar to the humming used in the study. In the Bhramari Pranayama the nasal sound like a bee is used while in the Pranava Pranayama, the humming sounds of the Pranava A-U-M are used. This new light on humming and nasal ventilation can explain the scientific basis by which these Pranayamas can prevent as well as help in the management of sinusitis. This is another reason why practices like the Surya Namaskar should always be done with the chanting of the Surya Mantras and another reason why the chanting of the Mantras and scriptures should be encouraged in Yoga therapy and training.

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Clinical Applications of Yoga for the Paediatric Population: A Systematic Review of 2010:

Epidemiological research among adults suggests that many individuals use yoga for health maintenance and perceive benefit for overall health, musculoskeletal and mental health conditions.  Clinical trials with adults suggest potential benefit for various conditions including back pain, osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, and depression. In contrast, very little is known about the safety and efficacy of yoga among the paediatric population. A systematic review performed by Galantino and colleagues in 2008 identified 24 studies of yoga for children including case-control studies, pilot studies, cohort studies and randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that focused on studies of relevance to physical therapy. The review concluded that there was evidence for the benefit of yoga in the paediatric population in rehabilitation, but more research is necessary. This review differs from the recent systematic review of yoga for children published by Galantino et al. These authors used search terms related to yoga, paediatrics (children, developmental disabilities), exercise, and publication types that were of interest. Studies were included with primary outcomes of quality of life, cardio-respiratory fitness, and physical functioning or with secondary outcomes of attention and cognition. The review categorized studies based on relevance to physical therapy into three domains: neuromuscular, cardiopulmonary, and musculoskeletal headings. Preliminary evidence presented in this review suggests that yoga may be beneficial for physical fitness and cardio-respiratory health among children. As a physical form of exercise, studies suggest that yoga provides low aerobic intensity.  According to the 2002 NHIS, a large majority of adults who use yoga in the U.S. reported that yoga was important for their health maintenance. Based on this review, yoga may be an option for children to increase physical activity and fitness. In particular, yoga may be a gateway for adopting a healthy active lifestyle for sedentary children who are intimidated by more vigorous forms of exercise. However, studies have been predominately conducted in India, where yoga is culturally more acceptable and adaptable. Studies in different cultural settings are necessary to better evaluate the feasibility of yoga as a form of exercise for children.

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Yoga in school:

Yoga and meditation has been evaluated to be useful for children’s development. Some of the school related benefits include anti-bullying, emotional balance, decreasing school behaviour referrals, increasing ‘’time on task” and improvement in academic performance by reducing stress. Yoga has also been found to be differentiated from exercise in improving health related outcome measures. A 2005 review summarized the existing research indicating the benefits of programs including yoga to result in: increased self-esteem, better work habits, higher grade point average, decreased psychological stress, less aggressive behaviour, better attendance and decreased absences from school (Schoeberlein & Koffler, 2005).

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Yoga and weight loss:

In general, physical activity is better for preventing weight gain than it is for promoting weight loss, and it appears this also applies to yoga. Most types of yoga don’t have the same level of calorie-burning power as aerobic exercise does. Consider that a person who weighs 150 pounds (68 kilograms) will burn 240 calories in an hour of doing regular yoga, compared with 360 calories for an hour of aerobics. But any physical activity is good activity. Yoga will get you moving, after all, and it can provide health benefits such as improved blood lipid levels and enhanced mood. Regular physical activity should be part of any weight-loss plan. To lose weight, you want to reduce the calories you take in and increase the calories you burn. If you want to do yoga, the smart play is to include it in an exercise plan that includes aerobic activities, such as biking, jogging or swimming.

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Calorie Burn of Popular Exercises:

As you know, the number of calories that you burn is a major determinant of weight loss, and calorie burn is highly variable. For example, heavy people burn more calories because they have to carry more body weight. People with a genetically high metabolism also burn more calories, as do people with a higher percentage of lean muscle fibers. But to put yoga in a proper weight loss context, let’s examine the average calorie burn of basic familiar activity modes.

•Resting: At rest, you’ll burn 1 to 1.5 calories per minute (depending on your body weight) or 45 to 68 calories in 45 minutes.

•Walking slowly: Walking at a leisurely 2 miles per hour pace, you’ll burn 2 to 5 calories per minute, or 90 to 225 calories in 45 minutes.

•Walk briskly: Walking at a more brisk 4 miles per hour pace, you’ll burn 4.6 to 10 calories per minute, or 207 to 450 calories in 45 minutes.

•Running: Running at 6.7 miles per hour, you’ll burn 9 to 19 calories per minute, or 405 to 855 calories per hour.

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In 2005 and 2007, two separate studies measured the metabolic rate of people taking a beginner yoga class and found a calorie burn of 2.3-3.2 calories per minute, about the same calorie burn as strolling through the mall–or about 104-144 calories in a 45 minute workout. At this rate, to burn one pound (or 3500 calories) of fat, you’d have to perform over 28 hours of yoga!

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Could it be that yoga may actually slow your metabolism?

In fact, a 2006 study measured the metabolic rate of yoga people vs. non-yoga people, corrected for body weight, and found a 15% lower metabolism in the yoga group. To put this in context, that means that if you normally burn 2000 calories at rest, you might lower that calorie burn to 1700 calories at rest if you take up yoga. That is because yoga is a relaxing activity, and actually slows down your body’s “fight-and-flight” reactions, also known as your sympathetic nervous system. Although this is highly beneficial for extending your life span, controlling stress, and making you feel good, it’s certainly not going to shed any pounds.

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In hot yoga, or Bikram Yoga, the temperature in the yoga room is turned up higher than 105 degrees, with a recommendation of at least 40 percent humidity. As a result, people taking a hot yoga class experience more fatigue, a higher heart rate, and a significantly greater amount of exhaustion (not to mention body odour). But this relatively higher amount of perceived exertion is not really due to the fact that people are burning more calories. As a matter of fact, by simply walking into a hot room and standing for 45 minutes, your heart rate will significantly increase. That is because your body’s primary mode of cooling is to sweat and to shunt blood to your extremities. As you sweat, you lose blood volume, and as you shunt blood, your heart has to work harder to deliver that blood. And as a result your heart rate increases. But the increased heart rate is not due to you moving more muscles or burning more calories. It’s simply your body’s environmental, temperature-regulating response to hot conditions, and the only significant weight you’re going to lose in a hot yoga class is water weight. The calories you burn during yoga depend on your weight, the type of yoga you practice and the amount of time you spend practicing it. Although the American Council on Exercise reports that Hatha yoga — the most gentle — only burns 144 calories per hour for a 150-pound person, Bikram yoga burns about 477 calories. Experts theorize that the hot temperature and high humidity of the Bikram yoga studio force the heart rate up, increasing calorie burn.

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Most people wouldn’t think of yoga as the best form of exercise for losing weight but scientific research is increasingly showing links between yoga and weight loss. The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, which recently reviewed several studies of yoga and weight loss, also concluded that yoga is a successful slimming tool, not only burning calories and enabling people to improve their performance in other sports, but making them more mindful of their bodies, which in turn may lead them to eat better.

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If calorie expenditure didn’t account for weight maintenance or loss, what did?

1. It reduces stress:

Yoga has proven to be an effective method of treating anxiety and lowering stress, which has a huge impact on your ability to shed pounds.  If your cortisol levels are through the roof because you’re stressed, it doesn’t matter how much you deprive yourself of food, you’re still not going to lose weight. And for those of us who turn to food in times of stress — whether consciously or not — frequent practise will help reduce the consumption of those extra calories. As you race through the day in high gear, your body can often secrete fight-or-flight hormones that can stress your organ systems, encourage overeating and fat storage, and wreak havoc on your bodily functions. In yoga, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows things down, permitting your body’s systems to take a rest.

2. It builds muscle:

Many people instinctively turn to cardio-based exercise when they are trying to lose weight because it burns more calories in a shorter period of time than resistance training. However, building muscle mass through strength-based activities like yoga is just as beneficial because, in the end, muscle burns more calories than fat. Through continual practise, your muscles will also begin to lengthen and get toned, leaving you looking slim and trim. The physical strength and fitness you acquire through practising yoga might also encourage you to pursue other forms of exercise.

3. It teaches discipline:

A few months into practising yoga you may notice that the mental aspects of yoga — focus, restraint, clarity and calm — come to define your day-to-day mental state, and not just when you’re in the yoga studio. That same sense of discipline and mindfulness is essential to successful weight loss, especially when it comes to your eating habits.  As your mind and body become more in tune with one another, you might even notice a lack of interest in unhealthy foods. The researchers found a strong association between a regular yoga practice and mindful eating, which they did not find in other activities such as walking or running.

4. It encourages sound sleep:

Studies have shown that sleep deprivation affects your production of leptin, a hormone that tells your brain when you do or do not need food and slows your metabolism accordingly, putting you on the fast track to obesity. The meditative qualities of yoga help create a quieter mind, which lays the foundation for a good night’s rest. Try a few restorative poses before climbing into bed to achieve an extra-restful slumber.

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Yoga and weight loss studies:

1. Interestingly, research published in 2012 discovered that yoga has a beneficial impact on leptin, a hormone that plays a key role in regulating energy intake and energy expenditure. According to the authors, expert yoga practitioners had 36 percent higher leptin levels compared to novices, leading them to theorize that regular yoga practice may benefit your health by altering leptin and adiponectin production.

2. Study shows Yoga stimulates Weight Loss: a 2012 study:

A large public health study that included 15,550 adults aged 53 to 57 measured physical activity, including yoga and weight change over several years. Practicing yoga for four or more years was associated with a 3-lb lower weight gain among normal-weight participants (BMI of less than 25) and an 18.5-lb lower weight gain among overweight subjects. Regular yoga practice was associated with less weight gain with aging, especially in those who were overweight.

3. Restorative Yoga burns fat:

A 2013 study presented at the 73rd Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association found restorative yoga burns subcutaneous fat and promotes weight loss in overweight women. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, assigned 171 clinically obese women either to a restorative yoga program or stretching sessions for 48 weeks. The yoga and stretching groups practiced twice weekly for the first 12 weeks, twice monthly for the next six months, and then on their own for three months. Subcutaneous (fat directly under skin) and visceral (belly) fat measurements were obtained from the participants. Restorative yoga uses props, blankets, and bolsters to support the body, maximize stretch, and promote relaxation. The modified poses are less physically demanding for people with physical challenges. The researchers found the yoga group lost 34 square centimeters of subcutaneous fat, compared with 6 square centimeters for the stretch group. Furthermore, the yoga group lost more weight, an average of 1.7 kg, while the stretch group lost 0.7 kg. According to the American Journal of Managed Care, “One explanation for the difference may be that restorative yoga reduces levels of cortisol, which rises during times of stress and is known to increase abdominal fat.”

4. Yoga in the Management of Overweight and Obesity: 2014:

Although yoga may help manage conditions comorbid with overweight and obesity, such as low back pain, whether yoga helps with weight loss or maintenance beyond that which can be achieved with diet and exercise remains unclear. A search of multiple databases through September 2012 was undertaken identifying peer-reviewed studies on yoga, meditation, mindfulness, obesity, and overweight. Studies on yoga and weight loss are challenged by small sample sizes, short durations, and lack of control groups. In addition, there is little consistency in terms of duration of formal group yoga practice sessions, duration of informal practices at home, and frequency of both. Studies do however suggest that yoga may be associated with weight loss or maintenance. Mechanisms by which yoga may assist with weight loss or maintenance include the following: (a) energy expenditure during yoga sessions; (b) allowing for additional exercise outside yoga sessions by reducing back and joint pain; (c) heightening mindfulness, improving mood, and reducing stress, which may help reduce food intake; and (d) allowing individuals to feel more connected to their bodies, leading to enhanced awareness of satiety and the discomfort of overeating. Thus, yoga appears promising as a way to assist with behavioral change, weight loss, and maintenance.

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Yoga in gynaecology and obstetrics:

Yoga and menses:

Yoga practice during menstruation is a controversial issue. There are those who say that no woman should practice yoga during her menstruation, others say practice everything. In a yoga practice there are certain asanas that should be avoided during menstruation. The main type of asanas is inversions. These should be avoided throughout the menstruation. Secondly, any very strong asanas particularly strong backbends, twists, arm balances and standing positions that put a lot of stress on the abdominal and pelvic region should be avoided, especially if the woman is going through a lot of pain at the time.

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Is it safe to do yoga during pregnancy?

Yes. Yoga can be very beneficial during pregnancy, as long as you take certain precautions. Yoga helps you breathe and relax, which in turn can help you adjust to the physical demands of pregnancy, labor, birth, and motherhood. It calms both mind and body, providing the physical and emotional stress relief your body needs throughout pregnancy.

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Prenatal yoga:

Prenatal yoga can be a great way to prepare for childbirth. If you’re pregnant and looking for ways to relax or stay fit, you may be considering prenatal yoga. But did you know that prenatal yoga may also help you prepare for labor and promote your baby’s health? Before you start prenatal yoga, understand the range of possible benefits, as well as what a typical class entails and important safety tips.

What are the benefits of prenatal yoga?

Much like other types of childbirth-preparation classes, prenatal yoga is a multifaceted approach to exercise that encourages stretching, mental centering and focused breathing. Research suggests that prenatal yoga is safe and can have many benefits for pregnant women and their babies.

For example, studies have suggested that prenatal yoga can:

•Improve sleep

•Reduce stress and anxiety

•Increase the strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth

•Decrease lower back pain, nausea, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and shortness of breath

•Decrease the risk of preterm labor, pregnancy-induced hypertension and intrauterine growth restriction — a condition that slows a baby’s growth

Prenatal yoga can also help you meet and bond with other pregnant women and prepare for the stress of being a new parent.

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In general, these poses are safe in pregnancy:

Butterfly stretch

Cat-Cow

Cobra (in the first trimester, if you feel comfortable doing this face-down pose)

Seated forward bend (with modifications as described above)

Side angle pose

Standing forward bend (with chair for modification)

Triangle pose (with chair for modification)

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Are any yoga postures unsafe during pregnancy?

The following postures and positions are not recommended during pregnancy:

•Lying on your back after 16 weeks.

•Breathing exercises that involve holding your breath or taking short, forceful breaths.

•Strong stretches or difficult positions that put you under strain.

•Lying on your tummy (prone).

•Upside-down postures (inversions).

•Back bends.

•Strong twists.

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Yoga and pregnancy studies:

1. Narendran et al. found that yoga practices including physical postures, breathing, and meditation practiced by pregnant women 1 h daily resulted in an increase in birth weight, decrease in preterm labor, and decrease in IUGR either in isolation or associated with PIH, with no increased complications.

2. Beddoe et al. found that women practicing yoga in their second trimester reported significant reductions in physical pain from baseline to post intervention. Women in their third trimester showed greater reductions in perceived stress and trait anxiety. From this, it is clear that yoga can be used to prevent or reduce obstetric complications.

3. Effect of integrated yoga on stress and heart rate variability in pregnant women: 2009:

The 122 healthy women recruited between the 18th and 20th week of pregnancy at prenatal clinics in Bangalore, India, were randomized to practicing yoga and deep relaxation or standard prenatal exercises 1-hour daily. The results for the 45 participants per group who completed the study were evaluated by repeated measures analysis of variance. Perceived stress decreased by 31.57% in the yoga group and increased by 6.60% in the control group (P = 0.001). During a guided relaxation period in the yoga group, compared with values obtained before a practice session, the high-frequency band of the heart rate variability spectrum (parasympathetic) increased by 64% in the 20th week and by 150% in the 36th week, and both the low-frequency band (sympathetic), and the low-frequency to high-frequency ratio were concomitantly reduced (P < 0.001 between the 2 groups). Moreover, the low-frequency band remained decreased after deep relaxation in the 36th week in the yoga group. Yoga reduces perceived stress and improves adaptive autonomic response to stress in healthy pregnant women.

4. Yoga for prenatal depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis: 2015:

Six RCTs were identified in the systematic search. The sample consisted of 375 pregnant women, most of whom were between 20 and 40 years of age. The diagnoses of depression were determined by their scores on Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV and the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale. When compared with comparison groups (e.g., standard prenatal care, standard antenatal exercises, social support, etc.), the level of depression statistically significantly reduced in yoga groups. Prenatal yoga intervention in pregnant women may be effective in partly reducing depressive symptoms.

5. A 2012 systematic review of yoga for pregnant women showed that studies indicate that yoga may produce improvements in stress levels, quality of life, aspects of interpersonal relating, autonomic nervous system functioning, and labor parameters such as comfort, pain, and duration. The findings suggest that yoga is well indicated for pregnant women and leads to improvements on a variety of pregnancy, labour, and birth outcomes. However, authors conclude that more randomized controlled trials are needed to provide more information regarding the utility of yoga interventions for pregnancy.

6. Relaxation techniques for pain management in labour: Cochrane Review 2011:

Relaxation and yoga may have a role with reducing pain, increasing satisfaction with pain relief and reducing the rate of assisted vaginal delivery. The pain of labour can be intense, with body tension, anxiety and fear making it worse. Many women would like to go through labour without using drugs, or invasive methods such as an epidural, and turn to complementary therapies to help to reduce their pain perception and improve management of the pain. Many complementary therapies are tried, including acupuncture, mind-body techniques, massage, reflexology, herbal medicines or homoeopathy, hypnosis, music and aromatherapy. Mind-body interventions such as relaxation, meditation, visualisation and breathing are commonly used for labour, and can be widely accessible to women through teaching of these techniques during antenatal classes. Yoga, meditation and hypnosis may not be so accessible to women, but together these techniques may have a calming effect and help the women to manage by providing a distraction from pain and tension. The review of eleven randomised controlled trials, with data reported on 1374 women, found that relaxation techniques and yoga may help manage labour pain. However, in these trials there were variations in how these techniques were applied in the trials. Single or limited number of trials reported less intense pain, increased satisfaction with pain relief, increased satisfaction with childbirth and lower rates of assisted vaginal delivery. More research is needed.

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Yoga and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS):

PCOS is a common hormonal disorder characterized by an enlarged ovary filled with small cysts. A PCOS woman can suffer from psychological, reproductive and metabolic consequences due to hormonal disturbances.  Poor hormonal signalling can result in high level of male hormone and insulin resistance. This results in hirsutism, acne, irregular menstrual cycles, and propensity to weight gain and infertility. Stress is attributed as a major cause for hormonal imbalance. Stressed out working women of modern era are highly susceptible to PCOS. On the contrary, striking PCOS symptoms also lead to stress and depression. Yoga eases any stress through breathing techniques that bring complete relaxation within the body. Relaxation can work to offset the effects of hormonal imbalance and take care of any negative emotions, irritability and frequent mood swings. Yoga is recognized as a complementary treatment in combating PCOS and help to prevent symptoms from getting worse due to the following health benefits:

•Yoga modifies glandular function so that the endocrine system works at maximum efficacy and accords the hormonal secretions.

•Yoga brings harmony within the body, mind and emotions to control PCOS naturally.

•Yoga assists in optimization in lifestyle by enhancing body awareness and self-care.

•Yoga brings peace and comfort and hence a path to healing painful symptoms of PCOS.

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Recommended asanas for PCOS are:

•Badhakonasana (Butterfly pose)

•Suptabadhakonasana (Reclined bound angle)

•Bharadvajasana (Bharadvajasana twist’s)

•Chakki Chalanasana (Mill churning pose)

•Shavasana (Corpse pose)

•Padma Sadhana

Practicing these asanas will become a reason to boost the health of the pelvic organs such as uterus and ovaries and improve functioning of the endocrine glands. Coupled with relaxation techniques, yoga promotes good health and perks up energy levels.

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Menopause:

A preliminary study at the University of California, San Francisco, found that menopausal women who took two months of a weekly restorative yoga class, which uses props to support the postures, reported a 30 percent decrease in hot flashes. A four-month study at the University of Illinois found that many women who took a 90-minute Iyengar class twice a week boosted both their energy and mood; plus they reported less physical and sexual discomfort, and reduced stress and anxiety. A Cochrane review examined the effects of exercise on hot flashes and found 2 RCTs using yoga as a treatment modality. Neither one found statistically significant differences between the yoga groups and conventional exercise groups. The authors concluded there was insufficient evidence to show yoga was more effective than other forms of exercise on vasomotor symptoms of menopause. However, a large RCT included in the Cochrane review did show lower stress levels and decreased overall symptoms in the yoga arm. The yoga intervention in this study consisted of pranayama, sun salutation (a repetitive sequence of 12 yoga postures), and cyclic meditation. Lee et al reviewed the 2 studies used in the Cochrane paper as well as 5 other studies. Two were RCTs showing that yoga intervention was not superior to a no-treatment control. Four studies showed favorable results for yoga interventions; however, one was a nonrandomized controlled trial and 3 lacked control groups. Cramer et al attempted pooled analysis of 5 studies, including those in the Cochrane paper, with similar results: Yoga interventions were not efficacious for somatic, vasomotor, or urogenital symptoms of menopause. Yoga was somewhat efficacious for psychological symptoms associated with menopause. More recently, an RCT (N=249) found that yoga reduces vasomotor symptoms no more frequently than non-yoga exercise.

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Yoga and sex:

Sexual abstention:

Traditionally, yogic training involved deferring the tantric practices of sexual yoga/marriage until such time that sexual self-mastery had been established, whereupon sexual union is considered to be the ultimate yoga of Shiva and Shakti. Brahmacharya for yogis, as stated in the Agni-Purana, embodies self-imposed abstention from sexual activity: fantasizing, glorifying the sex act or someone’s sexual attraction, dalliance, sexual ogling, sexually flirtatious talk, the resolution to break one’s vow, and consummation of sexual intercourse itself, with any being. Married practitioners aspire likewise to abstain from unconscious/harmful sexual behavior, and to meditatively practice sexual yoga (as opposed to ego-centered sexual release) with their partner, but must practice aware chastity with regard to others.

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Yoga and sexual performance:

One way to improve your performance in the bedroom is to translate all those relaxation and breathing techniques from yoga class into better, longer sex. Yogi Cameron says these strengthened concentration skills will help you focus your mind and better channel your sexual energy, helping to prevent premature ejaculation. “This can lead to increased sexual endurance,” he says, “and will make you far more sensitive and responsive to your partner.”  Studies have found that 12 weeks of yoga can improve sexual desire, arousal, performance, confidence, orgasm and satisfaction for both men and women. How? Physically, yoga increases blood flow into the genital area, which is important for arousal and erections, and strengthens pelvic floor muscles. Mentally, the breathing and mind control involved with the practice can also improve performance.  New Delhi-based yoga expert Deepak Jha advised more yoga postures to enhance sexual pleasure. “Postures like Paschimottanasana (seated forward bending), Halasana (plow) and Bhujangasana (cobra) help release sex hormone testosterone faster in men and also strengthen the genitalia,” Jha says. In fact, according to an abstract published recently in the journal Wiley, yoga practices can be invaluable in prolonging sexual stamina and pleasure. The yoga postures reduce the stress hormone cortisol which means less stress and better sleep. These also help release the essential hormone Oxytocin (“love hormone”) that relieves anxiety, enhances desire for social interaction and increases sexual intimacy. Global research also supports the sex-enhancing benefits of yoga. In two studies published recently in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, more than 100 men and women aged 20 to 60 were enrolled in a 12-week yoga camp. They were asked to complete questionnaires about their sexual satisfaction before and after the camp. The scores in all areas of sexual function – arousal, satisfaction, performance, confidence, ejaculatory control and orgasm – were significantly improved after yoga practice, the authors found.

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Game-changing systemic reviews:

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Effects of Yoga on Mental and Physical Health: A Short Summary of Reviews: 2012:

Majority of the research on yoga as a therapeutic intervention was conducted in India and a significant fraction of these were published in Indian journals, some of which are difficult to acquire for Western clinicians and researchers. In their bibliometric analysis from 2004, authors found that 48% of the enrolled studies were uncontrolled, while 40% were randomized clinical trials (RCT), and 12% non-RCT (N-RCT). Despite a growing body of clinical research studies and some systematic reviews on the therapeutic effects of yoga, there is still a lack of solid evidence regarding its clinical relevance for many symptoms and medical conditions. For many specific indications and conditions, there is inconsistent evidence with several studies reporting positive effects of the yoga interventions, but other studies are less conclusive. In some instances, these discrepancies may result from differences between the study populations (e.g., age, gender, and health status), the details of the yoga interventions, and follow-up rates. In this review, authors summarize the current evidence on the clinical effects of yoga interventions on various components of mental and physical health. In general, the respective reviews and an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Report (AHRQ) evidence report on “Meditation Practices for Health,” which cites also studies on yoga, include a heterogeneous set of studies with varying effect sizes, heterogeneous diagnoses and outcome variables, often limited methodological quality, small sample sizes, varying control interventions, different yoga styles, and strongly divergent duration of interventions.

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Systematic reviews for the different domains:

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These reviews suggest a number of areas where yoga may be beneficial, but more research is required for virtually all of them to more definitively establish benefits. However, this is not surprising given that research studies on yoga as a therapeutic intervention have been conducted only over the past 4 decades and are relatively few in number. Typically, individual studies on yoga for various conditions are small, poor-quality trials with multiple instances for bias. In addition, there is substantial heterogeneity in the populations studied, yoga interventions, duration and frequency of yoga practice, comparison groups, and outcome measures for many conditions (e.g., depression and pain). Disentangling the effects of this heterogeneity to better understand the value of yoga interventions under various circumstances is challenging. For many conditions, heterogeneity and poor quality of the original trials indicated that meta-analyses could not be appropriately conducted. Nevertheless, some RCTs of better quality found beneficial effects of yoga on mental health. Further investigations in this area are recommended, particularly because of the plausibility of the underlying psychophysiological rationale (including the efficacy of frequent physical exercises, deep breathing practices, mental and physical relaxation, healthy diet, etc.). This report summarizes the current evidence on the effects of yoga interventions on various components of mental and physical health, by focussing on the evidence described in review articles. Collectively, these reviews suggest a number of areas where yoga may well be beneficial, but more research is required for virtually all of them to firmly establish such benefits. The heterogeneity among interventions and conditions studied has hampered the use of meta-analysis as an appropriate tool for summarizing the current literature. Nevertheless, there are some meta-analyses which indicate beneficial effects of yoga interventions, and there are several randomized clinical trials (RCT’s) of relatively high quality indicating beneficial effects of yoga for pain-associated disability and mental health. Yoga may well be effective as a supportive adjunct to mitigate some medical conditions, but not yet a proven stand-alone, curative treatment. Larger-scale and more rigorous research with higher methodological quality and adequate control interventions is highly encouraged because yoga may have potential to be implemented as a beneficial supportive/adjunct treatment that is relatively cost-effective, may be practiced at least in part as a self-care behavioral treatment, provides a life-long behavioural skill, enhances self-efficacy and self-confidence and is often associated with additional positive side effects.

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The effectiveness of yoga in modifying risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials: year 2014:

Yoga, a popular mind-body practice, may produce changes in cardiovascular disease (CVD) and metabolic syndrome risk factors. This was a systematic review and random-effects meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs).

Methods:

Electronic searches of MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, and The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials were performed for systematic reviews and RCTs through December 2013. Studies were included if they were English, peer-reviewed, focused on asana-based yoga in adults, and reported relevant outcomes. Two reviewers independently selected articles and assessed quality using Cochrane’s Risk of Bias tool.

Results:

Out of 1404 records, 37 RCTs were included in the systematic review and 32 in the meta-analysis. Compared to non-exercise controls, yoga showed significant improvement for body mass index (−0.77 kg/m2 (95% confidence interval −1.09 to −0.44)), systolic blood pressure (−5.21 mmHg (−8.01 to −2.42)), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (−12.14 mg/dl (−21.80 to −2.48)), and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (3.20 mg/dl (1.86 to 4.54)). Significant changes were seen in body weight (−2.32 kg (−4.33 to −0.37)), diastolic blood pressure (−4.98 mmHg (−7.17 to −2.80)), total cholesterol (−18.48 mg/dl (−29.16 to −7.80)), triglycerides (−25.89 mg/dl (−36.19 to −15.60), and heart rate (−5.27 beats/min (−9.55 to −1.00)), but not fasting blood glucose (−5.91 mg/dl (−16.32 to 4.50)) nor glycosylated hemoglobin (−0.06% Hb (−0.24 to 0.11)). No significant difference was found between yoga and exercise. One study found an impact on smoking abstinence.

Conclusions:

There is promising evidence of yoga on improving cardio-metabolic health. Findings are limited by small trial sample sizes, heterogeneity, and moderate quality of RCTs.

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Yoga could be as effective as cycling or brisk walks in reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke, this new research suggests. This finding is significant as individuals who cannot or prefer not to perform traditional aerobic exercise might still achieve similar benefits in CVD risk reduction.  That could see it being used by groups such as the elderly or those with musculoskeletal or joint problems.  The ancient Indian practice is a potentially effective therapy for making it less likely that people will develop cardiovascular disease (CVD) and should be promoted for that purpose, experts say. The research, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, finds that the ease and low cost of doing yoga mean it could become a useful tool in reducing heart-related illness.  “This review helps strengthen the evidence base for yoga as a potentially effective therapy for cardiovascular and metabolic health,” say the authors, who are from the Netherlands and the US. “The British Heart Foundation said the findings showed yoga producing real benefits and that any form of physical activity that reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease should be encouraged.

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Overview of Systematic Reviews:

Yoga as a Therapeutic Intervention for Adults with Acute and Chronic Health Conditions: year 2013:

Authors searched for systematic reviews in 10 online databases, bibliographic references, and hand-searches in yoga-related journals. Included reviews satisfy Oxman criteria and specify yoga as a primary intervention in one or more randomized controlled trials for treatment in adults. The AMSTAR tool and GRADE approach evaluated the methodological quality of reviews and quality of evidence. Authors identified 2202 titles, of which 41 full-text articles were assessed for eligibility and 26 systematic reviews satisfied inclusion criteria. Thirteen systematic reviews include quantitative data and six papers include meta-analysis. The quality of evidence is generally low. Sixteen different types of health conditions are included. Eleven reviews show tendency towards positive effects of yoga intervention, 15 reviews report unclear results, and no, reviews report adverse effects of yoga. Yoga appears most effective for reducing symptoms in anxiety, depression, and pain.  Although the quality of systematic reviews is high, the quality of supporting evidence is low. Significant heterogeneity and variability in reporting interventions by type of yoga, settings, and population characteristics limit the generalizability of results.

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Yoga injury:

While yoga has often been regarded as beneficial and without harm, this view has been challenged in recent years. Mainly based on anecdotal evidence, the safety of yoga has been questioned in a number of lay-press articles. In particular, a recent New York Times article by William J. Broad has listed a number of alarming cases of yoga-associated injuries. As these publications seem to have led to a general uncertainty among yoga practitioners and those interested in starting practice, it is important to systematically assess the safety of yoga. As any other physical or mental practice, yoga is not without risk. However, given the large number of practitioners worldwide, only relatively few serious adverse events have been reported in healthy individuals. Therefore, there is no need to discourage yoga practice for healthy people. It has however been stressed that yoga should not be practiced as a competition and that yoga teachers and practitioners should never push themselves (or their students) to their limits. Beginners should avoid advanced postures such as headstand or lotus position and advanced breathing techniques such as Kapalabathi. Practices like voluntary vomiting should perhaps be avoided completely. Most yoga injuries develop gradually because of poor yoga forms or overdoing certain asanas. The safest approach to yoga is to learn how to practice poses correctly, stay in tune with your body and avoid overdoing it. It is the most common reason why one ends up with back injury during yoga. Also, if one is unable to perform an asana, one should avoid it. As yoga has been shown to be beneficial for a variety of conditions, it can also be recommended to patients with physical or mental ailments, as long as it is appropriately adapted to their needs and abilities and performed under the guidance of an experienced and medically trained yoga teacher. Especially, patients with glaucoma should avoid inversions and patients with compromised bone and other musculoskeletal disorders should avoid forceful or competitive yoga forms. Yoga should not be practiced while under the influence of psychoactive drugs.

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Among the main reasons that experts cite for causing negative effects from yoga are beginners’ competitiveness and instructors’ lack of qualification. As the demand for yoga classes grows, many people get certified to become yoga instructors, often with relatively little training. Not every newly certified instructor can evaluate the condition of every new trainee in their class and recommend refraining from doing certain poses or using appropriate props to avoid injuries. In turn, a beginning yoga student can overestimate the abilities of their body and strive to do advanced poses before their body is flexible or strong enough to perform them. Vertebral artery dissection, a tear in the arteries in the neck which provide blood to the brain can result from rotation of the neck while the neck is extended. This can occur in a variety of contexts, but is an event which could occur in some yoga practices. This is a very serious condition which can result in a stroke. Acetabular labral tears, damage to the structure joining the femur and the hip, have been reported to have resulted from yoga practice.

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Hot yoga risk:

One of the primary risks associated with Bikram Yoga is that of dehydration and exhaustion from the heat. If you start a class without proper hydration or are a beginner, you do run this risk. But as a beginner, most classes will give you tips on how to handle the heat. If the asana is practiced in hot environment (temperatures about 105 degrees Fahrenheit) as it is done in some styles of Yoga, the heart rate, respiration rate and blood pressure increases, though muscles expand and one can stretch the body more, this may harm the muscles. Ideally the Yoga should be practiced in normal environmental conditions. This Hot Yoga, Bikram yoga or similar type is inappropriate and difficult to justify it as a version of ancient practice of Yoga.

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Adverse Events Associated with Yoga: A Systematic Review of Published Case Reports and Case Series: 2013:

While yoga is gaining increased popularity in North America and Europe, its safety has been questioned in the lay press. The aim of this systematic review was to assess published case reports and case series on adverse events associated with yoga. Medline/Pubmed, Scopus, CAMBase, IndMed and the Cases Database were screened through February 2013; and 35 case reports and 2 case series reporting a total of 76 cases were included. Ten cases had medical preconditions, mainly glaucoma and osteopenia. Pranayama, hatha yoga, and Bikram yoga were the most common yoga practices; headstand, shoulder stand, lotus position, and forceful breathing were the most common yoga postures and breathing techniques cited. Twenty-seven adverse events (35.5%) affected the musculoskeletal system; 14 (18.4%) the nervous system; and 9 (11.8%) the eyes. Fifteen cases (19.7%) reached full recovery; 9 cases (11.3%) partial recovery; 1 case (1.3%) no recovery; and 1 case (1.3%) died. As any other physical or mental practice, yoga should be practiced carefully under the guidance of a qualified instructor. Beginners should avoid extreme practices such as headstand, lotus position and forceful breathing. Individuals with medical preconditions should work with their physician and yoga teacher to appropriately adapt postures; patients with glaucoma should avoid inversions and patients with compromised bone should avoid forceful yoga practices.

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•Yoga is generally low-impact and safe for healthy people when practiced appropriately under the guidance of a well-trained instructor.

•Overall, those who practice yoga have a low rate of side effects, and the risk of serious injury from yoga is quite low. However, certain types of stroke as well as pain from nerve damage are among the rare possible side effects of practicing yoga.

•Women who are pregnant and people with certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, glaucoma (a condition in which fluid pressure within the eye slowly increases and may damage the eye’s optic nerve), and sciatica (pain, weakness, numbing, or tingling that may extend from the lower back to the calf, foot, or even the toes), should modify or avoid some yoga poses.

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Incidence of yoga injury:

Incidence rates of adverse events associated with yoga are best estimated from large prospective surveys of practitioners. However, these data are rare. In a small survey in 110 Finnish Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practitioners, 62% of respondents reported at least one yoga-related musculoskeletal injury, mainly sprains and strains. About half of those reported full recovery, the other half partial recovery. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a physically demanding yoga style that uses standardized sequences of physical yoga postures with synchronized breathing. More recently, in a large national survey, 78.7% of about 2500 Australian yoga practitioners indicated that they had never been injured during yoga. The remaining practitioners mainly reported minor injuries. 4.6% of respondents had been injured in the past 12 months; 3.4% reported injuries that occurred under supervision. In accordance with the present systematic review, the postures that were most commonly associated with injuries were headstand, shoulder stand and variations of the lotus pose. A survey in more than 1300 mainly North American yoga teachers and therapists found that respondents considered injuries of the spine, shoulders, or joints the most common; many respondents regarded yoga as generally safe and associated adverse events with excessive effort, inadequate teacher training, and unknown medical preconditions. An extensive survey of yoga practitioners in Australia showed that about 20% had suffered some physical injury while practicing yoga. In the previous 12 months 4.6% of the respondents had suffered an injury producing prolonged pain or requiring medical treatment. Headstands, shoulder stands, lotus and half lotus (seated cross-legged position), forward bends, backward bends, and handstands produced the greatest number of injuries. Systematic reviews on clinical trials on yoga interventions generally found insufficient reporting of safety data. However, if adverse events were reported, they could mostly be classified as non-serious.

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You can’t say that yoga puts people at great risk for injury without comparing it to the injury risk from other physical activities.  Indeed, when you look at the actual injury rates compared to other physical activities, yoga appears to be comparatively low risk. For example, in 2007 numbers, the injury rate for yoga was about 3.5 people out of every 10,000 practitioners. Compare that to the injury rate for weight-training and golf of around 15 and 39 respectively out of every 10,000 practitioners. So compared to other common physical activities, yoga appears to be much safer.

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Hot Yoga Risks:

Studios are often set to 105 degrees F and 40 percent humidity, which can be downright uncomfortable for some. With the high temperature also comes an increased risk of dehydration and heat stroke, making this style unsuitable for those with cardiovascular disease, hydration issues or a history of heat-related illness. If you opt for hot yoga, bring plenty of cold water, and head out the door for a break if you feel dizzy.

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Complications of yoga:

1. Subcutaneous emphysema:

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Radiograph showing air in the retropharyngeal space. A 40‐year‐old man developed swelling of the face and neck associated with respiratory distress of sudden onset. These symptoms followed a yoga exercise called “pranayam”, which had involved a vigorous Valsalva manoeuvre. Clinically, he had subcutaneous emphysema in the neck, more predominant on the right side, and tachypnoea. Cervical radiographs showed air in the retropharyngeal space, parapharyngeal spaces and subcutaneous emphysema. Chest radiograph showed pneumomediastinum.

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2. Isolated rupture of the lateral collateral ligament during yoga practice:

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Coronal T1-weighted magnetic resonance images of the knee showing avulsion of the lateral collateral ligament from its insertion on the fibular head (arrow).  A case is reported of isolated rupture of the lateral collateral ligament (LCL) of the knee while attempting to place the left foot behind the head during yoga practice. The 34-year-old man had discomfort of the lateral aspect of the knee particularly with varus strain. A magnetic resonance image revealed rupture of the LCL at the insertion onto the fibula.

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3. Yoga Foot Drop:

The common peroneal nerve is very vulnerable to injury, especially where it winds about the head of the fibula just below the knee. Pressure from sitting with the knees crossed, from kneeling, or from bizarre postures may readily affect this nerve. Susceptibility to damage from pressure is increased by weight loss, malnutrition, alcoholism, diabetes, and other causes of peripheral neuropathy. Recent experience indicates that common peroneal nerve injury may also result from a well-known Yoga practice (the kneeling pose), giving rise to what may be called “Yoga Foot Drop.” Yoga foot drop is a kind of drop foot, a gait abnormality. It is caused by a prolonged sitting on heels, a common yoga position of vajrasana. Yoga foot drop is one of a number of adverse effects of yoga, often unmentioned by yoga teachers and books.

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Here are some tips to avoid injury:

1. Move slowly and consciously. Rapid movements without attention lead to strains and sprains – and if you’re really unlucky, slipped disks in the back.

2. Ask teachers not to move your body for you, but rather to show by example and to instruct verbally. Forcing a body into a posture increases the likelihood of minor injuries like muscle pulls and torn ligaments. Teachers who insist on “hands on” work need to ask first before they touch (every time) and never move someone who has their eyes closed and their focus pointed inward.

3. Realize that Yoga is not a competition. It doesn’t matter what the person next to you is doing. And it doesn’t matter what you did three weeks ago before you went on vacation and haven’t practiced Yoga since. You’re not competing against your old record either. Let the gains be slow and gradual and real, not forced.

4. Don’t throw the head back too far into hyperextension. When the neck is extended (the face is pointed towards the ceiling), don’t roll or rotate the head. This is the one extremely long-shot way to cause a significant injury, specifically a tear of one of the arteries that feeds the brain leading to a stroke.

5. The neck needs to be protected in inverted postures, particularly sirsasana (headstand) and sarvangasana (shoulder stand). The body’s weight shouldn’t be on the neck. It can potentially lead to intervertebral disk damage and facet joint injury. Those bones aren’t designed to hold the full weight of the body. If they were, they would be big and thick like the lumbar vertebrae. Limit the time in these asanas or avoid them all together to avoid trauma. If practicing sarvagasana, use a folded blanket under the shoulders.

6. Avoid inversions during your period.

7. Try not to lock the knees. That can lead to cartilage damage and arthritis. While it may not be a problem for everyone, if you’re made with knees that straighten past the point of 180 degrees, then you may have trouble with the menisci over the long term. This is particularly true for more active forms of yoga and especially for any exercises that include jumps, pivots, or cutting out.

8. If you don’t feel good about a posture, don’t do it just to make your teacher happy or to avoid being the only one in class not doing it. Trust your instincts.  The extreme postures aren’t necessary.

9. If you have glaucoma, don’t do inverted postures. There is evidence that the increased pressure it causes in the eyes can worsen the disease and accelerate the onset of blindness. If you’re at risk of glaucoma, get your eyes checked before you turn upside down.

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Instructor fault versus inherently risky yoga poses:

“Anityasuciduhkhanatmasu nityasucisukhatmakhyatiravidya” (What at one time feels good or appears to be of help can turn out to be a problem; what we consider to be useful may in time prove to be harmful.) — From Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, written in Sanskrit approximately 2000 years ago. Experts say under-qualified instructors are to blame as novices are encouraged to force their bodies into complicated positions they are not ready for. Doctors and physiotherapists have seen a rise in the number of patients injured in this way. Even popular positions such as the cobra and the plough, as well as headstands, can cause problems. There is a risk if an instructor is unqualified and doesn’t know the anatomy and physiology. You can’t possibly cover all that is required with just a short intensive course. Each person’s body is different in terms of suppleness and flexibility and they have to work within their limitations.  Anatomy experts also warn about the risks of inverted poses, which can strain cervical vertebrae or restrict blood flow into the head, either acutely or progressively. Investigations with yoga injuries have revealed certain yoga poses engage the body in positions that are unnatural for the design of the human body. A growing body of medical evidence supports the contention that, for many people, a number of commonly taught yoga poses are inherently risky. The first reports of yoga injuries appeared decades ago, published in some of the world’s most respected journals — among them, Neurology, The British Medical Journal and The Journal of the American Medical Association. The problems ranged from relatively mild injuries to permanent disabilities.

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Many people think yoga injuries are caused by people pushing too hard or from inexperienced teachers. These reasons are certainly true, but the biggest reason for yoga injuries is that the human body is not designed to be in the right angle poses that make up a huge percentage of modern yoga asana practice. Most yoga injuries are caused by putting the body in positions that are unnatural. According to exercise physiology, the most compressive position for the human spine is sitting down with the trunk at a right angle to straight legs. Forcing our curving bodies into square linear positions can cause an over-stretching of the ligaments of the spine, in particular ones that attach your sacrum to your hips. The lumbar spine and sacrum form an important shock-absorbing curve needed to keep your hip socket and knee joint from compressing. The oxymoron is that many yoga poses require you to place your body in this dangerous right angle position with the idea that your body will learn to “open”. This movement is not functional and has nothing to do with the way your body is designed to bend. We all need the lumbar curve and sacral platform to support our trunk and act as a shock absorber for the spine, hips, and knees. Poses like “Plow” are particularly dangerous because we create right angles between the neck and the trunk and the hips all at the same time. The weight of the lower body is dangerously positioned above a cervical spine that is not designed to hold more than about 15 pounds. People do use blankets and try not to compress the neck, but there are nerves getting tugged on passed the limit they can stretch, as well as cervical discs not designed to have that much pressure in extreme neck flexion for minutes at a time. Ligaments do not have a lot of sensory nerves, so we cannot feel when they are getting overstretched.

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Paschimottasana and Uttanasana are straight leg seated forward bending poses practiced from sitting or standing that go against how our body is “wired” to move. These poses and many variations are practiced with the compartmentalized idea that stretching the back while keeping the knees straight will lengthen the hamstrings and make the spinal column more flexible. When both knees are straightened and we stretch forward as in yoga forward bends, we are driving with our brakes on and stretching the ligament forces needed for natural anatomical function. Touching your toes is a waste of time and could prove to be harmful in the long run. All standing and seated forward bends with knees straight and ankles flexed in right angles undermine the spine’s integrity creating the C shape, or slouch, stressing the necessary ligament tension needed for natural joint functions of our spine, hips and knees.

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Inexperienced teachers and improper practice are the not only causes of yoga injuries.  Many yoga poses make no biomechanical sense and there is no way to do them ‘properly’. Taking the curve out of the sacral platform loosens the ligaments of the sacroiliac joint. Overtime, the loosed ligaments allow the sacral platform to fall and the natural 30-degree nutation angle needed for shock absorption disappears. After a period of years, many yoga practitioners began to feel SI joint and low back pain. In some it turns into hip compression, replacements and an undermining of the main support system in the body, the lumbar/sacral curve.

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Natural spine curves ought to be maintained to prevent injury:

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You ought to practice naturally aligned posture as the most important asana. If an asana does not support your spine in good posture, it is quite possibly working to pull your body out of alignment, and what is the benefit of doing it?

Three simple tests to determine whether a pose serves the human design:

1. It should allow the spine to maintain its natural curves.

2. It should not restrict the ability to do deep, rib-cage breathing.

3. It should have a real-life correlation to functional joint movement.

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Yoga sex abuse:

For many in the yoga community, yoga becomes an integral component of their ego/identity. If they acknowledge the systemic nature of sexual misconduct among many of modern yoga’s gurus, they may fear the consequences too great to bear. Key stakeholders in the yoga industry—instructors, trainers, and business owners—may fear the threat to their bottom line and personal livelihoods. Yoga practitioners and consumers may also fear the judgments others could develop about their beloved teachers, practices and identities. Yoga has a big following internationally and it’s truly tragic that yoga guru often abused his position and took advantage of young women. These young women are often vulnerable and looking for spiritual guidance. The worst thing about all these gurus and teachers is that they are not accountable to anyone. If they were a school teacher they would be promptly deregistered and never able to teach again. Be wary of who you trust.

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Sexual abuse in the yoga community has been a quiet but persistent issue since the practice came to the west in the 19th century. A yoga teacher has 30 ladies in a yoga class every day who all think he is evolved, spiritual, and special. Imagine the power he could have? There are no ethics committees or watchdog groups for yoga students, and yet teachers with huge power and influence are clearly taking advantage, and in some cases, even sexually assaulting their students who came to class to get fit or relieve stress.

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Turning a blind-eye on abuse may be far more complex than desensitization. For some, the silence could reflect the difficulty of balancing satya (i.e., “what is true?”) vs. ahimsa (“don’t be so judgmental”). The inability to reconcile these may be complicated by another factor: Some teachers and practitioners may be concerned that to keep the brand (and perhaps, individual) identity intact, they must protect the lineage holders and remain silent. Other potential reasons for blind eye syndrome abound. We may feel uncomfortable criticizing those in power or feel unworthy to do so, not trusting in our own wisdom. Or perhaps, when our eyes flicker over painful headlines, as good yogis we conveniently choose “forgiveness” (i.e. forgetfulness), rather than “dwelling on the negative.”  Yet make no mistake: Turning a blind eye to the suffering inflicted by yoga’s gurus is exactly the same behavior that enables these behaviors to persist. Our silence suppresses the truth in our heart-mind that connects with others’ suffering, longs for justice, and weeps for expression when we gag our instincts to speak out. Silence strengthens our own mental entrapment and dependency along with the structures that enable oppression and suffering. When we focus excessively on the positive, turning our eyes from the pain and unsavoriness in our own hearts and the yoga community, we become participants in the cycle of abuse. For every abuse scandal in modern yoga, blind eye syndrome played a likely role. Clear seeing and speaking may require momentary sacrifice and discomfort, but is a minimal price to pay for your own safety, peace and liberation, as well as those of your communities.

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The last few years have been awash with yoga scandals as well-known yoga teachers and gurus have fallen from grace.

1. Bikram Choudhury, founder of Bikram Yoga:

Five women filed civil suits against Bikram in 2013 alleging incidents ranging from sexual assault to rape. The cases have yet to be heard. Bikram is famous for making off-colour sexual remarks.

2. Dr. Kausthub Desikachar, grandson of the godfather of Western Yoga, Krishnamacharya:

The Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation made a public statement on September 22, 2012 saying

…we’ve been made aware of the varying allegations of sexual, mental and emotional abuse against Dr. Kausthub Desikachar. [Editor’s note: the allegations were made by four teacher trainees.] Upholding this tradition and approach in the field of Yoga and Therapy, the Krishnamachraya Healing and Yoga Foundation are taking these allegations very seriously. Seven months later, Kausthub was back with a new website, and a letter explaining his new beginning: I realise that some of the decisions that I have made in the past have not been consistent with the high standards that I usually set for myself. I also fully understand and acknowledge that these have had far reaching effects, way beyond myself. There is no way of changing this past. I wholeheartedly repent for what has happened.

3. Rodney Yee:

In 2002, Rodney was accused of having affairs with some of his yoga students. He divorced his wife of 24 years, Donna Fone, and went on to marry his former yoga student, Colleen Saidman. “In the past, I think I was conveniently ignorant,” says Yee, who has apologized for previous infidelities. “I was pretending to myself that I wasn’t sexual in class.” Now he turns down yoga retreats where the students hang out with the instructors all day, the very setting that gave rise to his affair with Saidman.

4. Swami Muktananda:

Oh Guru, Guru, Guru began Lis Harris’ 1994 New Yorker article on the controversy surrounding Swami Muktananda, founder of the Siddha Yoga Path. Introduced to America in the 1970s by Baba Ram Dass, Muktananda was known as the ‘Guru’s guru’ and was a widely respected teacher of meditation and yoga. However, many of his followers have since come out and claimed that Muktananda allowed, even encouraged, guns and violence into his ashrams, and grew rich and corrupt from his devotees work efforts. He also claimed to be completely celibate but it’s alleged that he regularly had sex with female devotees. Michael Dinga, an Oakland contractor who was head of construction for the ashram and a trustee of the foundation, said the guru’s sexual exploits were common knowledge in the ashram. “It was supposed to be Muktananda’s big secret,” said Dinga, “but since many of the girls were in their early to middle teens, it was hard to keep it secret.”

5. Swami Satchidananda:

Swami Satchidananda made it big in the USA in the lates 1960s when he was flown in by helicopter to be the opening speaker at Woodstock Music Festival. He went on to found the Yogaville ashram in Virginia and Integral Yoga institutes across the country and, with thousands of devotees, including Lauren Hutton and Carol King, was somewhat of a ‘Yoga superstar’. But by 1991, the situation had changed: Protesters waving placards (“Stop the Abuse,” “End the Cover Up”) marched outside a Virginia hotel where he was addressing a symposium. “How can you call yourself a spiritual instructor,” a former devotee shouted from the audience, “when you have molested me and other women?” Satchinanda always denied the accusations against him of sexual misdemeanours, but many of his followers are reported to have left his ashrams and institutes after at least nine women claimed he had sexually abused them.

6. Swami Rama:

Described as “a tall man with a strikingly handsome face” Swami Rama founded the Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy, based in Pennsylvania with centers worldwide, as well as various service and teaching organizations. He was also one of the first Yogis to be studied by Western scientists. Journalist Katharine Websyter spent two years investigating the allegations of sexual abuse against Swami Rama, publishing an article in a 1990 edition of Yoga Journal that documented the experiences of women abused by Rama. A final blow to Rama’s reputation came just after his death in 1996, when a jury awarded nearly $1.9 million to a young woman who claimed she had been forced to have sex with him up to thirty times when living at the Himalayan Institute in 1993. He would fixate on a woman and make her a sort of valet, and then he would tell her it was necessary to perform these acts to further her spiritual development,” said Cliff Rieders of Williamsport, one of the woman’s lawyers.

7. Paramahansa Yogananda:

A yoga icon and founding father of yoga in the West, Yogananda introduced countless people to yoga with his renowned book ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’. He was also one of the first Indian yogis to make the move to the USA, spending much of the 1920s and 1930s lecturing and sharing his knowledge of Kriya yoga. There have been allegations that he fathered several ‘love children’ and that he ran a harem whilst on tour. The swami had young girls housed next to his room on the third floor of the former hotel, and how they went in and out of the swami’s room at all hours, while older women were housed on a separate floor.  However, DNA testing recently cleared Yogananda of fathering a child with a married disciple and evidence supporting the other claims against him is not well documented.

8. Swami Kriyananda:

Born James Donald Walters, Kriyananda was an American univeristy student who read ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ and left everything to become a disciple of Yogananda. He later founded Ananda Sangha Worldwide. However, Kriyananda was reportedly ‘thrown out’ of Yogananda’s fellowship and was later sued for violating their copyrights by republishing the writings and recordings of Yogananda. He was also brought to court for the abuse of Anne-Marie Bertolucci, a former disciple, who claimed she was sexually abused by Kriyananda and another senior leader, and accused the fellowship of fraud. She won the case, and the Ananda Church was ordered to pay $1 million to Bertolucci as compensation.  The case was given added weight thanks to support from other ex-devotees. After Bertolucci filed suit, a dozen ex-Ananda members stepped up to support her case. Six women gave sworn testimony detailing various forms of what they considered sexual exploitation by the swami.

9. Swami Akhandananda Saraswati:

Swami Akhandananda was the spiritual leader of Mangrove Ashram, a Satyananda ashram in Australia, from 1974. In 1987 he was charged with 35 counts of sexual abuse against four girls, convicted and sent to prison. His conviction was later over turned by the Australian High Court on a technicality. The Swami died of alcoholism in the late 1990s. This particular case has recently been re-heard by the Royal Commission Inquiry in Australia. Disturbing details continue to emerge during a royal commission hearing about the sexual abuse of children in the 70s and 80s at a NSW yoga ashram. Nine abuse victims have told how former spiritual leader Swami Akhandananda used them for his sexual gratification.  At the inquiry, it was also alleged that many of the other adults at the ahsram, in particular the Swami’s partner Shishy, were aware of what was going on. Former child resident Alecia Buchanan testified that Shishy was often in the room while Akhandananda raped her. Plus, at the inquiry, fresh allegations have been made against Swami Satyananda himself of abuse, and allegations that his successor (Satyananda died in 2009) Swami Niranjananda entered into sexual relationships with at least one female disciple.

10. Swami Maheshwarananda:

Another ‘Yoga Rockstar’ Maheshwarananda is the founder of Yoga in Daily Life a humanitarian organisation with ashrams all over the world. A whistle blower set up a website on which several women posted shocking testimonies of alleged betrayal by Swamiji. It appeared the monk, whom ex-followers say claims to be celibate, had routinely abused his powerful status to exploit young female devotees for his own sexual pleasure. While none of these claims would amount to sexual assault, people began to leave. In Australia, a growing chorus of members demanded answers. About 18 senior figures who had been part of Yoga in Daily Life for up to 20 years resigned. This included the entire board. Some were forcibly expelled; other attendees simply stopped coming. Some centres closed down.

11. Swami Shankarananda:

The Guru and Director of the Mount Eliza ashram, Shankarananda has allegedly had sex with up to forty female followers. Although Shankarananda never claimed to be celibate, or demanded it from his students, the revelations have still deeply wounded his followers and community. The ashram is now being investigated over allegations of sexual abuse according to Australian newspaper The Age.

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My view:

Parents should be wary of yoga guru when they send their daughter for yoga classes. There is evidence to show that some modern yoga gurus are sexual predators and they coerce girls/women to have sex with them under disguise of promoting spiritual development.

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Discussion:

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The levels of scientific evidence:

There are four levels of evidence that can be offered for any scientific assertion or theory:

1. Testimony (anecdote)

2. Argument (hypothesis)

3. Correlation

4. Experimentation

These are listed in increasing levels of validity and acceptability. The anecdote is the weakest form of proof, while an experiment is the strongest. While weak, an anecdote is still evidence: and if your personal experience is that Yoga works for you, makes you healthier, cured your specific ailment, then you do yoga. In my article ‘complementary and alternative medicine’, I have stated that 30 % of illnesses are self-limiting and another 30 % are psychic in origin. Anecdotal experience works well in self-limiting illness and psychic illness, and when many people report anecdotal experiences, it appears as scientific fact. Many benefits of yoga belong to conglomeration of anecdotal reports.

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Factors that affect Scientific Research Studies:

Before examining any yoga research findings, you need to understand the essential components that constitute a scientifically valid study. This will enable you to critically evaluate the findings and determine whether a yoga research study is in keeping with the rigorous standards set by the scientific community. The gold standard of reliability in clinical research is what is known as the randomized controlled trial, or RCT. In an RCT, researchers randomly select subjects who are age and gender matched. Participants are then randomly assigned to receive one of several (two–three) treatment regimens or assigned to a control regimen. The control group is given a standard, established therapeutic modality; a placebo, or “sham” treatment; or no treatment at all. The most powerful RCTs are double-blind in nature, which means that neither the study subjects nor the researchers know who is getting what treatment.

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Levels of Evidence:

What do the levels of evidence describe? These are again standardized definitions that try to summarize the available published evidence in support of the given recommendations. They reflect the precision of the estimate of the treatment effect. The strongest weight of evidence (A) is assigned if there are multiple randomized trials with large numbers of patients. An intermediate weight (B) is assigned if there are a limited number of randomized trials with small numbers of patients, careful analyses of non-randomized studies, or observational registries. The lowest rank of evidence (C) is assigned when expert consensus is the primary basis for the recommendation.

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Classes of Recommendations:

What do the classes of recommendations I, II, and III mean? These are standardized classifications that were adopted by the ACC/AHA Task Force several years ago to ensure consistency across guidelines. Class I refers to conditions for which there is evidence and/or general agreement that a given procedure or treatment is useful and effective. In contrast, class III refers to conditions for which there is evidence and/or general agreement that the procedure/treatment is not useful/effective and in some cases may be harmful. Class II recommendations fall in between, and indicate conditions for which there is conflicting evidence or a divergence of opinion about the usefulness/efficacy of a procedure or treatment. Class IIa indicates that the weight of evidence/opinion is in favor of usefulness/efficacy. Class IIb indicates that the usefulness/efficacy is less well established by evidence/opinion. In simple terms, class I recommendations are the “dos,” class III recommendations are the “don’ts,” and class II recommendations are the “maybes.”

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The level of evidence is sometimes confused with the class of recommendation. The assignment of a C level of evidence to a class I recommendation should not be interpreted to mean that this is a “weak” recommendation. This may simply reflect the ethical or logistical difficulty of ever performing a randomized trial to test the treatment or procedure in question. For example, there is a class I recommendation in the Stable Angina Guideline for echocardiography in patients with a systolic murmur suggestive of aortic stenosis or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, for which the level of evidence is a C. It is highly unlikely that any institutional review board would ever approve a randomized trial in which patients with suspected aortic stenosis were denied echocardiography.

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A variety of issues must be addressed when using science to study the effects of yoga practice.

Here are some of the most important of these issues:

Sample Size.

The results of studies that examine the effects of a treatment on a small group of people are not generally considered to be applicable to an entire population. Small sample sizes tend to be unable to detect subtle treatment effects. Systematic study of a large population of people is likely to give the most reliable results. Most of the studies published about yoga are significantly underpowered, with sample sizes comprising fewer than 100 participants.

Placebo Effect.

It is well established that a subject’s own belief that a treatment is going to work can have a powerful and measurable effect on the outcome of any study. It is impossible to “treat” a group of yoga subjects and avoid this placebo effect, since the practitioners are aware of the fact that they are doing yoga.

Sample Bias.

