Yoga evangelist-turned-serial crusader Swami Ramdev’s shrill claims that yoga cures homosexuality, AIDS and all cancers has done unimaginable damage to the many validated benefits of the traditional Indian science of exercise and well-being. The cross-dressing guru, who popularised yoga in millions of homes on honest expertise — and without Jane Fonda's curves or leotards — seems to have forgotten that what made him a countrywide phenomenon was not his mountebank spiel but yoga’s time-tested benefits.
The complexity of yoga postures works the mind and body simultaneously, bringing you both psychological as well as physical benefits. Yoga improves wellness by boosting flexibility, immunity and calming the mind, which help you cope with stress, both real and imagined. Everyone benefits, those who are healthy and those who are not. It is especially useful for people with chronic disorders, such as high blood pressure, chronic pain or those on prolonged treatment because it helps them tolerate symptoms and lower anxiety associated with the illness.
Several studies, both Indians and international, have validated these benefits. On Friday, a new study showed that yoga helps people disabled by stroke to get back on their feet even if they begin doing simple postures (asanas) and breathing exercises six months after their stroke.
Yoga improves balance and reduces disability, giving stroke survivors more confidence to handle day-to-day activities, reported the study in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke. All the participants had a stroke six-months ago but still had balance problems from injury to central brain structures and impaired senses. In the absence of structured physiotherapy, restricted mobility and difficulties with balance can lead to higher risk of falls and continued disability. In the study, breathing techniques and meditation lowered stress and depression among stroke survivors.
Like the stroke survivors, people being treated for depression also showed improved in mood and immunity after doing an hour of yoga three times a week, showed pathbreaking research at Bangalore’s National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) last year. In India, one in four families has at least one person with a behavioural or psychiatric disorder, which affects one in 15 (6 to 7%) people.
For the study, researchers in Bangalore measured neuroplastic changes (volume and chemical changes that improve signalling in the brain) in the patients’ brain using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and MRS (MR Spectroscopy). Yoga also helped caregivers of schizophrenics cope with the stress of looking after an ill person 24x7, reported NIMHANS.
Another study in Psycho-Oncology reported that yoga improves mood and reduces fatigue in women being treated for breast cancer. A 10-weeks programme of 75 minute a day lowered depression by 50 % and mood by 12%.
Several studies have shown that yoga offers relief from ailments by improving mood. It has helped teens recover from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia; reduced anxiety and irregular heartbeats in heart patients; eased chronic back pain; and even boosted success rates with in-vitro fertilisation. Regular yoga also lowers risk of heart disease by lowering high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hardening of the arteries and inflammation, which is the body’s reaction to infection.
Even meditating without the asanas buffers against intense stresses of schoolwork and exams, reported the International Journal of Psychophysiology last year. It improves brain functioning by increasing focus and lowering fragmented and disorganised thinking and planning. It also lowered anxiety, irritability and sleepiness. If you haven’t started already, it’s time you bought a beginner’s guide to yoga. A word of warning, though: if done wrong, turning pretzel or standing on your head can cause injury. They should not be done by beginners and should never be done without supervision, especially by those with past injuries.