It's easy to draw a line between yoga and flexibility, calm and a focused mind. Now that pencil points to yoga therapy for creating health.
Dr. Sat Bir Singh Khalsa has been a yoga practitioner for four decades. Aside from his personal practice, he's director of research for the Kundalini Research Institute, research director of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Grounded in data, he had a dream. His vision was to see a conference dedicated to yoga research.
Now, it’s a reality. In fact, the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) holds two conventions every year. One, the Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR), is a general membership conference. SYTAR sheds light on research advances, among other things, relevant to yoga therapy schools and therapists. The second, the Symposium on Yoga Research (SYR) is solely about research. SYR disseminates recent research findings, with a focus on opportunities for collaboration and interaction between yoga researchers.
Today, there are more than 5,000 IAYT members in 53 countries. I attended the ninth annual SYTAR gathering last month in Newport Beach. Member practitioners from Australia, the U.K., Japan, China, Denmark, Colombia, India and Puerto Rico attended. Plus, there were hundreds of North Americans, and a large contingency from California.
“We are on the cusp of change,” said Dr. Khalsa. “37 million Americans are practicing yoga. It’s an exponential curve. We are seeing a major transition of yoga into the schools, workplace and health care. Yoga is in 80 hospitals in Sweden.”
These institutions require evidence-based research, explained Dr. Khalsa. Fortunately, yoga researchers have the facts to prove the benefits of yoga. There is data related to a myriad of conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s prevention to scoliosis to PTSD.
“Yoga therapy research is exploding. We're going up in quality and quantity.” When you review the evidence-based data, it’s a no-brainer.
“Application of yoga therapy is always beneficial as an adjunct therapy as it can improve stress, mood and quality of life in patients. In some disorders such as insomnia, it may be reasonably considered as an efficacious first-line treatment,” suggested Dr. Khalsa. Not surprisingly, “Twice as many yoga practitioners claim they have better health (than non-yoga followers), and yogis use less meds —and cigarettes, and exercise more.”
However, what many don't realize is that yoga is a way of life. Hence, yoga therapy, for me, is lifestyle management.
While I’ve been practicing yoga most my life, I amped up my practice as I got older.
For me, it was about creating health. Today, I’m at my lowest post-adolescent weight. Plus, chronic back pain and digestive disorders are rarely a nuisance. More importantly, as a 60-year-old diabetic, I take zero allopathic meds. As I deepened my yoga practice, I scrubbed up my already healthy yogic (vegetarian, alcohol- and caffeine-free) lifestyle. Goodbye dairy and gluten. Now, I follow an Ayurvedic dinacharya for creating health. I have work/life balance. Moreover, I've found physical, energetic, emotional, and spiritual balance.
Burnout is a major problem in our society. We want more, more, more, and work, work, work. That doesn’t jive with yogic ways.
“We see essentially a rat race,” said Dr. Khalsa. “We need to be able to change our life meaning and purpose. Modern medicine is incapable of doing this.” Our current system is “disease care, not health care,” he asserts.
As mentioned in his books, “Your Brain on Yoga, A Harvard Medical School Guide,” and “The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care,” Khalsa points to compelling scientific evidence. Yoga and meditation can change our brains, and our lives. Yoga is a stress buster and a positive mental attitude booster.
Research done in conjunction with Austin's Yoga Yoga confirmed that yoga minimizes stress. Furthermore, studies of young musicians at Tanglewood found that after just six weeks of a yoga practice, they were more “in the zone” and had increases in mindfulness and the flow state and improvements in mood.
Mindfulness is a buzz word now. So is organics. Yet, the vast majority of Americans still don’t get with the program. Not surprisingly, non-communicable diseases, many of which are stress-induced or stress-aggravated, are at all at time high. The United States is tops in obesity.
“Modern medicine does not emphasize self-regulation, self-care, or mind-body awareness (which yoga does). The public expects immediate gratification and that's a problem. Patients don't feel they have to do anything. We are spending more, and are less healthy. The only strategies doctors use are fear.”
Fortunately, the bell tide is starting to turn. Dr. Dean Ornish conducted research in conjunction with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for 16 years. In 2010, Medicare began to reimburse costs for Ornish’s lifestyle-based program. So, in essence, Medicare recognized yoga therapy for heart disease.
Dr. Khalsa is in tune with Dr. Ornish, who wrote the forward to Khalsa’s “The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care.” Change must be from the bottom up, both in respect to wellness, and our failing medical system.
Likewise, John Weeks, editor of the Journal of Complementary Medicine lectured at SYTAR. Weeks acknowledged one of the problems with healthcare in our society is that wellness does not incentivize.
That said, he agreed that mainstream medicine is getting the hint. Weeks referred to Donald Berwick, the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In fact, Berwick has openly stated we need change agents. The Harvard-trained pediatrician, influenced by Jon Kabat Zinn and Dr. Ornish, has fought relentlessly to improve the state of health care. Consequently, his takeaway is that we must create health.
Similarly, in The Huffington Post, Weeks mentioned a survey among health care professionals. Namely, 84 percent agreed that “Complementary and alternative medicine is a tool of our deeper mission of transformation which will only be successful if we help birth in the U.S. a thriving industry of health creation.”
In conclusion, Weeks says, “A huge door to such a transformation is swinging open.”