The RCT prefers to study a random population sample in order to minimize variables that might influence study outcomes. Many yoga studies recruit subjects from a yoga school or an ashram, which can lead to an inherent bias in the study group, as the subjects are not randomly selected.

Length of Treatment.

In many of the yoga studies conducted to date, conclusions about the effects or outcomes of a yoga practice have been drawn after an 8- to 12-week period of yoga “treatment.” Yoga practice may, in fact, take a significantly longer time period than this to make a difference.

Consistency of Treatment.

The “treatment” under study should be consistent and similar each time it is administered, in order to control variability, which could skew results. As many yoga participants and teachers know, several variables can affect a yoga practice. For instance, most studies involving yoga do not enumerate the poses that were utilized, how long they were held or which style of yoga was emphasized. This makes reproducing results impossible.

Holistic vs. Scientific.

Yoga is a multifaceted discipline, and the physical poses are just one aspect of a yoga practice. Many practitioners believe that scientifically quantifying the holistic changes that yoga practice may produce is impossible when you reduce the practice to a sequence of poses and study physical change.

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The bigger argument is that randomized, controlled trials — of any length — to study yoga don’t work, for various complex, holistic reasons that don’t sound very convincing to me. The alternative is observational studies. And as it happens, Moliver completed an award-winning PhD thesis at Northcentral University  that used an observational design — an online survey — to study yoga in 211 female yoga practitioners plus 182 controls. Observational studies have a lot of problems, in particular the inability to distinguish between cause and effect, as Moliver acknowledges. For example, if a researcher didn’t randomly assign the participants, it is not possible to know if Yoga practitioners are happier because they practiced Yoga, or if people who were happier were naturally attracted to starting a Yoga practice.

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Confounding variables:

Confounding variable or factor is interference by a third variable so as to distort the association being studied between two other variables, because of a strong relationship with both of the other variables. A confounding variable can adversely affect the relation between the independent variable (cause) and dependent variable (outcome/effect). This may cause the researcher to analyse the results incorrectly. The results may show a false correlation between the dependent and independent variables, leading to an incorrect rejection of the null hypothesis. Characteristics of yoga users, their diet, their disciplined life-style and absence of bad habits like smoking/alcoholism are confounding variables that affect yoga study results.

Characteristics of yoga users:

A result of a US national survey 2008 found that yoga users are more likely to be white, female, young and college educated. The Australian survey of 2012 asked respondents to describe their dietary and lifestyle choices and whether this choice had been influenced by their yoga practice. The proportion of respondents who were non-smoking, vegetarian or had a preference for organic foods was generally higher in those with more years of practice. A 2015 systematic review (55 studies) of demographic, health-related, and psychosocial factors associated with yoga practice found yoga use is greatest among women and those with higher socioeconomic status and appears favorably related to psychosocial factors such as coping and mindfulness. Yoga practice often relates to better subjective health and health behaviors but also with more distress and physical impairment.

In other words, people who practice yoga are generally young, healthy, educated, belonging to higher socio-economic strata of society, eating healthy diet, leading disciplined life and less likely to indulge in alcoholism/smoking. All these are confounding variables which directly affect results of yoga studies. For example, eating healthy food prevent weight gain. Your claim to maintain ideal weight due to yoga could be because of healthy food you eat rather than sham yoga you perform watching TV.

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The Myth of Sweating Toxins:

Does your yoga instructor tell you that the sweating is good for you because you are releasing toxins from the body? Well, this statement is not true. Most of what you are sweating is water, but there are other chemicals that make up sweat including salt, potassium, ammonia, and urea. True toxin elimination comes from the kidneys and liver, and some from the colon. Doing a ninety-minute hot yoga session and sweating to death is not releasing toxins. You really are just dehydrating yourself and losing only water weight.

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A Short Summary of Reviews in 2012 showed that a majority of the research on yoga as a therapeutic intervention was conducted in India and a significant fraction of these were published in Indian journals, some of which are difficult to acquire for Western clinicians and researchers. In their bibliometric analysis from 2004, they found that 48% of the enrolled studies were uncontrolled, while 40% were randomized clinical trials (RCT), and 12% non-RCT (N-RCT). Despite a growing body of clinical research studies and some systematic reviews on the therapeutic effects of yoga, there is still a lack of solid evidence regarding its clinical relevance for many symptoms and medical conditions. For many specific indications and conditions, there is inconsistent evidence with several studies reporting positive effects of the yoga interventions, but other studies are less conclusive. In some instances, these discrepancies may result from differences between the study populations (e.g., age, gender, and health status), the details of the yoga interventions, and follow-up rates. Take a look at systematic review articles and meta-analyses—studies that aggregate other studies—and you’ll see where the miraculous yoga cure really stands. The majority of such compilations both criticize the methodology of yoga research and find that yoga has little or no effect on serious illness.

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A 2014 systematic scoping review of yoga intervention components and study quality:

The scientific study of yoga requires rigorous methodology. This review aimed to systematically assess all studies of yoga interventions to (1) determine yoga intervention characteristics; (2) examine methodologic quality of the subset of RCTs; and (3) explore how well these interventions are reported. Searches were conducted through April 2012 in PubMed, PsycINFO, Ageline, and Ovid’s Alternative and Complementary Medicine database using the text term yoga, and through handsearching five journals. Original studies were included if the intervention (1) consisted of at least one yoga session with some type of health assessment; (2) targeted adults aged ≥18 years; (3) was published in an English-language peer-reviewed journal; and (4) was available for review. Of 3,062 studies identified, 465 studies in 30 countries were included. Analyses were conducted through 2013. Most interventions took place in India (n=228) or the U.S. (n=124), with intensity ranging from a single yoga session up to two sessions per day. Intervention lengths ranged from one session to 2 years. Asanas (poses) were mentioned as yoga components in 369 (79%) interventions, but were either minimally or not at all described in 200 (54%) of these. Most interventions (74%, n=336) did not include home practice. Of the included studies, 151 were RCTs. RCT quality was rated as poor. This review proved the inadequate reporting and methodologic limitations of current yoga intervention research, which limits study interpretation and comparability.

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The yoga studies contain myriad methodological problems, some of which are similar to those that plagued prayer research. First, what is yoga?  In a real practical sense, medical researchers have to agree on the elements essential to yoga practice before they can test it as a therapy. Is deep breathing or stretching the source of therapeutic benefit? Or maybe it’s simple exercise, which wouldn’t exactly be news. In addition yoga like prayer can’t be dosed in milligrams. How much yoga do you need to do, and for how long, to achieve a benefit? There’s also significant individual variation at play. Some people breathe more deeply, hold poses for longer, and meditate “better” than others. That’s going to muddy the statistics. Control and blinding are also problematic. When you test a pill for heart disease, you give some people the pill and others a placebo (or an existing medication). The patients can’t tell which group they’re in. When doing yoga study, those who do yoga know that they are doing yoga, and those not doing yoga know that they are not doing yoga, so the placebo effect of yoga cannot be eliminated.  And in a surprising number of yoga studies, the researchers aren’t blinded either, raising the risk of a second form of bias. Much of the research on yoga has taken the form of preliminary studies or clinical trials of low methodological quality, including small sample sizes, inadequate blinding, lack of randomization, and high risk of bias.

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A systematic review on the treatment of asthma with yoga was published in 2011. The author found that the methodology of the underlying studies was “mostly poor,” due to problems with blinding and randomization. High dropout rates also biased the results. In the only study included in the review that offered a credible placebo control—a nonyogic stretching regimen—yoga offered no benefit. The author of the review article concluded, “The belief that yoga alleviates asthma is not supported by sound evidence.” A review of yoga for the treatment of schizophrenia, published in 2013, noted that none of the underlying studies blinded participants, and only three of the five studies blinded the researchers. Dropout rates were either high or unreported. The authors concluded, “No recommendation can be made regarding yoga as a routine intervention for schizophrenia patients.” A 2013 review paper on yoga for hypertension complained that the “methodological quality of the included trials was evaluated as generally low,” and therefore “a definite conclusion about the efficacy and safety of yoga on hypertension cannot be drawn.” To be fair, the folks who review existing studies occasionally do conclude that yoga may have modest benefits for sufferers of some afflictions, but they almost always include a laundry list of gripes about methodology and offer the weakest possible recommendation.

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Why haven’t you already heard about all of these anti-yoga studies? They have no constituency, and therefore don’t interest the media much. When a journal article showing that yoga improves quality of life in breast cancer patients came out, hundreds of stories trumpeted the results in the mainstream media. Yet it’s difficult to find any mention of the review articles discussed above that question the efficacy of yogic practice as a health care tool. Few people wanted to read a sceptical take on therapeutic prayer in the 1990s, and there aren’t many people today who will click on stories about how yoga won’t solve their health problems. The negative studies never make it beyond medical journals. In other words, yoga hype is created by media and scientific evidence of yoga inefficacy is buried by media.  Doctors eventually realized—most of them, at least—that prayer didn’t fit well into a clinical trial. Yoga doesn’t, either. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do yoga. By all means, do yoga, if those things bring you contentment and stress reduction. Do yoga especially if it’s your preferred form of exercise—exercise is a health intervention supported by thousands of clinical trials.

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Yoga: from pseudoscientific physiology to real science:

‘Prana’ refers to the universal life force and ‘ayama’ means to regulate or lengthen. Prana is the vital energy needed by our physical and subtle layers, without which the body would perish. It is what keeps us alive. Pranayama is the control of prana through the breath. These techniques rely on breathing through the nostrils. Prana flows through thousands of subtle energy channels called ‘nadis’ and energy centers called ‘chakras’. The quantity and quality of prana and the way it flows through the nadis and chakras determines one’s state of mind. If the Prana level is high and its flow is continuous, smooth and steady, the mind remains calm, positive and enthusiastic. However, due to lack of knowledge and attention to one’s breath, the nadis and chakras in the average person may be partially or fully blocked leading to jerky and broken flow. As a result one experiences increased worries, fear, uncertainty, tensions, conflict and other negative qualities.  Regular pranayama practice increases and enhances the quantity and quality of prana, clears blocked nadis and chakras, and results in the practitioner feeling energetic, enthusiastic and positive. When energy becomes blocked in a chakra, it is said to trigger physical, mental, or emotional imbalances that manifest in symptoms such as anxiety, lethargy, or poor digestion. The theory is to use asanas to free energy and stimulate an imbalanced chakra. . More than just stretching and toning the physical body, the yoga poses open the nadis (energy channels) and chakras (energy centers) of the body. Yoga poses also purify and help heal the body, as well as control, calm and focus the mind. The different categories of postures produce different energetic, mental, emotional and physical effects.

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Well, well, well.

I am a student of science and medicine for decades. I have dissected dead bodies. I have examined and treated thousands of people. I have seen some of them dying before me. I want to assert that there is no prana, no nadi and no chakra. It is a pseudoscience. The only nadi I know is arterial pulse felt when heart pumps blood into large blood vessels. The sole purpose of heart is to pump blood and the sole purpose of lungs is to instil oxygen and remove carbon dioxide vis-à-vis blood. Heart (circulation) and lungs (respiration) have nothing to do with spirituality or consciousness. I have seen many patients brain dead (no spirituality/consciousness) yet heart beating. I have seen many patients with no breathing but kept alive on mechanical ventilator for weeks or months. Since time immortal, people used to die. When somebody dies thousands of years ago, the first symptom of death is absence of breathing. In other words, breath became associated with life. So manipulation of breath would result in manipulation of life. This is how pranayama came into existence by manipulating breath in different ways providing different benefits. To perform pranayama, our ancestors needed bodily postures, so asanas came into existence. So postures and breathing techniques were standardized and synchronized for optimal benefit. So far so good as far as pseudoscience is concerned. But inadvertently real science entered in yoga. The basic axiom of yoga is that breath gives us a tool with which we can explore the subtler structures of our mental and emotional worlds.  I challenge it. The job of lungs is to provide oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. Lungs have no relationship with mind functioning.  Rapid breathing is part of stress response to provide more oxygen and reverse is true for relaxation when breathing is normal. By voluntarily slowing respiratory rate to less than normal of 12 to 18 breaths per minute (in adults) with deep breathing does not provide any extra oxygen. Respiratory changes with stress and de-stress occurs due to neural connection between brain and lungs. Using same neural connection to reduce stress by deliberate slow deep breathing cannot de-stress. However concentrating on breathing activity by mind can fade out distractions in mind, some of which could be stressing distractions and therefore conscious breathing would shift focus from stressors and thereby reduce stress. I repeat conscious breathing and not deep slow breathing of yoga. Conscious breathing brings mind to breath control and remove distractions thereby reduce stress. Remember, our daily breathing is subconscious, that is we are unaware of it. What yoga does is to make you aware of breathing and bring your mind concentration on breath consequently disallowing distractions. So concentration on breath by mind results in removal of distracting thoughts and objects from mind leading to meditation and stress release. It is this de-stressing by yoga is real science and not asanas which are mere muscle stretching and isometric exercises. Ironically, majority of people practice yoga as exercise rather than meditation and therefore avail themselves of exercise benefit akin to walking rather than de-stressing benefit.  As discussed earlier, good qualified yoga teacher is a must to avoid injury and the same logic applies to prevent practice of sham yoga. Sham yoga would have no de-stress benefit but only exercise benefit akin to leisurely walking.

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Unwarranted credit:

Yoga is a classic example of unwarranted credit. 5000 years ago, nobody knew neurochemicals and neurotransmitters, sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system etc. There was no science 5000 years ago. People were doing asanas, pranayama, meditation and benefits of yoga was attributed to pseudoscience of opening of nadiis and opening of blocked chakras to move prana freely. Today to say yoga was science since 5000 years is nothing but unwarranted credit given to ancestors. Yes, yoga is beneficial to us and we are grateful to ancestors for discovering it, but to say humans were so intelligent 5000 years ago that they discovered yoga scientifically is weird. 5000 years ago, humans even did not know that earth is spherical and revolves around sun. They used to believe that earth is flat and sun revolves around it.

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Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or for the mind to simply acknowledge its content without becoming identified with that content, or as an end in itself. The word meditation carries different meanings in different contexts. Meditation is a general term for a technique in which a person empties his mind of extraneous thought, with the intent of elevating the mind to a different level and transcends mundane concerns. Yoga is concentrative meditation, where the meditating person focuses attention on his or her breathing and in doing so, suppresses other thoughts. Yoga meditation is concentration on breathing resulting in removal of distracting thoughts. Mindfulness practice is another type of meditation where mind is allowed to wander, let thoughts come and go without reacting, judging or holding thoughts. Mindfulness meditation is practiced sitting with eyes closed, cross-legged on a cushion, or on a chair, with the back straight. Attention is put on the movement of the abdomen when breathing in and out, or on the awareness of the breath as it goes in and out the nostrils.  As thoughts come up, one returns to focusing on breathing. One passively notices one’s mind has wandered, but in an accepting, non-judgmental way. In mindfulness practice, you let your mind be aware of the sounds and activities around you without becoming too focused. The physician Jon Kabat-Zinn describes the difference between concentration and mindfulness (“floating concentration”) concisely:

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In relatively stable environments, concentration is the most important form of attention. If however there is persistent change in the environment, we need mindfulness to find those solutions, which are relevant to the modified environmental conditions. Concentration remains important in order to not float aimlessly in the maelstrom of change.

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Concentration and mindfulness meditations are distinctive and different from each other: 1999 study:

Electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings from 19 scalp recording sites were used to differentiate among two posited unique forms of mediation, concentration and mindfulness, and a normal relaxation control condition. Analyzes of all traditional frequency bandwidth data (i.e., delta 1-3 Hz; theta, 4-7 Hz; alpha, 8-12 Hz; beta 1, 13-25 Hz; beta 2, 26-32 Hz) showed strong mean amplitude frequency differences between the two meditation conditions and relaxation over numerous cortical sites. Furthermore, significant differences were obtained between concentration and mindfulness states at all bandwidths. Taken together, the results suggest that concentration and mindfulness “meditations” may be unique forms of consciousness and are not merely degrees of a state of relaxation.

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Many studies since the 1970′s have shown that a regular meditation or mindfulness practice reduces stress, stress-related illness, reduces blood pressure, heart disease, reduces depression, anxiety, the problems of diabetes, turns off the flight-or-fight response, improves wound healing, interpersonal relationships, coping skills, increases cognitive abilities, thickens the prefrontal cortex of the brain, … and on and on. While the studies documenting these benefits have been conducted on meditation, it is not a great leap to conclude that the time spent doing Yoga will tap into the same well of healing and wholeness that meditation provides.  An fMRI study found that Yogis had larger brain volume in the somatosensory cortex, which contains a mental map of our body, the superior parietal cortex, involved in directing attention, and the visual cortex, which might have been bolstered by visualization techniques. The hippocampus, a region critical to dampening stress, was also enlarged in practitioners, as were the precuneus and the posterior cingulate cortex, areas key to our concept of self. Another study on mindfulness practice (non-yoga) found that after spending an average of about 27 minutes per day practicing mindfulness exercise, the participants showed an increased amount of grey matter in the hippocampus in fMRI, which helps with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection. In addition, participants with lower stress levels showed decreased grey matter density in the amygdala, which helps manage anxiety and stress. This proves benefits of non-yoga meditation (i.e. without asanas and pranayama) in people to reduce stress & anxiety by changing brain plasticity. Another 2014 study found that fluid intelligence declined slower in yoga practitioners and meditators than in controls. The point I want to make is yoga or non-yoga meditation yield the same improvement in fluid intelligence. Relaxation induced by meditation is considered to be a powerful remedy in traditions such as Ayurveda/Yoga in India or Tibetan medicine by switching on disease-fighting genes but it is not yoga specific. Any genuine relaxation by any meditation would do the same.

To sum it up:

Both yoga (i.e. with asanas and pranayama) and non-yoga meditation (e.g. mindfulness practice) alter brain plasticity by increasing grey matter in hippocampus and reducing grey matter in amygdala to reduce stress and anxiety. Both yoga and non-yoga meditation  showed much less decline in fluid intelligence with age than did the controls resulting in improved mental health. Both yoga meditation and non-yoga meditation causes relaxation to switch on disease-fighting genes. So the issue is true meditation and true relaxation no matter whether you achieve it through yoga or other means.

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The research, led by Professor Myriam Hunink of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam and Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, was a review of 37 randomized studies involving 2,768 participants which found that yoga is linked to the reduction of key risk factors for heart disease, including lower body mass index (BMI), weight loss, improved cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and reduced heart rate. Researchers also found that when it came to these improved risk factors, there was not a significant difference between yoga and other forms of exercise. Though these new findings are encouraging (and for many teachers and practitioners, validating), they do raise certain questions as well. For instance, how does this work physiologically?  Why does yoga—which is not typically considered a cardiovascular exercise—reduce these risk factors?  I think stress reduction is a big piece of reducing cardiovascular disease risk. We think of aerobic exercise as being a way to make the heart stronger. And there’s truth to that. You increase your cardiovascular fitness by doing aerobic work—and we all need that. But the fact that people’s blood pressure and lipid profiles improved, and that they even lost weight by doing yoga (which probably wasn’t aerobic), says there’s something else happening. So it comes down to two things, that physical movement in general is positive, and that yoga practices reduce stress. We know that stress itself magnifies all the risk factors for heart disease. When you’re chronically stressed, your blood pressure goes up. Your cholesterol goes up because of the increase in cortisol. If we simply breathe, stretch, and relax—that is, do yoga—we decrease our risk for heart disease.

To sum it up:

Yoga has same benefits of aerobic exercise not only due to muscle stretching and isometric exercise but also due to stress reduction.

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Can aerobic exercise itself reduce stress?

Exercise is a form of physical stress by stimulating sympathetic nervous system.

Can physical stress relieve mental stress?

Regular aerobic exercise will bring remarkable changes to your body, your metabolism, your heart, and your spirits. It has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress. It’s a common experience among endurance athletes and has been verified in clinical trials that have successfully used exercise to treat anxiety disorders and clinical depression. Exercise can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety. If athletes and patients can derive psychological benefits from exercise, so can you. The mental benefits of aerobic exercise have a neurochemical basis. Exercise promotes production of neurohormones like norepinephrine that are associated with improved cognitive function, elevated mood and learning. Exercise forces the body’s physiological systems — all of which are involved in the stress response — to communicate much more closely than usual resulting in improved communication which could be the basis of both greater reserves of the neurochemicals that help the brain communicate with the body and the body’s improved ability to respond to stress. Exercise also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Endorphins are responsible for the “runner’s high” and for the feelings of relaxation and optimism that accompany many hard workouts. Exercise is meditation in motion. By concentrating exclusively on the rhythm of your exercise, you experience many of the same benefits of meditation while working out. Focusing on a single physical task can produce a sense of energy and optimism, which can help provide calmness and clarity. After a fast-paced game of racquetball or several laps in the pool, you’ll often find that you’ve forgotten the day’s irritations and concentrated only on your body’s movements. As you begin to regularly shed your daily tensions through movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, can help you remain calm and clear in everything you do. All of these exercise benefits can ease your stress levels and give you a sense of command over your body and your life. In other words, simple aerobic exercise like brisk walking and concentrating your mind on rhythm of walk would do all wonders of yoga.

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The moral of the story:

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1. Yoga is an ancient Hindu spiritual practice that synchronises adoption of specific bodily posture or series of postures with breath control & breathing exercise; leading to meditation & relaxation, ultimately resulting in attaining a state of consciousness unmixed with any other object. The goal of Yoga is Yoga, the union with the ultimate, that is to reach one’s true self without any distractions.

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2. Although yoga is a means of spiritual attainment for any and all seekers, irrespective of faith or no faith, its underlying principles are those of Hindu philosophy. Just as the practice of the Japanese martial arts of karate and aikido does not require becoming a Buddhist, the practice of yoga does not require you adopt Hinduism.

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3. There are 250 million estimated practitioners of yoga globally. Around 20.4 million Americans practise yoga. Many people who practice yoga do so to maintain their health and well-being, improve physical fitness, relieve stress, and enhance quality of life. In addition, they may be addressing specific health conditions such as back pain, depression and anxiety.

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4. Yoga was developed by men and practiced nearly exclusively by men for centuries.  It is only in recent times that so many women have flocked to the practice. In America, 70 to 80 % yoga practitioners are women.

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5. Yoga is not a physical system with a spiritual component but a spiritual system with a physical component. The mere fact that one might do a few stretches with the physical body does not in itself mean that one is doing real yoga. What has spread all over the world is not real yoga but merely a physical exercise.

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6. The biggest pitfall of yoga is finding a qualified teacher as yoga is not easy to learn, and yoga practice is physically, emotionally and mentally challenging. Yoga should be practiced carefully under the guidance of a qualified instructor to prevent yoga injury and to perform true yoga and not sham-yoga. The sham-yoga provides only exercise benefit to you akin to leisurely walking without stress reduction.

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7. There is scientific evidence to show that yoga benefits physical and mental health via down-regulation of hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and sympathetic nervous system (SNS), and up-regulation of parasympathetic nervous system (PNS); all resulting in down-regulating stress response.

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8. Aerobic exercise transiently increases heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption and metabolic rate while yoga asanas transiently decreases heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption and metabolic rate except fast paced yoga. Sympathetic nervous system dominates in aerobic exercise while parasympathetic nervous system dominates in yoga.

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9. Meta-analysis of 81 published studies to compare yoga versus aerobic exercise revealed that yoga is especially beneficial for combating stress that is a direct result of a fast paced modern lifestyle. Over the last 100 years, our lives have become very fast paced: cell phones, traffic snarls, computers & internet, television, relationship demands, strong work ethic, meeting deadlines, etc. often results in people experiencing a lot of stress. Consequently, there is a strong need to de-stress to calm our minds. Remember stress itself magnifies all the risk factors for heart disease.

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10. A study on breast cancer showed an increase in telomere length after participating in a weekly hatha yoga & mindful meditation program as well as clinical psychotherapy for 12 weeks. In other words, yoga and psychotherapy are comparable in lengthening telomeres. Cancer cells have an enzyme called telomerase which maintains telomere length preventing telomere shortening so that they can replicate for ever. While lengthened telomeres are helpful to prevent aging and degenerative disorders, lengthened telomeres would worsen cancer. Many studies found yoga improving psychological health i.e. improved sleep, improved mood, reduced stress and increased acceptance of the condition in cancer patients comparable to psychotherapy of cancer patients which reduces depression, reduces anxiety, improves sleep and works as a coping mechanism. In other words, it makes no difference whether cancer patients practice yoga or undergo psychotherapy.

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11. Yoga is recommended for depression although it is less effective than antidepressants and electroconvulsive therapy. A randomised controlled magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) scan study found that yoga increased thalamic GABA levels associated with improved mood and decreased anxiety.

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12. Yoga is recommended as an additional therapy to chronic low back pain.

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13. Yoga is not recommended for asthma, epilepsy and schizophrenia.

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14. The benefits yoga provides to patients suffering from hypertension and diabetes mellitus is akin to benefits they get by other forms of physical exercise (e.g. walking) and dietary modifications.

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15. There is weak evidence to recommend yoga to elderly to improve balance and stability, not to forget increased risk of fractures in elderly with osteoporosis.

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16. Yoga is widely used by patients with a variety of rheumatic diseases but there is no credible evidence to show improvement in any rheumatic disease. However yoga is a useful supplementary approach to reduce pain.

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17. Nasal irrigation with hypertonic saline (as done in Jala Neti) is a proven and effective modality of treatment in Rhino-sinusitis by improving mucociliary clearance, thinning of mucus, and decreasing inflammation.

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18. Yoga burns 2 to 3 calories per minute similar to walking leisurely, therefore unlikely to promote weight loss in obese individuals. However, yoga reduces stress and cortisol level thereby reduce food intake and yoga promotes mindful eating reducing intake of unhealthy foods (e.g. junk food). All these may promote weight reduction.

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19. A large meta-analysis of 37 RCTs found that there is no difference between yoga and aerobic exercise as far as blood pressure reduction, lipid optimization and weight reduction. As a corollary, yoga could be as effective as cycling or brisk walking in reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Two other ancient practices that join slow, flowing motions with deep breathing — tai chi and qigong — seem to offer similar advantages. However to perform true yoga, you need qualified yoga teacher and it is not easy to learn and practice yoga. On the other hand, brisk walking is easy; need no teacher and no learning. I recommend brisk walking to everybody to reduce risk of heart attack and stroke. Remember not to walk on streets with traffic to avoid road traffic accident. Those with musculoskeletal or joint problems or elderly may choose yoga over brisk walking.

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20. Yoga is not contraindicated in pregnancy but only some yoga poses and breathing practices are allowed.

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21. People who practice yoga are generally young, healthy, educated, belonging to higher socio-economic strata of society, eating healthy diet, leading disciplined life and less likely to indulge in alcoholism/smoking. All these are confounding variables which directly affect results of yoga studies. In other words, so called health benefits of yoga could be due to these confounding variables.

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22. The scientific study of yoga requires rigorous methodology.  Much of the research on yoga has taken the form of preliminary studies or clinical trials of low methodological quality, including small sample sizes, inadequate blinding, lack of randomization, and high risk of bias. The quality of evidence is generally low. It is impossible to “treat” a group of yoga subjects and avoid placebo effect, since yoga practitioners are aware of the fact that they are doing yoga.  The “treatment” under study should be consistent and similar each time it is administered, in order to control variability, which could skew results. As many yoga participants and teachers know, several variables can affect a yoga practice. For instance, most studies involving yoga do not enumerate the poses that were utilized, how long they were held or which style of yoga was emphasized. This makes reproducing results impossible. Significant heterogeneity and variability in reporting interventions by type of yoga, settings, and population characteristics limit the generalizability of results. In other words, to be honest, most yoga studies are inherently fallible.

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23. Majority of systemic reviews criticize the methodology of yoga research and find that yoga has little or no effect on serious illness. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do yoga. By all means do yoga if it bring you contentment and stress reduction, and as a preferred form of exercise.

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24. Yoga hype is created by media and scientific evidence of yoga inefficacy is buried by media.

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25. When it comes to practicing yoga it’s not “one size fits all”. Everyone’s body is different, and yoga postures should be modified by yoga teacher based on individual’s ability. The reasons for yoga injuries are beginners’ competitiveness & over-enthusiasm (improper practice), and instructors’ lack of qualification (inexperienced teacher). Although these reasons are certainly true, another reason for yoga injuries is that the human body is not designed to be in the right angle poses that make up a huge percentage of modern yoga asana practice. Many yoga injuries are caused by putting the body in positions that are unnatural.

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26. Parents should be wary of yoga guru when they send their daughter for yoga classes. There is evidence to show that some modern yoga gurus are sexual predators and they coerce girls/women to have sex with them under disguise of promoting spiritual development.

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27. I challenge the basic axiom of yoga that the breath gives us a tool with which we can explore the subtler structures of our mental and emotional worlds. The job of lungs is to provide oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. Lungs have no relationship with mind functioning. Our daily breathing is subconscious, that is we are unaware of it. What yoga does is to make you aware of your breathing and bring your mind concentration on breath consequently removing distractions leading to de-stress. Conscious breathing would shift focus from stressors and thereby reduce stress.  Nadiis, Chakras and Prana do not exist.

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28. Yoga meditation is concentrative and different from mindfulness meditation. Both yoga (i.e. with asanas and pranayama) and non-yoga meditation (e.g. mindfulness practice) alter brain plasticity by increasing grey matter in hippocampus and reducing grey matter in amygdala to reduce stress and anxiety. Both yoga and non-yoga meditation showed much less decline in fluid intelligence with age resulting in improved mental health. Both yoga and non-yoga meditation causes relaxation to switch on disease-fighting genes. So the issue is true meditation and true relaxation no matter whether you achieve it through yoga or other means. Different kinds of meditation & relaxation practices have existed in different civilizations all leading to stress reduction.

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29. Yoga cannot be considered as cardio because most yoga asanas reduce heart rate and even fast paced ashtanga power yoga raises heart rate to an average of 95 beats per minute, and therefore enhancement of strength of heart by doing cardio cannot be achieved by yoga. However, yoga has same benefits of aerobic exercise because besides muscle stretching and isometric exercise, yoga reduces stress. Although it sounds contradictory, aerobic exercise itself reduces mental stress by releasing endorphins; and by concentrating exclusively on the rhythm of your exercise, you experience many of the same benefits of meditation while working out. In other words, simple aerobic exercise like brisk walking and concentrating your mind on rhythm of walk would do all wonders of yoga.

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Dr. Rajiv Desai. MD.

July 20, 2015

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Postscript:

I have never done yoga in my life, no asana and no pranayama. Nonetheless I am in good health and clear mind. Patanjali’s Yoga supports duality. You can reach your true self by either having faith in God or even without God. Patanjali says God is one of the many ways to reach the ultimate but it is not necessary to believe in God to reach your destination. Patanjali’s concept of duality and my theory of ‘Duality of Existence’ have something in common, the concept of duality.

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Footnote:

Please read my article “Stress” posted in November 2011 on this website. Experts tell us that stress, in moderate doses, is necessary in our life. Stress is part of life in a fast-paced society. However, contrary to popular belief, stress is not always bad. We need some stress to stimulate us. A certain level of stress is beneficial. This type of stress is called eustress. It helps us to set and achieve goals as well as perform at a higher level. However, there are times when stress is overwhelming. This type of stress—called distress—paralyses rather than stimulates. It contributes to decreased health and well-being. In fact, stress is a factor in 11 of the top 15 causes of death in Canada and is a significant reason for physician visits. Therefore, an important part of healthy living is to learn to bring stress to beneficial levels. When I use the term ‘stress’ in the article ‘Yoga’, I mean distress. What yoga does is to reduce distress to eustress level. Aerobic exercise is stressful but that is eustress which brings numerous health benefits.

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NET NEUTRALITY

June 15th, 2015

NET NEUTRALITY:

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I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s remark: “The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty. We all declare for liberty, but in using the same word we do not mean the same thing.”  Substitute ‘net neutrality’ for ‘liberty’, and that’s where we are today. The Internet has unleashed innovation, enabled growth, and inspired freedom more rapidly and extensively than any other technological advance in human history. Its independence is its power. Net neutrality means internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data on internet equally. The ISPs have structural capacity to determine the way in which information is transmitted over the internet and the speed at which it is delivered.  And the present internet network operators, principally large telephone and cable companies—have an economic incentive to extend their control over the physical infrastructure of the internet to leverage their control of internet content.  If they went about it in the wrong way, these companies could institute changes that have the effect of limiting the free flow of information over the internet in a number of troubling ways. Network operators could prioritize the transmission of some content—their own for example—over other material produced by competitors. If this was to be allowed, web companies would lose revenues that they could otherwise devote to improvements in old products and innovations in new ones. Worse yet, the smaller content providers, who can now capitalize on the two-way nature of the internet—whether online stores or forums for democratic discourse—might be unable to secure quality service online.  An entrepreneur’s fledgling company should have the same chance to succeed as established corporations, and that access to a high school student’s blog shouldn’t be unfairly slowed down to make way for advertisers with more money. At the core of the principle of net neutrality is thus the idea that all content on the internet should be accessible in a fully equitable way and once an internet user has accessed that content, he should be able to engage with that content in the same way that he would engage with any other content on the internet. Allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made internet such a success. On the other hand, to be honest, there is no absolute neutrality. The world is neither neutral nor equal. Umpires in a game of cricket were perceived to be biased and so we have neutral umpires from countries not playing the present game. Humans have been subjective. They’ve got their own positions, opinions and priorities. So net neutrality cannot be seen in isolation of entire gambit of human behaviours but approached by combining different views and opinions.

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Internet terminology, abbreviations and synonyms:

Internet Backbone:

The collection of cables and data canters that make up the core of the internet. This is operated not by a single operator but by many independent companies spread across the globe.

Internet Service Provider (ISP):

A company, such as Comcast or Verizon or Airtel or Tata docomo, that plugs into the backbone and then provides internet connections to homes and businesses. ISP is also known as TSP (telecom service provider) or Telco or broadband carriers or network operators or internet access providers or platform operator. An ISP provides internet services to users via cable or wireless connections.

Access ISP = last mile ISP = eyeball ISP = ISP that provides internet access to user.

Content Provider:

Companies such as Google, Facebook, and Netflix that provide the webpages, videos, and other content that moves across the internet. My website  www.drrajivdesaimd.com   is also a content provider. A content provider is anyone who has a website that delivers content to internet users. Content and service providers (CSPs) offer a wide range of applications and content to the mass of potential consumers.

Peering:

Where one internet operation connects directly to another so that they can trade traffic. This could be a connection between an ISP such as Comcast and an internet backbone provider such as Level 3. But it could also be a direct connection between an ISP and a content provider such as Google.

Content Delivery Network (CDN):

A network of computer servers set up inside an ISP that delivers popular photos, videos, and other content. These servers can deliver this content faster to home users because they’re closer to home users. Companies such as Akamai and Cloudflare run CDNs that anyone can use. But content providers such as Google and Netflix now run their own, private CDNs as well.

Regulator:

FCC (federal communication commission of U.S.) and TRAI (telecom regulatory authority of India) are some examples of regulators that regulate ISPs.

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ISP = internet service provider

CSP = content & service provider

IU = internet user = user = consumer

NN = net neutrality

IP = internet protocol

TCP = transmission control protocol

VoIP = voice over internet protocol

Kbps = kilobits per second

Mbps = megabits per second = 1000 Kbps

Gbps = gigabits per second = 1000 Mbps

QoS = quality of service

CDN = content delivery network

P2P = peer-to-peer file sharing

SMS = short message service

MMS = multimedia message service

OTT = over the top services

BE = best effort

LAN = local area network

WAN = wide area network

WLAN = wireless local area network

DSL = digital subscriber line

Packets = datagrams

IPTV = internet protocol television

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Who’s an Internet user?

A user is a pretty broad term to describe someone who uses the Internet so let’s take a closer look at what “user” means. A user can be a person, small business, local city, state or national government agency, or a large organization, such as the U.S. Government, AT&T, Google, Microsoft, or Facebook. As you can see by this wide range of Internet users, an organization that makes laws, sets tariffs, owns portions of the cables that makeup the Internet, or has the money to buy faster speeds and pay for larger amounts of data could obtain an advantage over a smaller organization or user. In addition to size, governments of certain countries restrict both who is allowed to use the Internet and what the users can do when using the Internet. Some countries have tightly controlled Internets within their borders, and net neutrality is sometimes used more broadly to include the freedom to send and receive data without government restrictions.

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The figure below depicts how internet works today. To understand net neutrality and how ISPs interfere to circumvent net neutrality, this figure must be memorised:

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There are a lot of emotional terms used to describe various aspects of what makes the melting pot of the neutrality debate. For example, censorship or black-holing (where route filtering, fire-walling and port blocking might say what is happening in less insightful way); free-riding is often bandied about to describe the business of making money on the net (rather than overlay service provision); monopolistic tendencies, instead of the natural inclination of an organisation that owns a lot of kit that they’ve sunk capital into, to want to make revenue from it!

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Growth of internet:

As the flood of data across the internet continues to increase, there are those that say sometime soon it is going to collapse under its own weight. Back in the early 90s, those of us that were online were just sending text e-mails of a few bytes each, traffic across the main US data lines was estimated at a few terabytes a month, steadily doubling every year. But the mid 90s saw the arrival of picture rich websites, and the invention of the MP3. Suddenly each net user wanted megabytes of pictures and music, and the monthly traffic figure exploded. For the next few years we saw more steady growth with traffic again roughly doubling every year. But since 2003, we have seen another change in the way we use the net. The YouTube generation want to stream video, and download gigabytes of data in one go. In one day, YouTube sends data equivalent to 75 billion e-mails; so it’s clearly very different. The network is growing up, is starting to get more capacity than it ever had, but it is a challenge. Video is real-time; it needs to not have mistakes or errors. E-mail can be a little slow. You wouldn’t notice if it was 11 seconds rather than 10, but you would notice that on a video.

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Introduction to net neutrality:

The Internet owes much of its success to the fact that it is open and easily accessible, provided that the user has an Internet connection. Any content provider who has opportunity to test its ideas and their relative value in the marketplace can put its content on internet. The required investment, such as buying a domain name, renting a space on a server and implementing its application or software has been relatively low. As a result, new services have been made available to consumers: browsing, mailing, Peer-to-Peer (P2P), instant messaging, Internet telephony (Voice over Internet Protocol ‘VoIP’), videoconference, gaming online, video streaming, etc. This development has taken place mainly on a commercial basis without any regulatory intervention.

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Net neutrality is the principle that all data on the internet is equal, and must be treated equally with no discrimination on the basis of content, user or design by governments and Internet Service Providers (ISP’s). Net Neutrality is the principle that all data on the internet is transported using best effort. This includes not discriminating for origin and service. Under this principle, consumers can make their own choices about what applications and services to use and are free to decide what lawful content they want to access, create, or share with others… Once you’re online, you don’t have to ask permission or pay tolls to broadband providers to reach others on the network. If you develop an innovative new website, you don’t have to get permission to share it with the world. For example, Times is a widely popular online newspaper, while Mirror has comparatively fewer visitors to their website. Right now, if Mirror wanted to boost their page views, they would have to write more engaging stories and find ways to share their content so that more people read it. They are not allowed to make deals with ISP’s to charge customers less money if they visit Mirror website. Net Neutrality means that Internet Service Providers should bill you on the amount of bandwidth you have consumed, and not on which website you visited. Net neutrality is the principle that all packets of data over the internet should be transmitted equally, without discrimination. So, for example, net neutrality ensures that my blog can be accessed just as quickly as, say the BBC website. Essentially, it prevents ISPs from discriminating between sites, organisations etc. whereby those with the deepest pockets can pay to get in the fast lane, whilst the rest have to contend with the slow lane. Instead, every website is treated equally, preventing the big names from delivering their data faster than a small independent online service. This ensures that no one organisation can deliver their data any quicker than anyone else, enabling a fair and open playing field that encourages innovation and diversity in the range of information material online. The principles of net neutrality are effectively the reason why we have a (reasonably) diverse online space that enables anyone to create a website and reach a large volume of people. Network neutrality is the idea that Internet service providers must allow customers equal access to content and applications regardless of the source or nature of the content. Presently the Internet is indeed neutral: All Internet traffic is treated equally on a first‐come, first‐serve basis by Internet backbone owners. The Internet is neutral because it was built on phone lines, which are subject to ‘common carriage’ laws. These laws require phone companies to treat all calls and customers equally. They cannot offer extra benefits to customers willing to pay higher premiums for faster or clearer calls, a model knows as tiered service.

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Net neutrality is not a new concept relative to the age of the Internet; its roots are embedded within the founders.  Net Neutrality refers to a guiding principle that preserves the free and open Internet with no discrimination.  It makes it such that an Internet Service Provider (ISP) cannot discriminate the speed of the connection – or lack thereof – to one content provider versus another (Eudes 2008). When the Internet was first invented, founders wanted to be sure that it was to provide a safe haven for the transportation of information without any biases. They wanted to ensure that all people had a consistent way to use the Internet; regardless of their connection and social status (Margulius, 2003). Net Neutrality has two polarizing factions; those who are in favor, and those who are not. On this topic there is not a middle ground. Those who are in favor of Net Neutrality consist of organizations like Microsoft, Google, and other content providers.  Those who are against Net Neutrality are generally made of telecommunication network organizations and/or ISPs (Owen 2007).  Network neutrality, or open inter-working, means in accessing the World Wide Web, one is in full control over how to go online, where to go and what to do, as long as these are lawful. So firms that provide Internet services should treat all lawful Internet content in a neutral manner. It also required such companies not to charge users, content, platform, site, application or mode of communication differentially. These are also the founding principles of the Internet and what has made it the largest and most diverse platform for expression in recent history.

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Net neutrality is when an ISP treats all content on the internet neutrally, and does not prioritize one over the other. ISPs are charging content companies because money makes their shareholders happy. Also because they believe they have the right to do so when a certain content provider (e.g. netflix) takes up the majority of the bandwidth from their data centers. Companies are concerned because it will give ISPs free reign to downright slow down any content they please and demand money to bring it to normal speed. Whether you’re accessing How-To Geek, Google, or a tiny website running on shared hosting somewhere, your Internet service provider treats these connections equally and forwards the data along without prioritizing any one party. Your Internet service provider could prioritize data from Google, charging them for the privilege. They could throttle Netflix while providing you with unlimited bandwidth to stream videos from their own video-streaming service. They could restrict the bandwidth available to VoIP applications and encourage you to keep paying for a phone line. They could throttle connections to websites run by startups and other individuals that haven’t signed a contract with the Internet service provider to pay for priority access. These actions would all be violations of net neutrality. However, by and large, Internet service providers don’t violate net neutrality in this way. They just forward packets along — that’s the way the Internet has worked and it has given us the Internet we have today.

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The figure below shows how ISPs would like the internet to be without net neutrality:

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One percent of the world’s population controls almost 50 percent of the world’s wealth, according to the poverty eradication nonprofit Oxfam. Advocates of net neutrality worry that loosening the rules for ISPs will result in a one-percent version of the Internet. Here’s how it could happen. In 2004, Internet traffic was more or less equally distributed across thousands of Web companies. Just 10 years later, half of all Internet traffic originated from only 30 companies. The top three websites by daily unique visitors and page views are Google, Facebook and YouTube. In terms of data, Netflix and YouTube hog more than half of all downstream traffic in North America. That means one out of every two bytes of data traveling across the Internet is streaming video from Netflix or YouTube. If the distribution of Internet traffic is so out of whack now, imagine what it would be like if ISPs were given the green light to give further preferential treatment to the biggest players. Would there be any bandwidth left for the 99 percent — independent video producers, upstart social media sites, bloggers and podcasters? This is a really important reason why you should care about net neutrality. The Internet, as it exists today, is an open forum for free speech and freedom of expression. Websites publishing both popular and unpopular viewpoints are treated equally in terms of how their data gets from servers to screens. If the FCC allows Internet service providers (ISPs) to charge extra money for access to Internet last-mile fast lanes, the playing field of free speech is no longer equal. Those with the money to pay for special treatment could broadcast their opinions more quickly and more smoothly than their opponents. Those without as many resources — activists, artists and political outsiders — could be relegated to the Internet slow lane.

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If you’re lucky enough to live in a country that doesn’t regulate the information you access online, you probably take net neutrality for granted. You search the Web unrestricted by government censors, free to choose what information to believe or discard, and what websites and online services to patronize. In mainland China, citizens of the highly restrictive communist regime enjoy no such freedoms. This is what a heavily censored and closely monitored Internet looks like:

1. Chinese internet service providers (ISPs) block access to a long list of sites banned by the government.

2. Specific search terms are red flagged; type them into Google and you’ll be blocked from the search engine for 90 seconds.

3. Chinese ISPs are given lists of problematic keywords and ordered to take down pages that include those words.

4. The government and private companies employ 100,000 people to police the Internet and snitch on dissenters.

5. The government also pays people to post pro-government messages on social networks, blogs and message boards.

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The unequal Web:

The figure above shows that richer countries rank highest for net access, freedom and openness. The web is becoming less free and more unequal, according to a report from the World Wide Web Foundation. Its annual web index suggests web users are at increasing risk of government surveillance, with laws preventing mass snooping weak or non-existent in over 84% of countries. It also indicates that online censorship is on the rise. The report led web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee to call for net access to be recognised as a human right. That means guaranteeing affordable access for all, ensuring internet packets are delivered without commercial or political discrimination, and protecting the privacy and freedom of web users regardless of where they live.

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Net neutrality worldwide:

This map shows data from Glasnost, one of the measurement lab tools for examining your internet connection. Authors map the percentage of tests where violations of net neutrality was discovered worldwide. Data covers the period from 2012-12-26 00:02:11 to 2013-12-22 23:59:19.

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Outline of computer, internet, bits, bytes, speed, packets and internet protocol:

Computer is defined as a programmable machine that computes (stores, processes and retrieves) information (data) according to a set of instructions (program). Computer processes data in numerical form and its digital electronic circuits perform mathematical operations using Binary System. Binary system means using only two digits for arithmetic processing, namely, 0 and 1 known as bits (binary digits).

0 means absence of current/voltage in electronic circuit = off

1 means presence of current/voltage in electronic circuit = on

A series of 8 consecutive bits is known as a byte which permits 256 different on/off combinations.

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Computers see everything in terms of binary. In binary systems, everything is described using two values or states: on or off, true or false, yes or no, 1 or 0. A light switch could be regarded as a binary system, since it is always either on or off. As complex as they may seem, on a conceptual level computers are nothing more than boxes full of millions of “light switches.” Each of the switches in a computer is called a bit, short for binary digit. A computer can turn each bit either on or off. Your computer likes to describe on as 1 and off as 0. By itself, a single bit is kind of useless, as it can only represent one of two things. By arranging bits in groups, the computer is able to describe more complex ideas than just on or off. The most common arrangement of bits in a group is called a byte, which is a group of eight bits.

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Internet is defined as a global communication system of data connectivity between computers using transmission control protocol (TCP) and internet protocol (IP) to serve billions of users in the world. Internet is the greatest invention in communication breaking barriers of age/distance/language/religion/race/region and making the world a better place to live in. If you do not have internet access in 21′st century, you are illiterate. Internet scores over media due to internet’s openness and neutrality. Every school must teach basics of computer and internet to students.

Data transfer rate (speed) of internet is usually in bits per second.

1000 bits per second = 1 kilobit per second (Kbps)

1000000 bits per second = 1 megabit per second (Mbps) = 1000 Kbps

Broadband means download internet speed of more than 4 Mbps and upload internet speed of more than 1 Mbps. Newer technology with fiber-optic cables can give internet speed of 100 Mbps.

The speed of travel of data from computer to computer through wireless technology (air) is same as the speed of radio waves (speed of light) which is 300,000 kilo meters per second. The speed of travel of data from computer to computer through wired network is same of speed of electricity which is also near speed of light. Please do not confuse between speed of data travel i.e. speed of light and internet speed i.e. data transfer rate in Kbps or Mbps which refers to the speed of  digital data converted into radio waves or electricity and not the speed of data when traveling through the air or wires. Data transfer rate and data travel rate are different. The term latency is used to determine amount of time taken by packets to travel from source to destination. Since speed of light is constant and fastest, latency depends on time taken by packets to travel through routers (queuing) and other hardware/software.

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IP address:

The picture below illustrates two computers connected to the Internet; your computer with IP address 1.2.3.4 and another computer with IP address 5.6.7.8. The Internet is represented as an abstract object in-between.

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An Internet Protocol address (IP address) is a numerical label assigned to each device (e.g., computer, printer) participating in a computer network that uses the Internet Protocol for communication.  An IP address serves two principal functions: host or network interface identification and location addressing. A name indicates what we seek. An address indicates where it is. A route indicates how to get there. The designers of the Internet Protocol defined an IP address as a 32-bit number and this system, known as Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4), is still in use today. However, because of the growth of the Internet and the predicted depletion of available addresses, a new version of IP (IPv6), using 128 bits for the address, was developed in 1995. IP addresses are usually written and displayed in human-readable notations, such as 172.16.254.1 (IPv4), and 2001:db8:0:1234:0:567:8:1 (IPv6). Each version defines an IP address differently. Because of its prevalence, the generic term IP address typically still refers to the addresses defined by IPv4. IPv4 addresses are canonically represented in dot-decimal notation, which consists of four decimal numbers, each ranging from 0 to 255, separated by dots, e.g., 172.16.254.1. Each part represents a group of 8 bits (octet) of the address. In some cases of technical writing, IPv4 addresses may be presented in various hexadecimal, octal, or binary representations. There are about 4.3 billion IP addresses. The class-based, legacy addressing scheme places heavy restrictions on the distribution of these addresses. TCP/IP networks are inherently router-based, and it takes much less overhead to keep track of a few networks than millions of them. The rapid exhaustion of IPv4 address space, despite conservation techniques, prompted the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to explore new technologies to expand the addressing capability in the Internet. The permanent solution was deemed to be a redesign of the Internet Protocol itself. This new generation of the Internet Protocol, intended to replace IPv4 on the Internet, was eventually named Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) in 1995.  The address size was increased from 32 to 128 bits or 16 octets. This, even with a generous assignment of network blocks, is deemed sufficient for the foreseeable future. Mathematically, the new address space provides the potential for a maximum of 2128, or about 3.403×1038 addresses. The Domain Name System (DNS) converts IP addresses to domain names so that users only need to specify a domain name to access a computer on the Internet instead of typing the numeric IP address.  DNS servers maintain a database containing IP addresses mapped to their corresponding domain names.

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IP address assignment:

Internet Protocol addresses are assigned to a host either anew at the time of booting, or permanently by fixed configuration of its hardware or software. Persistent configuration is also known as using a static IP address. In contrast, in situations when the computer’s IP address is assigned newly each time, this is known as using a dynamic IP address. An Internet Service Provider (ISP) will generally assign either a static IP address (always the same) or a dynamic address (changes every time one logs on). If you connect to the Internet from a local area network (LAN) your computer might have a permanent IP address or it might obtain a temporary one from a DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) server. In any case, if you are connected to the Internet, your computer has a unique IP address.

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Packets and protocols:

When a file is sent from one computer to another, it is broken into small pieces called packets. A typical packet contains perhaps 1,000 or 1,500 bytes. It turns out that everything you do on the Internet involves packets. For example, every Web page that you receive comes as a series of packets, and every e-mail you send leaves as a series of packets. The packets are labelled individually with origin, destination and place in the original file. The packets are sent sequentially over network. Each packet carries the information that will help it get to its destination — the sender’s IP address, the intended receiver’s IP address, something that tells the network how many packets this e-mail message has been broken into and the number of this particular packet. When a packet get on a router, the router looks at the packet to see where it needs to go. The routers determine where to send information from one computer to another. Routers are specialized computers that send your messages and those of every other Internet user speeding to their destinations along thousands of pathways. The packets carry the data in the protocols that the Internet uses: Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). Using “pure” IP, a computer first breaks down the message to be sent into small packets, each labelled with the address of the destination machine; the computer then passes those packets along to the next connected Internet machine (router), which looks at the destination address and then passes it along to the next connected internet machine, which looks the destination address and pass it along, and so forth, until the packets (we hope) reach the destination machine. IP is thus a “best efforts” communication service, meaning that it does its best to deliver the sender’s packets to the intended destination, but it cannot make any guarantees. If, for some reason, one of the intermediate computers “drops” (i.e., deletes) some of the packets, the dropped packets will not reach the destination and the sending computer will not know whether or why they were dropped. By itself, IP can’t ensure that the packets arrived in the correct order, or even that they arrived at all. That’s the job of another protocol: TCP (Transmission Control Protocol). TCP sits “on top” of IP and ensures that all the packets sent from one machine to another are received and assembled in the correct order. Should any of the packets get dropped during transmission, the destination machine uses TCP to request that the sending machine resend the lost packets, and to acknowledge them when they arrive. TCP’s job is to make sure that transmissions get received in full, and to notify the sender that everything arrived OK. Each packet is sent off to its destination by the best available route — a route that might be taken by all the other packets in the message or by none of the other packets in the message. This makes the network more efficient. First, the network can balance the load across various pieces of equipment on a millisecond-by-millisecond basis. Second, if there is a problem with one piece of equipment in the network while a message is being transferred, packets can be routed around the problem, ensuring the delivery of the entire message. Packets don’t necessarily all take the same path — they’ll generally travel the path of least resistance. That’s an important feature. Because packets can travel multiple paths to get to their destination, it’s possible for information to route around congested areas on the Internet. In fact, as long as some connections remain, entire sections of the Internet could go down and information could still travel from one section to another — though it might take longer than normal. When the packets get to you, your device arranges them according to the rules of the protocols. It’s kind of like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. When you send an e-mail, it gets broken into packets before zooming across the Internet. Phone calls over the Internet also convert conversations into packets using the Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP).

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Many things can happen to packets as they travel from origin to destination, resulting in the following problems as seen from the point of view of the sender and receiver:

Low throughput:

Due to varying load from disparate users sharing the same network resources, the bit rate (the maximum throughput) that can be provided to a certain data stream may be too low for realtime multimedia services if all data streams get the same scheduling priority.

Dropped packets:

The routers might fail to deliver (drop) some packets if their data loads are corrupted, or the packets arrive when the router buffers are already full. The receiving application may ask for this information to be retransmitted, possibly causing severe delays in the overall transmission.

Errors:

Sometimes packets are corrupted due to bit errors caused by noise and interference, especially in wireless communications and long copper wires. The receiver has to detect this and, just as if the packet was dropped, may ask for this information to be retransmitted.

Latency:

Latency is defined as the time it takes for a source to send a packet of data to a receiver. Latency is typically measured in milliseconds. The lower the latency (the fewer the milliseconds), the better the network performance. It might take a long time for each packet to reach its destination, because it gets held up in long queues, or it takes a less direct route to avoid congestion. This is different from throughput, as the delay can build up over time, even if the throughput is almost normal. In some cases, excessive latency can render an application such as VoIP or online gaming unusable. Ideally latency is as close to zero as possible.

Jitter:

Packets from the source will reach the destination with different delays. A packet’s delay varies with its position in the queues of the routers along the path between source and destination and this position can vary unpredictably. This variation in delay is known as jitter and can seriously affect the quality of streaming audio and/or video.

Out-of-order delivery:

When a collection of related packets is routed through a network, different packets may take different routes, each resulting in a different delay. The result is that the packets arrive in a different order than they were sent. This problem requires special additional protocols responsible for rearranging out-of-order packets to an isochronous state once they reach their destination. This is especially important for video and VoIP streams where quality is dramatically affected by both latency and lack of sequence.

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Protocols:

At their most basic level, protocols establish the rules for how information passes through the Internet. Protocols are to computers what language is to humans. Since this article is in English, to understand it you must be able to read English. Similarly, for two devices on a network to successfully communicate, they must both understand the same protocols. Without these rules, you would need direct connections to other computers to access the information they hold. You’d also need both your computer and the target computer to understand a common language. When you want to send a message or retrieve information from another computer, the TCP/IP protocols are what make the transmission possible. You’ve probably heard of several protocols on the Internet. For example, hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) is what we use to view Web sites through a browser — that’s what the http at the front of any Web address stands for. If you’ve ever used an FTP server, you relied on the file transfer protocol. Protocols like these and dozens more create the framework within which all devices must operate to be part of the Internet.

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Protocol Stacks:

So your computer is connected to the Internet and has a unique address. How does it ‘talk’ to other computers connected to the Internet? An example should serve here: Let’s say your IP address is 1.2.3.4 and you want to send a message to the computer 5.6.7.8. The message you want to send is “Hello computer 5.6.7.8!”  Obviously, the message must be transmitted over whatever kind of wire connects your computer to the Internet. Let’s say you’ve dialled into your ISP from home and the message must be transmitted over the phone line. Therefore the message must be translated from alphabetic text into electronic signals, transmitted over the Internet, then translated back into alphabetic text. How is this accomplished? Through the use of a protocol stack. Every computer needs one to communicate on the Internet and it is usually built into the computer’s operating system (i.e. Windows, Unix, etc.). The protocol stack used on the Internet is referred to as the TCP/IP protocol stack because of the two major communication protocols used. The TCP/IP stack looks like this:

Protocol Layer Comments
Application Protocols Layer Protocols specific to applications such as WWW, e-mail, FTP, etc.
Transmission Control Protocol Layer TCP directs packets to a specific application on a computer using a port number.
Internet Protocol Layer IP directs packets to a specific computer using an IP address.
Hardware Layer Converts binary packet data to network signals and back.
(E.g. Ethernet network card, modem for phone lines, etc.)

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If we were to follow the path that the message “Hello computer 5.6.7.8!” took from our computer to the computer with IP address 5.6.7.8, it would happen something like this:

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Internet layers/protocol layers:

The internet layer is a group of internetworking methods, protocols, and specifications in the Internet protocol suite that are used to transport datagrams (packets) from the originating host across network boundaries to the destination host specified by a network address (IP address) which is defined for this purpose by the Internet Protocol (IP). A common design aspect in the internet layer is the robustness principle: ‘Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you send’ as a misbehaving host can deny Internet service to many other users. The internet layer of the TCP/IP model is often compared directly with the network layer (layer 3) in the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) protocol stack. OSI’s network layer is a catch-all layer for all protocols that facilitate network functionality. The internet layer, on the other hand, is specifically a suite of protocols that facilitate internetworking using the Internet Protocol.  Protocol layers exist to reduce design complexity and improve portability and support for change. Networks are organised as series of layers or levels each built on the one below. The purpose of each layer is to offer services required by higher levels and to shield higher layers from the implementation details of lower layers.

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OSI Reference Model:

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OSI consists of 7 layers of protocols, i.e., of 7 different areas in which the protocols operate. In principle, the areas are distinct and of increasing generality; in practice, the boundaries between the layers are not always sharp. The model draws a clear distinction between a service, something that an application program or a higher-level protocol uses, and the protocols themselves, which are sets of rules for providing services.

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The OSI Model was developed to help provide a better understanding of how a network operates. The better you understand the model the better you will understand networking.  It is composed of seven OSI layers.  Each layer is unique and supports the creation and control of data packets. The layers start with Physical and ends with the Application.  The first three layers relate to network equipment.  For example, switches are layer 2 devices and routers are layer 3 devices.

1. The first layer is the Physical layer and is where the data is either put onto the media or taken off the media. The media could be the network cable or wireless.  The data is in the form of bits and is called Bits as the PDU (protocol data unit). These bits can be voltage levels that represent binary numbers of 1 or 0.  They could also be light pulses traveling on a fiber optic cable or radio wave pulses for a wireless network.

2. The second layer is the Data Link layer and is where framing of the data takes place. The Frame is the PDU name at this layer.  The MAC (media access control) physical address is added or removed depending on which direction the data is traveling.  The MAC address is used by switches to switch the data to the appropriate computer or node that it is intended for in a LAN (local area network).

3. The third layer is the Network layer and is where the IP (internet protocol) address is added or removed and the PDU at this layer is called a Packet.  Routers operate at this level and use the IP (logical address) to route the data to the appropriate network. Network locations are found by the routers using routing tables to locate the appropriate networks.

