An Overview of Yoga

Strictly speaking, yoga is not an alternative medicine, but its practice is often seen as a way of gaining control over your health. In addition, many of its components are used as complementary practices to conventional medicine, including exercise, meditation and massage. Yoga is based on Hindu tradition. Its intent and goal is the enlightenment of the spirit, but its aims include physical health and well-being.

"Yoga therapy" is a distinct, Westernized form of yogo that was developed specifically to integrate yoga and conventional medicine in the treatment of disease and the pursuit of optimal health. According to practitioners, yoga therapy is safer and more effective in treating common medical conditions because it takes into account an individual's health and physical limitations.

Yoga therapy is used for treating anxiety, arthritis, asthma, back pain, diabetes, heart conditions, hypertension, hyperventilation, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. It promotes positive health during pregnancy and helps in managing chronic conditions. With individual consideration, it can be used comfortably by everyone from babies to the elderly.

The main aim of yoga therapy is body/mind integration, which taps into the natural healing properties of the body and helps to restore proper function and health.

The Theory
Yoga therapy consists of three basic parts which work together:

Physical postures which help stretch and strengthen muscles, and improve mobility, flexibility and balance. It also is believed that these postures enhance the body’s natural functions of digestion, respiration, elimination and circulation.

Breathing techniques that focus on awareness of breath and help promote calm, focus the mind and relieve stress and fatigue.

Relaxation methods that help the patient to recharge and ease tension.

The Evidence In Favor
So far, limited studies have supported the use of yoga as treatment for:

  • Depression – A 2004 overview of five trials all showed positive results for yoga as therapy in depression
  • Heart conditions – a 2005 study reported that the deep breathing associated with yoga was beneficial in controlling premature ventricular complexes
  • Breast cancer and other cancer survivors – a pilot study examined the benefits of including yoga in post-treatment strategy with a group of breast cancer survivors. The yoga group showed significant benefits that included fitness variations, psychological benefits and emotional function. There were also variations in gastrointestinal disturbances, tension, cognitive function and mood disturbance.
  • A study in India concluded that regular yoga exercise increases the body’s use of antioxidants, leading to the possibility that it may have a beneficial effect on cancer prevention.
  • Two studies on patients with diabetes showed improved nerve function and lower blood sugar in those that practiced yoga as part of their therapy.
  • A 2001 study in India showed increased hand grip strength in patients with rheumatoid arthritis who practiced yoga as a therapy treatment.

The Criticisms
Critics contend that yoga is challenging, and may be difficult or impossible for those with limited mobility and flexibility. There is a possibility of injury associated with attempting some of the postures without adequate pre-exercise preparation.

As with any other fitness or alternative treatment, it's important to let your doctor know that you're starting a new treatment program. Yoga does show promise in treating a number of conditions, and there are many research projects ongoing to determine how much and which ones.

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