Since ancient times yogis have proclaimed the powers of yoga for healing illness and have prescribed different asana to help with overall health of mind, body and soul. Now scientists are beginning to back up these claims with evidence that these positions can help not only to increase flexibility, but to reduce inflammation and pain.
Reducing Inflammation Can Help Overall in Healing Disease
In the largest study of yoga using biological measures to assess results, it was found that the meditative sun salutation and downward dog poses reduced inflammation. These results signaled good news, because, for instance, inflammation plays a large role in the fatigue experienced by cancer patients. Inflammation is also a part of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.
Breast Cancer Survivors Showed Lower Inflammation in Practicing Yoga
In a study of 200 breast cancer survivors who had not practiced yoga previously, among the group who began to practice yoga, less fatigue and higher levels of vitality were found than in the control group. The study found that blood tests of three markers for inflammation were lower by fifteen percent than in the control group. Clearly yoga for healing worked in this case.
Western vs. Eastern Measures for Healing through Yoga?
Are studies the only markers for healing? Clearly not say yogis, who trace their tradition back 5,000 years. Eastern traditions measure health from a different perspective altogether. In fact, diagnosis is not made from the perspective of illness but from an overall diagnosis of wellness that looks at mental, spiritual and physical well-being. The tradition of yoga treats from a “seven-limb” perspective:
1. The first two limbs are the aspects of yama and niyama, or universal and individual guidelines for moral restraints. These provide yardsticks for daily behavior.
2. The third aspect or “limb” is the asana. These are guidelines for physical development.
3. Fourth comes pranayama, or the development of the breath. This is helpful for reduction of stress and improvement of pulmonary problems.
4. The fifth and sixth limbs, pratyhara and dharana, are simply described as turning inward and concentration.
5. The seventh limb, dhyana, is meditation.
6. The eighth or highest limb is samadhi, or bliss. Here one has attained total wellness on all levels.
So one can see that there is little comparison to wellness as it is described from a yogic perspective and the attainment of health or freedom from a particular illness as a western medical doctor might describe it. Wellness from a yogic perspective goes far beyond the western definition.
Western Studies Help in Acceptance of Alternative Treatments
To the yogi, there is no question that yoga can be used for healing in any situation. To the doctor trained in western medicine, proof is needed. For this purpose, quantifiable studies are indispensable in bringing “non-traditional” practices such as yoga to our hospitals and nursing facilities. As these studies continue, it is hoped that yoga will be incorporated into physical and occupational therapies to help patients cope with pain management, flexibility and stress reduction on a regular basis.