4. The fourth layer is the Transport layer and is where the data is segmented (broken into pieces) and used by the TCP protocol to ensure accurate and reliable data is transferred. The data segments are numbers so that proper sequencing can be determined on the receiving side in order to rebuild accurate files. The PDU name at this layer is called Segment.

5. The fifth layer is the Session layer and is where the session is created, maintained, and torn-down when finished.

6. The sixth layer is the Presentation layer and is where the data is formatted or decrypted into files that the user can understand.

7. The seventh layer is the Application layer and is the user interface to the network where that data is either being generated or received.

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The Internet, like any other computer network, is defined in terms of layers; these are the often-referenced “OSI Layers”. This division into layers is a logical (rather than physical) one; the data traversing the network is eventually one long series of bits — 0′s and 1′s. Such “layers” is how we address the representation of those many bits; their grouping into clusters of bits that have meaning. The different network layers are different levels of interpretation of this large set of bits moving along the wire. Understanding the same raw traffic at different layers allows us to bridge the semantic gap between a bunch of 0′s and 1′s and an e-mail being sent or to a web site being browsed. After all, all emails and browsing sessions end up as 0′s and 1′s on a wire. Processing those sequences of bits at different layers of abstraction is what makes the network as versatile as it is and technically manageable. In a nutshell, Internet traffic is interpreted at seven layers, where each layer introduces meaningful data objects and uses the underlying layer to transfer these objects. Each of the many components of the Internet (applications sending and receiving data, routers, modems, and wires) knows how to process data at its own layer and needs not be aware of what the data represents at higher layers or of how data is processed by the lower layers.

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Understanding the layered architecture of the Internet allows us to define net neutrality:

Network neutrality is the adherence to the paradigm that operation at a certain layer, by a network component (or provider) that is chartered for operating at that layer, is not influenced by interpretation of the processed data at higher layers. So network neutrality is an intended feature of the Internet. A component operating at a certain layer is not required to understand the data it processes at higher layers. The network card operating at Layer 2 does not need to know that it is sending an e-mail message (Layer 7). It only needs to know that it is sending a frame (Layer 2) with a certain opaque payload. Net-neutrality is thus built into the Internet. When expanding the notion of net neutrality from the purely technical domain to the service domain, we can define network neutrality as the adherence to the paradigm that operation of a service at a certain layer is not influenced by any data other than the data interpreted at that layer, and in accordance with the protocol specification for that layer. Therefore, a service provider is said to operate in net neutrality if it provides the service in a way what is strictly “by the book”, where “the book” is the specification of the network protocol it implements as its service. Its operation is network-neutral if it is not impacted by any other logic other than that of implementing the network layer protocol that it is chartered at implementing.

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Router:

So how do packets find their way across the Internet? Does every computer connected to the Internet know where the other computers are? Do packets simply get ‘broadcast’ to every computer on the Internet? The answer to both the preceding questions is ‘no’. No computer knows where any of the other computers are, and packets do not get sent to every computer. The information used to get packets to their destinations are contained in routing tables kept by each router connected to the Internet. Routers are packet switches. A router is usually connected between networks to route packets between them. Each router knows about its sub-networks and which IP addresses they use. The router usually doesn’t know what IP addresses are ‘above’ it. When a packet arrives at a router, the router examines the IP address put there by the IP protocol layer on the originating computer. The router checks its routing table. If the network containing the IP address is found, the packet is sent to that network. If the network containing the IP address is not found, then the router sends the packet on a default route, usually up the backbone hierarchy to the next router. Hopefully the next router will know where to send the packet. If it does not, again the packet is routed upwards until it reaches a NSP (network service provider) backbone. The routers connected to the NSP backbones hold the largest routing tables and here the packet will be routed to the correct backbone, where it will begin its journey ‘downward’ through smaller and smaller networks until it finds its destination.

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Modem vs. router:

A router is a device that forwards data packets along networks. A router is connected to at least two networks, commonly two LANs or WANs or a LAN and its ISP’s network. Routers are located at gateways, the places where two or more networks connect. While connecting to a router provides access to a local area network (LAN), it does not necessarily provide access to the Internet. In order for devices on the network to connect to the Internet, the router must be connected to a modem. While the router and modem are usually separate entities, in some cases, the modem and router may be combined into a single device. This type of hybrid device is sometimes offered by ISPs to simplify the setup process.

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Modem:

A modem (modulator-demodulator) is a device that modulates signals to encode digital information and demodulates signals to decode the transmitted information. The goal is to produce a signal that can be transmitted easily and decoded to reproduce the original digital data. A modem is a device that provides access to the Internet. The modem connects to your ISP. Modems can be used with any means of transmitting analog signals, from light emitting diodes to radio. A common type of modem is one that turns the digital data of a computer into modulated electrical signal for transmission over telephone lines and demodulated by another modem at the receiver side to recover the digital data. Modems which use a mobile telephone system (GPRS, UMTS, HSPA, EVDO, WiMax, etc.), are known as mobile broadband modems (sometimes also called wireless modems). Wireless modems can be embedded inside a laptop or appliance, or be external to it. External wireless modems are connect cards, USB modems for mobile broadband and cellular routers. A connect card is a PC Card or ExpressCard which slides into a PCMCIA/PC card/ExpressCard slot on a computer. USB wireless modems use a USB port on the laptop instead of a PC card or ExpressCard slot. A USB modem used for mobile broadband Internet is also sometimes referred to as a dongle. A cellular router may have an external datacard (AirCard) that slides into it. Most cellular routers do allow such datacards or USB modems. Cellular routers may not be modems by definition, but they contain modems or allow modems to be slid into them. The difference between a cellular router and a wireless modem is that a cellular router normally allows multiple people to connect to it (since it can route data or support multipoint to multipoint connections), while a modem is designed for one connection. By connecting your modem to your router (instead of directly to a computer), all devices connected to the router can access the modem, and therefore, the Internet. The router provides a local IP address to each connected device, but they will all have the same external IP address, which is assigned by your ISP.

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The figure below shows request path and return path of internet utilizing modem, router and DNS server:

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In order to retrieve this article, your computer had to connect with the Web server containing the article’s file. We’ll use that as an example of how data travels across the Internet. First, you open your Web browser and connect to our Web site. When you do this, your computer sends an electronic request over your Internet connection to your Internet service provider (ISP). The ISP routes the request to a server further up the chain on the Internet. Eventually, the request will hit a domain name server (DNS). This server will look for a match for the domain name you’ve typed in (www.drrajivdesaimd.com). If it finds a match, it will direct your request to the proper server’s IP address. If it doesn’t find a match, it will send the request further up the chain to a server that has more information. The request will eventually come to our Web server. Our server will respond by sending the requested file in a series of packets.

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Peer to Peer file sharing:

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Peer-to-peer file sharing is different from traditional file downloading. In peer-to-peer sharing, you use a software program (rather than your Web browser) to locate computers that have the file you want. Because these are ordinary computers like yours, as opposed to servers, they are called peers. The process works like this:

•You run peer-to-peer file-sharing software (for example, a Gnutella program) on your computer and send out a request for the file you want to download.

•To locate the file, the software queries other computers that are connected to the Internet and running the file-sharing software.

•When the software finds a computer that has the file you want on its hard drive, the download begins.

•Others using the file-sharing software can obtain files they want from your computer’s hard drive.

The file-transfer load is distributed between the computers exchanging files, but file searches and transfers from your computer to others can cause bottlenecks. Some people download files and immediately disconnect without allowing others to obtain files from their system, which is called leeching. This limits the number of computers the software can search for the requested file.  As Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file exchange applications gain popularity, Internet service providers are faced with new challenges and opportunities to sustain and increase profitability from the broadband IP network. Unlike other P2P download methods, BitTorrent maximizes transfer speed by gathering pieces of the file you want and downloading these pieces simultaneously from people who already have them. This process makes popular and very large files, such as videos and television programs, download much faster than is possible with other protocols. Due to the unique and aggressive usage of network resources by Peer-to-Peer technologies, network usage patterns are changing and provisioned capacity is no longer sufficient. Extensive use of Peer-to-Peer file exchange causes network congestion and performance deterioration, and ultimately leads to customer dissatisfaction and churn.

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Note:

Please do not confuse between peering and peer-to-peer file transfer. Peering is direct connection between ISP and content provider (e.g. Google) bypassing internet backbone while peer to peer is sharing files between client computers rather than downloading file from content provider. During peering, you are getting file from content provider at faster speed while during P2P, you are getting file from another user’s computer at faster speed. Peering is violation of net neutrality by ISP while P2P is violation of net neutrality by consumers.

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End-to-end principle:

The principle states that, whenever possible, communications protocol operations should be defined to occur at the end-points of a communications system, or as close as possible to the resource being controlled. This leads to the model of a minimal dumb network with smart terminals, a completely different model from the previous paradigm of the smart network with dumb terminals. All of the intelligence is held by producers and users, not the networks that connect them. End-to-end design of the network entails that the intelligence would be exclusively located at the edges of the Internet (i.e. with end users), and not at the core (i.e. with networks).  If the hosts need a mechanism to provide some functionality, then the network should not interfere or participate in that mechanism unless it absolutely has to. Or, more simply put, the network should mind its own business. If a network function can be implemented correctly and completely using the functionalities available on the end-hosts, that function should be implemented on the end-hosts without delegating any task to the network (i.e., intermediary nodes in between the end-hosts). Because the end-to-end principle is one of the central design principles of the Internet, and because the practical means for implementing data discrimination violate the end-to-end principle, the principle often enters discussions about net neutrality (NN). The end-to-end principle is closely related, and sometimes seen as a direct precursor to the principle of net neutrality.

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The Internet is a global, interconnected and decentralised autonomous computer network. We can access the Internet via connections provided by Internet access providers (ISP). These access providers transmit the information that we send over the Internet in so-called data “packets”. The way in which data is sent and received on the Internet can be compared to sending the pages of a book by post in lots of different envelopes. The post office can send the pages by different routes and, when they are received, the envelopes can be removed and the pages put back together in the right order. When we connect to the Internet, each one of us becomes an endpoint in this global network, with the freedom to connect to any other endpoint, whether this is another person’s computer (“peer-to-peer”), a website, an e-mail system, a video stream or whatever.

The success of the Internet is based on two simple but crucial components of its architecture:

1. Every connected device can connect to every other connected device.

2. All services use the “Internet Protocol,” which is sufficiently flexible and simple to carry all types of content (video, e-mail, messaging etc.) unlike networks that are designed for just one purpose, such as the voice telephony system.

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Technical internet:

Internet is the abbreviation of the term internetwork, which describes the connection between computer networks all around the world on the basis of the same set of communication protocols. At its start in the 1960s, the Internet was a closed research network between just a few universities, intended to transmit text messages. The architectural design of the Internet was guided by two fundamental design principles: Messages are fragmented into data packets that are routed through the network autonomously (end-to-end principle) and as fast as possible (best-effort principle [BE]). This entails that intermediate nodes, so-called routers, do not differentiate packets based on their content or source. Rather, routers maintain routing tables in which they store the next node that lies on the supposedly shortest path to the packet’s destination address. However, as each router acts autonomously along when deciding the path along which it sends a packet, no router has end-to-end control over which path the packet is send from sender to receiver. Moreover, it is possible, even likely, that packets from the same message flow may take different routes through the network. Packets are stored in a router’s queue if they arrive at a faster rate than the rate at which the router can send out packets. If the router’s queue is full, the package is deleted (dropped) and must be resent by the source node. Full router queues are the main reason for congestion on the Internet. However, no matter how important a data packet may be, routers would always process their queue according to the first-in-first-out principle. These fundamental principles always were (and remain in the context of the NN debate) key elements of the open Internet spirit. Essentially, they establish that all data packets sent to the network are treated equally and that no intermediate node can exercise control over the network as a whole. This historic and romantic view of the Internet neglects that Quality of Service (QoS) has always been an issue for the network of networks. Over and beyond the sending of mere text messages, there is a desire for reliable transmission of information that is time critical (low latency), or for which it is desired that data packets are received at a steady rate and in a particular order (low jitter). Voice communication, for example, requires both, low latency and low jitter. This desire for QoS was manifested in the architecture of the Internet as early as January 1, 1983, when the Internet was switched over to the Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). In particular, the Internet protocol version 4 (IPv4), which constitutes the nuts and bolts of the Internet since then, already contains a type of service (TOS) field in its header by which routers could prioritize packets in their queues and thereby establish QoS. However, a general agreement on how to handle data with different TOS entries was never reached and thus the TOS field was not used accordingly. Consequently, in telecommunications engineering, research on new protocols and mechanisms to enable QoS in the Internet has spurred ever since, long before the NN debate came to life. In addition, data packets can even be differentiated solely based on what type of data they are carrying, without the need for an explicit marking in the protocol header. This is possible by means of so-called Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). All of these features are currently deployed in the Internet as we know it, and many of them have been deployed for decades. The NN debate, however, sometimes questions the existence and use of QoS mechanisms in the Internet and argues that the success of the Internet was only possible due to the BE principle. While the vision of an Internet that is based purely on the BE principle is certainly not true, some of these claims nevertheless deserve credit.

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Commercial internet:

Another far-reaching event was the steady commercialization of the Internet in the 1990s. At about the same time, the disruptive innovation of content visualization and linkage via the Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML), the so called World Wide Web (WWW) made the Internet a global success. Private firms began to heavily invest in backbone infrastructure and commercial ISPs provided access to the Internet, at first predominately by dial up connections. The average data traffic per household severely increased with the availability of broadband and rich media content (Bauer et al., 2009). According to the Minnesota Internet Traffic Studies (Odlyzko et al., 2012) Internet traffic in the US is growing annually by about 50 percent. The increase in network traffic is the consequence of the on-going transition of the Internet to a fundamental universal access technology. Media consumption using traditional platforms such as broadcasting and cable is declining and content is instead consumed via the Internet. Today the commercial Internet ecosystem consists of several players. Internet users (IUs) are connected to the network by their local access provider (ISP), while content and service providers (CSPs) offer a wide range of applications and content to the mass of potential consumers. All of these actors are spread around the world and interconnect with each other over the Internet’s backbone, which is under the control of an oligopoly of big network providers (Economides, 2005). The Internet has become a trillion dollar industry (Pélissié du Rausas et al., 2011) and has emerged from a mere network of networks to the market of markets. Much of the NN debate is devoted to the question whether the market for Internet access should be a free market, or whether it should be regulated in the sense that some feasible revenue flows are to be prohibited.

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The principal Internet services:

• E‐mail person‐to‐person messaging; document sharing.

• Newsgroups discussion groups on electronic bulletin boards.

• Chatting and instant messaging interactive conversations.

• Telnet logging on to one computer system and doing work on another.

• File Transfer Protocol (FTP) transferring files from computer to computer.

• World Wide Web retrieving, formatting, and displaying information (including text, audio, graphics, and video) using hypertext links.

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The modern Internet was invented to be a free and open network that allows anyone with a Web connection to communicate directly with any individual or computer on that network. Over the past 25 years, the Internet has transformed the way we do just about everything. Think about the conveniences and services that wouldn’t exist without the Internet:

• instant access to information about everything email

• online shopping

• online social networks

• independent global news sources

• streaming movies, TV shows and music

• online banking

• video calls and videoconferencing

The Internet has evolved so quickly and works so well precisely because the technology behind the Internet is neutral. In other words, the physical cables, routers, switches, servers and software that run the Internet treat every byte of data equally. A streaming movie from Netflix shares the same crowded fiber optic cable as the pictures from your niece’s birthday. The Internet doesn’t pick favourites. That, at its core, is what net neutrality means. And that’s one of the most important reasons why you should care about it: to keep the Internet as free, open and fair as possible, just as it was designed to be.

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Networking:

Networking allows one computer to send information to and receive information from another. We may not always be aware of the numerous times we access information on computer networks. Certainly the Internet is the most conspicuous example of computer networking, linking millions of computers around the world, but smaller networks play a role in information access on a daily basis. We can classify network technologies as belonging to one of two basic groups. Local area network (LAN) technologies connect many devices that are relatively close to each other. Wide area network (WAN) technologies connect a smaller number of devices that can be many kilometers apart. Ethernet is a wired LAN technology while Wi-Fi is wireless LAN technology. WAN is a computer networking technologies used to transmit data over long distances, and between different LANs and other localised computer networking architectures. Network nodes can be connected using any given technology, from circuit switched telephone lines (DSL) through radio waves (wireless broadband/mobile broadband) through optic fibre.

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Broadband network:

The ideal telecommunication network has the following characteristics: broadband, multi-media, multi-point, multi-rate and economical implementation for a diversity of services (multi-services). The Broadband Integrated Services Digital Network (B-ISDN) intended to provide these characteristics. Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) was promoted as a target technology for meeting these requirements.

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Multi-media:

A multi-media call may communicate audio, data, still images, or full-motion video, or any combination of these media. Each medium has different demands for communication quality, such as:

1. bandwidth requirement,

2. signal latency within the network, and

3. signal fidelity upon delivery by the network.

The information content of each medium may affect the information generated by other media. For example, voice could be transcribed into data via voice recognition, and data commands may control the way voice and video are presented. These interactions most often occur at the communication terminals, but may also occur within the network.

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Internet access:

Internet access connects individual computer terminals, computers, mobile devices, and computer networks to the Internet, enabling users to access Internet services, such as email and the World Wide Web. Internet service providers (ISPs) offer Internet access through various technologies that offer a wide range of data signalling rates (speeds). Consumer use of the Internet first became popular through dial-up Internet access in the 1990s. By the first decade of the 21st century, many consumers in developed nations used faster, broadband Internet access technologies. As of 2014, broadband was ubiquitous around the world, with a global average connection speed exceeding 4 Mbit/s.

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Choosing an Internet service:

It all depends on where you live and how much speed you need. Internet service providers (ISPs) usually offer different levels of speed based on your needs. If you’re mainly using the Internet for email and social networking, a slower connection might be all you need. However, if you want to download a lot of music or watch streaming movies, you’ll want a faster connection. You’ll need to do some research to find out what the options are in your area. Here are some common types of Internet service.

Dial-up:

Dial-up is generally the slowest type of Internet connection, and you should probably avoid it unless it is the only service available in your area. Like a phone call, a dial-up modem will connect you to the Internet by dialling a number, and it will disconnect when you are done surfing the Web. Unless you have multiple phone lines, you will not be able to use your land line and the Internet at the same time with a dial-up connection.

DSL (digital subscriber line):

DSL service uses a broadband connection, which makes it much faster than dial-up. DSL is a high-speed Internet service like cable Internet. DSL provides high-speed networking over ordinary phone lines using broadband modem technology. DSL technology allows Internet and telephone service to work over the same phone line without requiring customers to disconnect either their voice or Internet connections. DSL technology theoretically supports data rates of 8.448 Mbps, although typical rates are 1.544 Mbps or lower. DSL Internet services are used primarily in homes and small businesses. DSL Internet service only works over a limited physical distance and remains unavailable in many areas where the local telephone infrastructure does not support DSL technology. However, it is unavailable in many locations, so you’ll need to contact your local ISP for information about your area. DSL connects to the Internet via phone line but does not require you to have a land line at home. Unlike dial-up, it will always be on once its set up, and you’ll be able to use the Internet and your phone line simultaneously.

Cable:

Cable service connects to the Internet via cable TV, although you do not necessarily need to have cable TV in order to get it. It uses a broadband connection and can be faster than both dial-up and DSL service; however, it is only available in places where cable TV is available.

Satellite:

A satellite connection uses broadband but does not require cable or phone lines; it connects to the Internet through satellites orbiting the Earth. As a result, it can be used almost anywhere in the world, but the connection may be affected by weather patterns. A satellite connection also relays data on a delay, so it is not the best option for people who use real-time applications, like gaming or video conferencing.

3G and 4G:

3G and 4G service is most commonly used with mobile phones and tablet computers, and it connects wirelessly through your ISP’s network. If you have a device that’s 3G or 4G enabled, you’ll be able to use it to access the Internet away from home, even when there is no Wi-Fi connection. However, you may have to pay per device to use a 3G or 4G connection, and it may not be as fast as DSL or cable.

Wireless hotspots:

If you’re out and about with an internet device like a laptop, tablet or smartphone, you might want to connect at a wireless hotspot. Wireless ‘hotspots’ are places like libraries and cafés, which offer you free access to their broadband connection (Wi-Fi). You may need to be a member of the library or a customer at a café to get the password for the wireless connection.

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Wired vs. wireless internet access:

A wired network connects devices to the Internet or other network using cables. The most common wired networks use cables connected to Ethernet ports on the network router on one end and to a computer or other device on the cable’s opposite end. A wireless local-area network (LAN) uses radio waves to connect devices such as laptops to the Internet and to your business network and its applications. When you connect a laptop to a Wi-Fi hotspot at a cafe, hotel, airport lounge, or other public place, you’re connecting to that business’s wireless network. Almost all of the discussion surrounding net neutrality has been confined to wired (that is, cable, DSL and fiber) broadband in the U.S. while in India, most internet is wireless mobile broadband. In India they have an abnormally high mobile to fixed broadband ratio of 4:1 and only 15.2 million wired broadband connections in a country of 1.25 billion. India has a fixed broadband penetration ratio of 1.2 per 100 as against the world average of 9.4 per 100. The Open Internet Order by FCC adopted definitions for “fixed” and “mobile” Internet access service. It defined “fixed broadband Internet access service” to expressly include “broadband Internet access service that serves end users primarily at fixed endpoints using stationary equipment … fixed wireless services (including fixed unlicensed wireless services), and fixed satellite services.”  It defined “mobile broadband Internet access service” as “a broadband Internet access service that serves end users primarily using mobile stations.” So fixed internet access include wired and wireless technology while mobile internet access is always wireless. The transparency rule applies equally to both fixed and mobile broadband Internet access service. The no-blocking rule applied a different standard to mobile broadband Internet access services and mobile Internet access service was excluded from the unreasonable discrimination rule.

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Wired network Wireless network
Consumers use cable (cable TV), copper wire (DSL) or fiber-optic to connect to internet Consumers use radio waves to connect to internet via 3G/4G data card containing modem (mobile broadband) or through Wi-Fi using LAN
Large capacity of data transmission, volume uncapped It requires the use of spectrum, which is a scarce public resource,  limited capacity of data transmission,  restrictive volume caps
Multiple simultaneous users do not significantly affect speed Multiple simultaneous users significantly reduces speed
Majority of American population uses wired network Majority of Indian population uses wireless network
Net neutrality debate mainly involve wired transmission in America Net neutrality debate mainly involve wireless transmission in India
Wired connection speed is near maximum throughput Wireless connection speed will be less than the maximum throughput due to various factors reducing signal strength
Wired connection generally have faster internet speed Wireless connection generally have slower internet speed
You have to access internet at a fixed point You can move around with device within network coverage area for internet access
Voice and video quality not significantly affected in network congestion Voice and video quality significantly affected in network congestion

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What is spectrum?

Spectrum in wireless telephone/internet transmission is the radio frequency spectrum that ranges from very low frequency radio waves at around 10kHz (30 kilometres wavelength) up to 100GHz (3 millimetres wavelength). The radio spectrum is divided into frequency bands reserved for a single use or a range of compatible uses. Within each band, individual transmitters often use separate frequencies, or channels, so they do not interfere with each other. Because there are so many competing uses for wireless communication, strict rules are necessary to prevent one type of transmission from interfering with the next. And because spectrum is limited — there are only so many frequency bands — governments must oversee appropriate licensing of this valuable resource to facilitate use in all bands. Governments spend a considerable amount of time allocating particular frequencies for particular services, so that one service does not interfere with another. These allocations are agreed internationally, so that interference across borders, as well as between services, is minimised. Not all radio frequencies are equal. In general, lower frequencies can reach further beyond the visible horizon and are better at penetrating physical obstacles such as rain or buildings. Higher frequencies have greater data-carrying capacity, but less range and ability to pass through obstacles. For example, Mobile broadband uses the spectrum of 225 MHz to 3700 MHz while Wi-Fi uses 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency. Capacity is also dependent on the amount of spectrum a service uses — the channel bandwidth. For many wireless applications, the best trade-off of these factors occurs in the frequency range of roughly 400MHz to 4GHz, and there is great demand for this portion of the radio spectrum.

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All communication devices that use digital radio transmissions operate in a similar way. A transmitter generates a signal that contains encoded voice, video or data at a specific radio frequency, and this is radiated into the environment by an antenna (also known as an aerial). This signal spreads out in the environment, of which a very small portion is captured by the antenna of the receiving device, which then decodes the information. The received signal is incredibly weak — often only one part in a trillion of what was transmitted. In the case of a mobile phone call, a caller’s voice is converted by the handset into digital data, transmitted via radio to the network operator’s nearest tower or base station, transferred to another base station serving the recipient’s location, and then transmitted again to the recipient’s phone, which converts the signal back into audio through the earpiece. There are a number of standards for mobile phones and base stations, such as GSM, WCDMA and LTE, which use different methods for coding and decoding, and ensure that users can only receive voice calls and data that are intended for them.

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The bandwidth of a radio signal is the difference between the upper and lower frequencies of the signal. For example, in the case of a voice signal having a minimum frequency of 200 hertz (Hz) and a maximum frequency of 3,000 Hz, the bandwidth is 2,800 Hz (3 KHz). The amount of bandwidth needed for 3G services could be as much as 15-20 Mhz, whereas for 2G services a bandwidth of 30-200 KHz is used. Hence, for 3G huge bandwidth is required. Please do not confuse between bandwidth of 2G/3G spectrum and bandwidth of internet transmission i.e. internet speed.

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What is Broadband?

Broadband is a technology that transmits data at high speed along cables, ISDN / DSLs (Digital Subscriber Lines) and mobile phone networks. The most common type of broadband is ADSL (carried along phone lines), though cable (using new fibre-optic cables) and mobile broadband (using 3G and 4G mobile reception) are hot contenders to topple ADSL’s dominance. ADSL broadband comes from your local telephone exchange, through a Fixed Line Access Network made out of copper wires. These are the telephone lines that you see in the street. The lines in the street connect to the wiring inside your house and provide you an internet and phone connection through the socket on the wall. Unlike the copper wires of an ADSL connection, cables are partially made of fibre-optic material, which allows for much faster broadband speeds and increased reliability. The other advantage of cable is that it also allows for the transmission of audio and visual signals, which means you can get both landline and digital TV services from your cable broadband provider. Mobile broadband uses 3G and 4G mobile phone technology. These are made possible by two complementary technologies, HSDPA and HSUPA (high speed download and upload packet access, respectively).

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Broadband provides improved access to Internet services such as:

1. Faster World Wide Web browsing

2. Faster downloading of documents, photographs, videos, and other large file

3. Telephony, radio, television, and videoconferencing

4. Virtual private networks and remote system administration

5. Online gaming, especially massively multiplayer online role-playing games which are interaction-intensive

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Broadband technologies supply considerably higher bit rates than dial-up, generally without disrupting regular telephone use. Various minimum data rates and maximum latencies have been used in definitions of broadband, ranging from 64 kbit/s up to 4.0 Mbit/s. In 1988 the CCITT standards body defined “broadband service” as requiring transmission channels capable of supporting bit rates greater than the primary rate which ranged from about 1.5 to 2 Mbit/s.  A 2006 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report defined broadband as having download data transfer rates equal to or faster than 256 kbit/s.  And in 2015 the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defined “Basic Broadband” as data transmission speeds of at least 25 Mbit/s downstream (from the Internet to the user’s computer) and 3 Mbit/s upstream (from the user’s computer to the Internet). The trend is to raise the threshold of the broadband definition as higher data rate services become available.

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Broadband infrastructure:

Proponents of net neutrality regulations say network operators have continued to under-invest in infrastructure. However, according to Copenhagen Economics, US investment in telecom infrastructure is 50 percent higher that of the European Union. As a share of GDP, The US’s broadband investment rate per GDP trails only the UK and South Korea slightly, but exceeds Japan, Canada, Italy, Germany, and France sizably.  On broadband speed, Akamai reported that the US trails only South Korea and Japan among its major trading partners, and trails only Japan in the G-7 in both average peak connection speed and percentage of the population connection at 10 Mbit/s or higher, but are substantially ahead of most of its other major trading partners. The White House reported in June 2013 that U.S. connection speeds are the fastest compared to other countries with either a similar population or land mass. Broadband speeds in the United States, both wired and wireless, are significantly faster than those in Europe. Broadband investment in the United States is several multiples that of Europe. And broadband’s reach is much wider in the United States, despite its much lower population density. In other words, broadband speed is directly proportional to investment in broadband infrastructure. I live in small town Daman where maximum internet download speed I got from any ISP is 2.5 Mbps. This is because of poor broadband infrastructure in India.

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Bandwidth (internet speed):

In computer networks, bandwidth is used as a synonym for data transfer rate (internet speed), the amount of data that can be carried from one point to another in a given time period (usually a second). Network bandwidth is usually expressed in bits per second (bps); modern networks typically have speeds measured in the millions of bits per second (megabits per second, or Mbps) or billions of bits per second (gigabits per second, or Gbps). How fast your internet is depends on three factors: Download speed (how fast you can retrieve something from the internet), upload speed (sending something to a remote location on the internet), and latency (lag time between each point during information transfer). Download speed is what you experience the most and can send you to tap your fingers for what seems like minutes before a web page shows up on your screen. If you’re streaming movies from Netflix, download speed is important. The higher the number for download speed, the quicker the movie will get from the Netflix website to your computer. A movie downloaded at 15 Mbps should take one-tenth as long as having a 1.5 Mbps connection. Note that bandwidth is not the only factor that affects network performance: There is also packet loss, latency and jitter, all of which degrade network throughput and make a link perform like one with lower bandwidth.  A network path usually consists of a succession of links, each with its own bandwidth, so the end-to-end bandwidth is limited to the bandwidth of the lowest speed link (the bottleneck). Different applications require different bandwidths. This is important because some sites use much more bandwidth than others depending on their content and media. Video is one of the main ways to use a lot of bandwidth.  For example, sites like Netflix and YouTube use almost half of North America’s Internet Bandwidth during peak hours of the day (according to CNET). An instant messaging conversation might take less than 1,000 bits per second (bps); a voice over IP (VoIP) conversation requires 56 kilobits per second (Kbps) to sound smooth and clear.  Standard definition video (480p) works at 1 megabit per second (Mbps), but HD video (720p) wants around 4 Mbps, and HDX (1080p), more than 7 Mbps. Effective bandwidth — the highest reliable transmission rate a path can provide — is measured with a bandwidth test. This rate can be determined by repeatedly measuring the time required for a specific file to leave its point of origin and successfully download at its destination.

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Speed vs. latency:

There is more to an Internet connection’s speed than just its bandwidth. This is especially true with satellite Internet connections, which can offer speeds of up to 15 Mbps – but will still feel slow. Latency is defined as the time it takes for a source to send a packet of data to a receiver. Latency is typically measured in milliseconds. Latency is independent of internet speed. Consider the analogy of a car travelling at 100 mph from A to B. This might sound fast but gives no indication of whether the car has driven the most direct route; if direct, fine; if from A to C to D to B the journey is going to take longer. So with network traffic; you might have a fast Internet connection, but if the route between the user’s computer and the server being accessed is indirect, response times will be slower. Latency is a true indicator of whether network traffic has taken the shortest possible route. The lower the latency (the fewer the milliseconds), the better the network performance. Together, latency and bandwidth define the speed and capacity of a network. Network latency is the term used to indicate any kind of delay that happens in data communication over a network. Network connections in which small delays occur are called low-latency networks whereas network connections which suffer from long delays are called high-latency networks. High latency creates bottlenecks in any network communication. It prevents the data from taking full advantage of the network pipe and effectively decreases the communication bandwidth. The impact of latency on network bandwidth can be temporary or persistent based on the source of the delays. On DSL or cable Internet connections, latencies of less than 100 milliseconds (ms) are typical and less than 25 ms desired. Satellite Internet connections, on the other hand, average 500 ms or higher latency. Wireless mobile broadband latency varies from 80 ms (LTE) to 125 ms (HSPA).

How to measure latency:

Ping Command:

One of the first things to try when your connection doesn’t seem to be working properly is the ping command. Open a Command Prompt window from your Start menu and run a command like ping google.com or ping howtogeek.com. This command sends several packets to the address you specify. The web server responds to each packet it receives. In the command below, you can see % of packet loss and the time each packet takes. Ping cannot perform accurate measurements, principally because it uses the ICMP protocol that is used only for diagnostic or control purposes, and differs from real communication protocols such as TCP. Furthermore routers and ISP’s might apply different traffic shaping policies to different protocols. For more accurate measurements it is better to use specific software (for example: lft, paketto, hping, superping.d, NetPerf, IPerf)

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A very good example when bandwidth would directly correlate to speed is when you are downloading a file across the network or Internet. Greater bandwidth means that more of the file is being transferred at any given time. The file would be therefore be downloaded faster. This is also applicable when you are browsing the Internet as greater bandwidth would result in web pages loading faster and video streaming to be smoother. But in certain cases, speed and bandwidth do not literally mean the same thing. This is true when you talk about real time applications like VoIP or online gaming. In these cases, latency or response time is more important than having more bandwidth. Even if you have a lot of bandwidth, you may experience choppy voice transmission or response lag if your latency is too high. Upgrading your bandwidth would probably not help since it would no longer be used. Latency can’t be upgraded easily as it requires that any noise be minimized as well as the amount of time that it takes for packets to move from source to destination and vice versa. To obtain the best possible speed for your network or Internet connection, it is not enough to have a high bandwidth connection. It is also important that your latency is low, to ensure that the information reaches you quickly enough. This only matters though if you have enough bandwidth as low latencies without enough bandwidth would still result in a very slow connection.

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The speed at which websites download from the Internet is dependent on the following factors:

1. Web design:

•Design of the web page – number of graphics and their size, use of frames and tables

•Size of the web page – overall length of page. Note; having valid, compliant html/css coding on your website will allow your browser to render the page much more quickly

2. Your browsing history:

•Whether or not you have ever accessed the site before. If you have accessed it recently, the files may be in your cache and the site will load more quickly the second and subsequent times.

•How full your web browser cache is – you may need to clear your cache if you’ve set it to only reserve a small amount of space.

3. Your computer configuration and settings:

•How much memory you have in your computer – the more RAM the better.

•The size of your network buffer – most overlooked setting, have your IT staff review the settings.

•How fragmented the data on your hard drive is – you may need to run a defragment program.

•The number of programs you have running simultaneously while downloading. Running multiple programs hogs valuable RAM space.

•Cookies should be cleared regularly (bi-weekly or monthly) to help reduce the load on your browser thus slowing down your performance.

4. The network used to access the site:

•Speed of your connection to the Internet – your modem/cable/DSL/wireless speed.

•Quality of your telephone/broadband line – bad connections mean slower transmissions.

•Access speed on the server where the site is hosted – if the site is hosted on a busy server, it may slow down access speed.

•How much traffic there is to the site at the same time you are trying to access it.

•The load on the overall network at your ISP – how busy it is.

Any or all of the above can slow download time. Web designers only have control over the first two items!

5. Limitations of your computer:

There are also other ways you can improve your speeds, here are a few:

• Update to the latest Web browser and Operation System versions.

•Clear out your cache: Old information retained by your web browser may be making it perform slower than it could.

•Reformatting your hard drive: Although technical in nature, by reloading your Operating System, you will be able to get rid of unnecessary files that linger around your computer.

•Change your ISP: As drastic as this may sound, some providers oversell their services. As a result, they simply cannot supply their users with speeds needed by modern day web activities. Before you take the plunge to get a new ISP, make sure you read some reviews about them and ask your friends for recommendation.

•It may be time for an upgrade! Get a new computer! Modern software programs take up more and more resources and it is quite possible that your current hardware simply cannot keep up to date with the current standards.

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There are other factors involved in internet speed:

1. End-User Hardware Issues: If you have an old router that just can’t keep up with modern speeds or a poorly configured Wi-Fi connection that’s being slowed down by interference, you won’t actually experience the connection speeds you’re paying for — and that’s not the Internet service provider’s fault.

2. Distance from ISP: The further you are away from your Internet service provider’s hardware, the weaker your signal can become. If you’re in a city, you’re likely to have a faster connection than you would in the middle of the countryside.

3. Congestion: You’re sharing an Internet connection line with many other customers from your Internet service provider, so congestion can result as all these people compete for the Internet connection. This is particularly true if all your neighbours are using BitTorrent 24/7 or using other demanding applications.

4. Time of Day: Because more people are probably using the shared connection line during peak hours — around 6pm to midnight for residential connections — you may experience slower speeds at these times.

5. Throttling; Your Internet service provider may slow down (or “throttle”) certain types of traffic, such as peer-to-peer traffic. Even if they advertise “unlimited” usage, they may slow down your connection for the rest of the month after you hit a certain amount of data downloaded. Throttling is a process by which the amount of bandwidth you use through your Internet provider is limited in some way, usually in the form of slower upload or download speeds. This is done to allow others to more effectively connect to the Internet Service Provider’s servers. Net neutrality supporters are concerned with throttling because they believe current legislation is leaving the doors open to allow ISPs to throttle based on their own discretion of what sites you visit. For example, if you plan to watch “House of Cards” in UltraHD on Netflix, but your ISP decides it’s going to “throttle” access to Netflix, you may have to settle for some grainy 720p or worse, 480p on your new giant, curved Ultra HDTV.

6. Server-Side Issues: Your download speeds don’t just depend on your Internet service provider’s advertised speeds. They also depend on the speeds of the servers you’re downloading from and the routers in between. For example, if you’re in the US and experience slowness when downloading something from a website in Europe, it may not be your Internet service provider’s fault at all — it may be because the website in Europe has a slow connection or the data is being slowed down at one of the routers in between you and the European servers.

Many factors can impact Internet connection speed, and it’s hard to know which is the precise problem. Nevertheless, in real-life usage, you’ll generally experience slower speeds than your Internet service provider advertises — if only because it’s so dependent on other people’s Internet connections.

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Can your download/upload speed affected by number of simultaneous users on any network, wired or wireless?

Simply yes!

The more users on any network, wired or wireless, the less bandwidth available to each of them. The type of activity also has a huge impact on performance.  If everyone is only checking e-mail it’s not likely to cause slowdowns. But if you have someone trying to stream a Netflix movie and someone else running a Skype video chat you can probably forget about playing an online game as well.

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When multiple connected computers or devices – such as a mobile phone and wireless router – connect simultaneously to the same network, the result of having to share the available bandwidth, Internet access speed could be reduced. Wireless connection throughput is subject to conditions such as the local radio environment, number of devices sharing the same wireless network, range of the wireless coverage, interferences, physical obstacles and capability of receiving end. As a result, actual wireless connection speed will be less than the maximum throughput. In practice very few wireless networks can ever achieve their full quoted data rate. It is strongly dependant on signal strength. There are then various overheads, for TCP, IP and the wireless transport layer, including traffic that manages the connection even if you are not actively using it currently. These overheads include acknowledgments that need to be sent when data is received (and vice-versa).  Each website is served by a server connected to the network, and network bandwidth is distributed according to a website’s usage. So when the number of users is low, your connection speed will be faster. In contrast, when the number of simultaneous users is high, your linking network server will be congested, causing the connection speed to drop, especially for an overseas network server and the amount of users.  In summary, the end-to-end data throughput is also dependent on the bandwidth of the connection from the web or network server to the internet. The speed of the flow not only depends on bandwidth and number of users but also depends on routers and network conditions between the two devices involved in the flow.

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Upstream and Downstream Bandwidth:

When a device uses the Internet, information flows in two ways: to the device and from the device. When data flows to the device, the movement of information is downstream. When data flows from the device, the movement is upstream. Typical Internet processes involve more downstream usage than upstream usage; information flows to the device more than it flows from it. As a result, most Internet connections prioritize downstream bandwidth. However, for large data transfers, remote access, video chats and voice over IP calls, more upstream bandwidth is required. Many Internet routers have Quality of Service, or QoS, settings that can prioritize bandwidth usage in the case of increased upstream flow.

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Multiple Users of a Single Connection:

When multiple people use a single connection, more devices consume the finite bandwidth of the connection. Therefore, each device is allocated a smaller portion of the available bandwidth. As a result, all devices may experience a slower data transfer. Some router QoS settings allow you to prioritize device bandwidth use so that certain devices have increased access to the bandwidth.

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Now let me discuss two human factors responsible for provoking humans to choose one site over another besides obvious cost & quality factors:

1. Human intolerance for slow-loading sites

2. Human audio-visual perception

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Consumer intolerance to slow-loading sites:

Video Stream Quality impacts viewer behaviour:

The Internet is radically transforming all aspects of human society by enabling a wide range of applications for business, commerce, entertainment, news and social networking. Perhaps no industry has been transformed more radically than the media and entertainment segment of the economy. As media such as television and movies migrate to the Internet, there are twin challenges that content providers face whose ranks include major media companies (e.g., NBC, CBS), news outlets (e.g., CNN), sports organizations (e.g., NFL, MLB), and video subscription services (e.g., Netflix, Hulu). The first major challenge for content providers is providing a high-quality streaming experience for their viewers, where videos are available without failure, they startup quickly, and stream without interruptions. A major technological innovation of the past decade that allows content providers to deliver higher-quality video streams to a global audience of viewers is the content delivery network (or, CDN for short). CDNs are large distributed systems that consist of hundreds of thousands of servers placed in thousands of ISPs close to end users. CDNs employ several techniques for transporting media content from the content provider’s origin to servers at the “edges” of the Internet where they are cached and served with higher quality to the end user. The second major challenge of a content provider is to actually monetize their video content through ad-based or subscription-based models. Content providers track key metrics of viewer behavior that lead to better monetization. Primary among them relate to viewer abandonment, engagement, and repeat viewership. Content providers know that reducing the abandonment rate, increasing the play time of each video watched, and enhancing the rate at which viewers return to their site increase opportunities for advertising and upselling, leading to greater revenues. The key question is whether and by how much increased stream quality can cause changes in viewer behavior that are conducive to improved monetization. Relatively little is known from a scientific standpoint about the all-important causal link between video stream quality and viewer behavior for online media. While understanding the link between stream quality and viewer behavior is of paramount importance to the content provider, it also has profound implications for how a CDN must be architected. An architect is often faced with trade-offs on which quality metrics need to be optimized by the CDN. A scientific study of which quality metrics have the most impact on viewer behavior can guide these choices. As an example of viewer behavior impacting CDN architecture, authors performed small-scale controlled experiments on viewer behavior a decade ago that established the relative importance of the video to startup quickly and play without interruptions. These behavioral studies motivated an architectural feature called prebursting that was deployed on Akamai’s live streaming network that enabled the CDN to deliver streams to a media player at higher than the encoded rate for short periods of time to fill the media player’s buffer with more data more quickly, resulting in the stream starting up faster and playing with fewer interruptions. It is notable that the folklore on the importance of startup time and rebuffering were confirmed in two recent important large-scale scientific studies. The current work sheds further light on the important nexus between stream quality and viewer behavior and, importantly, provides the first evidence of a causal impact of quality on behavior.

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Authors study the impact of video stream quality on viewer behavior in a scientific data-driven manner by using extensive traces from Akamai’s streaming network that include 23 million views from 6.7 million unique viewers. They show that viewers start to abandon a video if it takes more than 2 seconds to start up, with each incremental delay of 1 second resulting in a 5.8% increase in the abandonment rate. Further, they show that a moderate amount of interruptions can decrease the average play time of a viewer by a significant amount. A viewer who experiences a rebuffer delay equal to 1% of the video duration plays 5% less of the video in comparison to a similar viewer who experienced no rebuffering. Finally, authors show that a viewer who experienced failure is 2.32% less likely to revisit the same site within a week than a similar viewer who did not experience a failure.  On average, YouTube streams 4 billion hours of video per month. That’s a lot of video, but it’s only a fraction of the larger online-streaming ecosystem. For video-streaming services, making sure clips always load properly is extremely challenging, and this study reveals that it’s important to video providers, too. Maybe this has happened to you: You’re showing a friend some hilarious video that you found online. And right before you get to the punch line, a little loading dial pops up in the middle of the screen. Buffering kills comedic timing, and according to this study it kills attention spans, too.  People are pretty patient for up to two seconds. If you start out with, say, 100 users — if the video hasn’t started in five seconds, about one-quarter of those viewers are gone, and if the video doesn’t start in 10 seconds, almost half of those viewers are gone. If a video doesn’t load in time, people get frustrated and click away. This may not come as a shock, but until now it hadn’t come as an empirically supported fact, either. This is really the first large-scale study of its kind that tries to relate video-streaming quality to viewer behavior.

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User intolerance for slow-loading sites:

The figure above shows abandonment rate of online video users for different Internet connectivities.  Users with faster Internet connectivity (e.g., fiber) abandon a slow-loading video at a faster rate than users with slower Internet connectivity (e.g., cable or mobile).  A “fast lane” in the Internet can irrevocably decrease the user’s tolerance to the relative slowness of the “slow lane”.

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Voice, video and human perception:

Voice and video signals must come fast and in a specific sequence. Conversations become difficult if words or syllables go missing or are delayed by more than a couple of tenths of a second. Our eyes can tolerate a bit more variation in video than our ears can tolerate in voice; on the other hand, video needs much more bandwidth. The human hearing system does not tolerate these flaws well because of its acute sense of timing. Twenty milliseconds of sudden silence can disturb a conversation. Voice and video can be converted into series of packets coded to identify their contents as requiring transmission at a regular rate. For telephony, the packet priority codes are designed to keep the conversation flowing without annoying jitter—variations in when the packets are received. Similar codes help keep video packets flowing at the proper rate. In practice, these flow controls are not crucial in today’s fixed broadband networks, which generally have enough capacity to transmit voice and video. But mobile apps are a different story. The Internet discards packets that arrive after a maximum delay, and it can request retransmission of missing packets. That’s okay for Web pages and downloads, but real-time conversations can’t wait. Software may skip a missing packet or fill the gap by repeating the previous packet. That’s tolerable for vowels, which are long, even sounds, so a packet lost from the middle of “zoom” would go unnoticed. But consonants are short and sharp, so losing a packet at the end of “can’t” turns it into “can.” Severe congestion can cause whole sentences to vanish and make conversation impossible. Such congestion is most serious on wireless networks, and it also already affects fixed broadband and backbone networks. Consumers frustrated by long video-buffering delays sometimes blame cable companies for intentionally throttling streaming video from companies like Netflix. But in 2014 the Measurement Lab consortium reported that the real bottlenecks are at interconnections between Internet access providers and backbone networks.

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Is internet common carrier?

In common law countries, common carrier is a legal classification for a person or company which transports goods and is legally prohibited from discriminating or refusing service based on the customer or nature of the goods. The common carrier framework is often used to classify public utilities, such as electricity or water, and public transport. In the United States, there has been intense debate between some advocates of net neutrality, who believe Internet providers should be legally designated common carriers, and some Internet service providers, who believe the common carrier designation would be a heavy regulatory burden. You expect your home Internet connection to “just work” like water and electricity. But what if the electric company provided inadequate power to your Whirlpool refrigerator, because Whirlpool hadn’t paid a fee? And what if the water company completely cut off the flow from your Kohler faucet because it owned a stake in another faucet company? Unlike public utilities, your Internet service provider (ISP) can abuse its power to influence which Internet businesses win and lose by slowing down or even blocking sites and services.  The idea that the Internet should be operated like a public “road” — carrying all traffic, with no discrimination against any traveller, no matter what size, shape or type — seems to many a bedrock principle. But should the Internet be regulated like other public utilities — like water or electricity? Under FCC policy, Internet service providers such as Verizon and Comcast (ISPs)had to treat all content equally, including news sites, Facebook and Twitter, cloud-based business activities, role-playing games, Netflix videos, peer-to-peer music file sharing, photos on Flickr — even gambling activity and pornography. Citizens can run all manner of applications and devices, and no content provider is given preferential treatment or a faster “lane” than anyone else. No content can be blocked by Internet service providers or charged differential rates. But it also meant that ISPs could not sell faster services to businesses willing to pay, a form of market regulation that, critics say, stifles innovation and legitimate commercial activity.

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Is Internet an Information Service or a Telecommunications Service?

Another major issue in the Net Neutrality kerfuffle is whether the Internet is classified as an information service or a more regulated telecommunications service. The fact that the Internet was reclassified as an information service by the FCC in 2002, led to Verizon’s successful challenge of Net Neutrality rules. Net Neutrality proponents obviously want the Internet reclassified as a telecommunications service. They feel this extra regulation will allow the principles of Net Neutrality to once again guide the concept of a free Internet. Considering that many of you only have one or two options when choosing a local ISP, regulation may be ultimately necessary to prevent monopoly abuse. If telecommunications companies are successful in instituting an Internet fast lane for video traffic, expect your Netflix subscription to increase by $5 – 10 per month, especially with Ultra HD becoming more popular. The spectre of ISPs blocking content from other competing entities is another issue that may have to be solved separately from the Internet “fast lane” issue.

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ISP (internet service/access provider):

Should ISPs be allowed to selectively prioritize communications between their customers and specific destinations on internet or should the transmission of data be done in a neutral way that does not consider the destination of a communication?  Can ISPs arbitrarily assign preference to business partners or their own content?  Can they charge additional fees to content providers for “priority” connections?  Could they even arbitrarily block or severely degrade communications by their users to competitors such as competing Internet telephone (VoIP) companies, search engines, and online stores?  For all the promise of the Internet, there is a serious threat to its potential for revitalizing democracy. The danger arises because there is, in most markets, a very small number of broadband network operators, and this may not change in the near future.

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To understand what the ISPs are implying here, consider figure above. From an economic point of view ISPs are the operators of a two-sided market platform that connects the suppliers of content and services (CSPs) with the consumers (IUs) that demand these services. In a two-sided market, each side prefers to have many partners on the other side of the market. Thus, CSPs prefer to have access to many IUs, because these create advertisement revenues. Likewise IUs prefer the variety that is created by many CSPs.  Suppose for a minute that there would only be one ISP in the world which connects CSPs with IUs. This ISP would consider these cross-side externalities and select a payment scheme for each side that maximizes its revenues. Instead of demanding the same payment from both sides, the classic result is that the platform operator chooses a lower fee from the side that is valued the most. In this vein, entry is stimulated and the added valuation can be monetized. There are several real world examples that demonstrate this practice: Credit card companies levy fees on merchants, not customers. Dating platforms offer free subscriptions to women, not men. Sometimes even a zero payment seems not enough to stimulate entry by the side that is valued the most. Then, the platform operator may consider to pay for entry (e.g., offer free drinks to women in a club). Such two-sided pricing is currently not employed in the Internet. One of the reasons is that CSPs and IUs are usually not connected to the same ISP, as depicted in figure above. The core of the Internet is comprised by several ISPs that perform different roles. More precisely, the core can be separated into (i) the customer access network: the physical connection to each household, (ii) the backhaul network, which aggregates the traffic from all connected households of a single ISP and (iii) the backbone network: the network that delivers the aggregated traffic from and to different ISPs. IUs are connected to a so-called access ISP which provides them with general access to the Internet. In most cases, IUs are subscribed to only one access ISP (known as single-homing) and cannot switch ISPs arbitrarily, either because they are bound by a long-term contract, or because they simply do not have a choice of ISPs in the region where they live. Conversely CSPs are usually subscribed to more than one backbone ISP (known as multi-homing), and sometimes, like in the case of Google, even maintain their own backbone network. This limits the extent of market power that each backbone ISP can exercise on the connected CSPs severely (Economides, 2005). The important message is that currently CSPs and IUs only pay the ISP through which they connect to the Internet. Interconnection between the backbone and access ISPs is warranted by a set of mutual agreements that are either based on bill-and-keep arrangements (peering) or volume-based tariffs (transit). In case of transit, the access ISP has to pay the backbone ISP, and not the other way around. Consequently, the IUs subscription fee is currently the main revenue source for access ISPs. Moreover, in many countries customers predominantly pay flat fees for their access to the Internet, and thus they are not sensitive with respect to how much traffic they are generating. Moreover, due to competition or fixed-mobile substitution, prices for Internet access have dropped throughout the years. Currently, it seems unlikely that access ISPs can evade from this flat rate trap. For example, in 2010 the big Canadian ISPs tried to return to a metered pricing scheme by imposing usage based billing on their wholesale products. As a consequence, smaller ISPs that rely on resale and wholesale products of the big Canadian ISPs would not be able to offer real flat rates anymore. With the whole country in jeopardy to loose unlimited Internet access, tremendous public protest arose and finally regulators decided to stop the larger telecommunications providers from pursuing such plans (Openmedia.ca, 2011). At the same time Internet traffic has increased, a trend that is often created by an increasing number of quality demanding services. One prominent example for this development is the company Netflix. Netflix offers video on demand streaming of many TV shows and movies for a monthly subscription fee. According to Sandvine (2010, p.14), already 20.6 percent of all peak period bytes downloaded on fixed access networks in North America are due to Netflix. In total, approximately 45 percent of downstream traffic on North American fixed and mobile access networks is attributable to real-time entertainment (Sandvine, 2010, p.12). In an effort to prepare for the extra-flood ISPs were and are forced to invest heavily in their networks.  Such investments are always lumpy and thus periodically cause an overprovisioning of bandwidth, which, however, is soon filled up again with new content. This is the vicious circle that network operators are trying to escape from. However, it is important to emphasize that transportation network equipment providers like Cisco, Alcatel Lucent and Huawei are constantly improving the efficiency of their products (e.g., by making use of new sophisticated multiplexing methods) such that the costs per unit of bandwidth are decreasing. This partially offsets the costs that ISPs worry about. In summary, ISPs claim that their investments in the network are hardly counter-balanced by new revenues from IUs. In reverse, CSPs benefit from the increased bandwidth of the customer access networks, which enables them to offer even more bandwidth demanding services, which in turn leads to a recongestion of the network and a new need for infrastructure investments. In the absence of additional profit prospects on the user side, access ISPs could generate extra revenue from CSPs, who are in part causing the necessity for infrastructure investments, by exercising their market power on the installed subscriber base in the sense of a two-sided market. CSPs have a high valuation for customers, consequently, the terminating access ISP demands an extra fee (over and beyond the access fee to the backbone ISP they are connected to) from the CSP for delivering its data to the IUs. This new revenue stream (the black arrows in the figure above) would clearly be considered as a violation of net neutrality.

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Internet contains three classes of ISPs:

1. Eyeball ISPs, such as Time Warner Cable and Comcast specialize in delivery to hundreds of thousands of residential users, i.e., supporting the last-mile connectivity.

2. Content ISPs specialize in providing hosting and network access for end-users and commercial companies that offer content, such as Google, and Yahoo. Typical examples are content distribution networks (CDNs).

3. Transit ISPs. Transit ISPs model the Tier-1 ISPs, such as Level 3, Qwest, and Global Crossing, which provide transit services for other ISPs and naturally form a full-mesh topology to provide the universal accessibility of the Internet.

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Evolution of commercial internet with all powerful last-mile ISP:

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In the early Internet, the flow of traffic (mainly emails and files) was roughly symmetrical. A packet originating at ISP A and handed off to ISP-B for delivery would be balanced by a packet moving in the opposite direction. ISPs often entered into no-cost agreements to carry one another’s traffic, each figuring that the amount of traffic it carried for another ISP would be matched by that other ISP carrying its own traffic. Network neutrality prevailed naturally since ISPs, compensated for bandwidth used, did not differentiate one packet from another. The more packets of any kind, the more profits for all ISPs, an economic situation that aligned nicely with customers’ interest in having an expanding supply of bandwidth. Internet economics have changed considerably in recent years with the rise of behemoth for-profit content providers such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Netflix. These for-profit content providers did two things: it changed the Internet from a symmetric network to an asymmetric one where the vast preponderance of traffic flows from content providers to customers. And it introduced a new revenue stream, one outside the Internet and generated by advertising, online merchandizing, or payments for gaming, streaming video, and financial and other services. The Internet has evolved from a simple, symmetric network where light email and web traffic flowed between academics and researchers and the only revenues were from selling bandwidth, to an asymmetric one where traffic flows from content providers to consumers, generating massive revenues for content providers. The ISPs themselves were changing and becoming more specialized. Where eyeball ISPs serve people, transit ISPs serve the content providers and earn revenue by delivering content to consumers on behalf of the content providers. Since transit ISPs don’t have direct access to consumers, they arrange with the eyeball ISPs for the last-mile delivery of content to customers. With an imbalance in the direction of traffic and no mechanism for appropriate compensation, the previous no-cost (or zero-dollar) bilateral arrangements broke down and were replaced by paid-peering arrangements where ISPs pay one another to carry one another’s traffic. Each ISP adopts its pricing policies to maximize profit, and these pricing policies play a role in how ISPs cooperate with one another, or don’t cooperate. Profit-seeking and cost-reduction objectives often induce selfish behaviors in routing—ISPs will avoid links considered too expensive for example—thus contributing to Internet inefficiencies. Paid-peering is one ISP strategy to gain profits. For the eyeball ISPs that control access to consumers, there is another way. Charge higher prices by creating a premium class of service with faster speeds. The eyeball ISPs, however, are in a power position because, unlike transit ISPs, eyeball ISPs have essentially no competition. Content providers like Netflix are in a much weaker position than the eyeball ISPs. Content providers need ISPs much more than the ISPs need them. If Netflix were to disappear, other streaming services would rush to fill in the gap. For the ISPs, it matters little whether it’s Amazon, Hulu, or another service (and worryingly, services run by the eyeball ISPs themselves) providing streaming services. If ISPs don’t need Netflix, neither do customers. Customers unhappy with Netflix’s service can simply choose another such service. They can’t, however, normally choose a different ISP. The monopolistic power of the eyeball ISPs may soon be made stronger. Occupying a position of power and knowing customers are stuck, the eyeball ISPs can and do play hardball with content providers. This was effectively illustrated in the recent Netflix-vs-Comcast standoff when Comcast demanded Netflix pay additional charges (above what Netflix was already paying for bandwidth). When Netflix initially refused, Comcast customers with Netflix service started reporting download speeds so slow that some customers quit Netflix. These speed problems seemed to resolve themselves right around the time Netflix agreed to Comcast’s demands. It would have been relatively inexpensive for Comcast to add capacity. But why should it? Monopolies such as Comcast have no real incentive to upgrade their networks. There is in fact an incentive to not upgrade since a limited commodity commands a higher price than a bountiful one. By limiting bandwidth, Comcast can force Netflix and other providers to pay more or opt into the premium class. Besides charging more for fast Internet lanes, ISPs have other ways to extract revenues from content providers. What Netflix paid for in its deal with Comcast was not a fast lane in the Internet, but a special arrangement whereby Comcast connects directly to Netflix’s servers to speed up content delivery. It is important to note that this arrangement is not currently covered under conventional net neutrality, which bans fast lanes over the Internet backbone. In the Netflix-Comcast deal, Netflix’s content is being moved along a private connection and never reaches the global Internet.

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Smart broadband pipes leads to more revenue to last-mile ISP:

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Choosing an Internet service provider (ISP):

Once you have decided which type of Internet access you’re interested in, you can determine which ISPs are available in your area that offer the type of Internet access you want. Then you’ll need to purchase Internet service from one of the available ISPs. Talk to friends, family members, and neighbors to see which ISPs they use. Below are some things to consider as you research ISPs:

•Speed

•Price

•Ease of installation

•Service record

•Technical support

•Contract terms

Although dial-up has traditionally been the least expensive option, many ISPs have raised dial-up prices to be the same as broadband. This is intended to encourage people to switch to broadband.

