Dr Rajiv Desai

An Educational Blog

YOGA

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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