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Bandwidth cost to ISP:

The Internet is witnessing explosive growth in demand for bulk content. Examples of bulk content transfers include downloads of music and movie files, distribution of large software and games, online backups of personal and commercial data, and sharing of huge scientific data repositories. Recent studies of Internet traffic in commercial backbones as well as academic and residential access networks show that such bulk transfers account for a large and rapidly growing fraction of bytes transferred across the Internet. The bandwidth costs of delivering bulk data are substantial. A recent study reported that average monthly wholesale prices for bandwidth vary from $30,000 per Gbps/month in Europe and North America to $90,000 in certain parts of Asia and Latin America. The high cost of wide-area network traffic means that increasingly economic rather than physical constraints limit the performance of many Internet paths. As charging is based on peak bandwidth utilization (typically the 95th percentile over some time period), ISPs are incentivized to keep their bandwidth usage on inter-AS links much lower than the actual physical capacity. To control their bandwidth costs, ISPs are deploying a variety of ad-hoc traffic shaping policies today. These policies target specifically bulk transfers, because they consume the vast majority of bytes. However, these shaping policies are often blunt and arbitrary. For example, some ISPs limit the aggregate bandwidth consumed by bulk flows to a fixed value, independently of the current level of link utilization. A few ISPs even resort to blocking entire applications. So far, these policies are not supported by an understanding of their economic benefits relative to their negative impact on the performance of bulk transfers, and thus their negative impact on customer satisfaction.

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Data caps:

Internet data caps are monthly limits on the amount of data you can use over your Internet connection. When an Internet user hits that limit, different network operators engage in different actions, including slowing down data speeds, charging overage fees, and even disconnecting a subscriber. These caps come into play when a user either uploads or downloads data. Caps are most restrictive for wireless Internet access, but wired Internet access providers are also imposing these caps. Whatever the variation of data cap, they all have the same effect—they discourage the use of the Internet and the innovative applications it spawns. Think of the effect data caps have on visual artists, for example. Films, photographs, images of paintings, and other works of art are often data-rich, requiring significant bandwidth. These artists rely on the ability of new audiences to easily discover their work, but in a world with data caps, people may be less inclined to explore new things because of concerns about exceeding their cap. Data caps also make it impossible to do all the important things 4G LTE supposedly lets you do. Recently, T-Mobile released evidence that showed that users with capped or throttled broadband use 20x-30x less broadband than users with uncapped broadband. and 37% of subscribers don’t use streaming media because they fear going over their data caps. This hurts not only the ability of consumers to use broadband to its fullest potential, but it has serious implications for net neutrality.

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Network congestion:

Users’ appetite for services and applications which require continuous data exchange keeps growing. Mirroring the market evolution, the traffic conveyed on networks has been increasing continuously. Overall IP traffic is estimated by Cisco to almost quadruple by 2016 & reach 110.2 exabytes per month. One of the main objectives behind the use of traffic management is the reduction of network congestion resulting from this outstanding growth in data traffic. ISPs commonly apply differential treatment of traffic, in particular during certain times of the day, to ensure that the end user’s experience is not disrupted by network congestion. Users may share access over a common network infrastructure. Since most users do not use their full connection capacity all of the time, this aggregation strategy (known as contended service) usually works well and users can burst to their full data rate at least for brief periods. However, peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing and high-quality streaming video can require high data-rates for extended periods, which violates these assumptions and can cause a service to become oversubscribed, resulting in congestion and poor performance. The TCP protocol includes flow-control mechanisms that automatically throttle back on the bandwidth being used during periods of network congestion. This is fair in the sense that all users that experience congestion receive less bandwidth, but it can be frustrating for customers and a major problem for ISPs. In some cases the amount of bandwidth actually available may fall below the threshold required to support a particular service such as video conferencing or streaming live video–effectively making the service unavailable. When traffic is particularly heavy, an ISP can deliberately throttle back the bandwidth available to classes of users or for particular services. This is known as traffic shaping and careful use can ensure a better quality of service for time critical services even on extremely busy networks. However, overuse can lead to concerns about fairness and network neutrality or even charges of censorship, when some types of traffic are severely or completely blocked.

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Bandwidth hogs:

Net neutrality is shorthand for the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally irrespective of the nature of the traffic. So the bytes that make up a 10KB email should be shuttled about cyberspace in the same unbiased way the bytes that make up a 10GB HD movie are. Broadband providers generally do not like the concept of net neutrality. Streaming a 10GB movie will use up a lot more bandwidth than a 10KB email. While vast, there is still a limit on the total amount of bandwidth available at any given point in time. Also, broadband providers charge end users for access. At least up until recently, a user who is streaming a 10GB represents the same revenue as the individual who sends the 10KB email but uses one millionth the bandwidth. Get enough of those high-use consumers on your system and you will crowd out the other paying customers who then cannot send their 10KB emails. Broadband providers have chosen several ways of dealing with the bandwidth hogs. Providers can charge end users more if they use more bandwidth. They also slow or impede the delivery of large files or entire classes of files to ensure capacity is never constrained. This slowdown could frustrate the high-use consumer who might switch to a more reliable service. The proponents of net neutrality believe that broadband providers should not be the gatekeepers for the type of content any particular individual seeks. The Internet is a great free market of ideas and commerce, and these should flow with as little regulation as possible. From a cultural and philosophical perspective, it’s hard to argue with the proponents of net neutrality. From an economic standpoint, it seems fairly clear that net neutrality promotes inefficiency. Bandwidth hogs are a form of free riders. Normally, consumers pay an amount that is correlated to what they consume. In the early days of the Internet, the technical structure of the Internet generally allowed consumers to consume as much as they want for a single price. If a resource has no capacity constraints, then one individual’s consumption of the resource will not affect another’s. If the resource has a capacity constraint, however, there may be a point at which a single user’s consumption will negatively affect another’s. Larry Lessig of Stanford University recognized this potential problem with the Internet. He sees the Internet as a great “commons.” A commons is a public resource consumption of which is free to the members of the community. A classic commons would be a natural area owned by the government where any farmer could take its livestock to graze. A problem can occur because consumers are not required to pay directly for their consumption. (They may pay indirectly through taxes.) Since there is no immediate cost associated with consumption, they could take as much as they want with impunity. This is the tragedy of the commons: collectively, the members of the community are benefited from the collective ownership and stewardship of the commons; but individually, each is incentivized to consume as much of the commons as possible. The economic inefficiency occurs when an overconsuming consumer consumes more of the commons than he needs to obtain his optimal output. It can also occur where a disadvantaged consumer cannot consume enough to produce an economically optimal amount. The cure for the tragedy of the commons is regulating consumption or charging the user for access. Overconsumption of a depleting asset reduces the amount of the asset available to others who may need it to reach their economically optimal output. If the two parties are competitors, the overconsumption can, theoretically, harm competition. Strategic overconsumption of a depleting asset can be a form of foreclosure—it can deprive a competitor of the ability to produce an economically optimal amount and so serves as an artificial capacity constraint that reduces total output of the market. To the extent a competitor must then seek higher priced inputs to achieve the same output, the competitor’s costs have been raised. On the other hand, capacity on the Internet is a vast but ultimately depletable resource at any given point in time. (The depletion is transient. Once the file is downloaded, full capacity is restored.) In order to prevent overcrowding, the broadband providers impede the flow of this high bandwidth content. Doing so discourages the consumers that are using more of the bandwidth than anyone else, and allows low-volume, and therefore high-value (under the one-price-for-all model), customers the access they would want to remain on the service. By slowing these bandwidth hogs down, the broadband providers are in fact enforcing, although inartfully, an efficient allocation of bandwidth. Indeed, if the broadband providers charge either the content providers, the customers or both, the content provider best suited to provide content will bid the most for the most bandwidth, and the consumers to whom the added bandwidth has the most value will pay more, ensuring an efficient outcome.

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ISP and conflict of interest:

The conflict is between internet service providers like Verizon, and content providers like Netflix. Netflix wants to deliver their video content to Verizon’s customers with flawless quality. But to do that, it needs a lot of bandwidth. Netflix alone currently accounts for around 30% of U.S. internet traffic, and growing. Verizon (and other providers) see this as unsustainable and has demanded that Netflix pay for peering arrangements if they want to their traffic delivered to customers. But it’s not that simple.  Verizon has its own video streaming service. In the ISP’s ideal world, Netflix wouldn’t exist and the ISP would be the provider of this type of service. So it’s difficult to trust the ISPs when they say that this is purely to ensure a stable network. There is also evidence that the disruptions are artificial and not a consequence of a network filled to capacity. It’s not clear to users whose fault this is. When a user sees their Netflix stream fail, they perceive a failure of Netflix, no matter where the failure actually was. So any network disruption destroys their credibility as a dependable service.

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ISPs bundle bandwidth with other services:

Bundling broadband with other services gives ISPs an unfair advantage over new competitive Internet services. The insidious part about the broadband business that is not being discussed in the net neutrality debate is that bundling services enables the ISPs to blend pricing among broadband, TV, telephone and, in some cases, mobile services. The ISPs know that everyone needs and will subscribe to a broadband service, so they can charge whatever they can get. In fact, U.S. high-speed broadband service costs nearly three times as much as in the UK and France, and more than five times that of South Korea. Since broadband service is the ISP’s highest margin offering, exceeding 90% gross profit, in a bundled offering they can afford to cut the prices of other services to inhibit competition. This allows ISPs to continue to increase prices for broadband Internet service with impunity, and price their bundled TV service based on TV competition. If a new over-the-top (OTT) video service attempts to offer a competitive TV service, the ISP can simply lower the cost of their own video service to break-even or to a small loss – losing money on video services. OTT services will not be able to compete because they cannot allot profit margins among other services. As an analogy, imagine if your electric utility bundled your electric service with your television service. You couldn’t receive one without the other without large increases in price. The critical need to maintain an open and competitive Internet is paramount not just to net neutrality – to ensure equal and open Internet access – but also to prevent ISPs from bundling their bandwidth itself (and those magnificent profit margins) with the other services the ISPs carry. New OTT video services companies trying to compete with established ISP Internet services will not be able to succeed. And this is in addition to the data caps being imposed by some ISPs.

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Instead of increasing their capacity, ISP deliberately keeps it scarce:

Perhaps most damaging of all, network operators would have a powerful incentive to continue to under-invest in infrastructure. They would be allowed to charge for preferential access to a resource they could manage to ensure remained artificially scarce.

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Some examples that illustrate how an ISP could violate net neutrality principles:

•Blocking – some users could be prevented from visiting specific websites or accessing specific services, such as those of a competitor to the ISP;

•Throttling – different treatment could be given to specific sites or services, such as slower speeds for Netflix;

•Re-direction – users could be automatically redirected from one website to a competing website;

•Cross-subsidization – users of a service could be offered free or discounted access to other services;

•Paid prioritization – companies might buy priority access to an ISP’s customers (e.g., Google or Facebook could (in theory) pay ISP’s to provide faster, more reliable access to their websites than to potential competitors).

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From the ISP’s perspective, net neutrality places restrictions on potentially revenue-generating functionality.  It may also impact how private networks might co-exist with shared public networks.  Net neutrality enforcement can also be an important governance issue. Net neutrality is good for end users, as it ensures that all traffic is equitably handled.  Net neutrality is bad for ISPs who want to leverage their position as network providers to give their own services special treatment and thereby make more profit as a result. The real debate here is whether or not ISPs should have the legal protections afforded to ‘common carriers’.  In other industries (e.g., transportation, telephony), carriers are not responsible for the content of their networks.  They simply provide a service and if the traffic on their network is not legal, it’s not their problem as they will carry anything for anyone. ISPs who want to retain common carrier status should welcome net neutrality.  However, those who are willing to forgo common carrier status should then be held liable for their traffic content.

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The figure below depicts internet classification:

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What is an OTT?

OTT or over-the-top refers to applications and services which are accessible over the internet and ride on operators’ networks offering internet access services. The best known examples of OTT are Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, e-commerce sites, Ola, Facebook messenger. The OTTs are not bound by any regulations.  An OTT provider can be defined as a service provider offering ICT (Information Communication Technology) services, but neither operates a network nor leases network capacity from a network operator. Instead, OTT providers rely on the global internet and access network speeds (ranging from 256 Kilobits for messaging to speeds in the range of 0.5 to 3 Megabits for video streaming) to reach the user, hence going “over-the-top” of a telecom service provider’s (TSP’s)network. Services provided under the OTT umbrella typically relate to media and communications and are generally free or lower in cost as compared to traditional methods of delivery.

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Today, users can directly access these OTT applications online from any place, at any time, using a variety of internet connected consumer devices.  The characteristics of OTT services are such that ISPs realise revenues solely from the increased data usage of the internet-connected customers for various applications (henceforth, apps). The ISPs do not realise any other revenues, be it for carriage or bandwidth. They are also not involved in planning, selling, or enabling OTT apps. On the other hand, OTT providers make use of the ISPs’ infrastructure to reach their customers and offer products/services that not only make money for them but also compete with the traditional services offered by ISPs. Leave aside ISPs, these apps also compete with brick and mortar rivals e.g. e-commerce sites, banking etc.  OTTs can impact revenue of all the three real time application verticals – video, voice and messaging. The various other non-real time applications include e-payments, e-banking, entertainment apps, mobile location based services and digital advertising.  Table below provides a bird’s eye view of how OTTs can potentially have an adverse impact on incumbent ISPs or other business entities.

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Is the growth of OTT impacting the traditional revenue stream of ISPs?

Should OTT players pay for use of ISPs network over and above data charges paid by consumers?

The availability of Voice over the Internet Protocol (“VoIP”) services offering flat rated long distance telephone service on a monthly subscription rate, or per call rates for a few pennies a minute, show how software applications riding on top of a basic transmission link can devastate an existing business plan that anticipates ongoing, large profit margins for core services. VoIP and wireless services have adversely impacted wireline local exchange revenues as consumers migrate to a triple play bundle of services from cable television companies offering local and long distance telephone service and Internet access coupled with their core video programming services. To retain subscribers the incumbent telephone companies have created their own triple play bundles at prices that generate lower margins for the voice telephony portion of the package deal. The apparent inability of ISPs to raise subscription rates and to receive payment from content providers has frustrated senior managers and motivated them to utter provocative claims that heavy users of their networks, such as Google, have become free riders: Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes? The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!  On the other hand, Airtel India CEO Gopal Vittal had said during the company’s earnings conference call, earlier this year, that there’s no evidence of VoIP cannibalisation of voice services. Last year, Idea Cellular MD Himanshu Kapania had also said that OTT apps like Viber have had some impact on their International calling business, but on regular voice calls, there was no impact. A study jointly done by AT Kearney and Google estimated that telecom companies will earn an additional $8 billion in revenues by 2017 due to the proliferation of data and data-based services. Charging users extra for specific apps or services will overburden them, which in turn will lead to them not using the services at all. It is also akin to breaking up the Internet into pieces, which is fundamentally against what Net Neutrality stands for. Also, the Internet depends on interconnectivity and the users being able to have seamless experience – differential pricing will destroy the very basic tenets of the Internet.

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ISP testing software:

Test your ISP whether they are respecting net neutrality:

At a minimum, consumers deserve a complete description of what they are getting when they buy “unlimited Internet access” from an ISP. Only if they know what is going on and who is to blame for deliberate interference can consumes make informed choices about which ISP to prefer (to the extent they have choices among residential broadband providers) or what counter-measures they might employ. Policy-makers, as well, need to understand what is actually being done by ISPs in order to pierce the evasive and ambiguous rhetoric employed by some ISPs to describe their interference activities. Accordingly, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is developing information and software tools intended to help subscribers test their own broadband connections.

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Switzerland Network Testing Tool:

Is your ISP interfering with your BitTorrent connections? Cutting off your VoIP calls? Undermining the principles of network neutrality? In order to answer those questions, concerned Internet users need tools to test their Internet connections and gather evidence about ISP interference practices. After all, if it weren’t for the testing efforts of Rob Topolski, the Associated Press, and EFF, Comcast would still be stone-walling about their now-infamous BitTorrent blocking efforts. Developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Switzerland is an open source software tool for testing the integrity of data communications over networks, ISPs and firewalls. It will spot IP packets which are forged or modified between clients, inform you, and give you copies of the modified packets.

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Known ISP Testing Software:

Tool Active / Passive # Participants per Test Platform Protocols Notes
Gemini Active(?) Bilateral Bootable CD ? Uses pcapdiff
Glasnost Active 1.5 sided Java applet BitTorrent
ICSI Netalyzr Active 1.5 sided Java applet + some javascript Firewall characteristics, HTTP proxies, DNS environment
ICSI IDS Passive 0 sided (on the network) IDS Forged RSTs Not code users can run
Google/New America MeasurementLab Active 2 sided PlanetLab (server), Any (client) Any A server platform for others’ active testing software
NDT Active 1.5 sided Java applet / native app TCP performance A sophisticated speed test
Network Neutrality Check Active 1.5 sided Java applet No real tests yet Real tests forthcoming here ; discussion here
NNMA Passive Unilateral (currently) Windows app Any
pcapdiff / tpcat Either Bilateral Python app Any A tool to make manual tests easier. EFF is no longer working on pcapdiff, but development continues with the tpcat project.
Switzerland Passive Multilateral Portable Python app Any Sneak preview release just spots forged/modified packets
Web Tripwires Passive 1.5 sided Javascript embed HTTP Must be deployed by webmasters

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Find out if your ISP is slowing down your connection:

Take the Internet Health Test to check if ISPs are throttling websites. The tool checks for any degradation of the internet connection and will provide you with details. This web tool is supported by three well-known open internet groups: Demand Progress, Fight for the Future and the Free Press Action Fund. They note: “This test measures whether interconnection points are experiencing problems. It runs speed measurements from your (the test user’s) ISP, across multiple interconnection points, thus detecting degraded performance.” A number of different processes are launched once you start the test. First, it checks your connection by sending data to different locations throughout the Internet. This helps you to know whether there are choke points in between various connections that are slowing you down. The Internet Health Test is designed to help users check if ISPs are breaking the rules and slowing you down. To perform the Internet Health Test, just visit the site at  http://internethealthtest.org/  and click on the green “Start the test” button. This will open a new window where the test will check for signs for degradation. The test will tell you your internet speed as well as latency. The supporting open internet organizations wants many people as possible to take the test so that everyone can know which ISPs are throttling down connections. So go ahead and take the test, it will take only a minute or two, and then you’ll know whether your provider is really giving you the internet  “fast lane” or not.

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Quality of Service (QoS):

Internet routers forward packets according to the diverse peering and transport agreements that exist between network operators. Many networks using Internet protocols now employ quality of service (QoS). QoS is the measure of transmission quality and service availability of a network (or internetworks). Service availability is a crucial foundation element of QoS. The network infrastructure must be designed to be highly available before you can successfully implement QoS. The target for High Availability is 99.999 % uptime, with only five minutes of downtime permitted per year. The transmission quality of the network is determined by the following factors:

1. Loss—A relative measure of the number of packets that were not received compared to the total number of packets transmitted. Loss is typically a function of availability. If the network is Highly Available, then loss during periods of non-congestion would be essentially zero. During periods of congestion, however, QoS mechanisms can determine which packets are more suitable to be selectively dropped to alleviate the congestion.

2. Delay—The finite amount of time it takes a packet to reach the receiving endpoint after being transmitted from the sending endpoint. In the case of voice, this is the amount of time it takes for a sound to travel from the speaker’s mouth to a listener’s ear.

3. Delay variation (Jitter)—The difference in the end-to-end delay between packets. For example, if one packet requires 100 ms to traverse the network from the source endpoint to the destination endpoint and the following packet requires 125 ms to make the same trip, then the delay variation is 25 ms.

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Each end station in a Voice over IP (VoIP) uses a jitter buffer to smooth out changes in the arrival times of voice data packets. Although jitter buffers are dynamic and adaptive, they may not be able to compensate for instantaneous changes in arrival times of packets. This can lead to jitter buffer over-runs and under-runs, both of which result in an audible degradation of call quality.

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QoS technologies refer to the set of tools and techniques to manage network resources and are considered the key enabling technology for network convergence. The objective of QoS technologies is to make voice, video and data convergence appear transparent to end users. QoS technologies allow different types of traffic to contend inequitably for network resources. Voice, video, and critical data applications may be granted priority or preferential services from network devices so that the quality of these strategic applications does not degrade to the point of being unusable. Therefore, QoS is a critical, intrinsic element for successful network convergence. QoS tools are not only useful in protecting desirable traffic, but also in providing deferential services to undesirable traffic such as the exponential propagation of worms.

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QoS toolset:

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Implementing QoS involves combining a set of technologies defined by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). These technologies are designed to alleviate the problems caused by shared network resources and finite bandwidth. Although the concept of QoS encompasses a variety of standards and mechanisms, QoS for Windows Server 2003 IP-based networks is centered on traffic control, which includes mechanisms for prioritization and traffic shaping (the smoothing of traffic bursts). QoS can be used in any network environment in which bandwidth, latency, jitter, and data loss must be controlled for mission-critical software, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications, or for latency-sensitive software, such as video conferencing, IP telephony, or other multimedia applications. QoS also can be used to improve the throughput of traffic that crosses a slow link, such as a dial-up connection.

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Advocates of net neutrality have proposed several methods to implement a net neutral Internet that includes a notion of quality-of-service:

1. An approach offered by Tim Berners-Lee allows discrimination between different tiers, while enforcing strict neutrality of data sent at each tier: If I pay to connect to the Net with a given quality of service, and you pay to connect to the net with the same or higher quality of service, then you and I can communicate across the net, with that quality and quantity of service”. “[We] each pay to connect to the Net, but no one can pay for exclusive access to me.”

2. United States lawmakers have introduced bills that would now allow quality of service discrimination for certain services as long as no special fee is charged for higher-quality service.

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Traffic shaping:

Traffic shaping (also known as “packet shaping”) is a computer network traffic management technique which delays some or all datagrams to bring them into compliance with a desired traffic profile. Traffic shaping is used to optimise or guarantee performance, improve latency, and/or increase usable bandwidth for some kinds of packets by delaying other kinds. It is often confused with traffic policing, the distinct but related practice of packet dropping and packet marking. The most common type of traffic shaping is application-based traffic shaping. In application-based traffic shaping, fingerprinting tools are first used to identify applications of interest, which are then subject to shaping policies. Some controversial cases of application-based traffic shaping include P2P bandwidth throttling. Many application protocols use encryption to circumvent application-based traffic shaping. Another type of traffic shaping is route-based traffic shaping. Route-based traffic shaping is conducted based on previous-hop or next-hop information. If a link becomes saturated to the point where there is a significant level of contention (either upstream or downstream) latency can rise substantially. Traffic shaping can be used to prevent this from occurring and keep latency in check. Traffic shaping provides a means to control the volume of traffic being sent into a network in a specified period (bandwidth throttling), or the maximum rate at which the traffic is sent (rate limiting), or more complex criteria such as GCRA (generic cell rate algorithm). This control can be accomplished in many ways and for many reasons; however traffic shaping is always achieved by delaying packets. Traffic shaping is commonly applied at the network edges to control traffic entering the network, but can also be applied by the traffic source (for example, computer or network card) or by an element in the network. Traffic shaping is sometimes applied by traffic sources to ensure the traffic they send complies with a contract which may be enforced in the network by a policer. It is widely used for network traffic engineering, and appears in domestic ISPs’ networks as one of several Internet Traffic Management Practices (ITMPs). Some ISPs may use traffic shaping against peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, such as BitTorrent.

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Traffic Policing vs. Traffic Shaping:

The following diagram illustrates the key difference.

Traffic policing propagates bursts. When the traffic rate reaches the configured maximum rate, excess traffic is dropped (or remarked). The result is an output rate that appears as a saw-tooth with crests and troughs. In contrast to policing, traffic shaping retains excess packets in a queue and then schedules the excess for later transmission over increments of time. The result of traffic shaping is a smoothed packet output rate. Shaping implies the existence of a queue and of sufficient memory to buffer delayed packets, while policing does not. Queueing is an outbound concept; packets going out an interface get queued and can be shaped. Only policing can be applied to inbound traffic on an interface. Ensure that you have sufficient memory when enabling shaping. In addition, shaping requires a scheduling function for later transmission of any delayed packets. This scheduling function allows you to organize the shaping queue into different queues.

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Queue management:

To queue something is to store it, in order, while it awaits processing. An Internet router typically maintains a set of queues, one per interface, that hold packets scheduled to go out on that interface. Historically, such queues use a drop-tail discipline: a packet is put onto the queue if the queue is shorter than its maximum size (measured in packets or in bytes), and dropped otherwise. Active queue disciplines drop or mark packets before the queue is full. Typically, they operate by maintaining one or more drop/mark probabilities, and probabilistically dropping or marking packets even when the queue is short. A FIFO (first-in, first-out) queue works like the line-up at a supermarket’s checkout — the first item into the queue is the first processed. As new packets arrive they are added to the end of the queue. If the queue becomes full, and here the analogy with the supermarket stops, newly arriving packets are dropped. This is known as tail-drop. Besides FIFO queueing, we have Class Based Queueing and Priority Queueing

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Queuing delay:

In telecommunication and computer engineering, the queuing delay (or queueing delay) is the time a job waits in a queue until it can be executed. It is a key component of network delay. In a packet-switched network, queueing delay is the sum of the delays encountered by a packet between the time of insertion into the network and the time of delivery to the addressee.  This term is most often used in reference to routers. When packets arrive at a router, they have to be processed and transmitted. A router can only process one packet at a time. If packets arrive faster than the router can process them (such as in a burst transmission) the router puts them into the queue (also called the buffer) until it can get around to transmitting them. Delay can also vary from packet to packet so averages and statistics are usually generated when measuring and evaluating queuing delay.  As a queue begins to fill up due to traffic arriving faster than it can be processed, the amount of delay a packet experiences going through the queue increases. The speed at which the contents of a queue can be processed is a function of the transmission rate of the facility. This leads to the classic delay curve. The average delay any given packet is likely to experience is given by the formula 1/(μ-λ) where μ is the number of packets per second the facility can sustain and λ is the average rate at which packets are arriving to be serviced. This formula can be used when no packets are dropped from the queue. The maximum queuing delay is proportional to buffer size. The longer the line of packets waiting to be transmitted, the longer the average waiting time is. The router queue of packets waiting to be sent also introduces a potential cause of packet loss. Since the router has a finite amount of buffer memory to hold the queue, a router which receives packets at too high a rate may experience a full queue. In this case, the router has no other option than to simply discard excess packets.

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The Process of Buffering (queueing):

Routers store packets in a few different locations depending on the congestion level:

As a packet enters a router, the packet is stored inside of the ingress buffer waiting to be processed. As you can see, VoIP gets priority over other packets.

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Prioritization of Network Traffic:

Prioritization of network traffic is simple in concept: give important network traffic precedence over unimportant network traffic. That leads to some interesting questions. What traffic should be prioritized? Who defines priorities? Do people pay for priority or do they get it based on traffic type (e.g., delay-sensitive traffic such as real-time voice)? For Internet traffic, where are priorities set (at the ingress based on customer preassigned tags in packets, or by service provider policies that are defined by service-level agreements)? Prioritization is also called CoS (class of service) since traffic is classed into categories such as high, medium, and low (gold, silver, and bronze), and the lower the priority, the more “drop eligible” is a packet. E-mail and Web traffic is often placed in the lowest categories. When the network gets busy, packets from the lowest categories are dropped first. Prioritization/CoS should not be confused with QoS. It is a subset of QoS. A package-delivery service provides an analogy. You can request priority delivery for a package. The delivery service has different levels of priority (next day, two-day, and so on). However, prioritization does not guarantee the package will get there on time. It may only mean that the delivery service handles that package before handling others. To provide guaranteed delivery, various procedures, schedules, and delivery mechanisms must be in place. The problem with network priority schemes is that lower-priority traffic may be held up indefinitely when traffic is heavy unless there is sufficient bandwidth to handle the highest load levels. Even high-priority traffic may be held up under extreme traffic loads. One solution is to overprovision network bandwidth, which is a reasonable option given the relatively low cost of networking gear today. As traffic loads increase, router buffers begin to fill, which adds to delay. If the buffers overflow, packets are dropped. When buffers start to fill, prioritization schemes can help by forwarding high-priority and delay-sensitive traffic before other traffic. This requires that traffic be classed (CoS) and moved into queues with the appropriate service level. One can imagine an input port that classifies traffic or reads existing tags in packets to determine class, and then moves packets into a stack of queues with the top of the stack having the highest priority. As traffic loads increase, packets at the top of the stack are serviced first.

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Prioritize Packets to improve Quality:

Voice traffic competes for available bandwidth on your broadband connection. If there is not enough bandwidth, packets get dropped. VoIP media streams require a constant, uninterrupted data flow. This data flow is composed of UDP packets that each carry between 10 and 30 milliseconds of sound information. Ideally, each packet in a media stream is evenly spaced and of the same size. In a perfect world, a packet never arrives out of sequence or gets dropped. Voice over IP media packets are framed in a highly precise, performance-sensitive way. Dropped packets and packet jitter (packets arriving out of order) cause problems—big problems—for an ongoing call. These problems can cause the voices on the call to sound robotic, to cut in and out, or to go silent altogether. Most of the packet-drop problems you’ll encounter while VoIPing will be the fault of your bandwidth-limited ISP connection—the link from the ISP’s network to your broadband router.

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Traffic control and management:

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In the Internet world, everything is packets. Managing a network means managing packets: how they are generated, router, transmitted, reorder, fragmented, etc… Traffic control works on packets leaving the system. It doesn’t initially have as an objective to manipulate packets entering the system (although you could do that, if you really want to slow down the rate at which you receive packets). The Traffic Control code operates between the IP layer and the hardware driver that transmits data on the network. We are discussing a portion of code that works on the lower layers of the network stack of the kernel. In fact, the Traffic Control code is the very one in charge of constantly furnishing packets to send to the device driver. It means that the TC module, the packet scheduler, is permanently activated in the kernel. Even when you do not explicitly want to use it, it’s there scheduling packets for transmission. By default, this scheduler maintains a basic queue (similar to a FIFO type queue) in which the first packet arrived is the first to be transmitted. At the core, TC is composed of queuing disciplines, or qdisc, that represent the scheduling policies applied to a queue. Several types of qdisc exist. We have FIFO (first in first out), FIFO with multiple queues, FIFO with hash and round robin (SFQ). We also have a Token Bucket Filter (TBF) that assigns tokens to a qdisc to limit it flow rate.

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Traffic control is a collection of mechanisms that segregate traffic into the appropriate service types and regulate its delivery to the network. Traffic control involves classifying, shaping, scheduling, and marking traffic. The fundamental technical challenge is getting the Net to carry traffic that it was never meant to handle. Internet packet switching was designed for digital file transfers between computers, and it was later adapted for e-mail and Web pages. For these purposes the digital data does not have to be delivered at a specific rate or even in a specific order, so it can be chopped into packets that are routed over separate paths to be reassembled, in leisurely fashion, at their destinations. By contrast, voice and video signals must come fast and in a specific sequence.

Classifying Traffic:

During classification, packets are separated into distinct data flows and then directed to the appropriate queue on the forwarding interface. Queues are based on service type. The algorithm that services a queue determines the rate at which traffic is forwarded from the queue.

Traffic control in Windows Server 2003 supports the following service types:

Best effort:

Best-effort is the standard service level in many IP-based networks. It is a connectionless model of delivery that provides no guarantees for reliability, delay, or other performance characteristics.

Controlled load:

Controlled load data flows are treated similarly to best-effort data flows in unloaded (uncongested) conditions. This means that a very high percentage of transmitted packets will be delivered successfully to the receiving end node and a very high percentage of packets will not exceed the minimum delay in delivery. Controlled load service provides high quality delivery without guaranteeing minimum latency.

Guaranteed service:

Guaranteed service provides high-quality delivery with guaranteed minimum latency. The impact of guaranteed traffic on the network is heavy, so guaranteed service is typically used only for traffic that does not adapt easily to change. Network control:

Network control, the highest service level, is designed for network management traffic.

Qualitative service:

Qualitative service is designed for applications that require prioritized traffic handling but cannot quantify their QoS traffic requirements. These applications typically send traffic that is intermittent or burst-like in nature. For this service type, the network determines how the data flow is treated.

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Engineers decided that the best way to manage traffic flow was to label each packet with codes based on the time sensitivity of the data, so routers could use them to schedule transmission. Everyone called them priority codes, but the name wasn’t meant to imply that some packets were more important than others, only that they were more perishable. It’s like the difference between a shipment of fresh fruit and one of preserves. Here’s a set of such codes that the IEEE P802.1p task force defined in 1998 for local area networks. The highest priority values are for the most time-sensitive services, with the top two slots going to network management, followed by slots for voice packets, then video packets and other traffic.

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PCP Priority Acronym Traffic types
1 0 (lowest) BK Background
0 1 BE Best Effort
2 2 EE Excellent Effort
3 3 CA Critical Applications
4 4 VI Video, < 100 ms latency and jitter
5 5 VO Voice, < 10 ms latency and jitter
6 6 IC Internetwork Control
7 7 (highest) NC Network Control


Although these codes have been accepted as potentially useful, they haven’t been widely used for wire line, fiber broadband, or the backbone Internet. Those systems generally have adequate internal capacity.

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Reasons for traffic management:

The primary reason that is given by ISPs for traffic management is to prevent a small number of their customers from clogging up access to the Internet by using a disproportionate share of the available bandwidth. In this way, proponents of traffic management say that ISPs are justified in controlling the flow of data because it is necessary to maintain the quality of service that is required to ensure all users have an enjoyable browsing experience.

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Traffic management techniques:

1. Data caps: A wide variety of data caps and “fair use” policies may be used by operators to implement a specific business model. In general, a data cap will be imposed to support the operator’s pricing strategy, so that the price of traffic is based on volume. Data caps are a technical measure that requires monitoring traffic volume and throttling data or charging for extra volume once a pre-defined data cap is reached. Data caps provide a price signal to end users in relation to the cost of their bandwidth consumption.

2.  Application-agnostic congestion management: To respond to network congestion, an ISP can react to daily fluctuations or unexpected network environment changes by implementing “congestion controls” at the edge of the network, where the source of the traffic (e.g. computers) slows down the transmission rate when packet loss is occurring.

3. Prioritization: An ISP might prioritize transmission of certain types of data over others (most often used to prioritize time-sensitive traffic, such as VoIP and IPTV). ISPs may be required to prioritize emergency services, and this is generally not a concern from a net neutrality perspective.

4. Differentiated throttling: The capacity available for a particular type of content (most often peer-to-peer traffic, particularly in peak times) may be restricted, which preserves capacity for the unrestricted content. Unlike application-agnostic congestion management, this technique is aimed at a specific type of content; generally a type that is bandwidth-hungry and non-time-critical.

5. Access-tiering: An ISP may prioritize a specific application or content – for a price to be paid by a content provider. By selling access to a “lane”, access providers can generate greater revenue to fund the network in-vestments necessary to handle increasingly bandwidth-hungry services. This can be distinguished from prioritization in that access-tiering is typically open to all service providers (that can afford to pay for it) and that it is generally used to promote a particular service provider, rather than a type of content. Access-tiering has been criticized for its potential harms to innovation, particularly to start-ups unable to afford the fee. It is also commercially possible that a service prioritization arrangement could be made on an exclusive-by-service basis, to prevent competitors of the preferred content provider from purchasing a similar level of priority.

6. Blocking: End users may be prevented from using or accessing a particular website or a type of content (e.g., the blocking of VoIP traffic on a mobile data network). Blocking may be implemented to:

- inhibit competition, particularly if the access provider offers a service that competes with the service being blocked;

- manage costs, particularly where the cost of carrying a particular service or type of service places a disproportionate burden on the access provider’s network; and

- block unlawful or undesirable content, such as child abuse, viruses or spam. This may be necessary to comply with government or court orders, or done at the request of the end user. The blocking of unlawful and undesirable content generally raises few net neutrality concerns. Lawful interception measures, while not constituting “blocking”, are similarly non-controversial from a net neutrality perspective.

Specific restrictions may be applied discriminately or indiscriminately between users and they may be permanent or implemented over certain periods (e.g. peak time). The nature of the restriction will often be contractually disclosed by the ISP, so that the user is made aware that their access to a particular service will be restricted in certain circumstances.

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As critics point out, that there is a fine line between correctly applying traffic management to ensure a high quality of service and wrongly interfering with Internet traffic to limit applications that threaten the ISP’s own lines of business. For example, the VoIP application Skype uses peer-to-peer technology to provide free phone calls, which compete directly with the phone services offered by many ISPs. It would be easy at a technical level for an ISP to use its traffic management equipment to limit a customer’s Skype experience in an effort to protect its own fixed or mobile telephony services.

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Figure below shows Internet Plan charging different value for different sites at different speeds:

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The figure below shows spectrum of traffic management conducts:

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Over-provisioning:

If the core of a network has more bandwidth than is permitted to enter at the edges, then good QoS can be obtained without policing. An alternative to complex QoS control mechanisms is to provide high quality communication by generously over-provisioning a network so that capacity is based on peak traffic load estimates. This approach is simple for networks with predictable peak loads. The performance is reasonable for many applications. This might include demanding applications that can compensate for variations in bandwidth and delay with large receive buffers, which is often possible for example in video streaming. Over-provisioning can be of limited use, however, in the face of transport protocols (such as TCP) that over time exponentially increase the amount of data placed on the network until all available bandwidth is consumed and packets are dropped. Such greedy protocols tend to increase latency and packet loss for all users. Commercial VoIP services are often competitive with traditional telephone service in terms of call quality even though QoS mechanisms are usually not in use on the user’s connection to their ISP and the VoIP provider’s connection to a different ISP. Under high load conditions, however, VoIP may degrade to cell-phone quality or worse. The mathematics of packet traffic indicates that network requires just 60% more raw capacity under conservative assumptions. The amount of over-provisioning in interior links required to replace QoS depends on the number of users and their traffic demands. This limits usability of over-provisioning. Newer more bandwidth intensive applications and the addition of more users results in the loss of over-provisioned networks. This then requires a physical update of the relevant network links which is an expensive process. Thus over-provisioning cannot be blindly assumed on the Internet.

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Data Discrimination on Internet:

The extent to which network operators should be allowed to discriminate among Internet packet to block selectively, adjust price or quality of service is one of the most fundamental issue in the network neutrality debate. The networks favor some traffic or packet streams over others by using variety of data differentiation techniques or algorithms. There are various methods by which the ISP’s are able to discriminate, by determining which types of packets are in the network. The first type is flow classification, ISP’s are able to determine the nature of packet by examining the amount of time since the packet stream began, the amount of time between consecutive packets, and the sizes of packets in a stream. The information about every packet stream going through the network can be maintained by using the second method called as deep packet inspection. It can categorize traffic based, not just on what it can learn from the packet it is currently handling but also on the combination of the content of many consecutive packets. Instead of looking only at the information needed to get the packet to its destination, using deep packet inspection a device is aware of the information at the application layer as illustrated in Table below:

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Examples of header data showing which information is stored in which data field:

Data field Information
MAC address Manufacturer of device that is attached to network.
IP address Identity of sender and recipient, location of sender and recipient.
Transport protocol Type of application.
Traffic class in IP version 4 / IP version 6 Type of application, priority desired by sender.
Packet length Type of application.
Source port and destination port Type of application.

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Types of discrimination:

1. Discrimination by protocol:

Discrimination by protocol is the favoring or blocking information based on aspects of the communications protocol that the computers are using to communicate.  Comcast in 2008 deliberately prevented some subscribers from using peer-to-peer file-sharing service BitTorrent to download large files.

2. Discrimination by IP address:

a.) During the early decades of the Internet, creating a non-neutral Internet was technically infeasible.  Originally developed to filter malware, the Internet security company NetScreen Technologies released network firewalls in 2003 with so called deep packet inspection. Deep packet inspection helped make real-time discrimination between different kinds of data possible, and is often used for Internet censorship.

b.) In a practice called zero-rating, companies will reimburse data use from certain addresses, favoring use of those services. Examples include Facebook Zero and Google Free Zone, and are especially common in the developing world.

c.) Sometimes ISPs will charge some companies, but not others, for the traffic they cause on the ISP’s network. French telecoms operator Orange, complaining that traffic from YouTube and other Google sites consists of roughly 50% of total traffic on the Orange network, reached a deal with Google, in which they charge Google for the traffic incurred on the Orange network. Some also thought that Orange’s rival ISP Free throttled YouTube traffic. However, an investigation done by the French telecommunications regulatory body revealed that the network was simply congested during peak hours.

3. Peering discrimination:

There is some disagreement about whether peering is a net neutrality issue. In the first quarter of 2014, streaming website Netflix reached an arrangement with ISP Comcast to improve the quality of its service to Netflix clients. This arrangement was made in response to increasingly slow connection speeds through Comcast over the course of 2013, where average speeds dropped by over 25% of their values a year before to an all-time low. After the deal was struck in January 2014, the Netflix speed index recorded a 66% increase in connection.

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The Benefits of Discrimination:

There are several benefits for discrimination and it ranges from security to quality of service control. One of the most important benefits of discrimination on network level is security. A network operator can determine whether a packet stream is carrying a virus or a dangerous piece of spyware by using deep packet inspection. It would be a huge damage to network security if a network neutrality policy that prohibits networks from dropping dangerous traffic/packet stream of this kind. The network can prevent customers from using equipment which would hinder their neighbors’ traffic by ensuring that only authorized devices are attached to the network. The devices may access adult-only material contrary, or that consumes more of the shared resources than is allowed contrast to the customer’s stated wishes. Different applications have different QoS needs so discrimination with respect to QoS is also important. So it is not required to give equal access to all services. Pricing also plays an important role in congestion control by using price discrimination. There are quantifiable advantages of price discrimination over more traditional technical approaches; it is done by convincing some users to delay their transmissions by adjusting prices dynamically based on congestion levels. The internet traffic is increasing at tremendous rate. This flow of data/traffic can suffer from congestion at a number of points on the internet. The increasing use of multimedia technology is worsening the congestion of the flow of data/traffic. An internet user attempting to retrieve a file from a file repository in another country will generally be unable to tell whether the dominant cause of congestion is the hardware at the file repository, or the various network links between the repository and the user. Thus, the effect on internet users is generally the same, although the distinction between hardware and data/traffic congestion is important to internet providers. Thus by discriminating the ISP’s can provide better service to maximum of the customers.

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The Risks of Discrimination:

One of the serious risks with discrimination is that it may lead to protecting legacy services from competition. In the current ISP market cable and telephone companies are dominant broadband providers. In this case without any network neutrality the ISP’s can block the traffic or degrade the QoS for rival services. For e.g., a telephone company can degrade the VoIP services forcing customers to use traditional telephone services, as well this can be the case with cable companies for degrading streaming videos. Discrimination may also lead to charging oligopoly rents in the broadband. In this scenario the ISP’s may be able to maximize their profit depending on the will of the customers to pay for particular services.

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Jon Peha from Carnegie Mellon University believes it is important to create policies that protect users from harmful traffic discrimination, while allowing beneficial discrimination. Peha discusses the technologies that enable traffic discrimination, examples of different types of discrimination, and potential impacts of regulation. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt aligns Google’s views on data discrimination with Verizon’s: “I want to be clear what we mean by Net neutrality: What we mean is if you have one data type like video, you don’t discriminate against one person’s video in favor of another. But it’s okay to discriminate across different types. So you could prioritize voice over video. And there is general agreement with Verizon and Google on that issue.” Echoing similar comments by Schmidt, Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist and “father of the internet”, Vint Cerf, says that “it’s entirely possible that some applications needs far more latency, like games. Other applications need broadband streaming capability in order to deliver real-time video. Others don’t really care as long as they can get the bits there, like e-mail or file transfers and things like that. But it should not be the case that the supplier of the access to the network mediates this on a competitive basis, but you may still have different kinds of service depending on what the requirements are for the different applications.”

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Much of the net neutrality debate centres around the management of Internet traffic by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and what constitute reasonable traffic management. Traffic management is the tool used by ISPs to effectively protect the security and integrity of networks, to restrict the transmission to consumers of unsolicited communication (e.g. spam) or to give effect to a legislative provision or court order. It is also essential for the delivery of certain time-sensitive services (such as real-time IPTV and video conferencing) that may require a prioritisation of traffic to ensure a predefined higher quality of service. However, there is a fragile balance between ensuring the openness of the Internet and the reasonable and responsible use of traffic management by ISPs. Drawing the line between legitimate and unjustified traffic management is challenging.

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Types of net control:

Bandwidth throttling:

Bandwidth throttling is the intentional slowing of Internet service by an Internet service provider. It is a reactive measure employed in communication networks in an apparent attempt to regulate network traffic and minimize bandwidth congestion. Bandwidth throttling can occur at different locations on the network. On a local area network (LAN), a sysadmin may employ bandwidth throttling to help limit network congestion and server crashes. On a broader level, the Internet service provider may use bandwidth throttling to help reduce a user’s usage of bandwidth that is supplied to the local network. Throttling can be used to limit a user’s upload and download rates actively on programs such as video streaming, BitTorrent protocols and other file sharing applications to even out the usage of the total bandwidth supplied across all users on the network. Bandwidth throttling is also often used in Internet applications, in order to spread a load over a wider network to reduce local network congestion, or over a number of servers to avoid overloading individual ones, and so reduce their risk of crashing, and gain additional revenue by compelling users to use more expensive pricing schemes where bandwidth is not throttled.

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Typically an ISP will allocate a certain portion of bandwidth to a neighbourhood, which is then sold to residents within the neighbourhood. It is common practice for ISP companies to oversell the amount of bandwidth as typically most customers will only use a fraction of what they’re allotted.  By overselling, ISP companies can lower the price of service to their customers per gigabit allotted. On some ISPs, however, when one or a few customers use a larger amount than expected, the ISP company will purposely reduce the speed of that customer’s service for certain protocols, thus throttling their bandwidth. This is done through a method called Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), which allows an ISP to detect the type of traffic being sent and throttle it if it is not high priority and using a large fraction of the bandwidth. Bandwidth throttling of certain types of traffic (i.e. peer-to-peer file sharing) can be scheduled during specific times of the day to avoid congestion at peak usage hours. As a result, customers should all have equal Internet speeds. Encrypted data may be throttled or filtered causing major problems for businesses that use Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and other applications that send and receive encrypted data.

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Throttling vs. capping:

The difference is that bandwidth throttling regulates a bandwidth intensive device (such as a server) by limiting how much data that device can accept or receive. Bandwidth capping on the other hand limits the total transfer capacity, upstream or downstream, of data over a medium.

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Deep pocket inspection (DPI):

The “deep” in deep packet inspection (DPI) refers to the fact that these boxes don’t simply look at the header information as packets pass through them. Rather, they move beyond the IP and TCP header information to look at the payload of the packet. The goal is to identify the applications being used on the network, but some of these devices can go much further. Imagine a device that sits inline in a major ISP’s network and can throttle P2P traffic at differing levels depending on the time of day. Imagine a device that allows one user access only to e-mail and the Web while allowing a higher-paying user to use VoIP and BitTorrent. Imagine a device that protects against distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, scans for viruses passing across the network, and siphons off requested traffic for law enforcement analysis. Imagine all of this being done in real time, for 900,000 simultaneous users, and you get a sense of the power of deep packet inspection (DPI) network appliances. Ellacoya, which recently completed a study of broadband usage, says that 20 percent of all web traffic is really just YouTube video streams. This is information an ISP wants to know; at peak hours, traffic shaping hardware might downgrade the priority of all streaming video content from YouTube, giving other web requests and e-mails a higher priority without making YouTube inaccessible. This only works if the packet inspection is “deep.” In terms of the OSI layer model, this means looking at information from layers 4 through 7, drilling down as necessary until the nature of the packet can be determined. For many packets, this requires a full layer 7 analysis, opening up the payload and attempting to determine which application generated it (DPI gear is generally built as a layer 2 device that is transparent to the rest of the network). Procera, for instance, claims to detect more than 300 application protocol signatures, including BitTorrent, HTTP, FTP, SMTP, and SSH. Ellacoya claims that their boxes can look deeper than the protocol, identifying particular HTTP traffic generated by YouTube and Flickr, for instance. Of course, the identification of these protocols can be used to generate traffic shaping rules or restrictions. DPI can also be used to root out viruses passing through the network. While it won’t cleanse affected machines, it can stop packets that contain proscribed byte sequences. It can also identify floods of information characteristic of denial of service attacks and can then apply rules to those packets.

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Privacy issues:

There are two main categories of inspection techniques by ISPs which are more or less intrusive:

•one based on the Internet Protocol header information, which enables ISPs to identify the subscriber and apply specific policies according to what he or she has subscribed to e.g. routing the packet through a slower or faster link;

•one based on a deeper inspection (called DPI, Deep Packet Inspection), which enables ISPs to access the data payload which may contain personal information.

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How do you prevent DPI to read your text sent over internet?

By encrypting data.

Encryption is basically the method of turning plaintext information into unintelligible format (cipher), using different algorithms. This way, even if unauthorized parties manage to access the encrypted data, all they find is nothing but streams of unintelligent, alphanumerical characters.  Encryption has widely been used to protect data in numerous areas, such as e-commerce, online banking, cloud storage, online communication and so forth. A simple example of a cipher can be, for instance, the replacing of the letters in a message with the ones one forward in the alphabet. So if your original message read “Meet you at the cafe tonight” the encrypted message reads as follows: “Nffu zpv bu uif dbgf upojhiu” Of course, advanced encryption software programs can generate extremely complicated algorithms to achieve complex ciphers. DPI from an ISP cannot read truly encrypted packets – in any way. They may be in bits and pieces as they are downloaded, but they are still like pieces of a scrambled puzzle that can only be put back together with the decryption key. Of course, ISP can throttle encrypted message without knowing what the message is.

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Is your ISP throttling your Bandwidth?

1.) What is the contention ratio in your neighbourhood?

At the core of all Internet service is a balancing act between the number of people who are sharing a resource and how much of that resource is available. For example, a typical provider starts out with a big pipe of Internet access that is shared via exchange points with other large providers. They then subdivide this access out to their customers in ever smaller chunks — perhaps starting with a gigabit exchange point and then narrowing down to a 10 megabit local pipe that is shared with customers across a subdivision or area of town. The speed you, the customer, can attain is limited to how many people might be sharing that 10 megabit local pipe at any one time. If you are promised one megabit service, it is likely that your provider would have you share your trunk with more than 10 subscribers and take advantage of the natural usage behavior, which assumes that not all users are active at one time. The exact contention ratio will vary widely from area to area, but from experience, your provider will want to maximize the number of subscribers who can share the pipe, while minimizing service complaints due to a slow network. In some cases, there are as many as 1,000 subscribers sharing 10 megabits. This is a bit extreme, but even with a ratio as high as this, subscribers will average much faster speeds when compared to dial-up.

2.) Does your ISP’s exchange point with other providers get saturated?

Even if your neighbourhood link remains clear, your provider’s connection can become saturated at its exchange point. The Internet is made up of different provider networks and backbones. If you send an e-mail to a friend who receives service from a company other than your provider, then your ISP must send that data on to another network at an exchange point. The speed of an exchange point is not infinite, but is dictated by the type of switching equipment. If the exchange point traffic exceeds the capacity of the switch or receiving carrier, then traffic will slow.

3.) Does your provider give preferential treatment to speed test sites?

It is possible for an ISP to give preferential treatment to individual speed test sites. Providers have all sorts of tools at their disposal to allow and disallow certain kinds of traffic.

4.) Are file-sharing queries confined to your provider network?

Another common tactic to save resources at the exchange points of a provider is to re-route file-sharing requests to stay within their network. For example, if you were using a common file-sharing application such as BitTorrent, and you were looking some non-copyrighted material, it would be in your best interest to contact resources all over the world to ensure the fastest download. However, if your provider can keep you on their network, they can avoid clogging their exchange points. Since companies keep tabs on how much traffic they exchange in a balance sheet, making up for surpluses with cash, it is in their interest to keep traffic confined to their network, if possible.

5.) Does your provider perform any usage-based throttling?

The ability to increase bandwidth for a short period of time and then slow you down if you persist at downloading is another trick ISPs can use. Sometimes they call this burst speed, which can mean speeds being increased up to five megabits, and they make this sort of behavior look like a consumer benefit. Perhaps Internet usage will seem a bit faster, but it is really a marketing tool that allows ISPs to advertise higher connection speeds – even though these speeds can be sporadic and short-lived. For example, you may only be able to attain five megabits at 12:00 a.m. on Tuesdays, or some other random unknown times. Your provider is likely just letting users have access to higher speeds at times of low usage. On the other hand, during busier times of day, it is rare that these higher speeds will be available.

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IP blocking:

IP blocking by an ISP company is purposely preventing its Internet service customer access to a specific website or IP address. Certain ISP companies have been found to block certain websites. While some blocking (e.g., of child pornography sites) is considered acceptable or required and is even stated in an ISP company’s acceptable Internet use policy, ISP companies have absolute control over the content transmitted over their wires, without adequately informing service subscribers.

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Unfair traffic management practices:

1. The blocking and throttling (i.e. intentionally slowing down the speed) of Peer-to-Peer (P2P) services (such as file sharing and media streaming) and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services (i.e. Internet telephony) are the most common examples. Other – less prevalent – instances are the restricted access to specific applications such as gaming, streaming, e-mails or instant messaging services.

2. Weakening the competition

This practice can stem from the desire to weaken the competition, the most prominent example of this is limiting access to VoIP services, as revealed by the traffic management investigation carried out by the Body of European Regulators (BEREC). Indeed, while ISPs provide voice calls through the traditional fixed or mobile networks, cheaper (or even free) VoIP substitutes can be found over the Internet.

3. The decrease of innovation

Developers of content and applications are likely to reconsider their investments into new applications if there is a risk ISPs might discriminate against them. Moreover, excessive restrictions on competing applications might remove the incentive for ISPs to improve and innovate their own products which are challenged by those applications.

4. The potential degradation of quality of service

BEREC has identified two main types of degradation of quality of service: the Internet access service as a whole (e.g. caused by congestion on a regular basis), and individual applications using Internet access service (e.g. VoIP blocking and P2P throttling).

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Lack of transparency:

1. Regarding traffic management practices

ISPs tend not to openly publicise information regarding traffic management practices. Such information can most frequently be found only when looking at the detailed terms and conditions of the ISPs’ offers, if at all. A recent report from the UK consumer organisation – Consumer Focus – has found that consumers have very limited awareness of the term ‘traffic management’.

2. On actual quality of service

In some cases, consumers are not even aware of the level of quality they can expect from their Internet service, for example possible discrepancies between advertised speeds and actual broadband speeds.

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Wireless networks and net neutrality:

So far I discussed traffic management vis-à-vis net neutrality in wired networks. There is considerable debate over whether and how net neutrality should apply to wireless networks. The issue is whether differences between wired and wireless network technology merit different treatment with respect to net neutrality. The primary focus is on applications and traffic management, rather than device attachment. Wireless networks differ substantially from wired networks at the network layer and below but despite differences in traffic management, similar net neutrality concerns apply. Since the differences lie in lower layers, net neutrality in both wired and wireless networks can be effectively accomplished by requiring an open interface between network and transport layers.

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The network neutrality debate has focused almost exclusively on Internet access via wireline carriers. Recently the issue of wireless Internet access has surfaced in light of the growing importance of wireless services and consumer frustration with carrier tactics that disable handset functions and block access to competing services.  While wireless handsets generally can access Internet services, most carriers attempt to favor content they provide or secure from third parties under what critics deem a “walled garden” strategy: deliberate efforts to lock consumers into accessing and paying for favored content and services. Just about every nation in the world has established policies that mandate the right of consumers to own their own telephone and to use any device to access any carrier, service or function provided it does not cause technical harm to the telecommunications network.  Once regulators unbundled telecommunications service from devices that access network services, a robustly competitive market evolved for both devices and services. Remarkably wireless carriers in many nations, including the United States, have managed to avoid having to comply with this open network concept. Even though consumers own their wireless handset, the carrier providing service will operate only with specific types of handsets programmed only to work with one carrier’s network. Carriers justify this lock in and high fees for early termination of service, because the carriers sell wireless handsets at subsidized rates—sometimes “free”—based on a two year subscription term. Of course the value of a two year lock in period offsets the handset subsidy, particularly in light of next generation wireless networks that will offer many services in addition to voice communications. In the United States wireless carriers and their “big box” retail store partners sell more than 60% of all wireless handsets, typically when a subscriber commences service or renews a subscription. No market for used handsets has evolved, because wireless carriers do not offer lower service rates for subscribers who do not need or want a subsidized handset. Wireless network neutrality would require carriers to stop blocking the use of non-carrier affiliated handsets and locking handsets so that they work only on a single carrier network. More broadly wireless network neutrality would prevent wireless carriers from preventing subscribers from using their handsets to access the content, services, and software applications of ventures unaffiliated with the carrier. It also would require carriers to support an open interface so that handset manufacturers and content providers can develop equipment and services that do not have any potential for harming wireless carrier networks. Opponents of wireless network neutrality consider the initiative unnecessary government intrusion in a robustly competitive marketplace. They claim that imposing such requirements would risk causing technical harm to wireless networks and such generate regulatory uncertainty that the carriers might refrain from investing in next generation network enhancements. Opponents claim that separating equipment from service constituted an appropriate remedy when a single wireline carrier dominated, but that such compulsory unbundling should not occur when consumers have a variety of carrier options.

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India is currently debating the merits of net neutrality. However, the Indian population’s access to and use of the Internet provides unique parameters to the discussion. For starters, although India has the third largest number of Internet users, only 19 percent of the Indian population currently has Internet access.  In comparison, 87 percent of the U.S. population can access the Internet.  On the losing end of India’s digital divide is India’s poor and often rural class, where Internet access is limited, or if available, too expensive for marginal customers. India also lacks the large scale infrastructure necessary for broad fixed-line Internet access. For this reason, mobile platforms are the easiest way to bring Internet access to the population, particularly to the less affluent and rural areas of the country where residents suffer not only from poor broadband infrastructure, but also from the lack of basic access to the electricity needed to power fixed Internet lines. To a large extent, India’s net neutrality debate has paralleled the recent debate in the United States, and Indian net neutrality proponents have adopted their U.S. counterparts’ arguments when criticizing zero-rating projects. However, the disparity between mobile and fixed-line Internet access marks an important difference between the net neutrality debate in India and in the U.S.  Due to widespread Internet access in the United States, the domestic net neutrality debate was able to focus largely on the quality of Internet access.  In the U.S., the discussion centered on regulations that would ensure equal access to all legal digital content, and promote commercial and non-commercial innovations, particularly by start-ups and small businesses.  In India where Internet access is beyond the reach of so many, the calculus may be very different.

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Wireless networks have their own internal congestion, which results from sharing a limited radio spectrum among many users. In 2G and 3G wireless systems, data and voice traffic are kept apart; they shunt the data over the Internet and the voice over a circuit-switched network linked to the backbone. The first 4G LTE (long term evolution) phones sent data over the new LTE network but used the old 3G network for voice. Now carriers are phasing in a new generation of 4G LTE phones that use a protocol called Voice over LTE (VoLTE) that converts voice directly to packets for transmission on 4G networks along with data. VoLTE phones have an audio bandwidth of 50 to 7,000 Hz, twice that of conventional phones, which is supplied by a service called HD voice. VoLTE phones also use network management tools to manage the flow of time-sensitive packets. The packet coding built into LTE and VoLTE is a different matter because that traffic goes over wireless networks, which do have limited internal capacity. The LTE packet coding standard reflects the mobile environment and the introduction of new services. It assigns a special priority code to real-time gaming traffic, which requires very fast transit times to keep competition even. It also divides video into two classes with distinct requirements. Real-time “conversational” services such as conferencing and videophone are similar to voice telephony in that delays degrade their usability. Buffered streaming video can better tolerate packet delays because it is not interactive.

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Here are the LTE codes:

QCI Resource Type Priority Packet Delay Budget Packet Error Loss Rate Example Services
1 GBR 2 100 ms 10-2 Conversational Voice
2 4 150 ms 10-3 Conversational Video (live streaming)
3 3 50 ms 10-3 Real-Time Gaming
4 5 300 ms 10-6 Non-Conversational Video (buffered streaming)
5 Non-GBR 1 (highest) 100 ms 10-6 IMS Signalling
6 6 300 ms 10-6
  • Video (Buffered Streaming)
  • TCP-based (e.g., web, e-mail, chat, FTP, point-to-point file sharing, progressive video, etc.)
7 7 100 ms 10-3
  • Voice
  • Video (Live Streaming)
  • Interactive Gaming
8 8 300 ms 10-6
  • Video (Buffered Streaming)
  • TCP-based (e.g., web, e-mail, chat, FTP, point-to-point file sharing, progressive video, etc.)
9 9 (lowest)

QCI = QoS Class Identifier

GBR = Guaranteed Bit Rate

A minimum bit rate is requested by an application for optimal functioning. In LTE, minimum GBR bearers and non-GBR bearers may be provided. Minimum GBR bearers are typically used for applications like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), with an associated GBR value; higher bit rates can be allowed if resources are available. Non-GBR bearers do not guarantee any particular bit rate, and are typically used for applications as web-browsing.

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These new Net management tools allowed carriers to improve their existing services and offer new ones. Carriers now boast of the good voice quality of VoLTE phones, after years of ignoring the poor sound of 2G and 3G phones. Premium-price services could follow, such as special channels for remote real-time control of Internet of Things devices. Yet the differential treatment of packets worries advocates of Net neutrality, who fear that carriers could misuse those technologies to limit customer access to sites and services.

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Net neutrality dilemma:

Net neutrality means different things to different people. Some want equal treatment for all bits; others merely want equal treatment for all information providers, which would then be free to assign priorities to their own services. Still others say that carriers should be able to charge extra for premium services, but not to block or throttle access. Each approach has different implications for network management. Treating all bits equally has become a popular mantra. It says just what it means, giving it a charming simplicity that leaves little wiggle room for companies trying to game the system. Championed by the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the purists’ position seems to be gaining advocates. Yet its philosophical clarity could come at the cost of telephone clarity. LTE uses expedited forwarding services and [packet] priority to reduce jitter, which reduces voice quality. But that involves giving some bits priority over others.  Some observers doubt that Net neutrality purists mean what they say. Yet Jeremy Gillula, a technologist for EFF, says “network operators shouldn’t be doing any sort of discrimination when it comes to managing their networks.” One reason is that EFF advocates the encryption of Internet traffic, and as Gillula points out, encrypted data can’t be examined to see whether it should get priority. Moreover, he adds, “by allowing some packets to be treated better than others, we’re closing off a universe of new ways of using the Internet that we haven’t even discovered yet, and resigning ourselves to accepting only what already exists.” Other advocacy groups take a less restrictive approach. “We realize that the network needs management to provide the desired services,” says Danielle Kehl, a policy analyst for the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “The key is to make sure network management is not an excuse to violate Net neutrality.” Thus they would allow carriers to schedule conversational video packets differently than those carrying streaming video, which is less time sensitive. But they would not allow carriers to differentiate between streaming video packets from two different companies. A key argument for this approach is the 2003 observation by Tim Wu, now a Columbia University law professor, that packet switching inherently discriminates against time-sensitive applications. That is, packet switching without Net management can’t prevent degradation of time-sensitive services on a busy network. President Obama largely followed this lead in his November 2014 speech advocating Net neutrality. He did not say that all bits should be treated equally but specified four rules: no blocking, no throttling, no special treatment at interconnections, and no paid prioritization to speed content transmission. The industry’s view of Net neutrality has another key difference—it should allow companies to offer premium-priced services. A Nokia policy paper says that users should be able to “communicate with any other individual or business and access the lawful content of their choice free from any blocking or throttling, except in the case of reasonable network management needs, which are applied to all traffic in a consistent manner.” But the paper adds that “fee-based differentiation” should be allowed for specialized services, as long as it is transparent. Carriers like this approach because adding premium services would give them a financial incentive to improve their networks. Critics counter that offering an express lane to premium customers could relegate other users to the slow lane, particularly in busy wireless networks. A crucial issue to be resolved is who pays for premium service. The big technology question in the debate over Net neutrality is which approach to packet management would give the best performance now and in the future. Cisco’s Baker says that equal treatment for all packets “would be setting the industry back 20 years.” That’s particularly true of wireless networks, where high demand and limited bandwidth make network management crucial. Take away priority coding and you break VoLTE, the first technology to offer major improvements in cellular voice quality. And without VoLTE or a similar packet-management scheme, there’s no obvious way to move wire-line telephony onto the Internet without degrading voice quality to cellphone level. Other proposed services also depend on priority coding. “If the Internet of Things develops, a lot of applications will require accurate real-time data to work well,” says Jeff Campbell, vice president of global policy and government affairs at Cisco. Telemedicine, teleoperation of remote devices, and real-time interaction among autonomous vehicles could be problematic if data packets could get stalled at peak congestion times. Some analysts argue that packet scheduling could throttle other traffic by limiting the unscheduled bandwidth. But others counter that this should not be a problem in a well-designed network, one with adequate capacity and interconnections. As undemocratic as packet scheduling may be, it seems the best technology available for delivering a mixture of time-sensitive and -insensitive services. “Some Net neutrality advocates are convinced that any kind of management will create bad results, but they’re not willing to accept that having no management will also have bad results,” says a senior Nokia engineer. So, Internet purists take heed: Traffic management is as vital on the Internet as it is on streets and highways.

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Net neutrality definition:

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Net neutrality (also network neutrality, Internet neutrality, or net equality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication. The term was coined by Columbia University law professor Tim Wu in 2003, as an extension of the longstanding concept of a common carrier. Network neutrality is the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. According to professor Tim Wu, the best way to explain network neutrality is as when designing a network: that a public information network will end up being most useful if all content, sites, and platforms are treated equally. A more detailed proposed definition of technical and service network neutrality suggests that service network neutrality is the adherence to the paradigm that operation of a service at a certain layer is not influenced by any data other than the data interpreted at that layer, and in accordance with the protocol specification for that layer. Net neutrality prohibits Internet service providers from speeding up, slowing down or blocking Internet traffic based on its source, ownership or destination. Net neutrality usually means that broadband service providers charge consumers only once for Internet access, do not favor one content provider over another, and do not charge content providers for sending information over broadband lines to end users. An example of a violation of net neutrality principles was the Internet service provider Comcast intentionally slowing uploads from peer-to-peer file sharing applications. And in 2007, Plusnet was using deep packet inspection to implement limits and differential charges for peer-to-peer, file transfer protocol, and online game traffic.

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Network neutrality is best defined as a network design principle. The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites and platforms equally. This allows the network to carry every form of information and support every kind of application. Other net neutrality proponents argue that net neutrality means ensuring that all services are provided to all parties over the same quality of Internet pipe, with no degradation based on the service chosen by the end user and at the same cost. This definition is based on the assumption that data is transmitted on a “best efforts” basis, with limited exceptions.

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Net Neutrality is the principle that every point on the network can connect to any other point on the network, without discrimination on the basis of origin, destination or type of data. This principle is the central reason for the success of the Internet. Net Neutrality is crucial for innovation, competition and for the free flow of information. Most importantly, Net Neutrality gives the Internet its ability to generate new means of exercising civil rights such as the freedom of expression and the right to receive and impart information. Advocates of net neutrality have raised concerns about the ability of broadband providers to use their last mile infrastructure to block Internet applications and content (e.g. websites, services, and protocols), and even to block out competitors. Opponents claim net neutrality regulations would deter investment into improving broadband infrastructure and try to fix something that isn’t broken.

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Let’s say you want to watch a video online: you connect to the Internet, open your browser and navigate to the video service of your choice. This is possible because the access provider does not seek to restrict your options. Without Net Neutrality you might instead find that your connection to video service is being slowed down by your access provider in a way that makes it impossible for you to watch the video, at the same time, you would still be able to connect rapidly to video service B and maybe watch exactly the same content. Why would your access provider do such a thing? There are many reasons: for example, the internet access provider might a) have signed an exclusive agreement with this second video platform or b) provide their own video services and therefore want to encourage you to use these instead of the service that you initially preferred. This is just one of the many reasons for violations of Net Neutrality.

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Net neutrality is the principle that every website (of the same class) should be treated equally and not given any preferential treatment in respect to other websites. In other words, if you click on Google and on Yahoo, your internet service provider (ISP) will use the fastest possible routes to deliver each website to you. It doesn’t have special routes or other preferences for one site versus another. Net Neutrality doesn’t prevent variations in overall service—in other words, it may be that you pay twice as much as your neighbour in order to have more bandwidth which could lead to Yahoo loading up faster on your computer than it does on hers even if you both clicked on Yahoo at the same time. Service providers can and should provide various tiers of overall service depending on your needs, but once you subscribe to a given tier of service, there shouldn’t be additional fees levied on you or on the sites you access

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The openness of the Internet is closely linked to the application of the principle of network neutrality or net neutrality. The Electronic Communications’ Framework (ECF) defines it as the ability for consumers to “access and distribute information or run applications and services of their choice.”

The revised Framework supports the following aspects of network neutrality:

1. Choice

2. Transparency

3. Quality of Service

4. E-privacy

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For a thoughtful definition, consider the one given by Daniel Weitzner, who cofounded the Center for Democracy & Technology, teaches at MIT, and works for the W3C. He lays out four points that neutral networks should adhere to:

1. Non-discriminatory routing of packets

2. User control and choice over service levels

3. Ability to create and use new services and protocols without prior approval of network operators

4. Nondiscriminatory peering of backbone networks.

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Level playing field:

A level playing field is a concept about fairness, not that each player has an equal chance to succeed, but that they all play by the same set of rules. A metaphorical playing field is said to be level if no external interference affects the ability of the players to compete fairly. Government regulations tend to provide such fairness, since all participants must abide by the same rules. The internet is now a level-playing field. Anybody can start up a website, stream music or use social media with the same amount of data that they have purchased with a particular ISP. The Internet has had net neutrality since its inception, which has levelled the playing field for all participants. It refers to the absence of restrictions or priorities placed on the type of content carried over the Internet by the carriers and ISPs that run the major backbones. It states that all traffic be treated equally; that packets are delivered on a first-come, first-served basis regardless from where they originated or to where they are destined. Net neutrality became an issue as major search engines such as Google and Yahoo! increasingly generated massive amounts of traffic compared with other sites. It also became an issue because some carriers that offered subscription-based VoIP services were also transporting their competitors’ VoIP traffic. Although it might seem reasonable to charge sites that disseminate huge amounts of content, ISPs may have conflicts of interest. For example, if an ISP also streams on-demand movies, it can block access to its competitors or demand fees to lift the blockade. The implications down the road are even more alarming. If net neutrality were abandoned entirely, at some point, owners of all Web sites might have to pay the carriers’ fees to prevent their content from bogging down in a low-priority delivery queue. In the absence of neutrality, your ISP might favour certain websites over others for which you might have to pay extra. Website A might load at a faster speed than Website B because your ISP has a deal with Website A that Website B cannot afford. It’s like your electricity company charging you extra for using the washing machine, television and microwave oven above and beyond what you are already paying.

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Net neutrality vs. open internet:

The idea of an open Internet is the idea that the full resources of the Internet and means to operate on it are easily accessible to all individuals and companies. This often includes ideas such as net neutrality, open standards, transparency, lack of Internet censorship, and low barriers to entry. The concept of the open Internet is sometimes expressed as an expectation of decentralized technological power, and is seen by some as closely related to open-source software.  Proponents often see net neutrality as an important component of an open Internet, where policies such as equal treatment of data and open web standards allow those on the Internet to easily communicate and conduct business without interference from a third party. A closed Internet refers to the opposite situation, in which established persons, corporations or governments favor certain uses. A closed Internet may have restricted access to necessary web standards, artificially degrade some services, or explicitly filter out content. Tim Wu, who is credited with crafting the term and concept, took great pains to distinguish “Net Neutrality” from “Open Access” in his original paper that introduced the topic. Open Access is about opening essential infrastructure to competition. Net Neutrality accepts that there is no Open Access, and begins to regulate the Internet rather than just essential facilities used to access the Internet.

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The FCC defines “Open Internet” in 2015 as consisting of three fundamental building blocks.

1. No Blocking:

Broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful device.

2. No Throttling:

Broadband providers may not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.

3. No Paid Prioritization:

Broadband providers may not favour some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration — in other words, no “fast lanes.” This rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.

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Consumers’ rights:

• Broadband Internet access consumers should have access to their choice of legal Internet content within the bandwidth limits and quality of service of their service plan.

• Broadband Internet access consumers should be able to run applications of their choice, within the bandwidth limits and quality of service of their service plans, as long as they do not harm the provider’s network.

• Consumers should be permitted to attach any devices they choose to their broadband Internet access connection at their premises, so long as there is no harm to the network.

• Consumers should receive meaningful information regarding their broadband Internet access service plans in order to make informed decisions in the marketplace.

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Net neutrality is based on two general technical principles that are inherent in today’s Internet standards:

1. Best efforts delivery – the network attempts to deliver every packet to its destination equally, with no discrimination and provides no guarantee of quality or performance;

2. End-to-end principle – in a general purpose network, application-specific functions should only be implemented at the endpoints of the network, not in intermediate nodes.

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The foundation of net neutrality is ensuring that consumer choice is not influenced by differential ease or cost of access for Internet services. It means equal business opportunity for all Internet businesses, based on the premise that the ISP or telecom operator doesn’t create artificial distinctions between them on the basis of commercial relationships between them and some websites.

Three basic points of neutrality:

1. All sites must be equally accessible.

ISPs and telecom operators shouldn’t block certain or apps just because they don’t pay them. They should also not create gateways which influence discovery of sites, giving preference to some sites over others.

2. All sites must be accessible at the same speed.

This means no speeding up of certain sites because of business deals and more importantly, it means no slowing down some sites.

3. The cost of access must be the same for all sites (per Kb/Mb or as per data plan).

That means no zero rating. In countries like India, Net Neutrality is more about cost of access than speed of access because they don’t have fast and slow lanes. Given the paucity of 3G spectrum and a very poor, sparse wireline network, they only have slow lanes. In India, the proposal of an internet access provider to charge for usage of a free communication platform that only needs Wi-Fi connection and circumvents the need for a mobile communication platform, has sparked off a raging controversy on whether this country is violating net neutrality. If this were offensive to customers of that service provider, they could always shift to another provider who does not impose such charges, retaining the same mobile number. If multiple service providers get into a cartel to impose such charges, the competition regulator could step in and impose crippling penalties on members of the cartel.

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Network neutrality advocates seek to require ISPs to maintain the Internet as a “network of networks” seamlessly interconnecting facilities without favouring any category of content provider or consumer. Network neutrality in application would require ISPs to continue routing traffic on a best efforts basis, ostensibly to foreclose the potential for the Internet to fragment and balkanize into various types of superior access arrangements, available at a premium, and a public Internet increasingly prone to real or induced congestion. Opponents to compulsory network neutrality seek to differentiate service, in terms of quality, price and features to accommodate increasingly diverse user requirements. For example, on line game players, IPTV viewers and VoIP subscribers may need prioritization of their traffic streams so that their bits arrive on time, even if this outcome requires the ISPs to identify and favour these traffic streams. ISPs want the flexibility to offer different options for consumer access to the Internet and how content providers reach consumers. Consumer tiering could differentiate service in terms of bit rate speeds, amount of permissible traffic carried per month and how an ISP would handle specific types traffic, including “mission critical” content that might require special treatment, particularly when network congestion likely may occur. While consumer tiering addresses quality of service and price discrimination at the first and last kilometer, access tiering could differentiate how ISPs handle content upstream into the Internet cloud that links content providers and end users. Network neutrality advocates have expressed concern that the potential exists for ISPs to use diversifying service requirements as cover for a deliberate strategy to favour their own content and to extort additional payments from users and content providers threatened with intentionally degraded service. Many network neutrality advocates speak and write in apocalyptic terms about the impact of price and service discrimination and how it will eviscerate the Internet and enable carriers to delay or shut out competitors and ventures unwilling or unable to pay surcharges. The head of a consumer group claims that incumbent telephone and cable companies’ can reshape the nation’s digital destiny by branding the Internet and foreclosing much of its societal and cultural benefits.  On the other hand, opponents of network neutrality categorically reject as commercially infeasible any instance of unreasonable discrimination or service degradation. Network neutrality opponents also note that ISPs typically qualify for a regulatory “safe harbor” that largely insulates them from regulation, because they operate as value added, information service providers and not telecommunications service providers. While the latter group incur traditional common carrier, public utility responsibilities, including the duty not to discriminate, the former group enjoys quite limited government oversight in most nations. Opponents of network neutrality see no actual or potential problems resulting from ISPs having freedom to discriminate and diversify service. Without such flexibility, opponents of network neutrality express concern whether ISPs will continue to risk investing the billions of dollars needed for construction of next generation network infrastructure.

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There are the four broad issues with reference to net neutrality.

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The case in which all bits are accorded the same priority, but are priced differently is a hybrid case of net neutrality. While it satisfies net neutrality with respect to priority it does not satisfy with respect to price. Zero rating is an indicative of this where the bits of selected applications are priced at zero for the consumer that fall under this plan while they are not given either higher/ lower priority compared to others. However, zero rating is a form of an extreme pricing. We can envision a situation that this will lead to large OTTs tying up with large TSPs/ISPs to provide zero rating scheme. Smaller and start-up OTTs will be left out of this equation due to economics of subsidy. The other case is when ISP charges the same for each bit, but prioritizes certain OTT content. This case involves ISP implementing technologies such as advanced cache management and Deep Packet Inspection amongst others. From the consumer point of view, it provides better Quality of Experience (QoE) without additional price. Hence can possibly increase consumer surplus. This may also involve close cooperation and agreement between select content and service providers. This also might decrease the quality of experience of other content services that are not in the scheme.

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The internet access providers claim that service providers, like Netflix and Google, are getting a “free ride” on their network, since those services are popular with their users, and they’d like to get those (very successful) companies to pay. Wait, so internet companies don’t pay for bandwidth? They absolutely do pay for their bandwidth. And here’s the tricky part of this whole thing. Everyone already pays for their own bandwidth. You pay your access provider, and the big internet companies pay for their bandwidth as well. And what you pay for is your ability to reach all those sites on the internet. What the internet access providers are trying to do is to get everyone to pay twice. That is, you pay for your bandwidth, and then they want, say, Netflix, to pay again for the bandwidth you already paid for, so that Netflix can reach you. This is under the false belief that when you buy internet service from your internet access provider, you haven’t bought with it the ability to reach sites on the internet. The big telcos and cable companies want to pretend you’ve only bought access to the edge of their network, and then internet sites should have to pay extra to become available to you. In fact, they’ve been rather explicit about this. Back in 2006, AT&T’s Ed Whitacre stated it clearly: “I think the content providers should be paying for the use of the network – obviously not the piece for the customer to the network, which has already been paid for by the customer in internet access fees, but for accessing the so-called internet cloud.” In short, the broadband players would like to believe that when you pay your bandwidth, you’re only paying from your access point to their router. Proponents say net neutrality is fundamental to advancing the Internet. If deep-pocketed digital media brands are allowed to pay for faster broadband connections, then relatively young, small ones will be at a competitive disadvantage, they argue. The anti-net neutrality argument is that ISPs should be able to allocate their resources and establish business partnerships however they deem fit, and allowing the FCC to regulate how they do business would actually stifle innovation.

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High Internet use and how it affects Net Neutrality:

An example is the use of a movie streaming service such as Netflix. When sending small text messages such as email, only a small amount of data needs to move over the Internet since the email is a small piece of data. A full-length motion picture in High-Definition is a dramatically larger piece of data, and it takes up a lot more of the pipe to get from one point to another. It’s estimated that Netflix, during peak movie watching times such as Saturday night, accounts for as much as 1/3 of all the data moving on the Internet. If every user had to get to the same place on the Internet to start watching a Netflix show, the connections to Netflix would become congested, which in fact can happen. In addition to Netflix, individual Internet users watch YouTube videos, search Google, download files, and listen to music streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify. A common way for individuals to connect to the Internet is to pay an Internet Service Provider (ISP) a fee for an Internet connection. An ISP provides access to everything on the Internet for you as a consumer. However, moving large things like movies and music is much more expensive and requires larger and faster Internet “pipes” than moving emails and simpler web pages and requires more expensive Internet “pipes.” So who pays for the pipe that delivers the data to you has become one of the hot issues for Net Neutrality. The issue of Net Neutrality for bandwidth gets down to some people having deep pockets and others not.  Could someone pay the company that delivers the Internet to consumers a fee to get to people’s homes faster, and if they could, should they have to pay, and if so, what happens to the Internet users (like small businesses, schools, or individual websites) who don’t pay?

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The following are the major concerns of network neutrality:

1. Non-Discrimination: Internet services should be provided all over the world without any discrimination. Anyone can post or develop their own blogs or website comments. Users can search for anything and search engines will show all available matches without any discrimination.

2. Content Diversity: A service provider cannot change the contents of a website according to its requirements.

3. Commercial Use: Network neutrality governs the rules and principles that are suitable for every business owner. There are no specific boundaries for commercial website and e-business owners.

4. IP Telephones: The IP telephone, which uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), allows anyone to make a call using a computer connected to the Internet. Voice chats, Skype and other chat services are the best example of VoIP. These should not be restricted.

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Why do we want network neutrality in the first place?

1.  free and open internet is the single greatest technology of our time, and control should not be at the mercy of corporations.

2. free and open internet stimulates ISP competition.

3. free and open internet helps prevent unfair pricing practices.

4. free and open internet promotes innovation.

5. free and open internet promotes the spread of ideas.

6. free and open internet drives entrepreneurship.

7. free and open internet protects freedom of speech.

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An Internet user should be able to connect to any other legal endpoint without interference from the service provider.  This is analogous to ensuring every telephone can call every other telephone, anywhere, without restrictions on connectivity or quality.

From the user’s perspective, net neutrality eliminates:

•Connection, admission and access discrimination;

•Paid prioritization or scheduling of access and/or transport;

•Controls and limitations on applications and contents.

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Freedom and Net Neutrality:

Freedom is the value that people can do what they want, make their own decisions, and express their own opinions. From the content providers’ perspective, the Internet is the platform that gives tremendous freedom to individual users and innovators. They argue the remarkable success of the Internet is based on “a few simple network principles – end-to-end design, layered architecture, and open standards – which together give consumers choice and control over their online activities”. Academics and interest groups also invoke freedom to support Net neutrality legislation. However, freedom is also invoked by opponents of Net neutrality. For example, one anti-Net neutrality academic argues that “the best broadband policy for the United States would result in lots of choice, innovation, and low prices. An anti-Net neutrality service provider downplays the extent to which differentiation among users is a hindrance to consumer choice and emphasizes that, “what would be a threat to consumers and to free speech is the elimination of competition”. Thus, freedom was used to argue both sides of the debate. We must keep the Internet free and open. If you care about any of the following freedoms, then you should care about preserving net neutrality:

Freedom from monopolies

Freedom to start a business and compete on a level playing field

Freedom of online speech

Freedom to visit any Website you want at the fastest browsing speed

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Net neutrality, free speech and media:

According to the Pew Research Center, half of all Americans cite the Internet as their main source for national and international news. For young people, that number is 71 percent. I do not mean to imply that we have reached a point where newspapers are becoming obsolete or that broadcast television is a relic of the past. Much of the news online still comes from broadcast and print outlets, either on their own websites or on other sites that “aggregate” and repeat their content. But the Internet is undoubtedly shaping how we distribute and consume the news today. The future of journalism is inextricably linked with the future of the Internet. That is why Net Neutrality matters and why publishers, journalists and everyone who seeks to influence or contribute to our shared culture should be worried. Verizon could strike a deal with CNN and hinder its subscribers’ abilities to access alternative news sources. Or, once its merger conditions expire, Comcast could slow access to Al Jazeera because it wants to promote its NBC news offerings. Computer scientists at Microsoft have shown that people will visit a website less often if it’s slower than a rival site by more than 250 milliseconds. That’s a blink of an eye. The absence of Net Neutrality means that Internet service providers will have the power to silence anyone who cannot or will not pay their tolls. And that is why, in 2010, Senator Al Franken called Net Neutrality the First Amendment issue of our time. No journalist or creator should be subject to the commercial or political whims of an ISP. True, many of the biggest media companies may be able to afford to pay for prioritization. They may even like the idea because their deep pockets can ensure their content continues to be seen. So it’s not the big guys who would suffer in the absence of net neutrality. It is the independent journalists, rising stars and diverse voices who have grown up with and thrived on the open Web who would suffer in the absence of net neutrality.

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Broadband providers could take away your most basic rights in the absence of net neutrality:

1. Freedom of the Press

If you wanted to start an international media company 20 years ago, you couldn’t do it on your own. The barriers to entry — getting access to a printing press and developing the complex infrastructure to distribute your work — were huge. With the open Internet, however, anyone can start a news site and publish articles or videos, without worrying about whether people can read them. Without net neutrality, ISPs can block or slow down news sites for any reason, be it commercial or ideological. For example, Comcast could block NYTimes.com or slow it to a crawl because the online newspaper published an op-ed in favor of net neutrality or even reported something negative about the company.

2. Free and Fair Elections

The large ISPs already have a major influence on politics, with Verizon alone spending $53 million on campaign donations and lobbying since 2010. However, without net neutrality, there’s nothing to stop the ISPs from influencing elections even more directly. Your broadband provider could block the website of one candidate while speeding up that of another. It could even censor the sites for political action committees that support a viewpoint or candidate it opposes. Back in 2007, Verizon initially refused to send out text messages from a pro-abortion rights group, but backed down under pressure. What if AT&T decides one day that it opposes capital punishment so much that it blocks prodeathpenalty.com and the site of any gubernatorial candidates that support the practice? Activists of any stripe should be concerned about their right to publish content that an ISP might disagree with. In 2005, Canadian ISP Telus blocked the site of a labor group that encouraged its workers to strike. Even more insidiously, ISPs can selectively block government websites that provide voter information like polling locations and registration forms. If they succeed in lowering voter turnout in certain areas, that could change the course of an election.

3. Freedom of Association

You always talk to your mom on Skype, but then your ISP signs an exclusive deal to make Google Hangouts its only allowed chat service. Meanwhile, Mom’s ISP on the other side of the country serves Hangouts at unusable speeds, but gives Skype its fast lane. This scenario may sound crazy, but without any legal constraint, your ISP has every incentive to swing priority access deals with some messaging services while blocking others. There’s already a precedent for blocking messaging clients in the world of wireless broadband. Back in 2009, AT&T blocked the iPhone from making Skype calls on its mobile network, but relented under pressure from the FCC. In 2012, the company also blocked Apple FaceTime on the iPhone. Of course, you and your mom can always talk on old-fashioned landline phones if you both still have them. Unlike broadband providers, wired phone services are defined as common carriers and are legally obligated to accept calls from anyone. VoIP services such as Vonage are exempt, as are cell phone carriers.

4. Freedom to Start a Business

If you decide to open up a restaurant in town and a street gang demands money not to destroy your place, you’d call the police. But if your business lives on the Internet, you could have as many as a dozen different ISPs in the U.S. shaking you down and, without net neutrality, no legal recourse against them. The most important question raised by net neutrality is not “should the government regulate the Internet” but “should a dozen ISPs be allowed to control thousands of other companies?” Whether you’re trying to start the next Netflix or you’re a mommy blogger eking out a living on ad revenue, you could be forced to pay broadband providers in order to reach their customers. If you can’t pay, providers could slow your site or service down to the point that nobody wants to use it. The smart money is already abandoning many Internet startups

5. Freedom of Choice

You like to do all your shoe shopping at Zappos, but your ISP has an exclusive clothing deal with Walmart, so it slows down Zappos.com so badly that each page takes a minute to load and you get timeout messages when submitting your credit card information. You might be determined enough to keep visiting your favourite online shoe store despite these roadblocks, but most people won’t. You’ve been using Gmail as your primary email address for years, but your ISP decides to slow down that service and speed up Microsoft’s Outlook.com instead. How long will you stick with the slow email over the fast one? In a world where ISPs can slow down or outright block whatever services they like, your freedom to choose everything from your email client to your online university could disappear.

6. Freedom of expression

Proponents of net neutrality believe that an open internet, where users can connect to any site or use any application, is the best guarantee of freedom of expression. They fear that traffic-control techniques like DPI represent a step toward censorship, whereby governments could censure (or pressure commercial companies to censure) opposing points of view. By blocking or slowing down certain sites, or even just excluding certain services from specialised offers, network operators could make it harder for citizens to access sites expressing certain points of view. Opponents of net neutrality regulation suggest that guidelines could indicate what kinds of traffic management techniques are permitted and under what circumstances (e.g. judicial supervision). One legal scholar has argued that private organisations (most ISPs are private) performing reasonable traffic management (including prioritising traffic) would likely not be acting contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights (though practices that clearly aimed at restricting competition or media plurality would be). On the other hand (perhaps surprisingly) a very strict codification of net neutrality principles might be held by the same measure to restrict unfairly the freedom of ISPs to offer different levels of service (like different classes on airlines) and manage their businesses as they saw fit.

7. Privacy

When your ISP is using DPI to read your data, it is violating your privacy.

8. Equality

Equality is the state of being equal, especially in having the same rights, status, and opportunity for all people. The value of equality is invoked in this case to refer to network players and consumers having the same rights and opportunities. Proponents of Net neutrality claim that service providers “should not discriminate among content or application providers”. To assure the equal competition among service providers, Net neutrality regulation is thus viewed as necessary by these Net neutrality advocates. Service providers, not surprisingly, view equality differently from Net neutrality advocates. Service providers argue that discrimination does not exist in the reality of competition between service providers. They argue that it is inappropriate to excessively rely on equality. For example, in the words of one service provider, “Unfortunately, because network neutrality seems like such a sensible idea and has so much momentum, various parties have sought to extend the definition beyond this basic principle — in ways that favor their own interests and which are, ironically, non-neutral”. Thus, the opponents in the Net neutrality debate have very different and contrasting views on equality.

9. Creativity

Creativity is the ability to create new ideas or things involving uniqueness and imagination. Both proponents and opponents of Net neutrality agree on the need for innovation. As one content provider explains, “It is innovation, not legislation that created our service and brought this competition to consumers”. He further urges, “The Internet remains an open and competitive foundation for innovation”. Service providers also see the importance of investment on innovation, noting that “we need to ensure that government policy encourages vigorous investment in continually upgrading network capacity”. Thus, Net neutrality supporters and opponents agree that creativity is an important value in this debate.

10. Social justice

Social justice is related to correcting injustice and caring for the weak. Net neutrality proponents say that net neutrality allows level playing field to start-ups, dissidents, underprivileged, oppressed and small entrepreneurs.  Net neutrality opponents frequently invoke social justice to support the notion that “those who cause the costs should be charged” in the words of one academic. As an interest group representative explains, “businesses that seek to profit on the use of next-generation networks should not be free of all costs associated with the increased capacity that is required for delivery of the advanced services and applications they seek to market”. Thus, Net neutrality opponents also place emphasis on Net neutrality as a social justice issue.

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There are two ways to undermine net neutrality. One is to segregate the premium market from the rest by allowing telcos to charge premium prices for high quality bandwidth. Another is to segregate the low end from the rest through initiatives such as Internet.org.  The result will be identical – a segregated market that goes against the concept of the Internet as a utility where users pay fees that match long-term average costs.

The Reliance and Airtel playbook is simple:

1. Restrict access under the guise of a public good.

2. Charge companies like Facebook, WhatsApp and Skype for access or start charging users additional fees on top of data plans.

3. Anti-competitive: Preferential treatment to in-house content. For example, if startup X creates a disruptive new product, the telco conglomerate can copy it and use the guise of Internet.org or Airtel zero to gain distribution.

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There are many reasons why Net Neutrality is not respected, among the most frequent ones are:

1. Access providers violate Net Neutrality to optimise profits

Some Internet access providers demand the right to block or slow down Internet traffic for their own commercial benefit. Internet access providers are not only in control of Internet connections, they also increasingly start to provide content, services and applications. They are increasingly looking for the power to become the “gatekeepers” of the Internet. For example, the Dutch telecoms access provider KPN tried to make their customers use KPN’s own text-messaging service instead of web-based chat services by blocking these free services. Another notable example of discrimination is T-Mobile’s blocking of Internet telephony services (Voice over IP), provided for example by Skype, in order to give priority to their own and their business partners’ services.

2. Access providers violate Net Neutrality for privatised censorship

In the UK, blocking measures by access providers have frequently been misused to block unwanted content. For instance, on 4 May 2012, the website of anti-violence advocates “conciliation resources” was accidentally blocked by child protection filters on UK mobile networks. Another example is Virgin Media. The company provides access to the Internet and increasingly uses Deep Packet Inspection. Virgin is now using this same privacy invasive technology to police their network in attempt to protect its own music business. In all of these cases, private companies police their users’ connections to censor what they guess may be unwanted content.

3. Access providers violate Net Neutrality to comply with the law

Governments are increasingly asking access and service providers to restrict certain types of traffic, to filter and monitor the Internet to enforce the law. A decade ago, there were only four countries filtering and censoring the Internet

Worldwide – today, they are over forty. In Europe, website blocking has been introduced for instance in Belgium, France, Italy, the UK and Ireland. This is done for reasons as varied as protecting national gambling monopolies and implementing demonstrably ineffective efforts to protect copyright.

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India and Net Neutrality:

There’s a big debate on this going on in the United States, but why in India?

India has 1 billion people without internet access and it is imperative in democracy to have an open and free internet where users are free to choose the services they want to access—instead of a telecom operator deciding what information they can access. Internet apps and services are expected to contribute 5% to India’s GDP by 2020. That will only happen of entrepreneurs, big and small, have a level playing field that encourages innovation and non-preferential treatment—something that net neutrality ensures. Assuming there is no net neutrality, only the big players will be able to strike deals with telcos while the smaller players remain inaccessible, which will go against the principles of net neutrality. The problem began with Indian telecom players like Airtel, Vodafone and Reliance who realised that users were replacing traditional texting with WhatsApp or Viber and traditional network calling with apps such as Skype. They now want the right to charge what they want, when they want and how they want. In effect, if Airtel doesn’t like YouTube, but wants to push its own video app Wynk, it wants the right to offer that for free, while charging you a bomb to access YouTube. Reliance already has a Facebook-driven scheme called Internet.org, where you can access Bing for free, but you have to pay to access Google; and you have access to BabaJob for free, while you have to pay for Naukri.com.

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Net neutrality protest in India:

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Although Indian telecom companies’ argument that they have invested a lot in buying the spectrum and building the infrastructure is not without merit, but equal access to the internet can’t be compromised for two basic reasons. One of the primary reasons is that if a data provider enters into a tie-up with a giant like Facebook to provide free access to it and to charge money from its rivals – most of them very small players – for the same, it’s like killing entrepreneurship and innovation. The second clinching argument in support of net neutrality is that once the telecom companies have charged for the data, they have no right to tell the user where to use that data. What you do with the data you pay for — watch a YouTube video, send a WhatsApp message or make a Skype call — is entirely your prerogative.

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On December 25, 2014, Airtel, the country’s largest mobile operator with over 200 million active subscribers, dropped a bombshell: it wanted to charge customers extra for using services like Skype, Viber and Google Hangouts even though they had already paid for Internet access. If customers wanted to use a service that used Internet data to make voice calls — something known as VoIP — they would need to subscribe to an additional VoIP pack, the company said. Airtel was double-dipping and customers were furious. The tweets flew thick and fast. In less than four days, Airtel backtracked on its plans. It’s important to remember that it’s not just telecom companies that are interested in a non-neutral Internet in India. According to the TRAI consultation paper, 83 percent of India’s Internet users access the Internet from their mobile phones. This massive audience is crucial for multi-billion dollar corporations like Twitter, Facebook and Google. In February 2015, Reliance Communications and Facebook partnered to launch Internet.org in India, a service whose ostentatious aim was to bring the Internet to the next billion people. In reality, Internet.org grossly violated net neutrality by offering free access to a handpicked list of websites and social networks for free, while making users pay for others; Google bundled free data with its Android One phones; and WhatsApp tied up with multiple providers across the country to provide “WhatsApp Packs.”  But if things are bad for consumers, they’re worse for businesses and startups that rely on an open Internet to reach customers. Telecom operators should be seeking to maximise revenues by making us use more of the Internet. They’re slicing the pie instead of growing the pie.

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Services like Whatsapp that have been adopted by Indian public themselves are a result of innovation that the telcos did not do on their own. Whatsapp succeeded in India because the Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) provided by telcos were prohibitively expensive and really hard to use. So instead of making money per message as telcos intended to do, they are now making money out of running pipes, something that they have the license for. By creating their own walled gardens in this free, equal and open internet structure, they are now trying to impose their own distribution channels which would prevent more disruptions like Whatsapp in the future.  In case of a service like the SMS, the user was charged only at one end but in a service like Whatsapp both the sender and the receiver are billed for the data they consume.

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Telcos say that the evidence is there of OTT communication services cannibalizing the revenues of the ISPs. Messaging revenues have already declined from 7-10% to 3%. Further, VOIP services like Skype, Viber, etc. have already begun to erode the voice telephony revenues. This decline is at present far more evident in the international calling segment. The revenue earned by the telecom operators for one minute of use in traditional voice is Re. 0.50 per minute on an average, as compared to data revenue for one minute of VOIP usage which is around Re.0.04, which is 12.5 times lesser than traditional voice. This clearly indicates that the substitution of data with voice is bound to adversely impact the revenues of the telecom operators and consequently impact both their infrastructure related spends and the prices consumers pay.

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What will happen if there is no net neutrality?

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If there is no net neutrality, ISPs will have the power (and inclination) to shape internet traffic so that they can derive extra benefit from it. For example, several ISPs believe that they should be allowed to charge companies for services like YouTube and Netflix because these services consume more bandwidth compared to a normal website. Basically, these ISPs want a share in the money that YouTube or Netflix make. Without net neutrality, the internet as we know it will not exist. Instead of free access, there could be “package plans” for consumers. For example, if you pay Rs 500, you will only be able to access websites based in India. To access international websites, you may have to pay a more. Or maybe there can be different connection speed for different type of content, depending on how much you are paying for the service and what “add-on package” you have bought. Lack of net neutrality will also spell doom for innovation on the web. It is possible that ISPs will charge web companies to enable faster access to their websites. Those who don’t pay may see that their websites will open slowly. This means bigger companies like Google will be able to pay more to make access to Youtube or Google+ faster for web users but a startup that wants to create a different and better video hosting site may not be able to do that.  With the loss of net neutrality, small businesses, including those in the digital creative industries, would become strained or simply unable to compete with larger, more established businesses purely because of their inability to pay cable companies for fast lanes. Irving [2014] writes “under the current proposal, most small business websites in America could be relegated to the slow lane – transformed into second-class players overnight.” The inability for smaller companies and businesses within the digital creative industries to promote themselves and do business over the internet would mean the end for most of said businesses. And thus, an internet without net neutrality could possibly look very different from the internet we’re all familiar with today. Of course, the larger more familiar websites like Google (and Youtube), Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Reddit, WordPress etc. would all look and function in near enough the same way. After all, despite their protests against cable companies, these large corporations are the ones who would have the resources and funds to pay for the fast lanes in order to stay in business.

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What will happen to your Website if Net Neutrality is lost?

1. Slower internet

One of the most immediate and obvious effects that tiered internet would have is slower internet for lower-paying customers. As you probably know, slow upload and download speed is one of the top pet peeves for customers, and a site load time of even one second can decrease conversion by seven percent. If a significant proportion of your customers are on a lower-tiered plan, that could mean a huge bounce rate for your site.

2. SEO (search engine optimization):

A significant portion of the population being subjected to internet throttling could also have strong and limiting implications for SEO.

There are two major ways that search results could be affected:

•Search results are limited to only the sites that certain subscriber levels are able to access

•Search results remain mostly the same, and users have to guess blindly to find a result that is covered by their subscription or one that won’t choke under narrow bandwidth

3. Simpler content

Loading a gif is essentially the equivalent of loading 10-50 images – which is why gifs often load more slowly than JPEGs and even YouTube videos.

4. Effect on entertainment & education sites

Slower web speeds means that rich content sites like Buzzfeed, Udacity, and other sites that rely on images and video may suffer from decreased performance, and may be forced to simplify if they wish to keep appealing to a wide audience.

5. Effect on e-commerce sites

This may not only be restricted to entertainment sites – many e-commerce sites use rich content such as interactive visuals and product videos to explain their product details.  Watching product videos can be an essential part of the online shopping experience. Testing thousands of websites shows that rich content on ecommerce sites is highly valued by users, and is often requested if it is not already present. Can you imagine shopping Apple without having all those demos and details?

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Net neutrality affects poor the most:

School, public, and college libraries rely upon the public availability of open, affordable internet access for school homework assignments, distance learning classes, e-government services, licensed databases, job-training videos, medical and scientific research, and many other essential services. We must ensure the same quality access to online educational content as to entertainment and other commercial offerings. But without net neutrality, we are in danger of prioritizing Mickey Mouse and Jennifer Lawrence over William Shakespeare and Teddy Roosevelt. This may maximize profits for large content providers, but it minimizes education for all. And with education comes innovation. While we tend to glorify industrial-park incubators and think-tanks, the fact is that many of the innovative services we use today were created by entrepreneurs who had a fair chance to compete for web traffic. By enabling internet service providers to limit that access, we are essentially saying that only the privileged can continue to innovate. Meanwhile, small content creators, such as bloggers and grassroots educators, would face challenges from ISPs placing restrictions on information traveling over their networks. Protecting net neutrality and considering its effect on libraries isn’t just a feel-good sentiment about education and innovation, however. Network neutrality is actually an issue of economic access, because those who can’t afford to pay more for internet services will be relegated to the “slow lane” of the information highway. Many institutions and organizations will not want to be disadvantaged by slow load times, but they will not be able to afford the ISP’s fees. So they will charge consumers. Want to get the news, get your health report, get your homework in a reasonable period of time? Pay extra!

Who will be most hurt by the end of net neutrality?

-Not big corporations. They will pay up and probably pass the cost to the consumer.

-Not the 1%. They will pay what they need to pay to get fast internet.

The people who will be hurt the most are those who need the internet most:

-Dissident, radical, but also innovative and entrepreneurial voices — people with new and different ideas.

-Small business owners especially owners of businesses that currently use the “cloud” to store data and to connect employees.

-Educators and librarians who will be stuck on the back roads of the internet.

-Moderate- to low-income people who will undergo frustrating waits to get information because they can’t pay for the fast lane.

-Children

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Zero rating:

Zero-rating (also called toll-free data or sponsored data) is the practice of mobile network operators (MNO) and mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) not to charge end customers for data used by specific applications or internet services through the MNO’s mobile network, in limited or metered data plans. It allows customers to use data services like video streaming, without worrying about bill shocks, which could otherwise occur if the same data was normally charged according to their data plans. Internet services like Facebook, Wikipedia and Google have built special programs to use zero-rating as means to provide their service more broadly into developing markets. The benefit for these new customers, who will mostly have to rely on mobile networks to connect to the Internet, would be a subsidised access to services from these service providers. The results of these efforts have been mixed, with adoption in a number of markets, sometimes overestimated expectations and perceived lack of benefits for mobile network operators. In Chile the Subsecretaria de Telecomunicaciones of Chile ruled that this practice violated net neutrality laws and had to end by June 1, 2014.  Zero-rating is essentially the practice of providing consumers with free access through sponsored data plans, arising out of the nexus between telecom companies and well-funded portals, websites and apps. While many may find nothing wrong with this practice, it’s important to understand that this will fragment the internet into a free part of the internet, much akin to a walled garden, and a non-free part of the internet from the perspective of users. This actually goes against the very DNA of the internet and its egalitarian nature, which is about universal access to all sites without any limitations placed by the telecom companies, or the content providers trying to act as gate-keepers. Zero-rated mobile traffic is blunt anti-competitive price discrimination designed to favor telcos’ own or their partners’ apps while placing competing apps at a disadvantage. A zero-rated app is an offer consumers can’t refuse. If consumers choose a third-party app, they will either need to use it only over Wi-Fi use or pay telcos hundreds of dollars to use data over 3G networks on their smartphones or tablets.

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A problem worsened by volume caps:

Zero-rating isn’t new. Telcos have been zero-rating their fixed broadband IPTV offerings from day one. The difference is that the overwhelming majority of fixed broadband connections were, and still are, volume uncapped. Contrary to fixed-lines, internet over smartphones and tablets comes with very restrictive volume caps in most markets. Zero-rated mobile traffic doesn’t need to be delivered at higher speeds and with a higher quality of service, nor does it need to be prioritized.

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Airtel defence for zero rating:

If the application developer is on the platform they pay for the data and their customer does not. If the developer is not on the platform the customer pays for data as they do now. Companies are free to choose whether they want to be on the platform or not. This does not change access to the content in any way whatsoever. Customers are free to choose which web site they want to visit, whether it is toll free or not. If they visit a toll free site they are not charged for data. If they visit any other site normal data charges apply. Finally every web site, content or application will always be given the same treatment on our network whether they are on the toll free platform or not. As a company we do not ever block, throttle or provide any differential speeds to any web site. We have never done it and will never do it. We believe customers are the reason we are in business. As a result we will always do what is right for our customers.

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Digital divide, net neutrality and zero rating:

A digital divide is an economic and social inequality according to categories of persons in a given population in their access to, use of, or knowledge of information and communication technologies. The divide within countries (such as the digital divide in the United States) may refer to inequalities between individuals, households, businesses, or geographic areas, usually at different socioeconomic levels or other demographic categories. The divide between differing countries or regions of the world is referred to as the global digital divide, examining this technological gap between developing and developed countries on an international scale.

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Is Net Neutrality more important than Internet Access through zero rating to reduce digital divide?

Millions more people were using the Internet in Africa because of Internet.org and that job search was among the most popular activities. That’s amazing when you think about it – by offering a portion of the Internet for free (which definitely goes against net neutrality), millions of people – too poor or previously unwilling to pay for the net – were now online and searching for better livelihoods in the span of a few months. The problem with the Internet in India today – the one that exists now where most bits are charged the same – is that it’s far too expensive for most folks. According to TRAI, only 20% of India is online – and that includes all those people who turned on 2G once on their phone. In short, the Internet is simply not relevant enough to most Indians. It’s largely in English, it’s expensive and it’s full of content that’s not particularly relevant for most women, the elderly, the poor, the under-educated and the rural. In many other markets – TV being a great example – content was made free and then supported by advertising e.g. a limited number of broadcasters got to choose the TVs shows that aired and paid for it all with ads. This made TV accessible to everyone, assuming they could afford the price of entry of a TV set. You could definitely argue that a broadcaster choosing a TV show went against the concept of “TV-neutrality” but in exchange, everyone got free content aka TV shows. In Facebook’s Internet.org case, they included sites like Babajob that work on low-end phones, made their sites available in local languages and offered something useful to them (like the chance to find a better job or get health information). In markets like the US where Internet penetration is much higher, the debate about net neutrality is much more relevant. But if we hope to bring most of the Indian population online, something’s got to give. Either the government needs to stop charging a bundle for bandwidth licenses (e.g. witness the recent $18 billion 3G & LTE spectrum auction – who do you think will ultimately pay for that, Internet users), or those in power need to stop taking bribes to put up cell towers and fiber across the country (again who ultimately pays? Mobile and internet users), or new business models are developed such that net users pay less or nothing (e.g. people watch ads, things like Internet.org cover their fees, companies that can afford it pay for their user’s bandwidth, richer users give subsidies to help the poor pay for internet access, etc.). Arguments about net neutrality shouldn’t be used to prevent the most disadvantaged people in society from gaining access or to deprive people of opportunity. Eliminating programs that bring more people online won’t increase social inclusion or close the digital divide. It will only deprive all of us of the ideas and contributions of the two thirds of the world who are not connected. We also must realize that this is India, not the US, not China. Over 60 per cent of Indian population lives on less than US$2 per day. Indian market dynamics are very different from the rest of the world. We must to give room to both sides of the industry to experiment to bring the cost of the internet down significantly for the one billion plus population in India without blocking, throttling or discriminating against any service, with the basic principles of net neutrality intact. Because at the end of the day that’s what matters. Bringing over a billion Indians online. Technically, Internet.org is an open platform any website or app can join, but as Zuckerberg notes, it would be impossible to give the entire Internet away for free. “Mobile operators spend tens of billions of dollars to support all of Internet traffic,” he writes. “If it was all free they’d go out of business.” That means most services necessarily must be left out if Internet.org is to be financially viable for carriers. This creates a system of fundamentally unequal access for the companies trying to reach these users and for users themselves. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said ‘some access to the Internet is better than none at all and unequal access is better than no access’. But let’s start with the fact that only Reliance customers are eligible for free and selective Internet access through Facebook’s platform. Would any telecom operator who has been crying foul over losses in revenue due to people using cheaper communications options like WhatsApp, offer the web at no charge unless there was profit in it? By tempting users through free Internet, network operators can ensure they reach a wider audience.

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Internet.org, the Facebook-led initiative to provide select apps and services to mobile phone users in emerging markets for free, recently passed 800,000 subscribers in India. Along with local telecom companies there, the service provides access to around 30 websites and services without charging the user for the mobile data necessary to use those services, which include Facebook and Wikipedia. 20% of Internet.org users currently on the platform did not previously access mobile data. Only 7% of the data used by Internet.org subscribers came through the initiative’s free, zero-rated offerings; other paid services accounted for the remaining 93%. This proves that zero rating only allows initial internet access to customers but later on it almost becomes paid service. Studies have showed that internet access reduces poverty and create jobs.

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Are there better ways to bridge the digital divide than Internet.org or Airtel Zero?

The strongest argument in favour of zero-rating is that it helps to broaden the access and get the hitherto excluded population on the internet. In India, this translates to 80% of the population, which underscores the huge digital divide that we need to bridge. While this is a noble goal, what needs to be understood is that the scope for abuse of market power through such zero-rated services is tremendous. It is ironic that it is those websites, then startups, which benefitted from the level playing field of the internet implicit in the principles of net neutrality that are now engaged in a bid to expand their reach and in the process damage the internet as we know it, and skew the balance against current startups. This practice is akin to the eventually disallowed practice of Microsoft bundling its own browser, Internet Explorer, along with its operating system. Solving the issue of access and bridging the digital divide can just as easily and cost-effectively be addressed through other transparent and competition enhancing method like cash transfer to poor people by government.

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Neither Internet.org by Facebook, Airtel Zero nor any other major zero rating platform gives the choice to the consumer. Instead, the decisions are made by big telcos working in partnership with large Internet companies. Smaller firms are forced to commercially lobby and sign up in order to prevent their competitors from being able to deal in and crush them. This reduces entrepreneurship and local Internet innovation by placing firms in a situation where their local consumers are all locked in to a limited platform under the control of a few giants. This is why regulators in Chile, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Canada have prohibited zero-rating, while their counterparts in Germany, Austria and Norway have publicly stated that zero-rating violates network neutrality.  At times, this is a battle between Access and Neutrality. Facebook and Wikipedia are pitching free Internet access, as a means of bringing the Internet to more people who can’t afford it.  Facebook is using this to become the gateway to the Internet on mobile, so that access to the web is through it. Remember that Google won its dominance by creating a great search product…it is also a gateway to the Internet, but mostly via desktops and laptops.

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Even if it were the case that some zero-rating programs might create some barriers to market entry for new start-ups, as net neutrality supporters argue, India may need to consider that not all zero-rating programs are likely to create such barriers.  Further, India may need to balance any potential loss against the immediate benefit that zero-rating programs can provide, by expanding access to Internet services. These platforms could provide rural areas with mobile access to basic search engines, social platforms, and e-commerce sites.  The access could help small business owners and farmers tap into a larger market for their goods, and can bring basic education and information to rural areas.  Even outside of the zero-rating context, policymakers in India are crafting new telecom regulations to achieve a greater balance between the benefits of net neutrality with opportunities for more widespread Internet access.

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Search neutrality:

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The figure below shows that search neutrality is part of net neutrality:

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Neutrality of search engines is called Search Neutrality. If ISPs should be subjected to “net neutrality,” should companies like Google be subjected to “search neutrality”?   Search neutrality is a principle that search engines should have no editorial policies other than that their results be comprehensive, impartial and based solely on relevance. This means that when a user queries a search engine, the engine should return the most relevant results found in the provider’s domain (those sites which the engine has knowledge of), without manipulating the order of the results (except to rank them by relevance), excluding results, or in any other way manipulating the results to a certain bias. Search neutrality should be understood as the remedy to the conduct that involves any manipulation or shaping of search results. This conduct is also commonly known as “search bias”. In this work, search neutrality should be understood in its broadest sense. It is the idea that search results should be free of political, financial or social pressures and that their ranking is determined by relevance, not by the interests or the opinions of the search engines’ owners. The importance attributed to search neutrality and search bias in recent years is closely linked to the role that search engines play in our information society. Indeed, search engines are currently the “gatekeepers” of considerable amounts of information scattered over the World Wide Web. Many users consider search engines to be the most important intermediaries in their quest for information. Users also believe that search engines are reliable without realising that they have the power to hide and to show democratically sensitive information. Search neutrality is related to network neutrality in that they both aim to keep any one organization from limiting or altering a user’s access to services on the Internet. Search neutrality aims to keep the organic search results (results returned because of their relevance to the search terms, as opposed to results sponsored by advertising) of a search engine free from any manipulation, while network neutrality aims to keep those who provide and govern access to the Internet from limiting the availability of resources to access any given content. Google is in the uncomfortable position of trying to stave off a corollary principle of search neutrality. Search neutrality has not yet coalesced into a generally understood principle, but at its heart is some idea that Internet search engines ought not to prefer their own content on adjacent websites in search results but should instead employ “neutral” search algorithms that determine search result rankings based on some “objective” metric of relevance.  Whatever the merits of the net neutrality argument, a general principle of search neutrality would pose a serious threat to the organic growth of Internet search. Although there may be a limited case for antitrust liability on a fact-specific basis for acts of naked exclusion against rival websites, the case for a more general neutrality principle is weak. Particularly as Internet search transitions from the ten blue links model of just a few years ago to a model where search engines increasingly provide end information and interface with website information, a neutrality principle becomes incoherent.

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Search engines produce immense value by identifying, organizing, and presenting the Internet´s information in response to users´ queries. Search engines efficiently provide better and faster answers to users´ questions than alternatives. Recently, critics have taken issue with the various methods search engines use to identify relevant content and rank search results for users. Google, in particular, has been the subject of much of this criticism on the grounds that its organic search results—those generated algorithmically—favor its own products and services at the expense of those of its rivals.  Almost four years have now passed since the European Commission started to investigate Google’s behaviour for abuse of dominant position in the Internet search market. During the investigation Google was accused of favourably ranking its own vertical search services to the detriment of its rivals. Competitors and other stakeholders argued that Google should be regulated through a “search neutrality principle”. Similar claims were expressed during the US Federal Trade Commission investigation relating to the same abusive conduct of Google. An independent analysis finds that own‐content bias is a relatively infrequent phenomenon. Google references its own content more favorably than rival search engines for only a small fraction of terms, whereas Bing is far more likely to do so.

 

It is widely understood that search engines´ algorithms for ranking various web pages naturally differ. Likewise, there is widespread recognition that competition among search engines is vigorous, and that differentiation between engines´ ranking functions is not only desirable, but a natural byproduct of competition, necessary to survival, and beneficial to consumers.  Rather than focus upon competition among search engines in how results are identified and presented to users, critics and complainants craft their arguments around alleged search engine “discrimination” or “bias.” While a broad search neutrality principle is neither feasible nor desirable, this does not mean that dominant search engines should never be liable for intentionally interfering with their rivals’ hits in search results.  Any such liability should be narrow, carefully tailored, and predictable.  Search neutrality may thus have future, not as a general principle, but as the misfiting tag line on fact-specific findings of egregious abuses by dominant search engines.

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Search engines are attention lenses; they bring the online world into focus. They can redirect, reveal, magnify, and distort. They have immense power to help and to hide. We use them, to some extent, always at our own peril. And out of the many ways that search engines can cause harm, the thorniest problems of all stem from their ranking decisions. The need for search neutrality is particularly pressing because so much market power lies in the hands of one company: Google. With 71 percent of the United States search market (and 90 percent in Britain), Google’s dominance of both search and search advertising gives it overwhelming control. Google’s revenues exceeded $21 billion last year, but this pales next to the hundreds of billions of dollars of other companies’ revenues that Google controls indirectly through its search results and sponsored links. One way that Google exploits this control is by imposing covert “penalties” that can strike legitimate and useful Web sites, removing them entirely from its search results or placing them so far down the rankings that they will in all likelihood never be found. Consider an example. The U.K. technology company Foundem offers ““vertical search””——it helps users compare prices for electronics, books, and other goods. That makes it a Google competitor. But in June 2006, Google applied a penalty to Foundem’s website, causing all of its pages to drop dramatically in Google’s rankings and hence its business dropped off dramatically as a result. The experience led Foundem’s co-founder, Adam Raff, to become an outspoken advocate: creating the site searchneutrality.org, filing comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and taking his story to the op-ed pages of The New York Times, calling for legal protection for the Foundems of the world. Another way that Google exploits its control is through preferential placement. With the introduction in 2007 of what it calls “universal search,” Google began promoting its own services at or near the top of its search results, bypassing the algorithms it uses to rank the services of others. Google now favors its own price-comparison results for product queries, its own map results for geographic queries, its own news results for topical queries, and its own YouTube results for video queries. And Google’s stated plans for universal search make it clear that this is only the beginning. Because of its domination of the global search market and ability to penalize competitors while placing its own services at the top of its search results, Google has a virtually unassailable competitive advantage. And Google can deploy this advantage well beyond the confines of search to any service it chooses. Wherever it does so, incumbents are toppled, new entrants are suppressed and innovation is imperiled. Without search neutrality rules to constrain Google’s competitive advantage, we may be heading toward a bleakly uniform world of Google Everything — Google Travel, Google Finance, Google Insurance, Google Real Estate, Google Telecoms and, of course, Google Books. Some will argue that Google is itself so innovative that we needn’t worry. But the company isn’t as innovative as it is regularly given credit for. Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Groups, Google Docs, Google Analytics, Android and many other Google products are all based on technology that Google has acquired rather than invented. Even AdWords and AdSense, the phenomenally efficient economic engines behind Google’s meteoric success, are essentially borrowed inventions: Google acquired AdSense by purchasing Applied Semantics in 2003; and AdWords, though developed by Google, is used under license from its inventors, Overture.

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Google was quick to recognize the threat to openness and innovation posed by the market power of Internet service providers, and has long been a leading proponent of net neutrality. But it now faces a difficult choice. Will it embrace search neutrality as the logical extension to net neutrality that truly protects equal access to the Internet? Or will it try to argue that discriminatory market power is somehow dangerous in the hands of a cable or telecommunications company but harmless in the hands of an overwhelmingly dominant search engine? Google is dominant because customers recognise that it is the best service, not because they are locked. This success has been built through important investments in software and hardware, especially huge data centres. The continuing search activities all over the years reinforced its position, creating a kind of “information barrier” for potential competitors.

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Although search neutrality is a part of net neutrality, there are fundamental differences:

Internet search can never completely be neutral. Search tools and criteria are never completely objective, since they are designed, in a way, to meet the profile of users. If this is done well, the search engine will be successful, and consumers will recognise it. While for ISPs the lock-in is a fundamental barrier for changing provider, in the search engine market the lock-in does not work. If there is an alternative search engine, a simple “click” is enough. One difference between net neutrality and search neutrality is that the search engines are already suppressing and biasing our access to net information.  All the majors maintain “banning” departments that routinely block or suppress access by their users to individually hand-picked web sites without notice and for arbitrary and undisclosed reasons. Search engines maintain that they are publishers and therefore have editorial free-speech rights to delete, bias, edit, or otherwise manipulate organic (non-sponsored) search results in nearly any manner.  Most users think of major search “engines” as automated mechanical connection services as opposed to editorial entities and specifically want such a service; if edited information is desired there are much better sources. As with net neutrality, the lack of search neutrality is especially injurious to small business.  Political bias in search could allow a tiny group of people to significantly alter our “democratic discourse.”  Another functional difference is that while ISPs are local, major search engines are global and can substantially control user access worldwide.  Google’s total impact on Internet information access is much larger than that of any single ISP. ISPs claim they need the additional fees (beyond the existing Internet access fees at both ends of a communication) for improving their broadband networks and therefore should be allowed to set up “tiered” access with different levels of priority.  Search engines claim they need the ability to block or suppress access by their users to particular, hand-picked web sites for arbitrary and undisclosed reasons in order to improve the quality of search results they deliver to their customers and that each deleted site has violated some unspecified content rule.  Neither claim is really credible, especially in light of the massive self-interest in both cases.

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Search engines are essential to our ability to connect to information on the Internet.  Search engines also have the structural capacity to interfere with access by their users to specific web information.  Search engines also have an economic incentive to control access by their users in order to leverage their own or a partner’s Internet content. There are only three major search engines; together Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft control more than 90 percent of U.S. web searches. Search users are not given the option of seeing editorially deleted sites, even if their search produces no results. Users are not even told that hand-picked sites are being deleted.  If search engines provide a connection service, then they should follow rules similar to those applied to telcos and other information carriers. Solving the neutrality issue needs regulation or legislation that constrains search engines as well as ISPs.

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SEO:

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s unpaid results – often referred to as “natural,” “organic,” or “earned” results. In general, the earlier (or higher ranked on the search results page), and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users. SEO may target different kinds of search, including image search, local search, video search, academic search, news search and industry-specific vertical search engines. Whenever you enter a query in a search engine and hit ‘enter’ you get a list of web results that contain that query term. Users normally tend to visit websites that are at the top of this list as they perceive those to be more relevant to the query. If you have ever wondered why some of these websites rank better than the others then you must know that it is because of a powerful web marketing technique called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is a technique which helps search engines find and rank your site higher than the millions of other sites in response to a search query. SEO thus helps you get traffic from search engines.

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Here are the eight possible bases for search-neutrality regulation:

•Equality: Search engines shouldn’t differentiate at all among websites.

•Objectivity: There are correct search results and incorrect ones, so search engines should return only the correct ones.

•Bias: Search engines should not distort the information landscape.

•Traffic: Websites that depend on a flow of visitors shouldn’t be cut off by search engines.

•Relevance: Search engines should maximize users’ satisfaction with search results.

•Self-interest: Search engines shouldn’t trade on their own account.

•Transparency: Search engines should disclose the algorithms they use to rank webpages.

•Manipulation: Search engines should rank sites only according to general rules, rather than promoting and demoting sites on an individual basis.

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Note:

How do I circumvent biased search results?

1. I always search multiple search engines for information e.g. I search google, yahoo, bing sequentially for any information.

2. I never trust first page and top ranked websites as the best source information.

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Cloud computing neutrality:

Does neutrality apply equally to cloud computing or are they completely different issues?  If net neutrality applies to (public) Internet services, then would cloud neutrality relate to public information processing and storage (i.e., SaaS) services?

The three rules of net neutrality also apply to cloud computing:

•No service blocking – SaaS providers should not arbitrarily restrict or block access to computing and storage services;

•No service throttling – SaaS providers should not favour one customer over another in areas such as capacity, elasticity, accessibility, resilience or responsiveness;

•No paid priority services – SaaS providers should not selectively offer (or provide) better services to selected customers at the expense of others.

For example, the following might hypothetically be possible:

•A SaaS provider could favour one search engine over another by preventing or slowing down search scanning;

•A SaaS provider could degrade response times for certain companies (such as a re-seller or broker) or users.

It would seem that the whole question of neutrality – the fair and open availability of public IT services – is more complicated it would be for other utilities such as water, roads or electricity.  There is a need to look at net neutrality both holistically and technically as well as commercially and politically.

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Is net already non-neutral?  Do we already have fast lanes?

It turns out that our layman’s understanding of how the Internet works — a worldwide Web of computers linked on a free, open network — is a bit of a fairy tale. The truth is that those fast lanes demonized by net neutrality advocates already exist. Highly successful and high-traffic Web companies like Google, Facebook and Netflix already pay for direct access — inside access, in some cases — to Internet service providers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon. They do so by bypassing internet backbone:

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There are three types of fast lanes that exist today:

1. Peering: – Most Web companies need to send their data across the broader Internet backbone (the cables and data centers operated by companies around the world) before it arrives at an ISP and is served to individual users. Wealthier companies can pay ISPs for a direct connection called peering that bypasses the Internet backbone and speeds data transfers. This is called paid peering.

2. Content Delivery Network: – Ever wonder how Google can serve up search results so quickly? The search giant pays for the privilege to set up its own servers inside the bowels of ISPs so it can deliver the most popular searches and images even faster.

3. Paid prioritization: – Paid prioritization is a financial agreement in which a company that provides content, services, and applications over the Internet (an “edge provider”) pays a broadband provider to essentially jump the queue at congested nodes. These fast lanes actually work like toll booths, where paying companies get to go through the gate first when traffic is congested. Paid prioritization also covers the cases of broadband providers prioritizing their own content or that of an affiliate over the data from a competing edge provider (also called “vertical prioritization”).

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Today, privileged companies—including Google, Facebook, and Netflix—already benefit from what are essentially internet fast lanes, and this has been the case for years. Such web giants—and others—now have direct connections to big ISPs like Comcast and Verizon, and they run dedicated computer servers deep inside these ISPs. In technical lingo, these are known as “peering connections” and “content delivery servers,” and they’re a vital part of the way the internet works. The real issue is that the Comcasts and Verizons are becoming too big and too powerful. Because every web company has no choice but to go through these ISPs, the Comcasts and the Verizons may eventually have too much freedom to decide how much companies must pay for fast speeds. Net isn’t neutral now. What we should really be doing is looking for ways we can increase competition among ISPs—ways we can prevent the Comcasts and the AT&Ts from gaining so much power that they can completely control the market for internet bandwidth.

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Google is already running internet fast lanes:

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Starting in 2012, Comcast got in a fight with Netflix over the amount of bandwidth the streaming video site required from Comcast-owned networks. Comcast refused to upgrade its equipment to handle the increased traffic unless Netflix paid up. The battle waged on for two years, during which Netflix service for millions of Comcast subscribers slowed to a crawl. Since Comcast essentially owns the last-mile connection to 22 million homes, Netflix had no choice but to pay for a direct peering arrangement. Verizon pulled a similar strong-arm tactic to get more money from Netflix in an earlier backroom deal.

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By 2009, half of all internet traffic originated in less than 150 large content and content-distribution companies, and today, half of the internet’s traffic comes from just 30 outfits, including Google, Facebook, and Netflix.  Because these companies are moving so much traffic on their own, they’ve been forced to make special arrangements with the country’s internet service providers that can facilitate the delivery of their sites and applications. Basically, they’re bypassing the internet backbone, plugging straight into the ISPs. Today, a typical webpage request can involve dozens of back-and-forth communications between the browser and the web server, and even though internet packets move at the speed of light, all of that chatter can noticeably slow things down. But by getting inside the ISPs, the big web companies can significantly cut back on the delay. Over the last six years, they’ve essentially rewired the internet. Google was the first. As it expanded its online operation to a network of private data centers across the globe, the web giant also set up routers inside many of the same data centers used by big-name ISPs so that traffic could move more directly from Google’s data centers to web surfers. This type of direct connection is called “peering.” Plus, the company set up servers inside many ISPs so that it could more quickly deliver popular YouTube videos, webpages, and images. This is called a “content delivery network,” or CDN. “Transit network providers” such as Level 3 already provide direct peering connections that anyone can use. And companies such as Akamai and Cloudflare have long operated CDNs that are available to anyone. But Google made such arrangements just for its own stuff, and others are following suit. Netflix and Facebook have built their own CDNs, and according to reports, Apple is building one too.

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CDN (content delivery networks):

Let’s take a real example: This website is hosted on a web server that’s located in some part of America. Now if we have a visitor from Singapore, the page loading time for him will be relatively high because of the geographic distance between Singapore and America. Had there been a mirror server in either India or Australia, the page would load much faster for that visitor from Singapore. Now a content delivery network has servers across the world and they automatically determine the fastest (or the shortest) route between the server hosting the site and the end-user. So your page will be served from the server in Australia to a visitor in Singapore and from America for a visitor in UK. Of course there are other advantages but this example should give you a good idea of why we need a Content Delivery Network. The use of a Content Delivery Network (CDN) is imperative for content providers who wish to improve the availability of their content to their end users. Apart from increasing speed of access of websites, CDN also increases content availability.

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If Web companies can already pay ISPs for preferential treatment, then why are net neutrality advocates making such a stink about fast lanes?  Net neutrality loses its meaning and becomes irrelevant when ISPs and content providers arrange private pathways that avoid the global links. Technically you restrict fast lanes on a public highway, but you are freely allowing private highways for paying content providers. The effect is much the same. In the face of the monopolistic power of ISPs and their stiff resistance to regulation (which they are increasingly able to avoid in any case) and with perverse incentives to not increase bandwidth, the hope for maintaining a free and open Internet would seem to be a lost cause.

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Do we indeed practice non net neutrality?

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Non-NN scenarios can be categorized along two dimensions: The network regime and the pricing regime. The pricing regime denotes whether an access ISP employs one-sided pricing (as is traditionally the case) or two-sided pricing. We already have two-sided pricing. The network regime refers to the QoS mechanisms and corresponding business models that are in place. Under strict NN, which prohibits any prioritization or degradation of data flows, only capacity-based differentiation is allowed. This means that CSPs or IUs may acquire Internet connections with different bandwidth, however, all data packets that are sent over these connections are handled according to the BE principle, and thus, if the network becomes congested, they are all equally worse off. In a managed network, QoS mechanisms are employed as a preferential treatment of certain data packets. We already have voice/video priority over emails. So both from network regime and pricing regime, there is already no net neutrality.

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In developing Countries, Google and Facebook already defy Net Neutrality:

In much of the world, the concept of “net neutrality” generates less public debate, given there’s no affordable Net in the first place. The next billion Internet users will be arriving mostly in the developing world, on low-end smartphones. In the emerging economies of the world, that’s pretty much how things already work, thanks to a growing number of deals Google and Facebook have struck with mobile phone carriers from the Philippines to Kenya. In essence, these deals give people free access to text-only version of things like Facebook news feeds, Gmail, and the first page of search results under plans like Facebook Zero or Google Free Zone. Only when users click links in e-mails or news feeds, go beyond the first page of search results, or visit websites by other means do they incur data charges. For people who have no Internet in the first place, the idea of net neutrality is not exactly top of mind. Getting online cheaply in the first place is a greater concern, and the American companies are often enabling that to happen. Internet access is expensive in developing countries—exorbitantly so for the vast majority of people. In Kenya the top four websites are Google, Facebook, YouTube (which is owned by Google), and the Kenyan version of Google. That pattern is fairly typical of Web usage in dozens of developing nations. And free services like Facebook Zero and Google Free Zone don’t have many critics among users. But the existence of a free and dominant chat, e-mail, search, and social-networking service makes it awfully hard for any competitor to arise. And Susan Crawford, visiting professor of law at Harvard University and a co-director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, calls it “a big concern” that Google and Facebook are the ones becoming the portal to Web content for many newcomers. “For poorer people, Internet access will equal Facebook. That’s not the Internet—that’s being fodder for someone else’s ad-targeting business,” she says. “That’s entrenching and amplifying existing inequalities and contributing to poverty of imagination—a crucial limitation on human life.” Google had struck a deal with the major Indian mobile network Airtel to offer Free Zone, in this case giving people up to one gigabit per month of free access to Gmail, Google+, and Google search. Some critics have called this unfair treatment that disadvantages competitors.  Google and Facebook are doing more than just providing various forms of free data access. Those two companies and others, like Microsoft, are increasingly in the business of trying to expand infrastructure and related data-efficiency technologies that will, inevitably, be deployed in ways that benefit themselves. And because most of the smartphones that convey the Internet to users will be low-end Android phones, Google and Facebook are also battling to develop dominant apps for those phones. Some Internet service providers in the developing world talk about trying to charge companies like Google to carry their traffic, but that is probably unlikely to happen. They recognize that free versions of popular sites like Google and Facebook draw people into greater data usage, producing revenue.

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Economics of net neutrality:

Since the controversial term “net neutrality” was coined by Professor Tim Wu of Columbia Law School in 2003, much of the debates on net neutrality revolved around the potential consequences of network owners exercising additional control over the data traffic in their networks. Presently the obvious villains in the show are the Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) and the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as they provide the last mile bandwidth to carry the content and applications to the end users. Net neutrality is a specific approach to the economic regulation of the Internet and requires context in the wider literature on the economic regulation of two-sided markets. A platform provider (TSPs; ISPs) connects end consumers and over-the-top content (OTT) as given in the diagram below.

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As per the theory of two-sided markets, the provider is justified in charging a toll to avoid congestion in the network. The toll can be raised from the end user or the OTT or both. The consumer is usually more price sensitive than the OTT so the tendency of the ISP is to raise the toll from the OTT. The market power of the provider would result in a total levy (sum of levy on OTT and end user) that is too high from the point of view of efficiency. Even if the levy falls within the efficient range, it may tend to be in the higher parts of the range. This tendency is checked by ‘cross-group externalities’ – the value enhancement obtained by the end users from the presence of OTTs and vice versa. Cross group externalities soften the impact of the market power of the provider. Nevertheless, the fact of market power cannot be denied, given the low likelihood that an ordinary OTT can hurt a provider’s business by refusing to connect through that provider. The principles of static efficiency outlined above do not suggest that over-the-top contents cannot be charged, only that market power of the ISP needs regulation. However the principle of dynamic efficiency, i.e. the optimization of the rate of technological progress in the industry, suggests that OTTs, especially startups, need extra support. Indeed the rapid growth of the Internet is a result of the low barriers to entry provided by the Internet. When the considerations of dynamic efficiency outweigh the considerations of static efficiency there may be justification in reversing the natural trend of charging OTTs and, instead, charging consumers. This has been the practice so far. It must however be noted that innovation is also needed in the ISP layer. The situation becomes more complex when there is vertical integration between an OTT and a TSP/ISP. This vertical integration can take several forms:

1. App store of a Content Service Provider (CSP) bundled (preferred bundling) by the TSP/ISP;

2.  Arrangements between ISP and CSP;

3. ISPs providing content caching services, becoming content distribution networks, or even content providers.

Examples of such vertical integration, small and big, are many. Recent announcements by Google that they will provide Internet access through balloons and storing its data on the servers of ISPs for better access speeds. One view on vertical integration is that it allows complementarities to be tapped and is undertaken when the gains outweigh the known restrictions in choice faced by the consumer. For this view to hold, all linkages should be made known to the consumer, who must be deemed to be aware enough to understand the consequences. The other view is that vertical integration inhibits competition as potential competitors have to enter both markets in order to compete. Further, when a provider provides communications services on its own, there is a conflict of interest with communications over-the-top content, for example between voice services provided by a telco and Skype. As we contemplate moving away from the traditional regime of the Internet, we must therefore be prepared to countenance the curbing of dynamic efficiency and the limitation to competition due to vertical integration and conflicts of interest between the provider and the OTT.

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Internet Pricing Structure:

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Above is a simple diagram that represents the structure of the Internet. On the right side are content providers who upload their applications and websites onto the Web usually via an Internet Service Provider, but it could be any of a variety of types of companies that sell access to the Internet. This is typically the only fee that content providers pay to access the Internet and Internet subscribers. ISPs connect their private networks to the Internet in the center of the figure. Broadband subscribers in homes and businesses across the country pay an ISP like a phone or cable company for online access. The pipes between this ISP’s Internet access point and its subscribers’ computers constitute a privately owned and operated subnetwork. This last stretch of wires and pipes are often referred to as the “last mile” of the Internet—the part that connects the network to individuals (depicted on the left side of the figure below) The last mile is the heartland of the net neutrality debate. The cost of building a last mile network is extremely high and is often borne entirely by the ISP that constructs the network. Building this type of network requires physical or wireless connections to be built between and ISP’s Internet access point and each subscriber’s household or business. This last mile network is the ISP’s most valuable asset. Some say that content providers profit from the last mile but do not compensate the ISP companies for their investment in the infrastructure that enables that profit.

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ISP vs. OTT:

Vodafone has said that the government should tax over the top (OTT) players like WhatsApp, Viber, Hike and Facebook as they are getting a “free ride” on telecom networks without paying for spectrum or any other fee. The operators have to pay taxes, license fee and have to share revenue (with the government). The other guys have a complete free ride. WhatsApp accounts for nearly 60 million user base in India. Services like WhatsApp have nearly eliminated revenues from SMS, while free calling on Skype and Viber (especially from international markets) is hitting their voice revenues. Popular Internet companies such as Google, Yahoo! and Facebook should start sharing revenues with telecom companies, according to Bharti Airtel. The company said that the telecom regulator should impose interconnection charges for data services just like it is applied for voice calls. Today, Google, Yahoo! and others are enjoying at the cost of network operator. ISPs are the ones investing in setting up data pipes and OTPs make the money. Amid raging debate over Net Neutrality, mobile operators said if they are not offered a level playing field with Net-based services such as Skype and WhatApp, then their businesses would be viable only by raising data prices by up to six times. Such high rates would become unaffordable for a large number of people, denying them access to the Internet. Nasscom  discounted any notion of revenue loss from OTT players to TSPs. The apps created have made the internet more useful, and opened up avenues for not just service providers, but increased convenience, transparency and enabled newer services for consumers. This is driving data revenues for telecom companies. Loss of revenue arguments from TSPs are not evident in some of the recent quarterly results announced. In the long-run it is likely that it would result in a win: win situation for both ISPs and OTT players. The growth of OTT will spur demand for data that in turn generates additional revenues for TSPs, leading to a synergistic ecosystem. Nasscom felt it would be better if the government and the telecom industry work together to create a balanced environment for ISPs to invest in network infrastructure, rather than targeting the fledgling internet-based product and service providers.

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Pricing models:

Broadband Internet access has most often been sold to users based on Excess Information Rate or maximum available bandwidth. If Internet service providers (ISPs) can provide varying levels of service to websites at various prices, this may be a way to manage the costs of unused capacity by selling surplus bandwidth (or “leverage price discrimination to recoup costs of ‘consumer surplus’”). However, purchasers of connectivity on the basis of Committed Information Rate or guaranteed bandwidth capacity must expect the capacity they purchase in order to meet their communications requirements. Various studies have sought to provide network providers the necessary formulas for adequately pricing such a tiered service for their customer base. But while network neutrality is primarily focused on protocol based provisioning, most of the pricing models are based on bandwidth restrictions.

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It’s all about the money:

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Internet users currently pay a flat rate for their service, whether they simply use it for checking emails or performing more data-heavy tasks including streaming movies and television programs.

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It’s true that without net neutrality rules, ISPs could theoretically block or throttle access to some sites to extort fees, promote their own services, and so on. But in practice, such abuses of market power have been extremely rare. In reality, the net neutrality debate is about how costs will be shared to improve the Internet for everyone. Peak-hour Internet traffic surged 32% in 2013, according to Cisco. To meet consumers’ appetites for more bandwidth, ISPs are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on network expansion and fiber deployments. In the U.S., Netflix is a key driver of traffic growth. Not only is the company adding subscribers, it is also encouraging existing subscribers to spend more time watching Netflix, allowing families to stream multiple shows at once, and promoting higher-quality video streaming, including 4K TV (also known as Ultra-HD). Netflix encourages all of these behaviors because they will lead to a larger, more loyal, subscriber base, which will boost the company’s profit in the long run. Yet they all will require a hugely expensive Internet capacity that does not exist today. ISPs like AT&T want data-heavy services like Netflix to help fund investments in faster broadband. Internet service providers want companies such as Netflix — which are the primary beneficiaries of faster Internet service — to chip in for these upgrades. Netflix believes the ISPs should shoulder the full costs, which would ultimately be spread among all Internet users, whether or not they subscribe to Netflix. Understandably, most Americans don’t want to pay more for Internet service. But the possibility of tougher regulation on broadband service has spooked ISPs, which don’t want to invest tens or hundreds of billions of dollars unless they can be sure of recouping their costs. AT&T recently froze its plans for a massive investment to expand its high-speed fiber network. This underscores the point that people should not worry so much about ISPs artificially slowing their service or blocking some websites to make way for priority users. The real concern is that ISPs won’t invest enough money to keep pace with the extraordinary growth in Internet traffic, especially for peak periods. Unfortunately, until ISPs, content providers, and the government agree on who will share in funding the hundreds of billions of dollars of investment needed to drive a step-change in U.S. broadband speeds, more and more people will find themselves stuck in “slow lanes.”

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How Net Neutrality changes could Impact Your Business:

The following are three examples of how these changes could affect your small business.

1. Higher Costs:

Without net neutrality, Internet Service Providers are able to create their own payment options for individuals and businesses. Although nothing is official, these Internet companies could charge higher fees for higher speeds. For example, with Netflix being the leading streaming video provider on the Internet, they may have to pay more to ISPs in order to provide customers with fast content.  According to USA Today, “Netflix may face an incremental $75 million to $100 million in annual content delivery costs.” This additional expense will be incurred to provide the same service levels consumers already expect from Netflix.  For companies that can’t afford the more expensive fees, possibly small businesses like yours, they would be subject to a slower website than larger competitors – effectively squeezing smaller companies out of the marketplace.

2. No Longer an Even Playing Field:

Net neutrality ensures small businesses are able to compete with larger companies. With both having the same access to the Internet, they are able to have the same opportunities for their businesses. If net neutrality is eliminated, small businesses may not be able to afford to share content and therefore, unable to compete with their larger competitors.

3. Changes to Video Marketing:

A lot of time and effort are spent to creating videos that feature and promote products.  Small businesses that rely on video and YouTube as part of their marketing strategy, could see changes if net neutrality is eliminated. If we can’t afford to pay Internet providers to share our content, our potential customers may not be able to view as many product videos and may not be enticed to purchase our products. Furthermore, the investment to produce and optimize these videos will be result in a monetary loss.

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On the other hand, there are reasons why business should oppose Net Neutrality:

Up until now, the debate over net neutrality has largely focused on how broadband consumers would be affected by net neutrality. But for at least two reasons, businesses — even those outside of the communications sector — have a dog in this fight too.

1. First, businesses need ISPs to continue investing in their broadband networks. It is well established that price regulation often truncates the returns on an investment in a regulated industry, and thereby decreases investment. According to the Columbia Institute of Tele-Information, ISPs are set to invest $30 billion annually over the next five years to blanket the country with next-generation broadband networks, nearly half of which ($14 billion) will support wireless networks. It is difficult to estimate with precision what portion of the $30 billion would be neutered in the presence of net neutrality rules, but the direction of the impact — negative — is clear. Noted telecom analyst Craig Moffett of Bernstein Research opined that, with the imposition of net neutrality rules, Verizon FiOS “would be stopped in its tracks,” and AT&T’s U-Verse “deployments would slow.” Outcomes like these clearly would not serve the interests of the business community.

2. Second, businesses need the opportunity to innovate. The ability to purchase priority delivery from ISPs would spur innovation among businesses, large and small. Priority delivery would enable certain real-time applications to operate free of jitter and generally perform at higher levels. Absent net neutrality restrictions, entrepreneurs in their garages would devote significant energies trying to topple Google with the next killer application. But if real-time applications are not permitted to run as they were intended, these creative energies will flow elsewhere. The concept of premium services and upgrades should be second-nature to businesses. From next-day delivery of packages to airport lounges, businesses value the option of upgrading when necessary. That one customer chooses to purchase the upgrade while the next opts out would never be considered “discriminatory.”

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Competition and consumer protection:

An efficiently operating market for broadband internet access could avoid many of the concerns raised by potential blocking of, or discrimination against, specific internet content or services. Though numbers vary between Member States (MS), a 2012 study showed there were nearly 250 fixed-line and over 100 mobile operators in the EU, with no MS reporting less than three in either category except Cyprus (only two mobile operators). Informed consumers could make a choice among offers from different providers and choose the price, quality of service and range of applications and content that suited their particular needs. Given that 85% of fixed-line operators and 76% of mobile operators offer at least one unrestricted plan, consumers could punish any supplier who blocked or throttled an innovative new service by changing to another supplier, provided that contracts made switching quick and easy. This free-market philosophy makes sense to experts who feel it is only normal that people have to pay higher prices to access applications that require a higher quality of service. A consumer association in the UK found that traffic management concepts were poorly understood by consumers. In some cases, actual rates of delivery were much lower than those that had been promised and it may be difficult for consumers to detect whether access providers throttle certain kinds of services, such as P2P services or VoIP. Even if consumers identify problems such as insufficient speed or blocked applications, switching may not be easy: access contracts may be bundled with other services (e.g. telephone or television) or with subsidised or leased equipment that makes it harder to switch. Moreover if a particular service is blocked not by the consumer’s ISP but by a network operator in another MS, consumers will still not get access to that service even if they change internet-access supplier at their end. Even more critically, if high quality specialised services take up a large chunk of existing bandwidth, network operators may downgrade the ‘standard’ open internet service, leading to poorer service for those who cannot afford to pay more. This may encourage a ‘multi-lane’ or ‘multi-tier’ internet that could lead to less competition and greater social exclusion. However to some extent a multi-lane internet already exists. Large content providers like YouTube have built, or have contracted for, Content Delivery Networks (CDN) that use private networks to deliver their content to servers located at various places on the edge of the internet in close geographic proximity to their customers. Their content has less distance to travel over the internet to reach the end user, and thus can arrive faster and more reliably than content of smaller competitors who cannot afford a CDN. By 2017, it is estimated that more than half of the world’s internet traffic will pass through a CDN. As for risks that standard internet service will be degraded because specialised services take up too much bandwidth, NRA already have the power to impose a minimum level of service if public internet access becomes too degraded.

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Net Neutrality vis-à-vis innovation:

Abandoning network neutrality factors will certainly alter innovation due to threats of exclusion and extraction. It is perhaps safe to say that the best innovations are produced with open and uncontrollable surroundings, or when the mind is allowed to operate freely without any constraints. An online giant worth mentioning here is Google. Google allows its employees to freely work on whatever they please twenty percent of the employees’ time in the day, and in turn the innovations belong to the company. G Mail is one example that resulted from such an incentive. However, now that Google is a dominant force in in various aspects, imposing regulation on the Internet would perhaps not slow this Internet giant down. If there is regulation imposed on the content providers, larger organizations like Google will be able to continue to dominate the Internet, and organizations like Yahoo! could be facing the threat of exclusion.  On the other hand, should there be no regulation imposed on the Internet both companies could continue to innovate and provide users with ways for a more efficient use of the Internet. So, as a result it is evident that when no constraints or regulations are put into place at times, the results can be rewarding to every Internet user in the world. An open and free Internet has been the foundation of innovation and it can certainly continue to benefit users and contribute to innovation.

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Net neutrality and education:

In today’s environment, it is impossible to imagine education without internet. And most of such content is free for the student. Absence of Net Neutrality, destroying level playing field might create an environment that favors big money and disadvantages everyone else, specifically non-profit educational institutions. The central issue with “paid prioritization”—where one content provider pays for a ‘fast lane’—is that those with the greatest financial resources will be best able to speed their content to all who use that provider. This would hurt small startups and public or non-profit content providers (like education institutions) that can’t afford to buy a ‘fast lane’ for educational, research, or other digital collections. As you know, educational content, due to media rich format, requires better internet bandwidth and higher amount of data consumption compared to ecommerce or other form of internet usage. So it is necessary that educational content gets equal priority on internet. Absence of which may make online education unviable. Such scenario will force, the quality focused not-for-profit education institutions to join in paid prioritization or fast lane platforms like Airtel Zero or internet.org. This increased cost will add to the problems of education institutions which are already facing financial crunch so it will be difficult for them to absorb this increase in cost. They will be forced to pass on this additional cost onto students in terms of fees hike, and in country like India, where online education is the only hope for economically reaching out to masses, it is also possible that the cost of online education will grow. Further, technological innovations are making education affordable. Absence of Net Neutrality will hamper EdTech startups focusing on innovative to make education affordable. Creating preferential access to further social causes and service penetration is one thing , using it to create only commercial monopolies as could be the case or fear now is quite another. Preferential treatment, if given sensitively, may help in accelerating penetration and better QoS by ISP. However, absence of right set of regulations can lead to monopolies and cartels and emerge as threat to larger objectives of delivering education to the masses.

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Legal aspects of net neutrality:

Net neutrality law refers to laws and regulations which enforce the principle of net neutrality. Opponents of net neutrality enforcement claim regulation is unnecessary, because broadband service providers have no plans to block content or degrade network performance. Opponents of net neutrality regulation also argue that the best solution to discrimination by broadband providers is to encourage greater competition among such providers, which is currently limited in many areas.

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Without strong legislation protecting Net Neutrality, the following examples will become the norm:

1. In 2004, North Carolina ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival web-based phone service (like Vonage, Skype, etc.).

2. In 2005, Canada’s telephone giant Telus blocked customers from visiting a website sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a labor dispute.

3. Shaw, a big Canadian cable TV company, is charging $10 extra a month to subscribers in order to “enhance” competing Internet telephone services.

4. Time Warner’s AOL blocked all emails that mentioned www.dearaol.com – and advocacy campaign opposing the company’s pay-to-send email plan.

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Why is the legal enforcement of net neutrality so challenging?

It did not take us much to be able to define net neutrality in the technical and service domains, but there still are some loose ends that prevent this definition from being applicable as a normative regulation; that is, other than lobbies and politics. The service provider, to exercise network neutrality, has to avoid exploiting any data for providing its service, other than the data specified by the networking protocol. However, this is not realistically achievable to the fullest extent. The ISP has to carry out some business-oriented packet shaping to prevent one user from absorbing all bandwidth, not leaving anything for other users. Obviously, there is some business logic involved in preference of packets which is acceptable. If you pay for a certain bandwidth, some network neutrality is violated by merely enforcing this deal. So where does the line cross? How is restricting a user to only use the bandwidth he pays for is okay, while preferring traffic based on payment by service providers is not? Usually, when we encounter such situations in which we cannot make up sustainable rules, one approach is to revert to demanding transparency. The ISP can do whatever it wishes, but it must openly disclose its operations and thus let economy control what is acceptable by the public and what is not, and penalize the ISPs that are below the norm. This could work. We could require that any ISP can do whatever it wishes with its traffic: prioritize, block sites at its own will, etc., just as long as it openly publishes its practices to the users, who may elect to take their business elsewhere. The reason this approach is not favorable is that network neutrality has too much significance to economy and to democracy to have it left to user preferences. There are too many potential “market failures” here: users may not understand the trade-offs well enough, the ISPs may form cartels that allow them all to offer the same terms of service in this respect; or in some cases there is just not enough choice between ISPs in the first place. Transparency is a good requirement; but it is not enough. We need to protect network neutrality by law. Even if we cannot get it a hundred percent right at first, we need to pose a firm start.

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Potential for banning legitimate activity:

Poorly conceived legislation could make it difficult for Internet Service Providers to legally perform necessary and generally useful packet filtering such as combating denial of service attacks, filtering E-Mail spam, and preventing the spread of computer viruses. Quoting Bram Cohen, the creator of BitTorrent, “I most definitely do not want the Internet to become like television where there’s actual censorship…however it is very difficult to actually create network neutrality laws which don’t result in an absurdity like making it so that ISPs can’t drop spam or stop…attacks”. Some pieces of legislation, like The Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009, attempt to mitigate these concerns by excluding reasonable network management from regulation.

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The figure below shows net neutrality laws in various countries:

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Legal enforcement of net neutrality principles takes a variety of forms, from provisions that outlaw anti-competitive blocking and throttling of Internet services, all the way to legal enforcement that prevents companies from subsidizing Internet use on particular sites.  Contrary to popular rhetoric and various individuals involved in the ongoing academic debate, research suggests that a single policy instrument (such as a no-blocking policy or a quality of service tiering policy) cannot achieve the range of valued political and economic objectives central to the debate. As Bauer and Obar suggest, “safeguarding multiple goals requires a combination of instruments that will likely involve government and nongovernment measures. Furthermore, promoting goals such as the freedom of speech, political participation, investment, and innovation calls for complementary policies.”  Here we look into the some countries that have already adopted net neutrality:

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Chile:

It is the first country to enact a net neutrality law in 2010. Interestingly, the law was a culmination of a citizen’s movement; in particular the efforts of citizen group Neutralidad Si. In 2014, Chilean telecommunications regulator Subtel banned mobile operators from zero-rating, whereby internet companies strike deals with mobile telecom operators to offer consumers free internet usage.

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Netherlands:

It is the first country in Europe to pass a law on net neutrality in 2011. Even zero-rating deals between internet companies and mobile operators have been banned as per the new law.

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Brazil:

In 2014, Brazil passed a legislation bringing into effect an `Internet Law’, which saw the introduction of the principle of Net Neutrality. Brazil’s principle of Net Neutrality meant “that all data transmissions (i.e. online traffic) must be treated equally by network operators regardless of its content, origin, destination, service, terminal or application. The aim of this provision is to prevent operators from charging higher rates for accessing content that uses greater bandwidth, like video streaming or voice communication services.

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India:

As of 2015, India had no laws governing net neutrality and there have been violations of net neutrality principles by some service providers. While the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) guidelines for the Unified Access Service license promote net neutrality, they are not enforced. The Information Technology Act, 2000 does not prohibit companies from throttling their service in accordance with their business interests. In March 2015, the TRAI released a formal consultation paper on Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services, seeking comments from the public. The consultation paper was criticised for being one sided and having confusing statements. It was condemned by various politicians and internet users. By 24 April 2015, over a million emails had been sent to TRAI demanding net neutrality.

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U.S.:

On 26 February 2015, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled in favor of net neutrality by reclassifying broadband access as a telecommunications service and thus applying Title II (common carrier) of the Communications Act of 1934 to Internet service providers. On 12 March 2015, the FCC released the specific details of its new net neutrality rule. And on 13 April 2015, the FCC published the final rule on its new regulations. U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved “net neutrality” rules that prevent Internet providers such as Comcast and Verizon from slowing or blocking Web traffic or from creating Internet fast lanes that content providers such as Netflix could pay to use. However, the FCC is facing several lawsuits that challenge its open Internet order.

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Europe’s Current Policy:

The EU’s dealings with net neutrality have been something of an intricate dance — or you might define it as more of a roller coaster. Shifting policies and the task of weighing consumer welfare against economic welfare have resulted in Europe’s current policy. Basically, their approach is that ISPs should be reasonable in how they manage their networks, considering both their own interests and those of Internet users. As Financier Worldwide explains it, the current policy “advocates that an approach be taken which sits somewhere between a light-touch approach, at one extreme, to one which seeks to eliminate market power, promote consumer awareness, increase transparency, and to lower switching costs for end-users, at the other.”  Is that really a viable approach? Perhaps officials think that if an ISP blocks certain websites or delivers some content slower than others, unhappy consumers can always switch to a different ISP, so there is no need for tighter regulations. That line of thought seems like a slippery slope and puts a lot of trust in big businesses.

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Anti-trust laws:

Competition law is a law that promotes or seeks to maintain market competition by regulating anti-competitive conduct by companies.  Competition law is implemented through public and private enforcement. Competition law is known as antitrust law in the United States and European Union, and as anti-monopoly law in China and Russia. The antitrust laws apply to virtually all industries and to every level of business, including manufacturing, transportation, distribution, and marketing. They prohibit a variety of practices that restrain trade. Examples of illegal practices are price-fixing conspiracies, corporate mergers likely to reduce the competitive vigor of particular markets, and predatory acts designed to achieve or maintain monopoly power. Microsoft, ATT, and J.D. Rockefeller Oil are companies who have been convicted of antitrust practices.

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Can antitrust laws prevent discrimination on internet?

At first blush, the broadband providers and content providers don’t compete. One sells content, the other passes that content to customers. But a good number of broadband providers are also in the content delivery business. Comcast, for example, not only provides broadband services, but it also delivers movies through its cable channels, on-demand services, as well as applications that allow users to stream video to their tablets, handhelds and computers. The disadvantaged content provider may be able to show that its content was being delayed deliberately by the vertically-integrated broadband/content provider, and that this delay had a material effect on the disadvantaged content provider’s ability to provide services in the relevant market that includes its content. Netflix would first have to show that it competes with Comcast. They also would have to show consumers dropping Netflix for Comcast’s services. (That showing would be complex in a market where consumers can access content in multiple formats which themselves can vary in price, scope and availability over time.) They would then have to show causality—that they lost sales to Comcast because of the discrimination and that those lost sales resulted in users paying Comcast higher prices or that Netflix lost revenue or otherwise was harmed and perhaps even had to exit the market. Showing the effect on price is particularly complex given the byzantine pricing structure that exists in the cable markets and low marginal cost of the products being delivered. In response to such an argument, the broadband/content provider would likely re-characterize the disadvantaged content provider’s antitrust claim as being a “refusal to deal” and that, absent an actual refusal to deal on any terms, the disadvantaged content provider’s claim fails. Competitors are generally not required to deal with other competitors. So long as consumers can download content even if it is at maddeningly slow rates, the monopolist broadband provider will likely not have violated the antitrust laws. Also, antitrust provides no solution at all if the disadvantaged provider does not compete with the broadband provider. A cable company may slow VPN traffic because it uses too much bandwidth. If the broadband provider doesn’t sell VPN functionality, then the discrimination does not harm competition. An antitrust solution to traffic discrimination would ultimately only address situations where a broadband provider is impeding traffic to gain an advantage in a market in which it competes and has in fact done very well in that market in terms of market share. Antitrust is therefore inadequate to obtain universal traffic neutrality. Antitrust may play a role at the fringe of net neutrality. It is by no means a complete answer.

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Pros and Cons of net neutrality:

There has been extensive debate about whether net neutrality should be required by law in the United States. Advocates of net neutrality have raised concerns about the ability of broadband providers to use their last mile infrastructure to block Internet applications and content (e.g. websites, services, and protocols), and even to block out competitors. Opponents claim net neutrality regulations would deter investment into improving broadband infrastructure and try to fix something that isn’t broken.

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A non-neutral Internet would allow telecom companies to load certain websites and applications faster or slower than others or restrict access to them altogether. For example, subscriber to network X might be forced to use Bing as their search engine because Google partners with network Y and network X would either take longer to load Google (compared with Bing) or might refuse access to Google altogether. Similarly, telecom companies could also discriminate between consumers, allowing richer consumers access to a greater range of websites and applications for higher fees and forcing poorer consumers to opt for schemes that include only certain websites or applications. Thus a farmer in rural India for instance, might be able to access his Facebook profile cheaply but may have to pay much more to get reliable weather updates or track vegetable trading prices. Critics of net neutrality claim that Internet data usage is not uniform. Basic Internet services such as sending e-mails or reading news are insensitive to delays or signal distortion. Services such as Skype however require a minimum quality of service in order to be effective and thus justify higher fees. The TRAI paper argues that Internet-based communications applications such as Skype and WhatsApp are cannibalizing services from which telecom operators traditionally profited as traditional caller plans and SMS services become increasingly redundant. If operators are to continue investing in better Internet technology, they must have the incentive to do so by earning greater returns on that investment. Critics also argue that zero-rating and tiered services enable greater Internet penetration by making cheaper plans available for poorer citizens. As a trade-off, cheaper plans entail slower Internet speeds or restrict access to only certain applications and websites. But as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “For people who are not on the Internet, having some connectivity and some ability to share is always much better than having no ability to connect and share at all.”

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Arguments for net neutrality:

Proponents of net neutrality argue that a neutral Internet encourages everyone to innovate without permission from the phone and cable companies or other authorities. A more level playing field spawns countless new businesses. Allowing unrestricted information flow becomes essential to free markets and democracy as commerce and society increasingly move online. Heavy users of network bandwidth would pay higher prices without necessarily experiencing better service. Even those who use less bandwidth could run into the same situation. Proponents of net neutrality invoke the human psychological process of adaptation where when people get used to something better, they would not ever want to go back to something worse. In the context of the Internet, the proponents argue that a user who gets used to the “fast lane” on the Internet would find the “slow lane” intolerable in comparison, greatly disadvantaging any provider who is unable to pay for the “fast lane”.

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Proponents of net neutrality include consumer advocates, human rights organizations, online companies and some technology companies. Many major Internet application companies are advocates of neutrality. Yahoo!, Vonage, eBay, Amazon, IAC/InterActiveCorp. Microsoft, Twitter, Tumblr, Etsy, Daily Kos, Greenpeace, along with many other companies and organizations, have also taken a stance in support of net neutrality.  Cogent Communications, an international Internet service provider, has made an announcement in favor of certain net neutrality policies. In 2008, Google published a statement speaking out against letting broadband providers abuse their market power to affect access to competing applications or content. They further equated the situation to that of the telephony market, where telephone companies are not allowed to control who their customers call or what those customers are allowed to say. However, Google’s support of net neutrality was called into question in 2014.  Several civil rights groups, such as the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press, and Fight for the Future support net neutrality. Individuals who support net neutrality include Tim Berners-Lee, Vinton Cerf, Lawrence Lessig, Robert W. McChesney, Steve Wozniak, Susan P. Crawford, Marvin Ammori, Ben Scott, David Reed, and U.S. President Barack Obama.

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Reasons for being in favor of network neutrality:

The reasons that people are in favor of net neutrality is because they want to make it such that they are preventing a monopoly from happening within the last mile of connection. The last mile is the final leg of delivering connectivity from a communications provider to a customer.  At this point within the transportation of a packet, it has to reach through many service providers’ equipment.  What people are worried about is that a provider, who owns the physical cable lines in a given space, would charge a higher amount for a certain content provider to deliver its services versus another.  This would make the content providers’ cost of doing business to go up.  Going into the idea of preventing the last mile monopoly, content providers want to keep ambiguity down as ambiguity is inherent within risk.  If a content provider relies on a last mile provider to distribute their services, they would have to be paying for the service. However, the last mile provider could unexpectedly increase their rates which were not accounted for within the content providers’ budget.  This could throw off the content providers’ business which can lead to incorrect projections of profitability.

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Control of data:

Supporters of network neutrality want to designate cable companies as common carriers, which would require them to allow Internet service providers (ISPs) free access to cable lines, the model used for dial-up Internet. They want to ensure that cable companies cannot screen, interrupt or filter Internet content without court order.  Common carrier status would give the FCC the power to enforce net neutrality rules. SaveTheInternet.com accuses cable and telecommunications companies of wanting the role of gatekeepers, being able to control which websites load quickly, load slowly, or don’t load at all. According to SaveTheInternet.com these companies want to charge content providers who require guaranteed speedy data delivery… to create advantages for their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video services – and slowing access or blocking access to those of competitors. Vinton Cerf, a co-inventor of the Internet Protocol argues that the Internet was designed without any authorities controlling access to new content or new services.  He concludes that the principles responsible for making the Internet such a success would be fundamentally undermined were broadband carriers given the ability to affect what people see and do online.

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Digital rights and freedoms:

Lawrence Lessig and Robert W. McChesney argue that net neutrality ensures that the Internet remains a free and open technology, fostering democratic communication. Lessig and McChesney go on to argue that the monopolization of the Internet would stifle the diversity of independent news sources and the generation of innovative and novel web content. Network neutrality protects the right of freedom of speech. The reason is that network neutrality restricts ISPs from blocking or prioritizing content on the Internet. Countries that have not implemented the principle of network neutrality in their legislation often control or suppress the publishing or accessing of information on the Internet. For example, in China, the government uses a system that does not allow the residents of China to access certain online content. As a result, if an Internet user searches in Google or other search engines for the word “Tibetan independence,” “democracy movements,” or other blacklisted words, he or she will be redirected to a blank page stating “page cannot be displayed.”

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Competition and innovation:

Net neutrality advocates argue that allowing cable companies the right to demand a toll to guarantee quality or premium delivery would create an exploitative business model based on the ISPs position as gatekeepers.  Advocates warn that by charging websites for access, network owners may be able to block competitor Web sites and services, as well as refuse access to those unable to pay.  According to Tim Wu, cable companies plan to reserve bandwidth for their own television services, and charge companies a toll for priority service.  Proponents of net neutrality argue that allowing for preferential treatment of Internet traffic, or tiered service, would put newer online companies at a disadvantage and slow innovation in online services.  Tim Wu argues that, without network neutrality, the Internet will undergo a transformation from a market ruled by innovation to one ruled by deal-making. SaveTheInternet.com argues that net neutrality puts everyone on equal terms, which helps drive innovation. They claim it is a preservation of the way the internet has always operated, where the quality of websites and services determined whether they succeeded or failed, rather than deals with ISPs.  A failure to enact Net Neutrality protections will undermine content and application providers’ freedom to do business. A non-neutral regime would hinder innovation in content, as start-ups and smaller companies would suddenly be faced with barriers to enter the market – and uncertainty about what new barriers may be created. The innovators’ freedom to impart information is therefore limited – as is their freedom to do business. Lawrence Lessig and Robert W. McChesney argue that eliminating net neutrality would lead to the Internet resembling the world of cable TV, so that access to and distribution of content would be managed by a handful of massive companies. These companies would then control what is seen as well as how much it costs to see it. Speedy and secure Internet use for such industries as health care, finance, retailing, and gambling could be subject to large fees charged by these companies. They further explain that a majority of the great innovators in the history of the Internet started with little capital in their garages, inspired by great ideas. This was possible because the protections of net neutrality ensured limited control by owners of the networks, maximal competition in this space, and permitted innovators from outside access to the network. Internet content was guaranteed a free and highly competitive space by the existence of net neutrality. The involvement of ISPs in determining what content or services reach consumers will stifle innovators. For instance, if Google can pay ISPs to deliver YouTube videos faster than other sources of Internet video, any startups offering better services than YouTube will have tremendous difficulties enter the online video market. Network neutrality does not allow ISPs to restrict content and/or services provided by their competitors. As known, restrictions of competition may lead to increased prices of services and/or goods. For example, in 2009, Deutsche Telekom announced plans to prohibit the use of Skype over iPhones. Such a prohibition will harm the interests of consumers who can otherwise save money on calls by using Skype.

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Preserving Internet standards:

Network neutrality advocates have sponsored legislation claiming that authorizing incumbent network providers to override transport and application layer separation on the Internet would signal the decline of fundamental Internet standards and international consensus authority. Further, the legislation asserts that bit-shaping the transport of application data will undermine the transport layer’s designed flexibility. Network neutrality preserves the existing Internet standards. The reason is that, at present, the Internet runs on technical standards created by variety of organizations, such as the internet engineering task force (IETF). By using the existing Internet standards, computers, services, and software created by different companies can be integrated together. Without network neutrality, the Internet will be regulated by ISPs under standards chosen by them.

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Preventing pseudo-services:

Alok Bhardwaj, founder of Epic Privacy Browser, argues that any violations to network neutrality, realistically speaking, will not involve genuine investment but rather payoffs for unnecessary and dubious services. He believes that it is unlikely that new investment will be made to lay special networks for particular websites to reach end-users faster. Rather, he believes that non-net neutrality will involve leveraging quality of service to extract remuneration from websites that want to avoid being slowed down.

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End-to-end principle:

Some advocates say network neutrality is needed in order to maintain the end-to-end principle. Network neutrality maintains the end-to-end principle. It allows nodes of the network to send packets to all other nodes of the network, without requiring intermediate network elements to maintain status information about the transmission. The principle allows people using the Internet to innovate free of any central control. According to Lawrence Lessig and Robert W. McChesney, all content must be treated the same and must move at the same speed in order for net neutrality to be true. They say that it is this simple but brilliant end-to-end aspect that has allowed the Internet to act as a powerful force for economic and social good. Under this principle, a neutral network is a dumb network, merely passing packets regardless of the applications they support. This point of view was expressed by David S. Isenberg in his paper, “The Rise of the Stupid Network”. He states that the vision of an intelligent network is being replaced by a new network philosophy and architecture in which the network is designed for always-on use, not intermittence and scarcity. Rather than intelligence being designed into the network itself, the intelligence would be pushed out to the end-user’s device; and the network would be designed simply to deliver bits without fancy network routing or smart number translation. The data would be in control, telling the network where it should be sent. End-user devices would then be allowed to behave flexibly, as bits would essentially be free and there would be no assumption that the data is of a single data rate or data type. Contrary to this idea, the research paper titled End-to-end arguments in system design by Saltzer, Reed, and Clark argues that network intelligence doesn’t relieve end systems of the requirement to check inbound data for errors and to rate-limit the sender, nor for a wholesale removal of intelligence from the network core.

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Regulation vs. Competition issue:

Some of the “pipe” owners argue that net neutrality is unnecessary regulation that will stifle competition and slow deployment of broadband technologies. But the truth is there is already only a little competition between broadband providers. In most parts of the U.S., there are at most two companies that provide a broadband pipe to your home: a telephone company and a cable company. Both of these industries are already regulated because they are natural monopolies: once a cable is laid to your house, there really is no rational, non-wasteful reason to lay another cable to your house, since you only need one at a time; therefore, most communities only allow one cable or telephone company to provide service to an area, and then regulate that company so to prevent abuse of the state-granted monopoly. Thus, we don’t allow phone companies to charge exorbitant amounts for local service; nor do we permit a cable company to avoid providing service to poor neighborhoods. Contrast the quasi-monopoly on broadband pipes with the intensely competitive market of web content and services. There are millions of websites out there and countless hours of video and audio, all competing for your time, and sometimes your money. With the advent of broadband connections, the telecom and cable companies have found a new way to exploit their state-granted monopoly: leverage it into a market advantage in Internet services and content. This would harm competition in the dynamic, innovative content and services industry without solving the lack of real competition in the broadband access market. In contrast, net neutrality will encourage competition in online content and services to stay strong. By keeping broadband providers from raising artificial price barriers to competition, net neutrality will preserve the egalitarian bit-blind principles that have made the Internet the most competitive market in history.

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ISPs are trying to ‘Double Dip’!

ISPs argue that they should be incentivized to invest in infrastructure that results in a faster internet. This argument ignores that they are already charging consumers for their infrastructure and are now trying to ‘double dip‘ by charging content providers too. To make matters worse, ISPs effectively have a monopoly in most markets – inhabitants in large cities have just a few cable/internet options and small markets often have one.

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Arguments against net neutrality:

Network owners believe regulation like the bills proposed by net neutrality advocates will impede U.S. competitiveness by stifling innovation and hurt customers who will benefit from ‘discriminatory’ network practices. U.S. Internet service already lags behind other nations in overall speed, cost, and quality of service, adding credibility to the providers’ arguments. Obviously, by increasing the cost of heavy users of network bandwidth, telecommunication and cable companies and Internet service providers stand to increase their profit margins.  Those who oppose network neutrality include telecommunications and cable companies who want to be able to charge differentiated prices based on the amount of bandwidth consumed by content being delivered over the Internet. Some companies report that 5 percent of their customers use about half the capacity on local lines without paying any more than low‐usage customers. They state that metered pricing is “the fairest way” to finance necessary investments in its network infrastructure. Internet service providers point to the upsurge in piracy of copyrighted materials over the Internet as a reason to oppose network neutrality. Comcast reported that illegal file sharing of copyrighted material was consuming 50 percent of its network capacity. The company posits that if network transmission rates were slower for this type of content, users would be less likely to download or access it. Those who oppose network neutrality argue that it removes the incentive for network providers to innovate, provide new capabilities, and upgrade to new technology.

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Reasons for not being in favor of network neutrality:

The world knows that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are not in favor of net neutrality.  A specific reason that they would like to be sure that net neutrality does not exist is so that they can gain the ability to offer tiered services.  They want to offer tiered services because they believe that a user should be able to pay for the quality of service provided to them (in terms of throughput).  Instead of offering a flat level of service (in terms of throughput) for all customers both content providers and end users, the ISPs would like to offer different tiers of service.  They want to provide a content provider with a guaranteed level of service based on the tier that which they are willing to pay.  For a top tier service, this would allow that content provider for be able to provide their content at a fast rate to its users.  It would also let content providers, who do not want to pay for an extremely high level of throughput, to be able to save money by not paying for a high level.  People for net neutrality argue that this would provide a disadvantage to content providers who cannot afford top-tier services.  However ISPs say that this form of increased level of service already exists when there is a content provider who has thousands of services strategically placed throughout the world. They have the ability to provide a consistently high level of service to its users due to physical access in relation to the users’ location.  ISPs think that because this already exists that it should not a problem; offering tiered services.  Another reason that ISPs are against net neutrality is because they believe that by offering the tiered services, they will have the ability to offer a higher level of service to their subscribers through tiered filtration.  By offering different tiers that users can opt in and out off, users will be signing up for the service that they are happy with. The ISP can better throttle its bandwidth as people will be in different tiers.  If a user subscribes to a low level of throughput then they will be paying for a low level of throughput and they will suffice with receiving a low level of throughput because they paid for it.  Likewise, if a user subscribes for a high level of throughput then they will be paying a higher fee and will be content with the high level of throughput.

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It was reported that Netflix consumed approximately 35% of all broadband traffic in the U.S. and Canada. In fact, both Netflix and YouTube combined take up half of the Internet’s bandwidth. Half! So wait…these companies shouldn’t pay more? In a world of net neutrality, this would all be okay. They would not be charged any more for faster lanes or special access. Our largest internet service providers, like Comcast and Verizon, would be required to let them consume as much as they want for the same price that you and I pay. And so the argument for net neutrality weakens.  Net neutrality will curtail our Internet access, speed and performance. You love to watch movie, but what about your neighbor who’s not a Netflix subscriber? Should she be punished with slower Internet speeds caused by bottlenecks because she’s battling for half of what’s left? And just because those around her choose to subscribe to Netflix and stream movies and she did not? And who’s to say that in a few years other services like Netflix won’t appear that will consume even more bandwidth. Or, let’s suppose you’re staying in a hotel (or you’re on a plane) where everyone pays the same for Internet access, except there’s one guy in room 866 who’s hogging up 50% of the bandwidth watching God knows what. With net neutrality, he would have the right to the same bandwidth as you do and would pay the same. Except he’s abusing his right. And you’re suffering with slower speeds and less productivity. Net neutrality will increase our costs. The Internet cannot yet be treated as a utility because it’s not billed as a utility. If it were billed as a utility, you and your business would be paying for usage/downloads/uploads instead of a flat monthly fee. Far richer companies like Netflix, YouTube and others on the horizon would be allowed to consume as much of it as they want and pay the same fees you and I are paying. This is not equal. This is not neutral. And companies are competing everywhere where space, whether it’s real estate, market share or Internet bandwidth is valuable. This is why there are $8 million studio apartments in New York City and why a 30 second advertisement on the Super Bowl costs $4 million.  Opponents of net neutrality regulations include AT&T, Verizon, IBM, Intel, Cisco, Nokia, Qualcomm, Broadcom, Juniper, dLink, Wintel, Alcatel-Lucent, Corning, Panasonic, Ericsson, and others. Notable technologists who oppose net neutrality include Marc Andreessen, Scott McNealy, Peter Thiel, David Farber, Nicholas Negroponte, Rajeev Suri, Jeff Pulver, John Perry Barlow, and Bob Kahn. Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker’s paper titled, “Net Neutrality and Consumer Welfare”, published by the Journal of Competition Law & Economics, alleges that claims by net neutrality proponents “do not provide a compelling rationale for regulation” because there is “significant and growing competition” among broadband access providers.  Google Chairman Eric Schmidt states that, while Google views that similar data types should not be discriminated against, it is okay to discriminate across different data types—a position that both Google and Verizon generally agree on, according to Schmidt. The supporters of net neutrality regulation believe that more rules are necessary. In their view, without greater regulation, service providers might parcel out bandwidth or services, creating a bifurcated world in which the wealthy enjoy first-class Internet access, while everyone else is left with slow connections and degraded content. That scenario, however, is a false paradigm. Such an all-or-nothing world doesn’t exist today, nor will it exist in the future. Without additional regulation, service providers are likely to continue doing what they are doing. They will continue to offer a variety of broadband service plans at a variety of price points to suit every type of consumer.  Computer scientist Bob Kahn has said net neutrality is a slogan that would freeze innovation in the core of the Internet. Farber has written and spoken strongly in favor of continued research and development on core Internet protocols. He joined academic colleagues Michael Katz, Christopher Yoo, and Gerald Faulhaber in an op-ed for the Washington Post strongly critical of network neutrality, essentially stating that while the Internet is in need of remodelling, congressional action aimed at protecting the best parts of the current Internet could interfere with efforts to build a replacement.

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Reduction in innovation and investments:

According to a letter to key Congressional and FCC leaders sent by 60 major ISP technology suppliers including IBM, Intel, Qualcomm, and Cisco, Title II regulation of the internet means that instead of billions of broadband investment driving other sectors of the economy forward, any reduction in this spending will stifle growth across the entire economy. This is not idle speculation or fear mongering…Title II is going to lead to a slowdown, if not a hold, in broadband build out, because if you don’t know that you can recover on your investment, you won’t make it.  Opponents of net neutrality argue that prioritization of bandwidth is necessary for future innovation on the Internet. The prioritization of bandwidth stimulates innovation because the ISPs can use the money paid for preferential treatment of Internet traffic to pay for the building of network infrastructure that would increase broadband access to more consumers. Telecommunications providers such as telephone and cable companies, and some technology companies that supply networking gear, argue telecom providers should have the ability to provide preferential treatment in the form of tiered services, for example by giving online companies willing to pay the ability to transfer their data packets faster than other Internet traffic. The added revenue from such services could be used to pay for the building of increased broadband access to more consumers. Marc Andreessen states that “a pure net neutrality view is difficult to sustain if you also want to have continued investment in broadband networks. If you’re a large telco right now, you spend on the order of $20 billion a year on capex. You need to know how you’re going to get a return on that investment. If you have these pure net neutrality rules where you can never charge a company like Netflix anything, you’re not ever going to get a return on continued network investment — which means you’ll stop investing in the network. And I would not want to be sitting here 10 or 20 years from now with the same broadband speeds we’re getting today.”

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Net neutrality rules could hamper the development of new technologies and prevent ISPs and wireless companies from offering special deals and incentives:

You shouldn’t regulate data packets:

Treating all Internet traffic equally would actually make it harder to keep the data flowing smoothly, handicap cloud computing services like voice recognition and even muck up phone calls. That’s because the Internet isn’t just for downloading and streaming; it’s increasingly used for real-time interactions among computers, servers, cellphones and other connected gadgets — where every millisecond really does matter. For these types of applications, prioritizing some packets over others could make a difference.  Carriers are not looking to build a tollbooth. They are looking for ways to build a special-purpose network. These special purposes, he said, include voice and video calls. If the video data packets get priority in the data queue over a snippet of email, the call would run a lot better, and the email would still get through in time. But an explicit ban on prioritization would make that difficult or impossible. Prioritizing data will be important for a new generation of wireless service — voice over LTE, or VOLTE. Here, bits of conversations are mixed into the same wash of digits that carries your emails, Facebook messages, Spotify streams and selfie posts, none of which are as sensitive to delays as a phone call (or video call) is. And latency — the delay for a packet to get where it’s going — is worse with bandwidth-strapped wireless networks. Prioritization is the only way to do voice over data. Latency could also kneecap new services that require split-millisecond connections to massive computers far away. Voice-recognition apps don’t live on your phone or TV. Rather, they live on servers that record your voice, figure out what it really means and tell the app back on your device how to respond — all in an instant. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization solidly on the side of net neutrality regulation, is skeptical of these arguments for prioritization. Jeremy Gillula, the EFF’s staff technologist, said that prioritization doesn’t work once data leaves the ISP and goes on to the larger Internet. “Most transit providers and interconnections today completely ignore packet prioritization codes,” Gillula said. He added that data encryption, which is becoming increasingly common, would obscure any labels that, say, distinguish a voice packet from a piece of a Web page. Gillula also argued that even well-intentioned prioritization could be unfair to users. “If I use my connection primarily for VoIP, but my neighbor uses hers primarily for gaming [and we have the same ISP], why should one person’s traffic be prioritized over another based on the type of traffic?” he asked.

Regulations quash deals for consumers:

Shopping is full of special offers. But regulating wireless providers and ISPs as utilities would require uniform pricing and prohibit the offering of deals.

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Counterweight to server-side non-neutrality:

Those in favor of forms of non-neutral tiered Internet access argue that the Internet is already not a level playing field: large companies achieve a performance advantage over smaller competitors by replicating servers and buying high-bandwidth services. Should prices drop for lower levels of access, or access to only certain protocols, for instance, a change of this type would make Internet usage more neutral, with respect to the needs of those individuals and corporations specifically seeking differentiated tiers of service. Network expert Richard Bennett has written, “A richly funded Web site, which delivers data faster than its competitors to the front porches of the Internet service providers, wants it delivered the rest of the way on an equal basis. This system, which Google calls broadband neutrality, actually preserves a more fundamental inequality.”

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Consumer fees:

Network neutrality decreases the revenues earned by the ISPs. The decreased revenues of the ISPs increase the level of the employment and decrease GDP. Moreover, the decreased revenues of ISPs prevent them from deploying and maintaining networks, and improving them over time. In order to recoup the decreased revenues, the ISPs may charge their customers increased fees. 142 wireless ISPs (WISPs) said that FCC’s new “regulatory intrusion into our businesses…would likely force us to raise prices, delay deployment expansion, or both.”

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Significant and growing competition:

A 2010 paper on net neutrality by Nobel Prize economist Gary Becker and his colleagues stated that “there is significant and growing competition among broadband access providers and that few significant competitive problems have been observed to date, suggesting that there is no compelling competitive rationale for such regulation.”  Becker and fellow economists Dennis Carlton and Hal Sidler found that “Between mid-2002 and mid-2008, the number of high-speed broadband access lines in the United States grew from 16 million to nearly 133 million, and the number of residential broadband lines grew from 14 million to nearly 80 million. Internet traffic roughly tripled between 2007 and 2009. At the same time, prices for broadband Internet access services have fallen sharply.”  The PPI reports that the profit margins of U.S. broadband providers are generally one-sixth to one-eighth of companies that use broadband (such as Apple or Google), contradicting the idea of monopolistic price-gouging by providers.

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Broadband choice:

A report by the Progressive Policy Institute in June 2014 argues that nearly every American can choose from at least 5-6 broadband internet service providers, despite claims that there are only a ‘small number’ of broadband providers. Citing research from the FCC, the Institute wrote that 90 percent of American households have access to at least one wired and one wireless broadband provider at speeds of at least 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbit/s upstream and that nearly 88 percent of Americans can choose from at least two wired providers of broadband disregarding speed (typically choosing between a cable and telco offering).

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Potentially increased taxes:

The ruling issued by the FCC to impose Title II regulations explicitly opens the door to billions of dollars in new fees and taxes on broadband by subjecting them to the telephone-style taxes under the Universal Service Fund. Net neutrality proponent Free Press argues that, “the average potential increase in taxes and fees per household would be far less” than the estimate given by net neutrality opponents, and that if there were to be additional taxes, the tax figure may be around $4 billion. Under favorable circumstances, “the increase would be exactly zero.”  Meanwhile, the Progressive Policy Institute claims that Title II could trigger taxes and fees up to $11 billion a year.  Financial website Nerd Wallet did their own assessment and settled on a possible $6.25 billion tax impact, estimating that the average American household may see their tax bill increase $67 annually.  FCC spokesperson Kim Hart said that the ruling does not raise taxes or fees.

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Prevent overuse of bandwidth:

Since the early 1990s, Internet traffic has increased steadily. The arrival of picture rich websites and MP3s led to a sharp increase in the mid-1990s followed by a subsequent sharp increase since 2003 as video streaming and Peer-to-peer file sharing became more common. YouTube streamed as much data in three months as the world’s radio, cable and broadcast television channels did in one year, 75 petabytes. Networks are not remotely prepared to handle the amount of data required to run these sites. Global Internet video traffic was 57 percent of all consumer traffic in 2012. The global Internet video traffic will be 69 percent of all consumer Internet traffic in 2017. This statistic does not include video exchanged through peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing. The sum of all forms of video traffic, including P2P, will be in the range of 80 to 90 percent of global consumer traffic by 2017. In order to deal with the increased bandwidth requirements, ISPs will need to build more infrastructure.  Net neutrality would prevent broadband networks from being built, which would limit available bandwidth and thus endanger innovation.

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High costs to entry for cable broadband:

According to a Wired magazine article by TechFreedom’s Berin Szoka, Matthew Starr, and Jon Henke, local governments and public utilities impose the most significant barriers to entry for more cable broadband competition: “While popular arguments focus on supposed ‘monopolists’ such as big cable companies, it’s government that’s really to blame.” The authors state that local governments and their public utilities charge ISPs far more than they actually cost and have the final say on whether an ISP can build a network. The public officials determine what hoops an ISP must jump through to get approval for access to publicly owned “rights of way” (which lets them place their wires), thus reducing the number of potential competitors who can profitably deploy internet service—such as AT&T’s U-Verse, Google Fiber, and Verizon FiOS. Kickbacks may include municipal requirements for ISPs such as building out service where it isn’t demanded, donating equipment, and delivering free broadband to government buildings.

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Unnecessary regulations:

According to PayPal founder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel, “Net neutrality has not been necessary to date. I don’t see any reason why it’s suddenly become important, when the Internet has functioned quite well for the past 15 years without it…. Government attempts to regulate technology have been extraordinarily counterproductive in the past.”  Max Levchin, the other co-founder of PayPal, echoed similar statements, telling CNBC, “The Internet is not broken, and it got here without government regulation and probably in part because of lack of government regulation.”  FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who was one of the two commissioners who opposed the net neutrality proposal, criticized the FCC’s ruling on internet neutrality, stating that the perceived threats from ISPs to deceive consumers, degrade content, or disfavor the content that they don’t like are non-existent: ” The evidence of these continuing threats? There is none; it’s all anecdote, hypothesis, and hysteria. A small ISP in North Carolina allegedly blocked VoIP calls a decade ago. Comcast capped BitTorrent traffic to ease upload congestion eight years ago. Apple introduced Facetime over Wi-Fi first, cellular networks later. Examples this picayune and stale aren’t enough to tell a coherent story about net neutrality.

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Increasing Governmental Influence:

Net neutrality proponents want government to enact laws or use governmental agencies like FCC/TRAI to enforce net neutrality with strong rules. However, phone companies and ISPs have a much greater influence on the Federal Government than individuals. This influence is primarily made manifest in the money large companies spend on lobbying the FCC and the campaign contributions these companies make to politicians that are on the committees that make the decisions about net neutrality. If net neutrality supporters want government intervention to strengthen net neutrality, then they are making a mistake because governments and large corporations are always hand in glove with each other and so far internet has worked well without government meddling.

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Market Demand should control the priority of content on the internet!

One can make a ‘collective good’ argument that popular content deserves higher serving priority (regardless of whether the ISP can charge for it). It’s great that a blogger with one reader has the same chance to distribute on the internet as the creators of Game of Thrones, but do millions of got watchers collectively have a greater right to their content than the hundred or so viewers of a small time video blogger? Many consumers argue that without Net Neutrality, ISPs can give preferential treatment to the content they profit from, but the market dictates that popular content will be the most profitable, so isn’t that a good thing?

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Potential disadvantages of net neutrality are:

1. Users will have to pay more for internet services as ISP will pass on the cost of more bandwidth purchased to ensure they are not stretched.

2. Slower internet access speed if the ISPs are unable to have more bandwidth to handle the increased load.

3. Increase in high latency and high jitter rate due to insufficient bandwidth which would make Voice over IP perform poorly.

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Discussion:

There were four basic Internet freedoms that everyone should agree with: the freedom to access lawful content of one’s choice, the freedom to access applications that don’t harm the network, the freedom to attach devices to the network, and the freedom to get information about your service plan. Everybody, or virtually everybody, agrees on that. Free and open Internet stimulates ISP competition, helps prevent unfair pricing practices, drives entrepreneurship and most importantly protects freedom of speech. Advocates for net neutrality say that cable companies cannot screen, interrupt or filter Internet content without court order; should ensure the internet remains a free and open technology, create an even-playing field for competition and innovation. The question is how do we operationalize that? The government is a pretty poor arbiter of what is reasonable and what is not, and it’s exceptionally poor when it comes to having a track record of promoting innovation and investment in broadband networks. That’s something the private sector has done a remarkable job of on its own. The Internet has speedily evolved from a collaborative project among governments and universities to a promising commercial medium operated primarily by private ventures. The next generation World Wide Web will not appear as a standard, “one size fits” all medium primarily because consumers expect more and different features and service providers need to find ways to recoup frequent network upgrades to accommodate ever increasing throughput requirements. For example, Internet Service Providers offer on line game players, Voice over the Internet Protocol (VoIP) and Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) with “better than best efforts”  routing of bits to promote timely delivery with higher quality of service. Similarly content providers can use caching and premium traffic routing and management service to secure more reliable service than that available from standard “best efforts” routing. Service diversification can result in many reasonable and lawful types of discrimination between Internet users notwithstanding a heritage in the first two generations of nondiscrimination and best efforts routing of traffic. ISPs increasingly have the ability to examine individual traffic streams and prioritize them creating a dichotomy between plain vanilla, best efforts routing and more expensive, superior traffic management services. However the potential exists for carriers operating the major networks used to switch and route bit-streams to exploit network management capabilities to achieve anticompetitive and consumer harming outcomes. Some internet service providers are trying to fundamentally alter the way the internet works and collecting money from companies like Netflix and Facebook to guarantee their data can continue to reach users unimpeded. This is called paid prioritisation, which is against ethics like paid news in print medium, which should not be allowed at all. Advocates for the principle of network neutrality claim the potential exists for ISPs to engineer a fragmented and “balkanized” next generation Internet through unreasonable degradation of traffic even when congestion does not exist. The worst case scenario envisioned by network neutrality advocates sees a reduction in innovation, efficiency, consumer benefits and national productivity occasioned by a divided Internet: one medium prone to congestion and declining reliability and one offering superior performance and potential competitive advantages to users able and willing to pay, or affiliated with the ISP operating the bit-stream transmission network. Opponents of network neutrality mandates scoff at the possibility of the worst case scenario, and view government intervention as anathema. Proponents of net neutrality are worried that corporations will buy influence with ISPs to disrupt access to competitors, or smother online speech that’s critical of a company or its products.

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On balance, internet neutrality is desirable.

1. Without net neutrality, large companies will interfere with online communication between users.

If control of the Internet and its contents are given to large companies, they can easily interfere with communication between users that was previously taken for granted. Comcast limited user access to BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer exchange.  Proponents of network neutrality imagine that if unrestrained, internet service providers would block large portions of the Internet, and make other parts of the Internet accessible only behind a high-pay wall. While this is possible in theory, robust competition among service providers ensures companies will be punished for providing such egregious service… If any company adopted the measures network neutrality supporters envision, customers would jump ship to an I.S.P that gives better service.

2. Net neutrality ensures innovation and contributions from a variety of smaller users.

Part of what makes the Internet so unique is that anybody can contribute content, creating a wealth of information. However, the loss of net neutrality would mean that Internet providers would be able to create exclusive deals with existing companies, effectively shutting out smaller companies. More than 60 percent of Web content is created by regular people, not corporations. How will this innovation and production thrive if creators must seek permission from a cartel of network owners? Net neutrality promotes innovation by testing ideas on a large number of consumers. Also the per user cost of internet provision is reduced greatly because of economies of scale. Currently millions of companies profit from the internet. ISPs are just being greedy. That is why they say net neutrality interferes with innovation because it prevents companies from charging its users more to access more content, giving companies less profit and interfering with their ability to innovate.

3. Net neutrality preserves choice on the Internet and the idea that a website’s success is determined by its quality.

The Internet is special in that anybody can contribute content, and the actual success of websites is determined by the users themselves. If a website is unpopular, it will ultimately fail because not enough people are visiting that website and using it. Net neutrality ensures that this system stays in place because any user will be able to access any website. However, without net neutrality, the idea that the best and most popular websites will succeed is no longer true, as competition will be distorted by larger companies making deals and preventing access to certain websites.

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Key points of concerns vis-à-vis net neutrality requirements:

1. Transparency requirement:

A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service shall publicly disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of its broadband Internet access services sufficient for consumers to make informed choices regarding use of such services and for content, application, service, and device providers to develop, market, and maintain Internet offerings.

Concern:

While transparency and informed choice are absolutely important for consumers, we should also expect, if not demand, that internet access providers also undertake several network management practices to protect our safety, privacy and security that they do not make public. For example, ISP’s today have several mechanisms in place to identify images of child sexual exploitation, and it would seriously undermine this vital work to make public the ways in which they manage this on their networks. Additionally, there are many aspects of network management, performance that would be a boon to those interested in hacking, infecting or harming the networks to advance their financial or political goals.

The transparency rule therefore hinges on the concept of ‘sufficient’ information for consumers to make informed choices which is left undefined, while the overall directive makes a demand for transparency that may not serve individuals, companies, or the national security well.

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2, No Blocking requirement:

A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service … shall not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices..[or], consumers from accessing lawful websites, subject to reasonable network management; nor shall such person block applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services, subject to reasonable network management.” This point carries the caveat “No Unreasonable Discrimination,” defined as follows: … [Access providers] shall not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service.  Reasonable network management shall not constitute unreasonable discrimination.

Concern:

How the word “block” or the phrase “reasonable network management’ is defined raises safety concerns. While blocking legal content may be undesirable, slowing some content streaming in favor of other content types will be important for consumer’s overall experience – and safety. For example, according to Cisco’s Networking Index Forecast, Internet traffic will more than quadruple by 2014, with some form of video content accounting for more than 90% of all content transmitted through the internet. While some of that video streaming will be for critical purposes like remote medical assistance, most will be for entertainment. Should these two types of content be given equal priority? Should video streaming be given the same priority as phone calls (VoIP)? While a 5-second delay in video download means your video isn’t ready quite as fast as it might be, the same delay in a phone call is intolerable – and if that call is to 911, it is a clear a safety concern.  Again, there is a clear need to prioritize content types from a safety perspective, particularly given the exponential growth in bandwidth use, and the faltering economic model for bandwidth development.

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3. Reasonable network management:

It is defined by the FCC as follows: A network management practice is reasonable if it is appropriate and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management purpose, taking into account the particular network architecture and technology of the broadband Internet access service. Legitimate network management purposes include: ensuring network security and integrity, including by addressing traffic that is harmful to the network; addressing traffic that is unwanted by users (including by premise operators), such as by providing services or capabilities consistent with a user’s choices regarding parental controls or security capabilities; and by reducing or mitigating the effects of congestion on the network.

Concern:

This looks at three aspects of network management in narrowly defined categories: 1) technical management of a service, including security defences 2) providing consumers with safety tools to manage their own content access, and 3) managing network congestion. The future may show that several additional categories are needed, and that there is more overlap between categories than suspected. At a time when new threats emerge on a daily basis, and where entirely new categories of exploits continue to emerge, this definition has the potential to hamper proactive measures of defence in new and unforeseen areas. It also risks stifling healthy competition between service providers in areas of consumer safety, and discouraging innovation of new – or hybrid – safety, security and privacy solutions that would look beyond these narrow confines. Our personal safety as well as the safety of the internet as a whole depends on ISPs taking strong protective measures on our behalf. We need to be pushing for greater safety measures, and creating an environment that encourages and rewards service providers for doing so. An ‘open’ internet is an illusion if we do not have a secure environment in which consumers can safely embrace the web. Otherwise it’s only open to the crooks, scammers, and cyber-thugs.

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The essential argument is that ISPs provide better service by being allowed to actively manage their network. Some examples of this better service would be:

1. Protecting the average user from the power user: Users who download gigabytes of data may unfairly hog bandwidth resources from those who don’t. By throttling certain users or types of data, ISPs can be sure that every user has an optimal experience.

2. Preventing illegal activity: ISPs generally want to prevent illegal file swapping over their networks, both due to the legal issues and for basically the same bandwidth reasons as above.

3. Privilege Special Services: Certain important Internet services require heavy and uninterrupted bandwidth use, such as medical services or VOIP. ISPs want to give special preference to these unique services that could benefit from special treatment, and possibly could not exist without this preferential treatment. This is one of the key arguments in the Verizon/Google Proposal of 2010.

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Is net neutrality technically possible?

Building a net neutral network is technologically not possible to implement. It’s a utopian idea – no basis in technology. No telecom engineer will say that network neutrality is feasible. The concept that each data is treated equally does not hold good. You can’t design data. The Internet inherently prioritises data on a scale of 0-7 points basis. Network architecture gives highest priority to network management, followed by online gaming, speech, videos and then still images, music files and last file transfers and emails. These cannot be on the same footing.

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The debate over bandwidth utilization:

When the BTIG Research firm began covering the Internet pipe operator Cogent Communications, its report contained an amusing insight. Cogent’s last-mile business customers buy a service that offers 100 megabits per second. The average use by these customers, though, is only about 12 mbps, and barely “one or two dozen of their customers have ever reached 50% utilization of the 100 MB pipe,” says BTIG. So the existing infrastructure meets the requirements of the overwhelming majority of customers, and only a small minority require more. The implication is that we don’t need network neutrality, because the users are not using what is there! However, the conclusions are misleading for a variety of reasons:

First, there’s a difference between sustained bandwidth utilization and bandwidth spikes in demand.

For sustained bandwidth utilization, while network operators may differ, in general, a user should not exceed 50% to 70% utilization of a 100 MB pipe (the provisioned bandwidth provided by the ISP). Periodic spikes in demand will put the user in the 80% to 90% bandwidth for short bursts of time. When the demand spikes occur, bandwidth is available. However, if the sustained bandwidth utilization were consistently 90% of the 100 MB pipe, then random spikes in demand would exceed bandwidth, quickly creating an under-provisioned network; the user would urgently need an upgrade. The bandwidth is not a static, monolithic phenomenon, but in fact it is dynamic and ever changing.

Let me give example from India.

It is a known within the telecommunications industry that companies do not make any money off of the last mile connection(s). This is because the initial investment within the last mile connection is so expensive, and the fees at which that they can charge their customers are so competitive. Due to this, technology lags so much in the last mile connection as they cannot make any money off of it.  This is what makes a non-net neutrality environment to ISPs because it now presents a way in that they can make money off of the last mile connection.  Whenever a new ISP comes, it offers high bandwidth to each customer and people do get fast internet speed for few months. For example, a 3G mobile broadband tower is emitting 100 Mbps to a small town. If town has 100 customers, each will get 1 Mbps and if 50 % are not using internet, each using will get 2 Mbps. After three months number of consumers becomes 1000, then each will get 0.1 Mbps and if 50 % consumers use internet at a time, each will get 0.2 Mbps. This is because ISP is not upgrading infrastructure to give more bandwidth. Instead they prefer to have consumers continue to use the present infrastructure and continue to pay monthly fee. With traffic engineering, the incumbent carriers could deliver higher capacity (bandwidth) to a select group of customers and charge them more. However, the network neutrality ruling precludes them from doing so.

Secondly, the term “bandwidth” has never been well defined in the industry and remains largely ambiguous. There’s no agreement on what bits are counted as part of bandwidth. For example, do Ethernet header bits or CRC bits count? Certainly the carriers continue to obfuscate the terms by giving their service offerings names like “100 Ultra” that some users interpret as a bidirectional 100 MB connection. Keeping the user confused seems to be the goal. At least with network neutrality we can open the door for demanding a clear definition for how bandwidth is tested and measured, and how bandwidth utilization is tested and measured.

Third, the carrier networks are the equivalent of one-lane, dirt roads with potholes. Is it any wonder that no one makes high quality, high performance luxury automobiles to travel on a one lane dirt road with potholes? This is a classic chicken and egg problem.  Great products and services requiring a high speed super highway are possible, but if the product creators only see a low capacity, inadequate Internet, why bother creating those products? Thus, the products are never created. Would network neutrality help get the super highway built? Maybe. We’ve seen the difference between HD videos from Netflix and YouTube delivered over the satellite (beautiful quality) as compared to delivery over the cable network (poor quality) and of course worst quality over mobile broadband. Maybe that’s acceptable to a large class of users, but since they have not seen any alternatives, how would they know?

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Balanced Network Neutrality Policy:

The debate over network neutrality has two very different points of view. Network neutrality advocates worry about ISP’s discriminating internet traffic and opponents argue that enforcing network neutrality would be difficult and error prone (Felten, 2006). The solution for this is a balanced policy which would limit the harmful uses of discrimination and allow its beneficial uses, because making wrong decision with respect to network neutrality regulation can hamper Internet’s development (Peha, 2007). For the protection of beneficial discrimination a policy can be designed which might allow the following: Network operators could provide different QoS to different classes of traffic by using explicit prioritization or other techniques. A stricter QoS requirements for traffic sent using a higher-priced service can be favored using these techniques (Alleven, 2009). Network operators could charge a different price for both the senders and recipients of data depending on different classes of traffic (Peha, 2007). The higher price could be charged for traffic which consumes more of a limited resource or which requires superior quality of service and has adverse effect on neighbors traffic (Felten, 2006). Traffic that can pose a threat to network security or which can be harmful to the network could be blocked by the network operator; it can be either by not following certain protocols or defined algorithms (Crowcroft, 2007). Network operators could also benefit by offering unique services or proprietary content to their customers (Peha, 2007).  If and only if, the broadband market is not highly competitive, a policy designed to limit harmful uses of discrimination would not allow the following:  (Peha, 2007). A network operator cannot charge more for a 50kbps VoIP stream than 50kbps gaming application where the QoS requirements are the same (Felten, 2006). One user could not be charged more than another by a network operator whether the user is a service provider, content provider or a consumer for a comparable information transfer or monthly service or even whether the user is the sender or receiver (Peha, 2007). Until and unless a network operator has a reasonable belief that certain traffic poses a security threat to the network it could not block traffic based on content or application alone (Crowcroft, 2007). Degradation of QoS only on the basis of content alone couldn’t be done by the network operators (Crowcroft, 2007) (Alleven, 2009). A network operator could not offer different QoS and price for traffic that competes with a legacy circuit-switched service (Peha, 2007).

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To simplify, the Internet marketplace can be analytically split into three categories: content providers (Google, Netflix, porn sites, blogs), ISPs (Comcast, Verizon, CenturyLink), and end-users (you and me). The end-users are consumers, whose consumption preferences ultimately determine the value of content. ISPs interact directly with consumers by selling the high-speed connections that allow their customers to access content. ISPs interact with content providers by managing the networks over which information flows. Thus ISPs are resource owners, not because they own the networks, but they are also entrepreneurs, insofar as they strive to maintain the profitability of their networks under rapidly evolving market conditions. To be successful, ISPs must serve consumer demand in a cost-effective manner. FCC regulation of the Internet is rooted in the belief that a “virtuous circle” of broadband investment is ultimately driven by content providers. The more good content that providers make available, the more consumers will demand access to sites and apps, and the more ISPs will invest in the infrastructure to facilitate delivery. Minimize the financial and transaction costs imposed by ISPs on content providers, and content will flourish and drive the engine. That’s the theory, anyway. But in practice, there’s no good evidence that myopically favoring content providers over infrastructure owners is beneficial even to content providers themselves, let alone to consumers. Rather, the two markets are symbiotic; gains for one inevitably produce gains for the other. Without an assessment of actual competitive effects, it is impossible to say that consumers are best served by policies that systematically favor one over the other. Somehow, even with absent net neutrality regulation, ISPs have invested heavily in infrastructure and broadband. End-users have benefitted immensely, with 94 percent of U.S. households having access to at least two providers offering fixed broadband connections of at least 10 megabits per second, not to mention the near-ubiquitous coverage of wireless carriers offering 3G and LTE service at comparable speeds. Broadband networks are expensive to build and, particularly for mobile networks, increasingly prone to congestion as snowballing consumer use outpaces construction and upgrades. In order to earn revenue, economize the scarce resource of network capacity, and provide benefits to consumers, ISPs may engage in various price-discrimination and cross-subsidization schemes—i.e., the much-maligned “paid prioritization” motivating net neutrality activists. The non-Internet economy is replete with countless business models that use similar forms of discrimination or exclusion to consumers’ benefit. From Priority Mail to highway toll lanes to variable airline-ticket pricing, discriminatory or exclusionary arrangements can improve service, finance investment, and expand consumer choices. The real question is why we would view these practices any differently when they happen on the Internet.

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Comcast’s policy toward the peer-to-peer data packets made economic sense:

A small minority of its customers was consuming much of its bandwidth by downloading large movie files with Bit Torrent’s technology, thereby reducing data transfer rates for the majority of customers who used Comcast’s service primarily for Web surfing and email. By identifying peer-to-peer data packets and slowing, or “de-prioritizing,” their passage through its network, Comcast made available more capacity for the majority of its customers and avoided raising its rates in order to foot the cost of the infrastructure improvements that would be required to accommodate peer-to-peer file transfers as they grew in popularity. Given that these peer-to-peer file transfers were being made on its property, Comcast had the right to do so. According to the FCC, Comcast’s actions violated the principles of net neutrality because they unfairly “discriminated” against the Bit Torrent data packets.

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It’s really about costs and there isn’t a clear cut answer.  Network capacity costs money to build and maintain.  There are tons and tons of over the top (OTT) services that cause broadband subscribers to use more capacity than they would have otherwise.  This is why during US prime time about 1/3 of the total capacity of the US portion of the Internet is consumed by NetFlix.  Now, from the outside looking most consumers respond with a shrug, after all they bought a package that advertises X amount of bandwidth, so the service provider should be able to provide that to all customers on that package. The problem for the service provider is twofold.  One, all networks are designed around over subscription and no residential broadband network in the world is designed to handle all its users running at full rate all the time. The second problem is that in many cases customers choosing OTT video (also telephone) services are reducing or eliminating their video subscription from their service provider. This is key to understanding the issue because virtually all of the broadband networks were built around a multi-purpose model. This includes DSL (phone, data, and sometimes video), DOCSIS cable (video, data, and often phone), and fiber (FTTx) which is almost always a triple play (FIOS and Uverse work this way).  This matters because these networks were built on the assumption that the operator would get revenue from most subscribers for both or all three services.  When many subscribers choose to eliminate one or more of those services and, increase their usage on the third (data) to make up for it the service provider faces a double whammy. We cannot think of a single large facilities based (they own the gear) operator that built around simply offering data and data plans are less expensive historically because much of the cost of the network is shared with the other service(s). The reason that operators would like flexibility is to find a way to indirectly monetize the OTT services that are consuming resources on their infrastructure.

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Bandwidth and net neutrality:

The resurgent issue of net neutrality—whether all net traffic has an equal opportunity to go at the same speed—is very much related to bandwidth, with Netflix using 32.25% of the total web bandwidth of North American home users nightly, followed by BitTorrent, YouTube streaming, pirate sites and porn. With more streaming services that provide movies or music as content emerging every day, one can see that the pipeline is being hogged by certain businesses, while others deal with what space is left. With a neutral net, everyone has an equal right to that same pipeline, so if lots of folks all stream Netflix or other services’ movies tonight, the music file upload  that I’m trying to get to friend will go slower and slower—in fact everything slows down equally.

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High bandwidth used by Netflix could lead to traffic jam and slower speed to other users. This is because video needs lot of bandwidth and priority to maintain video quality (low latency) which in turn would slow internet for emails and other webs. Is it not violation of net neutrality?  Why should a consumer suffer if he is not using Netflix by a customer who uses Netflix?  Net Neutrality means that as more folks use “what’s left,” Netflix movies begin to buffer, jitter and eventually deliver pixilated images to compensate. The pipeline isn’t infinite. So we have proposal is to create a separate higher speed pipeline that companies like Netflix pay for (and pass those costs on to their customers no doubt). Netflix has already paid Comcast and Verizon to get in the high-speed lane. That also violates net neutrality.

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Only allow discrimination based on type of data:

Columbia University Law School professor Tim Wu observed the Internet is not neutral in terms of its impact on applications having different requirements. It is more beneficial for data applications than for applications that require low latency and low jitter, such as voice and real-time video. He explains that looking at the full spectrum of applications, including both those that are sensitive to network latency and those that are not, the IP suite isn’t actually neutral. He has proposed regulations on Internet access networks that define net neutrality as equal treatment among similar applications, rather than neutral transmissions regardless of applications. He proposes allowing broadband operators to make reasonable trade-offs between the requirements of different applications, while regulators carefully scrutinize network operator behavior where local networks interconnect.  However, it is important to ensure that these trade-offs among different applications be done transparently so that the public will have input on important policy decisions. This is especially important as the broadband operators often provide competing services—e.g., cable TV, telephony—that might differentially benefit when the need to manage applications could be invoked to disadvantage other competitors. The proposal of Google and Verizon would allow discrimination based on the type of data, but would prohibit ISPs from targeting individual organizations or websites: Google CEO Eric Schmidt explains Google’s definition of Net neutrality as follows: if the data in question is video, for example, then there is no discrimination between one purveyor’s data versus that of another. However, discrimination between different types of data is allowed, so that voice data could be given higher priority than video data. On this, both Verizon and Google are agreed.

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Individual prioritization without throttling or blocking:

Some opponents of net neutrality argue that under the ISP market competition, paid-prioritization of bandwidth can induce optimal user welfare.  Although net neutrality might protect user welfare when the market lacks competition, they argue that a better alternative could be to introduce a neutral public option to incentivize competition, rather than enforcing existing ISPs to be neutral. Some ISPs, such as Comcast, oppose blocking or throttling, but have argued that they are allowed to charge websites for faster data delivery. AT&T has made a broad commitment to net neutrality, but has also argued for their right to offer websites paid prioritization and in favor of its current sponsored data agreements.

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What if the costs were the consumers’ decision?

What if there was a meter on your Internet connection: when your bandwidth exceeded a threshold, a warning popped up and you could decide whether or not to pay more for the massive amounts of data you were streaming or downloading. This would not be a restriction of the Internet, but a realistic reflection of usage. Every Internet service—new, old or yet to come—would have an equal opportunity to offer their content or data. This would not stifle innovation or prevent small emerging companies from competing with Amazon, Apple and Netflix. There would be no discrimination, but it would be up to the consumer to decide if the surcharge to their Internet service was worth adding to the cost of that Netflix movie.

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Research on protocol defined by users rather than network:

In their paper, ‘Putting Home Users in Charge of their Network’, the research team discuss why users should be the ones making the decisions. The researchers explain: “The user should define which traffic gets what type of service, and when this happens; while the ISP figures out how and where in the network, provisioning is implemented.

The researchers’ reasons are:

•Users expect the Internet to be fast, always on, reliable, and responsive.

•Users do not want the network to stand in the way of the application.

•ISPs struggle with how to share available bandwidth among users’ applications.

The research team then made the point that the current “one size fits all” approach is not working, and that each individual user should be able to choose the priority of their applications, indicate that preference to the ISP, and have the ISP implement the required changes. The researchers also feel this is entirely doable:  “We could use existing methods, such as Resource ReSerVation Protocol (RSVP), but we can go one step further and exploit recent trends in networking that make it even easier for ISPs to have more programmatic control over their networks, therefore making it easier for the ISP to implement the user’s desire.”

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Fast internet to save life:

Take a rural basic service hospital, which after a serious accident may have to serve as operating room, and the University clinic with a senior surgeons performs it via telemedicine– if this digital and electronic surgery is to be possible, it can only work with perfect internet connection quality and capacity for the transmission of the instructions given by the senior surgeon working on the organs (lungs or heart or cardiovascular vessels) of the patient. We’ve got to be willing to pay a price for this. And you just can’t talk about perfect equality there.

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Tiered services:

Tiered service structures allow users to select from a small set of tiers at progressively increasing price points to receive the product or products best suited to their needs. Such systems are frequently seen in the telecommunications field, specifically when it comes to wireless service, digital and cable television options, and broadband internet access. When a wireless company, for example, charges customers different amounts based on the number of voice minutes, text messages, and other features they desire, the company is utilizing the principle of tiered service. This is also seen in charging different prices for services such as the speed of one’s internet connection and the number of cable television channels one has access to. Tiered pricing allows customers access to these services which they may not otherwise due to financial constraints, ultimately reflecting the diversity of consumer needs and resources. Tiered service helps to keep quality of service standards for high-profile applications like streaming video or VoIP. This comes at a cost of increasing costs for better service levels.  Major players in the Net Neutrality debate have proposed tiered internet so content providers who pay more to service providers get better quality service. The way ISPs tier services for content providers and application providers is through “access-tiering”. This is when a network operator grants bandwidth priority to those willing to pay for quality service. “Consumer-tiering” is where different speeds are marketed to consumers and prices are based on the consumers’ willingness to pay. A tiered internet gives priority to packets sent and received by end users that pay a premium for service.  Network operators do this to simplify things such as network management and equipment configuration, traffic engineering, service level agreements, billing, and customer support. Initial reasoning against tiered service was that ISPs would use it to block content on the internet. Internet service providers could use this to prioritize affiliated partners instead of unaffiliated ones. Many argue that one fast network is much more efficient than deliberately throttling traffic to create a tiered internet.

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My proposal of ‘two lane’ internet:

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Let me start with few examples.

1. You want to travel from Mumbai to Delhi via railways. You have Rajdhani Express taking you in 17 hours with air-condition. You have Firozpur Janata express taking you in 36 hours without air-condition. The origin, the destination and the railways are the same. What is different is speed and comfort that comes with money. There is no railway neutrality. More money gives you fast speed and better quality.

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2. You want to send letter to your wife. You can send by ordinary mail or by speed post. Again; the origin, the destination and the postal service are the same. What is different is speed driven by extra money spent.  We have no neutrality in postal service.

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3. You want bail in high court. If you are a celebrity, you get bail in 48 hours of conviction. If are a common man, you wait for months to get bail. What is different is speed driven by top lawyers of celebrity who charge so much that a common man cannot afford.

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4. You visit Tirumala Tirupati temple to offer worshipping to God. If you pay Rs.300 per person, you get fast access to God. You have to wait for hours if you want free access. There is multi-tiering even at temples.

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5. Water and Electricity: Tap water you get in your home cost everybody same no matter where you use it but if you want to drink bottled pure water, you have to pay extra. I drink bottled pure water every day to prevent waterborne disease. As per socialism of net neutrality, I must drink tap water. And electricity cost is not same for every unit. For first 50 units, the rate is 1.2 rupees per unit and for over 400 units, the rate is 2.55 rupees per unit as per electricity bill I receive. Where is neutrality in so called common carriers?

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Are we doing injustice at railways, posts, courts, temples, water and electricity?

No.

The non-Internet economy is replete with countless business models that use discrimination or exclusion to consumers’ benefit. From priority mail to highway toll lanes to variable airline-ticket pricing, discriminatory or exclusionary arrangements can improve service, finance investment, and expand consumer choices. The real question is why we would view these practices any differently when they happen on the Internet.

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We are humans and we have evolved ways to access anything depending on quantum of money we spend. We have also evolved habits to do fast or slow. The same logic applies to internet. There are so many people who have money but no time. Why should they suffer under socialism of net neutrality?  Why are we so hypocritical when we talk about internet? I am busy doctor, busy teacher and busy blogger. I hardly get 20 minutes in 24 hours to read comments posted by people on my website. There are thousands of comments. If internet is slow, it will take lot of time to access comments and then approve it. If I pay money to my ISP so that I get faster access to my website, how does it violate net neutrality?  There are so many people in world who have money but no time. Why do injustice to them under pretext of net neutrality?  Then there are net habits. You cannot change net habits. Some people want to download videos all the time reducing speed of internet to others who don’t see videos.

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Technically and commercially net neutrality does not exist anyway even today:

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) decided that the best way to manage traffic flow was to label each packet with codes based on the time sensitivity of the data, so routers could use them to schedule transmission. The highest priority values are for the most time-sensitive services, with the top two slots going to network management, followed by slots for voice packets, then video packets and other traffic. That is why when you are downloading YouTube video; your neighbour connected to your ISP will find his email going slowly as most bandwidth is used by video which gets prioritized transmission. Net neutrality is violated. We already have two-sided pricing. ISPs collect revenues from consumers as well as from content/service/application providers, and this two-sided pricing is often linked to QoS. So we already have non-net neutrality regime. Paid peering, paid prioritization and use of CDN by large companies like Google, Netflix and Facebook get them faster and better internet access than my website. Again net neutrality is violated. While wireless handsets generally can access Internet services, most ISPs favour content they provide or secure from third parties under a “walled garden” strategy: deliberate efforts to lock consumers into accessing and paying for favoured content and services. Net neutrality is already violated on mobile phones using mobile broadband. We are living in the world where net is not neutral anyway technically and commercially.

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All bits and all packets are not same as we need to differentiate between time sensitive (VoIP) and time insensitive services (email) and we need to differentiate between bandwidth hogging (video) and bandwidth sparing services (simple web page). Interestingly, many bandwidth hogging are also time sensitive and many bandwidth sparing are also time insensitive. Under strict net neutrality principle, all these would be transmitted at same speed and at same priority. It would reduce the quality of internet experience.

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What any user or consumer want on internet anyway?

1. Fast speed

2. Cheap monthly fees

3. Access to all legal contents, applications and services at his/her choice

4. No blocking or slowing of any lawful website/application/service

5. Transparency by ISPs about their networking policies

6. Privacy maintained

7. Good quality of service

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The key Internet services that have more demands on connectivity ought to be treated differently from other traffic. Telemedicine, teleoperation of remote devices, and real-time interaction among autonomous vehicles (driver-less cars) could be problematic if data packets could get stalled at peak congestion times. The Internet as a service should be split in two, with one “lane” providing equal and unfettered access to websites, but with another “lane” for the special services with greater demand, such as telemedicine, Netflix or HD IP television. However, both services would run over the same Internet infrastructure. An innovation-friendly Internet means that there is a guaranteed reliability for special services.  These can only develop when predictable quality standards are available.  Fast special lanes are necessary for the development of new, advanced uses of the internet, like telemedicine or driver-less cars. Without guaranteed, fast-access internet connections, such innovations won’t come to market. The current “one size fits all” approach is not working, and that each individual user should be able to choose the priority of their applications, indicate that preference to the ISP, and have the ISP implement the required changes. In other words, special lane can be used by any user or any content/service/application provider, provided they pay required charges to ISPs.

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The internet shall be innovated into two lane internet having same infrastructure. Two lane internet will be high speed low latency network:

1. First lane is common internet

2. Second lane is special internet

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Common internet:

Common internet is for common people treating all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication. More importantly, common internet would have basal internet speed of at least 4 Mbps in developed nations and 1 Mbps in developing nations with average network latency less than 125 millisecond for all users, most of the time, for all websites, all services and all applications without any discrimination. Flat rate for any type of data use will be charged to consumers depending on quantum of data used. When you are on common internet, the download speed of Goggle, Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, my website or a student’s website is same with no prioritization, no slowing, no blocking with transparent network traffic management policies using best efforts. No technical prioritization or bandwidth throttling and no commercial paid prioritization, paid peering, CDN or slowing of any data/voice/video.  All bits, bytes and packets are equal at network level and at pricing level. The more bandwidth you consume, the more you pay irrespective whether you use YouTube, email, skype or VoIP or visit my website. In order for common internet to become successful, ISPs have to upgrade infrastructure.

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ISPs can have second lane special internet only if they fulfil criteria of common internet. If ISP cannot give internet speed of 4 Mbps in developed nation and 1 Mbps in developing nations to all consumers most of the time, it cannot have second lane. The job of the regulatory bodies like FCC/TRAI is to check that prescribed speed of common lane is maintained otherwise cancel licence of ISP for second lane.

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Special internet:

This is specialized fast reliable and secure internet for special services like telemedicine, teleoperation of remote devices, and driver-less cars. The internet speed is very fast of at least 10 Mbps with average network latency less than 100 millisecond anytime to any customer or content provider with selective network prioritization of data/video/voice at router level and transparent use of peering, P2P & CDN. Both users/customers and content/service/application provider can use fast prioritized data by paying more than common internet. Netflix, YouTube, Google, Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, Bit-Torrent or any website/application/service can use special internet on any ISP by paying more provided that ISP fulfils conditions of common internet. In other words, special internet is built on common internet. If common internet is having slow speed or discrimination, special internet is disallowed legally.

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Medical use of broadband:

While broadband alone cannot substitute for doctors, nurses and health care workers, the benefits of Internet applications in healthcare are potentially large. Appropriate mobile solutions can improve the quality of life for patients, increase efficiency of healthcare delivery models, and reduce costs for healthcare providers. It has been estimated that the use of telemedicine delivered by broadband could achieve cost savings of between 10% and 20%.

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As you can see in above figure above, tele-medicine, tele-surgery and tele-imaging need time sensitive large bandwidth that is possible only in special internet.

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The availability of content is a factor that stimulates broadband investment. Revenues from broadband and mobile access are dependent on demand for web-based content and applications. This has been empirically proven through the PLuM study, which found that “the ability of consumers to access Internet content, applications and services is the reason consumers are willing to pay Internet access providers. Access providers are dependent on this demand to monetise their substantial investments.”  Special internet will ensure that time sensitive content/application/service would never be delayed and data packets of special services like telemedicine & driver-less car would never get stalled at peak congestion times. In return, ISPs would get ample profit both from consumers and content/service/application provider as a return on their investment and for further innovation.

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The figure below is an overview of ‘Two Lane Internet’:

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The job of ISP is to provide two lane internet and charge differentially depending on which lane you use and not to enforce choice on users. Consumers would be informed about traffic management practices and the level of quality they can expect from their Internet service by ISPs. It is possible that consumer may use both lanes, common internet for common surfing and special internet for videos or VoIP. It is also possible that consumer may use common internet for all uses including downloading videos. It is also possible that consumer may use special internet for all uses. Let consumer be master of his/her destiny rather than destiny scripted by ISPs or CSPs. However, special services like telemedicine, teleoperation of remote devices, and driver-less cars would work only on special internet and would always get priority transmission over any other data on special internet.

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The moral of the story:

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1. Net neutrality is a principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication. ISP is said to operate in net neutrality if it provides the service in a way that is strictly “by the book”. It means that that all packets of data on the internet are transported equally using best effort, without discrimination on the basis of content, user or design. In other words, net neutrality means internet is free, open and fair. Violation of net neutrality is not synonymous with internet censorship. Internet censorship is suppression or deletion of any data on internet which may be considered objectionable, harmful or sensitive as determined by the censor. Usually the censor is government or court of law.

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2. Net neutrality does not mean there can be no discrimination at all among customers – a customer who is willing to pay for higher broadband speed gets that even today. Killing discrimination absolutely would mean killing competition among service providers. Net neutrality means that discrimination should not be unreasonable and arbitrary.

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3. Net neutrality debate involves predominantly wired transmission (cable/fiber/DSL) in America while net neutrality debate involves predominantly wireless transmission (3G/4G mobile broadband) in India. Net neutrality rules affect wired and wireless transmission differentially because wired network has large capacity of data transmission while wireless network has limited capacity of data transmission due to scarce resource spectrum, and wired connection speed is near maximum throughput while wireless connection speed is much less than maximum throughput due to various factors reducing signal strength. Wired broadband networks have enough capacity to transmit voice and video packets uninterrupted while due to limited capacity in wireless broadband networks, there could be packet loss, high latency and jitters in voice and video packets transmission making voice conversation difficult and poor video quality especially during network congestion. Due to 87% population having Internet access in the United States, the domestic net neutrality debate was able to focus largely on the quality of Internet access. Due to only 19% population having internet access in India, and out of which 83% are getting internet access solely on mobile phones, the priority in India is internet access to a billion people rather than quality of internet.

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4. Search neutrality is an indispensable part of net neutrality. You can circumvent biased search results by searching multiple engines sequentially and not to give undue importance to first page and top results of any search engine results. I have been doing this for years to acquire information on internet.

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5. The increase in network traffic is consequence of the on-going transition of the Internet to a fundamental universal access technology. The Internet has become a trillion dollar industry and has emerged from a mere network of networks to the market of markets. Much of the net neutrality debate is devoted to the question whether the market for Internet access should be a free market or regulated.

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6. Internet without net neutrality would adversely affect start-ups, dissidents, underprivileged, oppressed, activists, small entrepreneurs, small companies, educators and poor people.

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7. Eliminating net neutrality would lead to the Internet resembling the world of cable/satellite TV, so that access to and distribution of content would be managed by a handful of big companies. These companies would then control what is seen as well as how much it costs to see it.

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8. The quality of websites and services determines whether they succeed or fail rather than deals with ISPs. Majority of the great innovators in the history of the Internet started with little capital in their garages, inspired by great ideas. This was possible because the protections of net neutrality ensured limited control by owners of the networks. Without net neutrality, the Internet will undergo a transformation from a market ruled by innovation to one ruled by deal-making.

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9. To obtain the best possible speed for your Internet connection, it is not enough to have a high bandwidth connection. It is also important that your latency is low, to ensure that the information reaches you quickly enough. This is especially true with satellite Internet connections, which can offer speeds of up to 15 Mbps – but will still feel slow due high latency of 500 milliseconds. On the other hand, you should have enough bandwidth as low latencies without enough bandwidth would still result in a very slow connection. Latency and bandwidth are independent of each other. Best internet connection ought to have high bandwidth and low latency.

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10. Two human factors are responsible for provoking humans to choose one site over another besides obvious cost & quality factors:

a) Consumers are intolerant to slow-loading sites. Viewers start to abandon a video if it takes more than 2 seconds to start up, and if the video hasn’t started in five seconds, about one-quarter of those viewers are gone, and if the video doesn’t start in 10 seconds, almost half of those viewers are gone. Also, users with faster Internet connectivity (e.g., fiber-optic) abandon a slow-loading video at a faster rate than users with slower Internet connectivity (e.g., cable or mobile).

b) Human audio-visual perception is another important factor. Conversations become difficult if words or syllables go missing or are delayed by more than a couple of tenths of a second. Even twenty milliseconds of sudden silence can disturb a conversation. Human eyes can tolerate a bit more variation in video than ears can tolerate in voice. Voice and video packets must flow at the proper rate and in proper sequence. Internet discards packets that arrive after a maximum delay, and it can request retransmission of missing packets. That’s okay for Web pages and downloads, but real-time conversations can’t wait. Consonants are short and sharp, so losing a packet at the end of “can’t” turns it into “can.” Severe congestion can cause whole sentences to vanish and make conversation impossible. Wired broadband networks generally have enough capacity to transmit voice and video and therefore less affected than wireless mobile broadband.

ISPs have been using these two human factors to provoke consumers to change sites. ISPs affect consumer’s choice by reducing speed of internet for specific site provoking them to view another competitive site. ISPs also increase latency to make voice conversation over VoIP difficult provoking consumer to use another mode of conversation.

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11. Assuming all other factors same, broadband internet speed is directly proportional to investment in broadband infrastructure and inversely proportional to number of users. That is why in India, whenever new ISP is set up, people get fast speed but after 3 months, speed falls as number of users increases and broadband infrastructure cannot cope up with so many users.

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12. It is known within the telecommunications industry that companies do not make any money off of the last mile connection. This is because the initial investment within the last mile connection is so expensive, and the fees at which that they can charge their customers are so competitive. Due to this, technology lags so much in the last mile connection as they cannot make any money off of it. The incumbent ISPs simply do not want to make investment in upgrading their network infrastructure. The counter view is that ISPs deliberately create physical limits. Instead of increasing their capacity, ISP deliberately keeps it scarce by under-investing in broadband infrastructure to charge for preferential access to resource.

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13. The availability of good content is a factor that stimulates broadband investment. The more good content that content providers make available, the more consumers will demand access to sites and apps, and the more ISPs will invest in the infrastructure to facilitate delivery.

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14. Average bandwidth cost to ISP varies from $30,000 per Gbps per month in Europe and North America to $90,000 in certain parts of Asia and Latin America. Therefore to control their bandwidth costs, ISPs are deploying a variety of ad-hoc traffic shaping policies that target specifically bulk transfers, because they consume the vast majority of bytes. Examples of bulk content transfers include downloads of music and movie files, distribution of large software and games, online backups of personal and commercial data, and sharing of huge scientific data repositories. Increasingly economic rather than physical constraints limit the performance of many Internet paths.

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15. The hardware and the software that run Internet treat every byte of data equally. All bits of internet transmission are fragmented into data packets that are routed through the network autonomously (end-to-end principle) and as fast as possible (best-effort principle). Internet packets generally travel the path of least resistance while travelling from one computer to another. However, there is a desire for reliable transmission of information that is time critical (low latency), or for which it is desired that data packets are received at a steady rate and in a particular order (low jitter). Voice communication, for example, requires both, low latency and low jitter. So we have quality of service (QoS) at router lever where voice transmission is prioritized over other data. Voice, video, and critical data applications are granted priority or preferential services from network devices so that the quality of these strategic applications does not degrade to the point of being unusable. This QoS technology of traffic management is implemented at router level. There is a fine line between correctly applying traffic management to ensure a high quality of service and wrongly interfering with Internet traffic to limit applications that threaten the ISP’s own lines of business. An alternative to complex QoS control mechanisms is to provide high quality communication by generously over-provisioning a network so that capacity is based on peak traffic load estimates. Remember, greater the broadband infrastructure & capacity, lesser the need for traffic control & management.

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16. Fast lanes (paid peering, CDN and paid prioritization), slow lane, increased latency, zero rating, blocking, re-direction, degrading quality of service, weakening competition, and unwillingness to upgrade network (over selling service) are ways by which last-mile ISPs generate profits and all these ways are against net neutrality. It’s all about money and greed. Net neutrality places restrictions on potentially revenue-generating functionality of ISP. They could do all these things because of monopoly in the last mile connection. End-users can be left in a restricted, low quality slow lane or a fast lane with fewer destinations to reach, without even knowing about it as there is absolute lack of transparency by ISPs. Most consumers do not know anything about traffic management practices and the level of quality they can expect from their Internet service. ISPs also give preferential treatment to individual speed test sites, so when you test internet speed, it will be higher than actual.

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17. Moving large data like movies and music videos requires larger and faster Internet “pipes” (more expensive pipes) than moving emails and simpler web pages. On the top, these large data are time-sensitive, need low latency and therefore prioritized. As opposed to text files, video streaming require more resources and potentially slow down the process for everyone else. There is merit in argument that all data is not same. Additionally, different types of data are obtained at different prices and therefore they all cannot be sold at the same rates. Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing and high-quality streaming video require high bandwidth data rates for extended periods and can cause a service to become oversubscribed, resulting in congestion and poor performance. If the resource has a capacity constraint, there may be a point at which a single user’s consumption will negatively affect another’s. This is what happens when one consumer uses too much bandwidth to download video or P2P service; it will affect other paying customers who then cannot send their 10KB emails. One out of every two bytes of data traveling across the Internet is streaming video from Netflix or YouTube. If ISPs start giving further preferential treatment to the biggest players, would there be any bandwidth left for the independent video producers, upstart social media sites, bloggers and podcasters?   Higher price should be charged for traffic which consumes more of a limited resource or which requires superior quality of service and has adverse effect on neighbour’s traffic.

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18. Please do not confuse between peering and peer-to-peer (P2P) file transfer. Peering is direct connection between ISP and content provider (e.g. Google) bypassing internet backbone while peer to peer is sharing files between client computers rather than downloading file from content provider. During peering, you are getting file from content provider at faster speed while during P2P, you are getting file from another user’s computer at faster speed. Peering is violation of net neutrality by ISP while P2P is violation of net neutrality by consumers.

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19. Arguments about net neutrality shouldn’t be used to prevent the most disadvantaged people in society from gaining access to internet in India. Eliminating zero rating programs that bring more people online won’t increase social inclusion or close the digital divide. Only 7% of the data used by Internet.org subscribers came through the initiative’s free, zero-rated offerings; other paid services accounted for the remaining 93%. This proves that zero rating only allows initial internet access to customers but later on it almost becomes paid service. Studies have showed that internet access reduces poverty and create jobs.  Even if it was the case that some zero-rating programs might create some barriers to market entry for new start-ups, the access could help small business owners and farmers tap into a larger market for their goods, and can bring basic education and information to rural areas. On the other hand, for poor people using zero rating, internet means Goggle and Facebook, making awfully hard for any competitor to arise. Creating preferential access to further social causes and service penetration is one thing, using it to create commercial monopolies and business cartels is quite another.

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20. Almost all of ISPs are built on multipurpose model earning revenue from most customers for all 3 services, phone plus SMS, data and video. When many customers choose to eliminate one of those services (phone plus SMS) and, increase their usage on the data by using OTT like WhatsApp and Skype to make up for it, the service provider faces a double whammy. The revenue earned by the telecom operators for one minute of use in traditional voice call is Rupees 0.50 per minute on an average, as compared to data revenue for one minute of VoIP call usage which is around Rupees 0.04, which is 12.5 times lesser than traditional voice call. This clearly indicates that the substitution of voice with data is bound to adversely impact the revenues of the telecom operators and consequently impact both their infrastructure related spends and the prices consumers pay. Since OTTs are consuming resources on ISPs infrastructure and also hurting ISPs business interest, it would be unfair to invoke net neutrality saying all data are same. Free riders counter by saying that users already pay for content and applications, which allows ISP to profit from their investment in networks but this argument appear hollow as profit margins of U.S. broadband providers are generally one-sixth to one-eighth of companies that use broadband (such as Apple or Google).

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21. I am of the view that we should keep government miles away from net neutrality because internet has worked well without government meddling, and governments & corporates are always hand in glove with each other.

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22. In my view, the best way to maintain net neutrality is to increase numbers of ISPs to increase competitiveness among them and each one having large capacity to cater internet traffic. Informed consumers could make a choice among offers from different providers and choose the price, quality of service and range of applications and content that suited their particular needs.

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23. Technically and commercially net neutrality does not exist anyway even today. The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) decided that the best way to manage traffic flow was to label each packet with codes based on the time sensitivity of the data, so routers could use them to schedule transmission. The highest priority values are for the most time-sensitive services, with the top two slots going to network management, followed by slots for voice packets, then video packets and other traffic. That is why when you are downloading YouTube video; your neighbour connected to your ISP will find his email going slowly as most bandwidth is used by video which gets prioritized transmission. Net neutrality is anyway violated. We already have two-sided pricing. ISPs collect revenues from consumers as well as content/service/application providers, and this two-sided pricing is often linked to QoS. So we are already on non-net neutrality regime.  Paid peering, paid prioritization and use of CDN by large companies like Google, Netflix and Facebook get them faster and better internet access than my website. Again net neutrality is violated. While wireless handsets generally can access Internet services, most ISPs favour content they provide or secure from third parties under a “walled garden” strategy: deliberate efforts to lock consumers into accessing and paying for favoured content and services. Net neutrality is already violated on mobile phones using mobile broadband. We are living in the world where net is not neutral anyway technically and commercially.

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24. I propose that the internet shall be innovated into two lane internet having same infrastructure: first lane common internet and second lane special internet. Two lane internet will be high speed low latency network. Common internet is for common people treating all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication. More importantly, common internet would have basal internet speed of at least 4 Mbps in developed nations and 1 Mbps in developing nations for all users with average network latency less than 125 millisecond. Flat rate for any type of data use will be charged to consumers depending on quantum of data used. ISPs can have second lane special internet only if they fulfil criteria of common internet. The second lane special internet is specialized fast reliable and secure internet for special services like telemedicine, teleoperation of remote devices, and driver-less cars. The internet speed is very fast of at least 10 Mbps with average network latency less than 100 millisecond anytime to any consumer or content provider with selective network prioritization of data/video/voice at router level and transparent use of peering, P2P & CDN. Both users/consumers and content/service/application provider can use fast prioritized data by paying more than common internet. The job of ISP is to provide two lane internet and charge differentially depending on which lane you use and not to enforce choice on users. Consumers would be informed about traffic management practices and the level of quality they can expect from their Internet service by ISPs. It is possible that consumer may use both lanes, common internet for common surfing and special internet for videos or VoIP. It is also possible that consumer may use common internet for all uses including downloading videos. It is also possible that consumer may use special internet for all uses. Let consumer be master of his/her destiny rather than destiny scripted by ISPs or CSPs. However, special services like telemedicine, teleoperation of remote devices, and driver-less cars would work only on special internet and would always get priority transmission over any other data on special internet.

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Dr. Rajiv Desai. MD.

June 15, 2015

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Postscript:

I am grateful to internet for my survival as governments and media have done everything to degrade me. Whether it is ISPs or whether it is content providers Google, Facebook, and Netflix or whether it is service provider OTT or whether it is internet users, we all belong to internet family. Net neutrality issue ought to be resolved within family without meddling by governments and courts.

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VACCINE

May 8th, 2015

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VACCINE:

The figure above shows a victim of smallpox.

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Prologue:

“You let a doctor take a dainty, helpless baby, and put that stuff from a cow, which has been scratched and had dirt rubbed into her wound, into that child. Even, the Jennerians now admit that infant vaccination spreads disease among children. More mites die from vaccination than from the disease they are supposed to be inoculated against.” –George Bernard Shaw, 1929. The world has come a long way since George Bernard Shaw fulminated against vaccination in the 1920s. Small pox was declared eradicated from world in 1980 largely due to small pox vaccine. In 2008, Barack Obama called science on vaccines ‘inconclusive’. But in 2015, the same Barack Obama called science on vaccines “indisputable”. Vaccination was voted by readers of the British Medical Journal in 2007 as one of the four most important developments in medicine of the past 150 years, alongside sanitation, antibiotics and anaesthesia. Vaccination currently saves an estimated three million lives per year throughout the world and so topped the list in terms of lives saved, making it one of the most cost-effective health interventions available. Vaccines are widely recognized as one of the greatest public health successes of the last century, significantly reducing morbidity and mortality from a variety of bacteria and viruses. Diseases that were once the cause of many outbreaks, common causes of loss of health and life, are now rarely seen, because they have been prevented by vaccines. However, vaccines can in rare cases themselves cause illness. A rare potential for harm can loom large when people no longer experience or fear the targeted disease. In this regard, the public opinion of vaccines can be a victim of their success. The fact that vaccines are administered to healthy people to prevent diseases which have become rare, largely thanks to vaccination, contributes to concerns about vaccine safety. Because the devastating effects of the diseases are no longer so prominent, public attention is focused on side effects from vaccination. This influences how a person weighs up the risks and benefits of vaccination. Vaccine opponents have questioned the effectiveness, safety, and necessity of all recommended vaccines. Most of the arguments against vaccination appeal to parents’ understandable deep-seated concerns for the health of their children, particularly very young babies. These arguments have reduced vaccination rates in certain communities, resulting in outbreaks of preventable and fatal childhood illnesses. Is vaccine really safe? Is vaccine really effective?  What would happen if I don’t vaccinate my child?  I attempt to answer these questions by analysing both sides of vaccine story.

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Note:

This article is about scientific rationale for vaccination amid anti-vaccine movement and not about individual vaccines and hence it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss in detail production, administration, efficacy and safety of individual vaccines. However, whenever necessary individual vaccines are discussed.

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Abbreviations and synonyms:

DT= diphtheria toxoid

GBS = Guillain-Barré syndrome

HPV = human papillomavirus

MMR = measles, mumps, and rubella

TD = tetanus and diphtheria toxoids = Td

TDaP = tetanus, diphtheria toxoids and acellular pertussis  = DTaP

TDwP = tetanus, diphtheria toxoids and whole cell pertussis = DTwP

TT = tetanus toxoid

Hib = haemophilus influenzae type b

HepB = hepatitis B

IPV = inactivated polio vaccine

OPV = oral polio vaccine

AEFI = adverse event following immunization

MS = multiple sclerosis

PCV= Pneumococcal conjugated vaccine

PPV = Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine

WHO = World Health Organization

UNICEF = United Nations Children’s Fund

CDC = Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S.)

GAVI = Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization

GIVS = Global Immunization Vision and Strategy

GVAP = Global Vaccination Action Plan

CD = cluster of differentiation

APC = antigen presenting cell

DC = dendritic cell

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Edward Jenner and history of vaccination:

As long ago as 429 BC, the Greek historian Thucydides observed that those who survived the smallpox plague in Athens did not become re-infected with the disease. The ancient Greeks knew that people who had recovered from the bubonic plague were resistant to getting it again. Based on this observation, the authorities in Athens used survivors from previous epidemics to nurse sufferers when the same diseases re-emerged. The Chinese were the first to discover and use a primitive form of vaccination, called variolation. It was carried out as early as the 10th century, and particularly between the 14th and 17th centuries. The aim was to prevent smallpox by exposing healthy people to tissue from the scabs caused by the disease. They did this by either putting it under the skin or, more often, inserting powdered scabs from smallpox pustules up the nose. These initial crude attempts at immunization led to further experimentation with immunization by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in 1718 and Edward Jenner in 1798.

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The word “vaccine” comes from the Latin word vaccinus, which means “pertaining to cows.” Vacca is Latin for cow. What do cows have to do with vaccines? The first vaccine was based on the relatively mild cowpox virus, which infected cows as well as people. This vaccine protected people against the related, but much more dangerous, smallpox virus.  More than 200 years ago, Edward Jenner, a country physician practicing in England, noticed that milkmaids rarely suffered from smallpox. The milkmaids often did get cowpox, a related but far less serious disease, and those who did never became ill with smallpox. In an experiment that laid the foundation for modern vaccines, Jenner took a few drops of fluid from a skin sore of a woman who had cowpox and injected the fluid into the arm of a healthy young boy who had never had cowpox or smallpox. Six weeks later, Jenner injected the boy with fluid from a smallpox sore, but the boy remained free of smallpox.  Dr. Jenner had discovered one of the fundamental principles of immunization. He had used a relatively harmless foreign substance to evoke an immune response that protected someone from an infectious disease. His discovery would ease the suffering of people around the world and eventually lead to the elimination of smallpox, a disease that killed a million people, mostly children, each year in Europe. These early endeavors have led to the plethora of vaccines that are available today. Although these attempts were successful in providing immunity, the underlying processes required to produce this immunity were unknown. By the beginning of the 20th century, vaccines were in use for diseases that had nothing to do with cows—rabies, diphtheria, typhoid fever, and plague—but the name stuck.

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Louis Pasteur further developed the technique during the 19th century, extending its use to killed agents protecting against anthrax and rabies. The method Pasteur used entailed treating the agents for those diseases so they lost the ability to infect, whereas inoculation was the hopeful selection of a less virulent form of the disease, and Jenner’s vaccination entailed the substitution of a different and less dangerous disease for the one protected against. Pasteur adopted the name vaccine as a generic term in honor of Jenner’s discovery. Louis Pasteur’s experiments spearheaded the development of live attenuated cholera vaccine and inactivated anthrax vaccine in humans (1897 and 1904, respectively). Plague vaccine was also invented in the late 19th Century. Between 1890 and 1950, bacterial vaccine development proliferated, including the Bacillis-Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccination, which is still in use today. In 1923, Alexander Glenny perfected a method to inactivate tetanus toxin with formaldehyde. The same method was used to develop a vaccine against diphtheria in 1926. Pertussis (1914), diphtheria (1926), and tetanus (1938) were combined in 1948 and given as the DTP vaccine. Viral tissue culture methods developed from 1950-1985, and led to the advent of the Salk (inactivated) polio vaccine and the Sabin (live attenuated oral) polio vaccine. Mass polio immunization has now eradicated the disease from many regions around the world. In 1963 the measles vaccine was developed, and by the late 1960s, vaccines were also available to protect against mumps (1967) and rubella (1969). These three vaccines were combined into the MMR vaccine in 1971.  Maurice Hilleman was the most prolific vaccine inventor, and developed successful vaccines for measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, chickenpox, meningitis, pneumonia and Haemophilus influenzae. In modern times, the first vaccine-preventable disease targeted for eradication was smallpox. The World Health Organization (WHO) coordinated this global eradication effort. The last naturally occurring case of smallpox occurred in Somalia in 1977. The disease has since been eliminated from natural occurrences in the world, so the vaccine is no longer given. In 1988, the governing body of WHO targeted polio for eradication by 2000. Although the target was missed, eradication is very close. The next disease to be targeted for eradication would most likely be measles, which has declined since the introduction of measles vaccination in 1963. In 2000, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) was established to strengthen routine vaccinations and introduce new and under-used vaccines in countries with a per capita GDP of under US$1000. GAVI is now entering its second phase of funding, which extends through 2015. The past two decades have seen the application of molecular genetics and its increased insights into immunology, microbiology and genomics applied to vaccinology. Current successes include the development of recombinant hepatitis B vaccines, the less reactogenic acellular pertussis vaccine, and new techniques for seasonal influenza vaccine manufacture. Molecular genetics sets the scene for a bright future for vaccinology, including the development of new vaccine delivery systems (e.g. DNA vaccines, viral vectors, plant vaccines and topical formulations), new adjuvants, the development of more effective tuberculosis vaccines, and vaccines against cytomegalovirus (CMV), herpes simplex virus (HSV), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), staphylococcal disease, streptococcal disease, pandemic influenza, shigella, HIV, malaria and schistosomiasis among others. Therapeutic vaccines may also soon be available for cancer, allergies, autoimmune diseases and addictions.

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Vaccine definition:

Vaccine is an antigenic substance prepared from the causative agent of a disease or a synthetic substitute, used to provide immunity against one or several diseases. A vaccine is a biological preparation that provides active acquired immunity to a particular disease. A vaccine typically contains an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism and is often made from weakened or killed forms of the microbe, its toxins or one of its surface proteins. The agent stimulates the body’s immune system to recognize the agent as a threat, destroy it, and keep a record of it, so that the immune system can more easily recognize and destroy any of these microorganisms that it later encounters. The administration of vaccines is called vaccination. The effectiveness of vaccination has been widely studied and verified; for example, polio vaccine, HPV vaccine, and the chicken pox vaccine. Vaccination is the most effective method of preventing infectious diseases; widespread immunity due to vaccination is largely responsible for the worldwide eradication of smallpox and the restriction of diseases such as polio, measles, and tetanus from much of the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that licensed vaccines are currently available to prevent or contribute to the prevention and control of twenty-five infections. Vaccines can be prophylactic (example: to prevent or ameliorate the effects of a future infection by any natural or “wild” pathogen), or therapeutic (e.g., vaccines against cancer are also being investigated). Many believe vaccines are among the greatest achievements of modern medicine – in industrial nations, they have eliminated naturally occurring cases of smallpox, and nearly eliminated polio, while other diseases, such as typhus, rotavirus, hepatitis A and B and others are well controlled. Conventional vaccines, however, only cover a small number of diseases, and infections that lack effective vaccines kill millions of people every year, with AIDS, hepatitis C and malaria being particularly common.

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List of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (2009):

Vaccines are available for all of the following vaccine-preventable diseases (unless otherwise noted):

•Anthrax

•Cervical Cancer (Human Papillomavirus)

•Diphtheria

•Hepatitis A

•Hepatitis B

•Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)

•Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

•Influenza (Flu)

• Japanese encephalitis (JE)

• Lyme disease-

•Measles

•Meningococcal

•Monkeypox-There is no monkey pox vaccine. The smallpox vaccine is used for this disease.

•Mumps

•Pertussis

• Pneumococcal

•Polio

•Rabies

•Rotavirus

•Rubella

•Shingles (Herpes Zoster)

•Smallpox

•Tetanus

•Typhoid

•Tuberculosis (TB)

•Varicella (Chickenpox)

•Yellow Fever

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Global Considerations:

Protecting health is a major priority of society, families, and individual parents. Over the past 100 years there has been a revolution in the ability to protect health in the developed world, where there are resources to enable this to happen. In 1900, among every 1,000 babies born in the United States, 100 would die before their first birthday, and five before 5 years of age. By 2007, fewer than seven were expected to die before their first birthday, and only 0.29 per 1,000 before 5 years of age. Diseases severe enough to kill children and adults can also leave survivors disabled in some way, and as mortality has fallen, so has the chance of severe disability from these diseases. Among the dangers for children and adults that have greatly diminished over the past century are infectious diseases. For bacterial diseases, antibiotics have been developed to treat infections before permanent harm can occur. For many viral and bacterial diseases, vaccines now exist. In the early 20th century, smallpox (which has 30 percent mortality and a very high rate of disfigurement and other less common sequelae including blindness and encephalopathy) and rabies (virtually 100 percent fatal) could be prevented with immunization. With the fast growing understanding of microbes and immunity from 1920 onward, the development of immunizations became a race to “conquer” infectious disease. Beginnings with the combination diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus immunization during World War II and most recently with immunization to prevent cervical cancer (the human papillomavirus vaccine), immunizations have changed our expectations for child and adult health. Infections are less of a terror, and children are expected to survive to adulthood.

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Immunization is a proven tool for controlling and even eradicating disease. An immunization campaign, carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO) from 1967 to 1977, eradicated smallpox. Eradication of poliomyelitis is within reach. Since Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, infections have fallen by 99%, and some five million people have escaped paralysis. Although international agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and now Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) provide extensive support for immunization activities, the success of an immunization program in any country depends more upon local realities and national policies. Successful immunization strategy for the country goes beyond vaccine coverage in that self-reliance in vaccine production, creating epidemiological database for infectious diseases and developing surveillance system are also integral parts of the system. The WHO created the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) in 1974 as a means to continue the great success that had been achieved earlier with the eradication of smallpox. At that time less than 5 percent of the world’s children in the developing world were receiving immunizations. The six diseases chosen to be tackled under this new initiative were tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, and measles. It was not until 1988 that the WHO recommended that yellow fever vaccine be added to the national immunization programs of those countries with endemic disease (WHO and UNICEF 1996). Later, in 1992, the World Health Assembly recommended hepatitis B vaccination for all infants. Most recently the WHO has recommended that the Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) conjugate vaccines be implemented into national immunization programs unless epidemiological evidence exists of low disease burden, lack of benefit, or overwhelming obstacles to implementation (WHO 2006).

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The World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that vaccination averts 2 to 3 million deaths per year (in all age groups), and up to 1.5 million children die each year due to diseases which could have been prevented by vaccination. They estimate that 29% of deaths of children under five years old in 2013 were vaccine preventable.  Global vaccination coverage—the proportion of the world’s children who receive recommended vaccines—has remained steady for the past few years. During 2013, about 84% (112 million) of infants worldwide received 3 doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccine, protecting them against infectious diseases that can cause serious illness and disability or be fatal. By 2013, 129 countries had reached at least 90% coverage of DTP vaccine. In 2013, an estimated 21.8 million infants worldwide were not reached with routine immunization services, of whom nearly half live in 3 countries: India, Nigeria and Pakistan. Priority needs to be given to strengthening routine vaccination globally, especially in the countries that are home to the highest number of unvaccinated children. Particular efforts are needed to reach the underserved, especially those in remote areas, in deprived urban settings, in fragile states and strife-torn regions. The American Red Cross, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Foundation, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are partners in the Measles Initiative, which targeted reduction of worldwide measles deaths by 90% from 2000 to 2010. During 2000–2008, global measles mortality rates declined by 78%—i.e., from an estimated 733,000 deaths in 2000 to 164,000 deaths in 2008. Rotary International, UNICEF, the CDC, and the WHO are leading partners in the global eradication of polio, an endeavor that reduced the annual number of paralytic polio cases from 350,000 in 1988 to <2000 in 2009. The GAVI Alliance and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have brought substantial momentum to global efforts to reduce vaccine-preventable diseases, expanding on earlier efforts by the WHO, UNICEF, and governments in developed and developing countries.

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In 2006, the World Health Organization and UNICEF created the Global Immunization Vision and Strategy (GIVS). This organization created a ten-year strategy with four main goals:

•to immunize more people against more diseases

•to introduce a range of newly available vaccines and technologies

•to integrate other critical health interventions with immunization

•to manage vaccination programs within the context of global interdependence

The Global Vaccination Action Plan (GVAP) was created by the World Health Organization and endorsed by the World Health Assembly in 2012. The plan which is set from 2011-2020 is intended to “strengthen routine immunization to meet vaccination coverage targets; accelerate control of vaccine-preventable diseases with polio eradication as the first milestone; introduce new and improved vaccines and spur research and development for the next generation of vaccines and technologies”. These global actions lead to progression of vaccinations. Living in a globalized world that is extremely connected, diseases that are preventable by vaccinations have become part of a larger public health movement leading to global herd immunity. These task forces and political campaigns that have erected in order to spread availability and knowledge of vaccination are modern attempts to protect the world from vaccination-preventable diseases. The plan was the result of a global collaboration involving governments and elected officials, health professionals, academic institutions, vaccine manufacturers, nongovernmental organizations, and civil society organizations. If the global community meets the plan’s objectives, childhood mortality around the world will be reduced below the targets set by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

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World Immunization Week:

The last week of April each year is marked by WHO and partners as World Immunization Week. It aims to raise public awareness of how immunization saves lives, encouraging people everywhere to vaccinate themselves and their children against deadly diseases. In 2014, under the global slogan “Are you up-to-date?”, more than 180 countries, territories and areas marked the week with activities including vaccination campaigns, training workshops, round-table discussions and public information campaigns. This year’s campaign focuses on closing the immunization gap and reaching equity in immunization levels as outlined in the Global Vaccine Action Plan, which is a framework to prevent millions of deaths by 2020 through universal access to vaccines for people in all communities.

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Immunology and vaccinology:

The basic concepts of immunology are an essential component of the foundations of modern vaccinology. To understand the immunology of vaccines, it is important first to examine the key players of the immune system and to understand how they are produced, activated and regulated. Immunology is the study of the structure and function of the immune system. Vaccinology is the science of vaccine development and how the immune system responds to vaccines, but also includes ongoing evaluation of immunization programs and vaccine safety and effectiveness, as well as surveillance of the epidemiology of vaccine-preventable diseases.

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Human immune system:

The human immune system has evolved over millions of years from both invertebrate and vertebrate organisms to develop sophisticated defense mechanisms to protect the host from microbes and their virulence factors. The normal immune system has three key properties: a highly diverse repertoire of antigen receptors that enables recognition of a nearly infinite range of pathogens; immune memory to mount rapid recall immune responses; and immunologic tolerance to avoid immune damage to normal self-tissues. From invertebrates, humans have inherited the innate immune system, an ancient defense system that uses germ line–encoded proteins to recognize pathogens. Cells of the innate immune system, such as macrophages, dendritic cells, and natural killer (NK) lymphocytes, recognize pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) that are highly conserved among many microbes and use a diverse set of pattern recognition receptor molecules (PRRs). Important components of the recognition of microbes by the innate immune system include (1) recognition by germ line–encoded host molecules, (2) recognition of key microbe virulence factors but not recognition of self-molecules, and (3) nonrecognition of benign foreign molecules or microbes. Upon contact with pathogens, macrophages and NK cells may kill pathogens directly or, in concert with dendritic cells, may activate a series of events that both slow the infection and recruit the more recently evolved arm of the human immune system, the adaptive immune system. Adaptive immunity is found only in vertebrates and is based on the generation of antigen receptors on T and B lymphocytes by gene rearrangements, such that individual T or B cells express unique antigen receptors on their surface capable of specifically recognizing diverse antigens of the myriad infectious agents in the environment. Coupled with finely tuned specific recognition mechanisms that maintain tolerance (nonreactivity) to self-antigens, T and B lymphocytes bring both specificity and immune memory to vertebrate host defenses.

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The immune system can be divided into two main subsystems, the innate/general resistance system and the adaptive system. Both the innate system and the adaptive system continually interact with each other to provide an effective immune response.

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The figure above shows key players of the immune system. The innate and adaptive immune systems are populated by many different cells that vary in their roles and responsibilities.

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Innate and adaptive immunity:

All organisms have some form of innate protection against the outside world, which may be as simple as a cell wall or waxy coating. The innate immune system acts as a first line of defense which comprises both cellular and non-cellular effectors. This system provides early containment and defense during the lag time before adaptive immune effectors are available. Innate immunity comprises both soluble (e.g. complement, lysozyme) and cellular effectors (e.g. natural killer [NK] cells, macrophages and dendritic cells [DCs]). The innate and adaptive immune systems are principally bridged by the action of specialised APCs (antigen presenting cells), which translate and transfer information from the body tissues and innate immune system to the adaptive immune system, allowing a systemic response to a localised threat. The innate immune system therefore drives and shapes the development of adaptive immune responses via chemical and molecular signals delivered by APCs to induce the most appropriate type of adaptive response. The adaptive immune system forms the second, antigen-specific line of defense, which is activated and expanded in response to these signals.

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The innate immune system:

Major Components of the Innate Immune System:

Pattern recognition receptors (PRR) C-type lectins, leucine-rich proteins, scavenger receptors, pentraxins, lipid transferases, integrins, inflammasome proteins
Antimicrobial peptides -Defensins, -defensins, cathelin, protegrin, granulysin, histatin, secretory leukoprotease inhibitor, and probiotics
Cells Macrophages, dendritic cells, NK cells, NK-T cells, neutrophils, eosinophils, mast cells, basophils, and epithelial cells
Complement components Classic and alternative complement pathway, and proteins that bind complement components
Cytokines Autocrine, paracrine, endocrine cytokines that mediate host defense and inflammation, as well as recruit, direct, and regulate adaptive immune responses

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Cells of innate immune system:

Cells of the innate immune system are produced in the bone marrow and then migrate to different anatomical locations. The innate immune cell repertoire includes tissue-resident cells such as macrophages and immature DCs, and cells which circulate via blood and the lymphatic system, such as monocytes, neutrophils, eosinophils, NK cells and innate T cells. Non-immune system cells at vulnerable locations, including keratinocytes and other epithelial and mucus-producing cells, fibroblasts and endothelial cells, can also exhibit innate defensive behaviours.

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The innate immune system or general resistance includes a variety of protective measures which are continually functioning and provides a first-line of defense against pathogenic agents. However, these responses are not specific to a particular pathogenic agent. Instead, the innate immune cells are specific for conserved molecular patterns found on all microorganisms. This prevents the innate immune system from inadvertently recognizing host cells and attacking them. However, this prevents the innate immune responses from improving their reactions with repeated exposure to the same pathogenic agent. In other words, the innate immune system does not have memory. The protective defenses of the innate immune system begin with the anatomic barriers such as intact skin and mucous membranes which prevent the entrance of many microorganisms and toxic agents. The skin also has an acidic environment of pH 3-5 which retards the growth of microorganisms. In addition, the normal microorganisms or flora, which inhabit the skin and mucous membranes compete with other microorganisms for nutrients and attachment sites. Further, the mucus and cilia on the mucous membranes aid in trapping microorganisms and propelling them out of the body. Next, the innate immune system includes such physiologic barriers as the normal body temperature, fever, gastric acidity, lysozyme, interferon, and collectins. The normal body temperature range inhibits a variety of microorganisms; and the development of a fever can further inhibit many of these pathogenic organisms. The gastric acidity of the stomach is also quite effective in eliminating many ingested microorganisms. Lysozyme, which is a hydrolytic enzyme found in tears and mucous secretions, can cleave the peptidoglycan layer of the bacterial cell wall thus lysing the microorganism. Interferon(s), which include(s) a group of proteins that are produced by virally infected cells, can bind to noninfected cells and produce a generalized antiviral state. Collectins are surfactant proteins that are present in serum, lung secretions, and on mucosal surfaces. They can directly kill certain pathogenic microorganisms by disrupting their lipid membranes or indirectly by clumping microorganisms to enhance their susceptibility to phagocytosis.

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Innate immunity:

◦does not depend upon previous exposure to the pathogen

◦does not produce immunologic memory

◦does not improve with repeated exposure to the pathogen.

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The complement pathways are also a part of the defensive measures of the innate immune system. The complement system consists of approximately 25 proteins that work together to ‘complement’ the action of the adaptive immune response in destroying bacteria. Complement proteins circulate in the blood in an inactive form. Once activated, complement components serve several effector roles including the recruitment of phagocytes, the opsonisation of pathogens to promote phagocytosis, the removal of antibody antigen complexes and the lysis of antibody-coated cells. There are three complement pathways. The classical pathway is triggered when IgM antibodies or certain IgG antibody subclasses bind surface markers/antigens on microorganisms. The alternative or properdin pathway is triggered by the deposition of complement protein, C3b, onto microbial surfaces and does not require antibodies for activation. The third pathway, the lectin pathway, is triggered by the attachment of plasma mannose-binding lectin (MBL) to microbes and does not require antibodies for activation. These three pathways merge into a common pathway which leads to the formation of the membrane attack complex that can form pores in the membrane of targeted cells. The complement pathways are also integral in the opsonization (or increased susceptibility) of particulate antigens to phagocytosis and in triggering a localized inflammatory response.

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The inflammatory response is another essential part of the innate immune response. The inflammatory response is the body’s reaction to invasion by an infectious agent, antigenic challenge, or any type of physical damage. The inflammatory response allows products of immune system into area of infection or damage and is characterized by the cardinal signs of redness, heat, pain, swelling, and loss of function.

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In addition to the anatomic and physiologic mechanisms, there are also Pattern recognition receptors or PRRs which contribute to the innate immune response. Pattern recognition receptors are not specific for any given pathogen or antigen, but can provide a rapid response to antigens. PRRs are classified as membrane proteins because they are associated with the cell membrane; and, they can be found in all the membranes of the cells in the innate immune system. Although there are several hundred varieties, all the genes of the PRRs are encoded in the germline to ensure limited variability in their molecular structures. Examples of PRRs include MBL, pulmonary surfactant protein, C-reactive protein, toll-like receptors (TLRs), C-Type lectin, NOD, and MX. The PRRs recognize PAMPs or pathogen associated molecular patterns which can trigger cytokine release. Examples of PAMPs include LPS (endotoxin), peptidoglycan (cell walls), lipoproteins (bacterial capsules), hypomethylated DNA (CpG found in bacteria and parasites), double-stranded DNA (viruses), and flagellin (bacterial flagella). These antigens are produced by microbial cells and not by human cells. Recognition of PAMPs by PRRs leads to complement activation, opsonization, cytokine release, and phagocyte activation.  Finally, the mononuclear phagocytes and granulocytic cells are also important to the innate response and help link the innate immune response to the adaptive immune response. Mononuclear phagocytes include monocytes which circulate in the blood and macrophages which are in the tissues. Monocytes and macrophages are highly important in antigen presentation, phagocytosis, cytokine production, and antimicrobial and cytotoxic activities. Upon maturity of the monocytes, the monocytes circulate in the blood for approximately 8 h, then migrate into the tissues and differentiate into specific tissue macrophages or into dendritic cells. There are several types of dendritic cells which are involved in different aspects of immune functions. Many dendritic cells are important in presenting antigen to T-helper cells. However, follicular dendritic cells are found only in lymph follicles and are involved in the binding of antigen–antibody complexes in lymph nodes. Granulocytic cells include neutrophils, eosinophils, and basophils/mast cells. Neutrophils are highly active phagocytic cells and generally arrive first at a site of inflammation. Eosinophils are also phagocytic cells; however, they are more important in resistance to parasites. Basophils in the blood and mast cells in the tissues release histamine and other substances and are important in the development of allergies.

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Effectors of the innate response:

Under some circumstances, pathogen clearance may be achieved by innate immune effectors without activation of an adaptive immune response. Activated innate cells act as phagocytes, engulfing and destroying the pathogen within intracellular vesicles containing digestive enzymes. To be efficient, this response requires both the recruitment and activation of phagocytes at the site of infection, a process often referred to as the inflammatory response. Cells residing in proximity to the infection site are activated upon recognition of PAMPs, and secrete a large array of soluble mediators, including chemokines and cytokines. Chemokines behave as chemoattractants, favouring the recruitment of innate immune cells to the site of infection, while cytokines (including tumour necrosis factor and interferons) act by increasing the phagocytic activity of cells. Innate immune cells also produce a series of soluble chemical factors (such as peptides) that are able to directly target the invading microbes. Additionally, antigens are taken up by innate cells, with immature DCs the most specialised among them. The antigen is subsequently processed and the DC differentiates into an APC. Antigen-carrying APCs then migrate to the draining lymph node and provide the link between the innate and adaptive immune responses.

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The innate system may be able to eradicate the pathogenic agent without further assistance from the adaptive system; or, the innate system may stimulate the adaptive immune system to become involved in eradicating the pathogenic agent.

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Adaptive immune system:

In contrast to the innate immune system, the actions of adaptive immune system are specific to the particular pathogenic agent. This response will take longer to occur than the innate response. However, the adaptive immune system has memory which means that the adaptive immune system will respond more rapidly to that particular pathogen with each successive exposure. The adaptive immune response is composed of the B–cells/antibodies and T-cells. These are the two arms of the adaptive immune system. The B–cells and antibodies compose humoral immunity or antibody-mediated immunity; and, the T-cells compose cell-mediated immunity. As a note, natural killer cells are also from the lymphocyte lineage like B–cells and T-cells; however, natural killer cells are only involved in innate immune responses.

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Antigen and antibody:

An antigen is a substance that the body recognizes as foreign and that triggers immune responses. The terms immunogen and antigen are often used interchangeably. Antibodies are proteins that are produced in response to antigens introduced into the body.

Antibodies protect the body from disease by:

•binding to the surface of the antigen to block its biological activity (neutralization)

•binding or coating (opsonisation) of the antigen to make it more susceptible to destruction and clearance by phagocytes (phagocytosis)

•opsonisation of special receptors on various cells, allowing them to recognise and respond to the antigen

•activation of the complement system to cause disintegration (lysis) of the pathogen and to enhance phagocytosis.

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The first arm of the adaptive immune system is humoral immunity, functions against extracellular pathogenic agents and toxins. B–cells are produced in the bone marrow and then travel to the lymph nodes. Within the lymph nodes, naïve B–cells continue to mature and are exposed to pathogenic agents caught in the particular lymph node. Unlike T-cells, B–cells can recognize antigens in their native form which means that B–cells can recognize antigens without requiring that the antigen be processed by an antigen-presenting cell and then presented by a T-helper cell. These antigens are called T-independent antigens because T-cell activation is not required to activate the B–cells. Examples of these T-independent antigens include lipopolysaccharide, dextran, and bacterial polymeric flagellin. These antigens are typically large polymeric molecules with repeating antigenic determinants. These antigens can also induce numerous B–cells to activate; however, the immune response is weaker and the induction of memory is weaker than with T-helper cell activation. In contrast, activation of B–cells with T-helper cell activation results in a much better immune response and more effective memory. This long-term, effective immune response is the type of reaction that is the goal of immunizations. With the binding of the antigen to the Fab region on the B–cell receptor and secondary signaling from cytokines released by T-helper cells, B–cells begin somatic hypermutation at the Fab region which further increases the corresponding fit between the Fab region and the antigen. This process then stimulates the B–cell(s) to mature into a plasma cell(s) which then begins production of the particular antibody with the best corresponding fit to the antigen. From these stimulated B-cells, clones of B-cells with the specificity for the particular antigen will arise. These cells may become plasma cells producing antibodies or memory cells which will remain in the lymph nodes to stimulate a new immune response to that particular antigen. This occurs during the primary immune response when the immune system is first exposed to a particular antigen. This process of clonal selection and expansion will take several days to occur; and, primarily involves the production of IgM. IgM is the first antibody produced during a primary immune response. As the immune response progresses, the activated plasma cells will begin producing IgG specific to the particular antigen. Although IgM is the first antibody produced and is a much larger antibody, IgG is a better neutralizing antibody. IgG binds more effectively to the antigen and aids in opsonization. As a note, other antibodies can be produced by plasma cells. These antibodies include IgD, IgA, and IgE. IgD is primarily found as a receptor bound to the surfaces of mature B–cells. While IgA is the antibody found in secretions such as mucous, saliva, tears, and breast milk; and, IgE is the antibody involved in allergic reactions and parasitic infections. However, the most important antibody for vaccines is IgG. With the memory cells that have been produced with the primary immune response, any succeeding exposures to the antigen will result in a more rapid and effective secondary immune response. With this secondary immune response, the reaction will be quicker, larger, and primarily composed of IgG.

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As for the other arm of adaptive immunity, cell-mediated immunity, it functions primarily against intracellular pathogens. T-cells mature in the thymus and are then released into the bloodstream. There are two main types of T-cells, CD4 cells and CD8 cells. CD4 cells or T-helper cells have the CD4 co-receptor and only recognize the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) II protein. The MHC II protein is found on all immune cells and acts as a marker of immune cells. CD4 cells are essential for antibody-mediated immunity and in helping B–cells control extracellular pathogens. There are two subsets of CD4 cells, Th1 and Th2. Upon activation by cytokines, B cells differentiate into memory B cells (long-lived antigen-specific B cells) or plasma cells (effector B cells that secrete large quantities of antibodies). Most antigens activate B cells using activated T helper (Th) cells, primarily Th1 and Th2 cells. Th1 cells secrete IFN-γ, which activates macrophages and induces the production of opsonizing antibodies by B cells. The Th1 response leads mainly to a cell-mediated immunity (cellular response), which protects against intracellular pathogens (invasive bacteria, protozoa and viruses). The Th1 response activates cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL), a sub-group of T cells, which induce death of cells infected with viruses and other intracellular pathogens. Natural killer (NK) cells are also activated by the Th1 response, these cells play a major role in the induction of apoptosis in tumors and cells infected by viruses. Th2 cells secrete cytokines, including IL-4, which induces B cells to make neutralizing antibodies. Th2 cells generally induce a humoral (antibody) response critical in the defense against extracellular pathogens (helminthes, extracellular microbes and  toxins). CD8 cells or T-cytotoxic cells have the CD8 co-receptor and only recognize the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) I protein. The MHC I protein is found on all nucleated body cells except for mature erythrocytes and acts as a marker of body cells. CD8 cells are essential for cell-mediated immunity and in helping control of intracellular pathogens. Unlike B-cells, T-cells can only recognize antigen that has been processed and presented by antigen-presenting cells. There are two types of antigen processing. The first type of antigen processing involves attaching intracellular antigens along with MHC I proteins to the surface of antigen-processing cells. This occurs with viral antigens and tumor cells. The other type of antigen processing involves attaching extracellular antigens along with MHC II proteins to the surface of antigen-presenting cells. This occurs with bacterial and parasitic antigens. Once the T-cell has been activated by the antigen-presenting cell, it begins to carry out its functions depending on whether it is a CD4 cell or a CD8 cell. As with B-cells, activated T-cells also undergo clonal expansion which produces additional effector T-cells for the current infection and memory T-cells for future infections with this antigen.

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Adaptive immunity is the body’s second level of defense, which develops as a result of infection with a pathogen or following immunization. It defends against a specific pathogen and takes several days to become protective. Adaptive immunity:

◦has the capacity for immunologic memory

◦provides long-term immunity which may persist for a lifetime but may wane over time

◦increases in strength and effectiveness each time it encounters a specific pathogen or antigen.

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The figure above shows organs and tissues of the immune system. The innate immune system is formed from a combination of physical barriers (skin, mucus), chemical defenses (acids, antimicrobial peptides) and specialised cells capable of responding to pathogens without needing to recognise specific antigens (A). The adaptive immune system consists of a network of primary and secondary organs, where immune cells are either produced or reside until they become activated (B). The primary lymphoid organs (bone marrow and thymus) are where lymphocytes are generated, and the secondary lymphoid organs (peripheral lymph nodes, spleen, tonsils, Peyer’s patches) are where immune responses are initiated and regulated.

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Summary of differences between the innate and adaptive immune systems:

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APC:

An antigen-presenting cell (APC) is a cell that displays foreign antigens complexed with major histocompatibility complexes (MHCs) on their surfaces; this process is known as antigen presentation. T-cells may recognize these complexes using their T-cell receptors (TCRs). These cells process antigens and present them to T-cells. T cells cannot recognize, and therefore cannot respond to, ‘free’ antigen. T cells can only ‘see’ an antigen that has been processed and presented by cells via carrier molecules like MHC and CD1 molecules. Most cells in the body can present antigen to CD8+ T cells via MHC class I molecules and, thus, act as “APCs”; however, the term is often limited to specialized cells that can prime T cells (i.e., activate a T cell that has not been exposed to antigen, termed a naive T cell). These cells, in general, express MHC class II as well as MHC class I molecules, and can stimulate CD4+ (“helper”) T cells as well as CD8+ (“cytotoxic”) T cells, respectively. APCs could be dendritic cell (DC), macrophage or certain B cell/epithelial cell.

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Innate and adaptive immune responses are bridged by the actions of APCs:

The innate immune system provides an essential link between the first encounter with a pathogen at the site of infection and the eventual establishment of immune memory. Innate cells (such as macrophages and DCs) are strategically located at body sites with a high risk of infection (such as epithelia and mucosal surfaces). These types of cells act as both a first line of defense against danger and as key messengers that are able to alert the adaptive immune system. Since naïve T and B cells are not pre-positioned in most organs and tissues of the body, they rely on the innate immune system to sense an infectious event. Among tissue-resident cells, the most efficient APCs are DCs. Immature DCs which have captured antigen become activated and mature into functional APCs, while migrating to the regional draining lymph node or submucosal lymphoid tissue. Mature DCs express high levels of antigen/MHC complexes at the cell surface and undergo morphological changes, which render them highly specialised, to activate naïve T cells. When they arrive in the lymph node, DCs present processed antigen and express co-stimulatory signals. The signals provided by DCs promote T-cell differentiation and proliferation, initiating the adaptive T cell-mediated immune response. APC activation is therefore a necessary prerequisite for an efficient adaptive immune response. DCs not only provide antigen and co-stimulation to naïve T cells, but also contribute to the initial commitment of naïve T helper cells into Th1, Th2 or other subsets. This directs the efficient induction of T helper cells with appropriate cytokine profiles early during infections, without the need for direct contact between antigen-specific T cells and pathogens. Undigested pathogen-derived antigens are also drained by the lymph and transported to the B cell-rich area of the lymph node, where they are exposed to BCR-expressing cells. An adaptive immune response is therefore initiated in a draining lymph node by the concerted action of innate immune cells and free antigens. These activate T and B lymphocytes, respectively, to proliferate and differentiate into effector and memory cells.

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The table below shows cells of the Innate Immune System and their major roles in triggering Adaptive Immunity:

Cell Type Major Role in Innate Immunity Major Role in Adaptive Immunity
Macrophages Phagocytose and kill bacteria; produce antimicrobial peptides; bind (LPS); produce inflammatory cytokines Produce IL-1 and TNF- to upregulate lymphocyte adhesion molecules and chemokines to attract antigen-specific lymphocyte. Produce IL-12 to recruit TH1 T helper cell responses; upregulate co-stimulatory and MHC molecules to facilitate T and B lymphocyte recognition and activation. Macrophages and dendritic cells, after LPS signaling, upregulate co-stimulatory molecules B7-1 (CD80) and B7-2 (CD86) that are required for activation of antigen-specific antipathogen T cells. There are also Toll-like proteins on B cells and dendritic cells that, after LPS ligation, induce CD80 and CD86 on these cells for T cell antigen presentation.
Plasmacytoid dendritic cells (DCs) of lymphoid lineage Produce large amounts of interferon- (IFN-), which has antitumor and antiviral activity, and are found in T cell zones of lymphoid organs; they circulate in blood IFN- is a potent activator of macrophage and mature DCs to phagocytose invading pathogens and present pathogen antigens to T and B cells
Myeloid dendritic cells are of two types; interstitial and Langerhans-derived Interstitial DCs are strong producers of IL-12 and IL-10 and are located in T cell zones of lymphoid organs, circulate in blood, and are present in the interstices of the lung, heart, and kidney; Langerhans DCs are strong producers of IL-12; are located in T cell zones of lymph nodes, skin epithelia, and the thymic medulla; and circulate in blood Interstitial DCs are potent activators of macrophage and mature DCs to phagocytose invading pathogens and present pathogen antigens to T and B cells
Natural killer (NK) cells Kill foreign and host cells that have low levels of MHC+ self-peptides. Express NK receptors that inhibit NK function in the presence of high expression of self-MHC. Produce TNF- and IFN-, which recruit TH1 helper T cell responses
NK-T cells Lymphocytes with both T cell and NK surface markers that recognize lipid antigens of intracellular bacteria such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis by CD1 molecules and kill host cells infected with intracellular bacteria. Produce IL-4 to recruit TH2 helper T cell responses, IgG1 and IgE production
Neutrophils Phagocytose and kill bacteria, produce antimicrobial peptides Produce nitric oxide synthase and nitric oxide, which inhibit apoptosis in lymphocytes and can prolong adaptive immune responses
Eosinophils Kill invading parasites Produce IL-5, which recruits Ig-specific antibody responses
Mast cells and basophils Release TNF-, IL-6, and IFN- in response to a variety of bacterial PAMPs Produce IL-4, which recruits TH2 helper T cell responses and recruit IgG1- and IgE-specific antibody responses
Epithelial cells Produce antimicrobial peptides; tissue-specific epithelia produce mediator of local innate immunity; e.g., lung epithelial cells produce surfactant proteins (proteins within the collectin family) that bind and promote clearance of lung-invading microbes Produces TGF-, which triggers IgA-specific antibody responses

LPS, lipopolysaccharide; PAMP, pathogen-associated molecular patterns; TNF-, tumor necrosis factor-alpha; IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-10, and IL-12, interleukin 4, 5, 6, 10, and 12, respectively.

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Immunological memory:

Immunologic memory is the immune system’s ability to remember its experience with an infectious agent, leading to effective and rapid immune response upon subsequent exposure to the same or similar infectious agents. Development of immunologic memory requires participation of both B and T cells; memory B cell development is dependent on the presentation of antigens by T cells. Irrespective of the type of immune response required for protection, for almost all vaccines long-lasting protection (memory) is a desirable objective. However, while it is easy to state this, it is less certain how it should be achieved, although a great deal has been learnt about immunological memory over the last two decades. During a primary immune response, lymphocytes proliferate and change their phenotype. Memory populations of cells are, therefore, both quantitatively and qualitatively different from those that have not yet encountered antigen. Thus memory consists of expanded clones of lymphocytes with altered function. Among thymus-derived (T) lymphocytes, this is reflected in rapid production of effector cytokines such as IFN-γ or interleukins. Primed cells express higher levels of several adhesion molecules, such as ICAM-1 and integrins, as well as homing molecules such as CD44, CD62L and the cutaneous lymphocyte antigen (CLA). Among B-cells, the hallmark of immunological memory is the production of isotype switched, somatically mutated, high affinity immunoglobulin. It is also clear that memory is a dynamic state. In both man and experimental animals, phenotypically defined memory cells have been shown to divide more rapidly than naive cells. This appears to be an inherent property of memory cells since division continues in the absence of antigen.

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Constraints on the duration of memory:

In vitro at least, human T lymphocyte clones can only undergo a finite number of cell divisions and, as they approach senescence, no longer express the co-stimulatory molecule CD28, can no longer up-regulate telomerase on activation, and show progressive shortening of telomeres. These mechanisms may limit the duration of memory in the absence of re-exposure to antigen, which would recruit new clones. In addition to these constraints on survival of individual clones, there is also the constraint of space in the memory pool. Although during an acute infection lymphocyte numbers may increase greatly, in the longer term numbers of cells with naive and memory phenotypes change only slowly. Thus every time a new antigen is encountered and a new set of clones undergoes expansion and enters the memory pool, other cells must die to provide space. What factors favour one cell or clone over another in this competition for survival are not known. However, experimental evidence suggests that memory persists longer if the initial clonal expansion is large. Alternatively, persistence of antigen may favour clonal survival as occurs in chronic infections such as EBV or CMV. It is now clear that there is considerable heterogeneity among antigen-specific T-cell populations detected by binding to MHC-peptide tetramers and it is thought that some memory cells may revert to a more slowly dividing state. This suggests two alternative strategies for ensuring persistence of memory. Either vaccines should be designed to ensure maximal clonal expansion by providing an optimal dose of antigen and appropriate adjuvant, or vectors should be chosen to ensure long persistence of antigen.

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The figure above shows the kinetics of primary and recall (memory) immune responses. On first exposure to a pathogen or antigen (referred to as ‘priming’ in vaccination), the innate immune system must detect, process and translate the threat into a form that can be understood by the adaptive immune system. This occurs via the bridging actions of APCs and takes days/weeks. Following resolution of the challenge, a specialised ‘memory’ cell population remains. The cells within this population are maintained for a long time (months/years) and may remain within the host for the rest of their host’s life. On subsequent exposure to the same antigen (referred to as ‘boosting’ in vaccination), the innate immune response is triggered as before but now the memory cell populations are able to mount a greater and more rapid response as they do not need to undergo the same activation process as naïve cells. The adaptive response on secondary exposure leads to a rapid expansion and differentiation of memory T and B cells into effector cells, and the production of high levels of antibodies. A higher proportion of IgG and other isotypes of antibodies compared with the level of IgM characterises memory antibody responses.

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By definition, all effective vaccines lead to the development of immune memory, by mimicking the threat of an infection and providing antigens derived from the specific pathogen. The ability to generate immune memory is the key attribute of the adaptive immune system, which is crucial for the long-term protection of individuals and populations. Generating immune memory depends on a high degree of interaction among many different cell types, which maintains higher numbers of T and B cells that were selected as the most useful in the primary immune response. However, while the relative contribution of clonal memory cells to protection can be inferred from the molecules they express and their functional behaviour, the presence of memory cells per se is not indicative of absolute protection against disease.

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Immune response to vaccine:

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The figure above shows the flow of information following intramuscular vaccination. An antigen delivered by a vaccine is taken up by macrophages and immature APCs (1). APCs migrate to the lymph node draining the site of vaccination (2). The adaptive immune response is now initiated and effectors, such as CD4 effector T cells, cytotoxic T cells and soluble antibodies (3), are produced which travel throughout the bloodstream and back to the site of vaccination.

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Vaccines function by stimulating the immune system and prompting a primary immune response to an infecting pathogen or to molecules derived from a particular pathogen. The immune response elicited by this primary exposure to vaccine pathogen creates immunological memory, which involves the generation of a pool of immune cells that will recognize the pathogen and mount a more robust or secondary response upon subsequent exposure to the virus or bacterium. In successful immunization, the secondary immune response is sufficient to prevent disease in the infected individual, as well as prevent the transmission of the pathogen to others. For communicable diseases, immunizations protect not only the individual who receives the immunization, but also others with whom he or she has contact. High levels of vaccination in a community increase the number of people who are less susceptible or resistant to illness and prevent propagation of the infectious agent. Unvaccinated individuals or those who have not developed immunity to this pathogen are afforded an indirect measure of protection because those with immunity reduce the spread of the pathogen throughout the entire population. The larger the proportion of people with immunity, the greater the protection of those without immunity. This effect is called “herd immunity.” [Vide infra] Herd immunity is an important phenomenon as immunization programs rarely achieves 100 percent immunization in a population; and in some cases, previously vaccinated persons may not exhibit effective immunity and disease may result from exposure to the pathogen. For protection, immunization of not only ourselves but also our neighbors is important.

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As with any challenge to the immune system, the body must first detect the threat whether it is a pathogenic agent or an immunization. This initial detection typically is done by the innate immune system; although, B-cells may also perform this function. This detection process begins when the immune system recognizes epitopes on antigens. Epitopes are small subregions on the antigens that stimulate immune recognition. Multiple components of the innate immune system will then respond to this challenge. These components of innate immunity will opsonize or bind to the agent and aid in its engulfment by antigen-presenting cells such as macrophages or monocytes. These antigen-presenting cell(s) will then process the antigens from this pathogenic agent and insert the processed antigen along with the MHC protein onto the surface on the antigen-presenting cell. If it is a viral antigen, the antigen will be bound with MHC I protein and presented by the antigen-presenting cell to a CD8 cell which will likely trigger cell-mediated immunity. If it is a bacterial or parasitic antigen, the antigen will be bound with MHC II protein and presented by the antigen-presenting cell to a CD4 cell which will likely trigger antibody-mediated immunity.

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Vaccine-induced immune effectors (see table below) are essentially antibodies—produced by B lymphocytes—and capable of binding specifically to a toxin or a pathogen. Other potential effectors are cytotoxic CD8+ T lymphocytes (CTL) that may limit the spread of infectious agents by recognizing and killing infected cells or secreting specific antiviral cytokines. The generation and maintenance of both B and CD8+ T cell responses is supported by growth factors and signals provided by CD4+ T helper (Th) lymphocytes, which are commonly subdivided into T helper 1 (Th1) and T helper 2 (Th2) subtypes. These effectors are controlled by regulatory T cells (Treg) that are involved in maintaining immune tolerance. Most antigens and vaccines trigger both B and T cell responses, such that there is no rationale in opposing antibody production (‘humoral immunity’) and T cell responses (‘cellular immunity’). In addition, CD4+ T cells are required for most antibody responses, while antibodies exert significant influences on T cell responses to intracellular pathogens.

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How type of vaccine affect immune response:

The nature of the vaccine exerts a direct influence on the type of immune effectors that are predominantly elicited and mediate protective efficacy (see table below). Capsular polysaccharides (PS) elicit B cell responses in what is classically reported as a T-independent manner (e.g. PPV) although increasing evidence supports a role for CD4+ T cells in such (e.g. glycoconjugate vaccines) provides foreign peptide antigens that are presented to the immune system and thus recruits antigen-specific CD4+ Th cells in what is referred to as T-dependent antibody responses (e.g. PCV). A hallmark of T-dependent responses, which are also elicited by toxoid, protein, inactivated or live attenuated viral vaccines, is to induce both higher-affinity antibodies and immune memory. In addition, live attenuated vaccines usually generate CD8+ cytotoxic T cells. The use of live vaccines/vectors or of specific novel delivery systems (e.g. DNA vaccines) appears necessary for the induction of strong CD8+ T cell responses. Most current vaccines mediate their protective efficacy through the induction of vaccine specific antibodies, whereas BCG-induced T cells produce cytokines that contribute to macrophage activation and control of M. tuberculosis.

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Correlates of vaccine induced immunity:

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How route of vaccine administration affect immune response:

Following injection, the vaccine antigens attract local and systemic dendritic cells, monocytes and neutrophils. Innate immune responses activate these cells by changing their surface receptors and migrate along lymphatic vessels, to the draining lymph nodes where the activation of T and B lymphocytes takes place. In case of killed vaccines, there is only local and unilateral lymph node activation. Conversely for live vaccines, there is multifocal lymph node activation due to microbial replication and dissemination. Consequently the immunogenicity of killed vaccines is lower than the live vaccines; killed vaccines require adjuvants which improve the immune response by producing local inflammation and recruiting higher number of dendritic cells/ monocytes to the injection site. Secondly, the site of administration of killed vaccines is of importance; the intramuscular route which is well vascularised and has a large number of patrolling dendritic cells is preferred over the subcutaneous route. Intradermal route recruits the abundant dendritic cells in the skin and offers the advantage of antigen sparing and early & effective protection but the GMT’s (geometric mean [antibody] titre) are lower than that achieved with IM and may wane faster. The site of administration is usually of little significance for live vaccines. Finally due to focal lymph node activation, multiple killed vaccines may be administered at different sites with a little immunologic interference. Immunologic interference may occur with multiple live vaccines unless they are given on the same day or at least 4 weeks apart or by different routes. Immunological (immune) interference is defined as reduction in the immunogenicity of a vaccine antigen when it is administered as a component of a vaccine that includes multiple vaccine antigens or reduction in the immunogenicity of a vaccine when it is administered separately or concurrent with another vaccine. [see also vaccine interference]

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Immunological requirement of a vaccine:

1. Identification and selection of the most appropriate antigen:

Vaccines aim to prevent the disease symptoms that are the consequences of a pathogenic infection. In most cases, this does not occur by completely preventing infection but by limiting the consequences of the infection. In other words, vaccine prevents disease and not infection by direct effect, but by indirect herd effect, it also prevents infection and infectiousness. An understanding of the disease pathogenesis and natural immune control is, therefore, very useful when selecting appropriate antigens upon which to base a vaccine. Vaccines developed from pathogens can vary in the complexity of the pathogen-derived material they contain. Our understanding of fundamental immunology, as well as the selection techniques used, has resulted in new vaccines that are better characterised than ever before, and has also initiated a more rational approach to vaccine design.

2. Induction of innate immune responses:

The immune system is triggered by a combination of events and stimuli, as described previously. The requirement for more than the presence of a ‘foreign’ antigen to elicit an immune response must therefore always be considered in vaccine design, particularly when using highly purified or refined antigens. Highly refined subunit antigen formulations, and some inactivated whole pathogens, do not contain many of the molecular features and defensive triggers that are required to alert the innate immune system. These types of antigen are designed to minimize excessive inflammatory responses but, as a result, may be suboptimally immunogenic. Under these circumstances, the addition of adjuvants can mimic the missing innate triggers, restoring the balance between necessary defensive responses and acceptable tolerability.

3. Induction of CD4 T cell help:

The induction of CD4 T cells is essentially controlled by the nature of this initial inflammatory response. Therefore, vaccine adjuvants can play a role in guiding how CD4 T cells are induced and how they further differentiate and influence the quality and quantity of the adaptive immune response.

4. Selection and targeting of effector cells:

It is important to recognise that the dominant immune response to a given pathogen or antigen may not necessarily be the optimum response for inducing protection; indeed through evolution some pathogens have developed strategies to evade or subvert the immune response, as is the case with Neisseria gonorrhoeae, where the dominant antibody response actually facilitates infection by preventing complement-dependent bactericidal activity. Antibody titers are often considered to represent adequate indicators of immune protection but, as discussed above, may not be the actual mechanism by which optimal protection is achieved. Useful specific so-called immune correlates of immunity/protection may be unknown or incompletely characterised. Therefore, modern vaccine design still looks to clinical trials to provide information about clinical efficacy and, if possible, the immunological profiles of protected individuals. Immunogenicity is assessed by laboratory measurement of immune effectors, typically antibodies. Increasingly, however, specific T-cell activation is included in the parameters assessed, as adequate T-cell immunity may be essential for recovery from some infections and improved assay techniques have allowed these evaluations to become more standardised and offer more robust data. This can then open the door to understanding observed clinical efficacy (or lack of) and to defining at least some of the features of vaccine-induced protection. By preferentially targeting the best immunological effectors, vaccines can then hope to mimic or improve on nature’s own response to infection.

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Booster dose:

In medicine, a booster dose is an extra administration of a vaccine after an earlier dose. After initial immunization, a booster injection or booster dose is a re-exposure to the immunizing antigen. It is intended to increase immunity against that antigen back to protective levels after it has been shown to have decreased or after a specified period. For example, tetanus shot boosters are often recommended every 10 years. If a patient receives a booster dose but already has a high level of antibody, then a reaction called an Arthus reaction could develop, a localized form of Type III hypersensitivity, induced by fixation of complement by preformed circulating antibodies. In severe cases, the degree of complement fixation can be so substantial that it induces local tissue necrosis.

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Both the innate and adaptive immune subsystems are necessary to provide an effective immune response whether to an actual pathogenic agent or to an immunization. Further, effective immunizations must induce long-term stimulation of both the humoral and cell-mediated arms of the adaptive system by the production of effector cells for the current infection and memory cells for future infections with the pathogenic agent. At least seven different types of vaccines are currently in use or in development that produce this effective immunity and have contributed greatly to the prevention of infectious disease around the world.

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Immunization:

Immunization is the process whereby a person is made immune or resistant to an infectious disease, typically by the administration of a vaccine. Vaccines stimulate the body’s own immune system to protect the person against subsequent infection or disease.  Immunization is a proven tool for controlling and eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases and is estimated to avert between 2 and 3 million deaths each year. It is one of the most cost-effective health investments, with proven strategies that make it accessible to even the most hard-to-reach and vulnerable populations. It has clearly defined target groups; it can be delivered effectively through outreach activities; and vaccination does not require any major lifestyle change. The overwhelming safety and effectiveness of vaccines in current use in preventing serious disease has allowed them to gain their preeminent role in the routine protection of health. Before an immunization is introduced for population-wide use, it is tested for efficacy and safety. However, immunization is not without risks. For example, it is well established that the oral polio vaccine on rare occasion causes paralytic polio and that vaccines sometimes lead to anaphylactic shock. Given the widespread use of vaccines; state mandates requiring vaccination of children for entry into school, college, or day care; and the importance of ensuring that trust in immunization programs is justified, it is essential that safety concerns receive assiduous attention.

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Immunization is the process by which an individual’s immune system becomes fortified against an agent (known as the immunogen). When this system is exposed to molecules that are foreign to the body, called non-self, it will orchestrate an immune response, and it will also develop the ability to quickly respond to a subsequent encounter because of immunological memory. This is a function of the adaptive immune system. Therefore, by exposing an animal to an immunogen in a controlled way, its body can learn to protect itself: this is called active immunization. The most important elements of the immune system that are improved by immunization are the T cells, B cells, and the antibodies B cells produce. Memory B cells and memory T cells are responsible for a swift response to a second encounter with a foreign molecule. Passive immunization is when these elements are introduced directly into the body, instead of when the body itself has to make these elements. Immunization is done through various techniques, most commonly vaccination. Vaccines against microorganisms that cause diseases can prepare the body’s immune system, thus helping to fight or prevent an infection. The fact that mutations can cause cancer cells to produce proteins or other molecules that are known to the body forms the theoretical basis for therapeutic cancer vaccines. Other molecules can be used for immunization as well, for example in experimental vaccines against nicotine (NicVAX) or the hormone ghrelin in experiments to create an obesity vaccine. Before the introduction of vaccines, the only way people became immune to an infectious disease was by actually getting the disease and surviving it. Smallpox (variola) was prevented in this way by inoculation, which produced a milder effect than the natural disease.

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Inherited immunity:

Mothers can pass on immunity to their babies across the placenta during the final months of pregnancy. The amount of inherited immunity varies by disease and is an important factor in deciding when a child should be immunized. The neonate is protected against disease by maternal immunoglobulins (Ig). Maternal IgG is transported across the placenta before birth and maternal secretory IgA is present in breast milk and colostrum. These passively acquired antibodies provide protection against pathogens to which the mother was immune. However, protection provided by passively transferred antibodies is short-lived. Passively acquired maternal IgG declines during the first few months of life, and most infants are not breastfed beyond several months of age. More importantly, maternal antibodies offer limited immunologic protection when compared with protection afforded by an infant’s active immune response. A mother’s antibodies may protect a child from measles for 6 to 12 months. But, in the case of diseases such as pertussis, immunity may last only for a few weeks. Tetanus is one example where inherited immunity is critical and the mother must be immunized to offer protection to her newborn.

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Types of immunization: active and passive immunization:

Immunization can be derived from either passive or active means. These means can be from either natural or artificial sources. Natural sources are due to exposure to the environment, humans, and animals. In contrast, artificial sources are due to medical interventions. Passive immunization occurs with the transfer to preformed antibodies to an unimmunized individual. This individual would then develop a temporary immunity to a particular organism or toxin due to the presence of these preformed antibodies. Once these preformed antibodies have been destroyed, the individual would no longer have immunity to this microorganism or toxin. Passive immunization can occur either naturally or artificially. Excellent examples of natural passive immunization are the passage of maternal antibodies through the placenta to the fetus and the passage of these maternal antibodies to the infant through the colostrum and milk. Excellent examples of artificial passive immunization include the administration of pooled human immune gamma globulin and antivenin. These gamma globulins and antivenins provide temporary immunity to either a particular illness or venom. Passive immunity refers to the process of providing IgG antibodies to protect against infection; it gives immediate, but short-lived protection—several weeks to 3 or 4 months at most. Concurrent with these effects of this temporary immunity from the preformed antibodies, the individual’s own body is likely to be in the early stages of developing its own active immune response. Active immunization occurs with the exposure of an unimmunized individual to a pathogenic agent. The immune system of this individual then begins the process of developing immunity to this agent. In contrast to passive immunization, active immunization typically produces long-term immunity due to the stimulation of the individual’s immune system. Active immunization can occur either naturally or artificially. An excellent example of natural active immunization is exposure to influenza. The body then begins the process of developing long-term immunity to the influenza virus. Excellent examples of artificial active immunization include the different types of vaccines. These immunizations mimic the stimulation necessary for immune development yet do not produce active disease. Wild infection for example with hepatitis A virus (HAV) and subsequent recovery gives rise to a natural active immune response usually leading to lifelong protection. In a similar manner, administration of two doses of hepatitis A vaccine generates an acquired active immune response leading to long-lasting (possibly lifelong) protection. Hepatitis A vaccine has only been licensed since the late 1980s so that follow-up studies of duration of protection are limited to <25 years—hence, the preceding caveat about duration of protection.

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Immunizing Agents:

Immunizing agents are classified as active or passive, depending on the process by which they confer immunity; prevention of disease through the use of immunizing agents is called immunoprophylaxis. Active immunization is the production of antibodies against a specific agent after exposure to the antigen through vaccination. Active immunizing agents are typically referred to as vaccines. Passive immunization involves the transfer of pre-formed antibodies, generally from one person to another or from an animal product, to provide temporary protection, since transferred antibody degrades over time. It can occur by transplacental transfer of maternal antibodies to the developing foetus, or it can be provided by administration of a passive immunizing agent prepared from the serum of immune individuals or animals.

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Active immunizing agents – vaccines:

Vaccines are complex biologic products designed to induce a protective immune response effectively and safely. An ideal vaccine is safe with minimal adverse effects, and effective in providing lifelong protection against disease after a single dose that can be administered at birth. Also ideally, it would be inexpensive, stable during shipment and storage, and easy to administer. Some vaccines come closer to fulfilling these criteria than others. Although each vaccine has its own benefits and risks, and indications and contraindications, all vaccines offer protection against the disease for which they were created. In addition to the active component (the antigen), which induces the immune response, vaccines may contain additional ingredients such as preservatives, additives, adjuvants and traces of other substances necessary in the production of the vaccine. Vaccine antigens include: inactivated (killed) or attenuated (weakened) live organisms; products secreted by organisms that are modified to remove their pathogenic effects (e.g., tetanus toxoid); and components of the organism, some of which some are made in the laboratory through recombinant technology.

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Passive immunizing agents – immune globulins:

Passive immunization with immune globulins provides protection when vaccines for active immunization are unavailable or contraindicated, or in certain instances when unimmunized individuals have been exposed to the infectious agent and rapid protection is required (post-exposure immunoprophylaxis) as vaccine immune response takes time and disease incubation period is short. Passive immunization also has a role in the management of immunocompromised people who may not be able to respond fully to vaccines or for whom live vaccines may be contraindicated. The duration of the beneficial effects provided by passive immunizing agents is relatively short and protection may be incomplete.

The four most commonly used immunoglobulin preparations are as follows.

(i) Hepatitis B Immunoglobulin

(ii) Rabies Immunoglobulin

(iii)Tetanus Immunoglobulin

(iv) Varicella-Zoster Immunoglobulin

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Monoclonal Antibodies:

Increasingly, technology is being used to generate monoclonal antibodies (MAbs)– “mono” meaning that they are a pure, single type of antibody targeted at a single site on a pathogen, and “clonal” because they are produced from a single parent cell. These antibodies have wide-ranging potential applications to infectious disease and other types of diseases. To date, only one MAb treatment is commercially available for the prevention of an infectious disease. This is a MAb preparation for the prevention of severe disease caused by RSV in high-risk infants. Physicians are also increasingly using MAbs to combat noninfectious diseases, such as certain types of cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and cardiovascular disease. Scientists are researching other new technologies for producing antibodies in the laboratory, such as recombinant systems using yeast cells or viruses and systems combining human cells and mouse cells, or human DNA and mouse DNA.

Bioterror threats:

In the event of the deliberate release of an infectious biological agent, biosecurity experts have suggested that passive immunization could play a role in emergency response. The advantage of using antibodies rather than vaccines to respond to a bioterror event is that antibodies provide immediate protection, whereas a protective response generated by a vaccine is not immediate and in some cases may depend on a booster dose given at a later date. Candidates for this potential application of passive immunization include botulinum toxin, tularemia, anthrax, and plague. For most of these targets, only animal studies have been conducted, and so the use of passive immunization in potential bioterror events is still in experimental stages.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Passive Immunization:

Vaccines typically need time (weeks or months) to produce protective immunity in an individual and may require several doses over a certain period of time to achieve optimum protection. Passive immunization, however, has an advantage in that it is quick acting, producing an immune response within hours or days, faster than a vaccine. Additionally, passive immunization can override a deficient immune system, which is especially helpful in someone who does not respond to immunization. Antibodies, however, have certain disadvantages. First, antibodies can be difficult and costly to produce. Although new techniques can help produce antibo