Brian Palmer is Slate‘s chief explainer and tackles the claims that yoga is medicine for many medical conditions.
Slate Does therapeutic yoga work? The best studies say no, but they don’t get much press..
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, pray, and eat lemons, if those things bring you contentment. Do yoga especially if it’s your preferred form of exercise — exercise is a health intervention supported by thousands of clinical trials. But recognize the “yoga as medicine” craze for what it is: an indicator of the zeitgeist, not a scientific discovery.
I’ve commented on the trend towards prescribing yoga for all kinds of ills and flaws. Much of it goes back to the inception of modern yoga in India when its early advocates wanted to validate yoga within a Western, medicalized framework. In the States, the application of yoga as a therapeutic tool has also help it makes inroads into mainstream culture. There’s been a lot of bad science done around yoga therapy, which has compounded the problem. It’s hard to run standardized, double-blind studies on a massive scale on a practice that should be tailored to individual bodies.
But I also think that all this talk about yoga addressing medical conditions is wrongheaded. The practice of yoga is aimed at wellness, the holistic utilization regulation and balancing of bodily systemic functions (myofascial, neurological, circulatory, lymphatic, and others). You could focus a session exclusively on lower back pain, but the asanas and vinyasas would not affect just the lower back, but the whole body. The effects would be accumulative over time, not something like a round of antibiotics. In addition, yoga addresses mental states that Western-style exercise ignores and have a huge impact on well-being.
This article is the latest wave of skepticism about yoga, mindfulness and other things vaguely New Agish. You should also check out The Mindfulness Racket: The evangelists of unplugging might just have another agenda by Evgeny Morozov, a senior editor at The New Republic. He’s actually talking about another trend, the recommendation that people should unplug from their stress-inducing devices because Western society is too hyper-wired and needs to stop multitasking. The mindfulness thing gets lumped in because unplug advocates frequently cite that mind state as the counterweight to multitasking.
Love the photos.
NYTimes.com Yoga Poses in Israel.
Their students, taught in single-sex classes, are encouraged to come as they are, even in day clothes or long skirts, if necessary. The Kolbergs say yoga helps people who spend long days in prayer and study and aren’t physically active. But, Rachel says, “in our studio, we will never have practices that contradict our religion, such as mantras and chanting.
I guess they are not going to have any “naked yoga” classes.
It’s not “news,” but it’s published in the New York Times:
New York Times – If the Sun Salutation Has to Fit Into a Cell
The class was the fourth that Jim Freeman, a lawyer turned yogi and the founder of Conviction Yoga, has led at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Powledge Unit in East Texas. For the inmates, the weekly two-hour sessions offer a reprieve from their cells and the boredom of prison life, along with physical and mental health benefits. And the Powledge chaplain said corrections officers saw better behavior from inmates who took part in spiritual programs that gave them a chance to exercise.
Yoga and meditation are increasingly used in prison. Good for the inmates, and bravo to the teachers mentors who take the lead in going into prisons. Now if we could only get the justice system to work right so that we don’t have the highest percentage of imprisoned population in the world.
The following articles should be read as a point-counterpoint about how we think we know our bodies, our brains, and how they all fit together, and how each individual human being is a unique creation.
NYTimes.com - The Secrets Inside Us
Vesalius’s wasn’t the first book on anatomy, but it was the first detailed study based entirely on actual dissection of human cadavers — on scientific fact, not supposition. It systematically dismantled the error-filled doctrine of Galenism, which rested in part on animal rather than human anatomy and had held sway for 14 centuries.But in mapping the inner body, Vesalius didn’t get everything right — he didn’t correctly grasp the circulation of the blood, a discovery that the English physician William Harvey made in the 17th century — nor was his work immediately embraced by all. Revered in retrospect, he was not immune to criticism, or skepticism, in his day.
Through neuroscience we are discovering fresh dimensions of how our brain works, but these can easily be blown out of the water by the next round of discoveries.
The Guardian (UK) – Despite what you’ve been told, you aren’t ‘left-brained’ or ‘right-brained‘
What research has yet to refute is the fact that the brain is remarkably malleable, even into late adulthood. It has an amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells, allowing us to continually learn new things and modify our behavior. Let’s not underestimate our potential by allowing a simplistic myth to obscure the complexity of how our brains really work.
Our understanding of our bodies, brains, minds and souls should always be tagged as provisional, not locked into dogma or sound-bite ready one-liners that give the appearance of insight.
A particularly comprehensive listing of yoga’s positive effects on mind and body in this Web-focused fad of lists. Nice photos too.
Bored Daddy 13 Yoga Benefits That Will Surprise You by Kim
You may have noticed that a lot of the surprising benefits of yoga came with a few extra positives attached, and several of the benefits listed here are interlinked. Yoga is a fantastic holistic approach to improving your mental, emotional, and physical health. A lot of the benefits you find on the mat also extend well beyond your session or even the hour or so after you’re done with your practice.
Another news story about professional sports and yoga slipped across my computer monitor and I was not going to post about it, but it had an international angle and a different sport: the Australian rugby team. For that reason, I am going to point to it:
Telegraph (UK) Hard men are softies for Bikram yoga
The Australian team are not alone in striking a sweaty yoga pose to speed their post-match recovery, improve general flexibility and help guard against injury. Their English opponents have also supplemented their training with the ancient discipline at the insistence of Mark Bitcon, head of performance with the national team as well as at Wigan Warriors, the rugby league club.
The article is actually thoughtfully written, with more than a passing knowledge of yoga terminology. It ends mentioning svastha or “to stay as yourself” as “yoga’s perfect state of optimal health and balance in body and mind,” according to the story. That the team is practicing Bikram yoga is a pivotal factor because if you’re sweating a river, it must be a real workout.
And the next round of litigation over yoga in public schools got underway in California:
The Washington Post – Parents appeal judge’s ruling allowing yoga in public schools
Broyles filed a notice of appeal Wednesday Oct. 30 in San Diego Superior Court on behalf of parents who oppose the yoga curriculum in the Encinitas Union School District. Broyles first filed a lawsuit regarding the district’s yoga program last February on behalf of Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock, whose child attended El Camino Creek Elementary School in Carlsbad.
You can be sure that this suit will make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Also see “Appeal revives school yoga lawsuit.”
…and they’re going to their Supreme Court to settle the matter.
The Washington Post – Is yoga religious? An Indian court mulls mandatory school exercises
India’s school policy considers yoga an integral component of physical education. But the court has expressed caution, and is considering arguments that yoga has a religious component. The issue is complicated because India is a secular democracy but has pockets of Hindu nationals who would like to force their way of life on others.
India’s court system may not be the best place to get a quick and clear decision because it is famously slow and inept, but that’s India’s problem. The Indian political system is just as intertwined with religious and secular currents and the American one is. And that affects yoga is both countries.
The point is that there is no black-and-white, cut-and-dry answer as to whether yoga owes its impact to its religious roots or can be adopted without fear of being contaminated by pagan rites. As yoga practitioners and advocates, we’d be well-advised to tread carefully.
I can’t stop blogging today because the news just keeps coming across my computer monitor. The first report on the Freer Sackler Gallery’s “Yoga: The Art of Transformation” on the Mail until January.
Washington Post Smithsonian’s 1st exhibition on the art of yoga explores 2,000-plus years of visual history
First the exhibit examines the concepts and practices of yoga traditions, including meditation and postures found in Indian art dating back hundreds of years. The first piece is an 11th century sculpture representing a yoga teacher, seated in the lotus posture with legs crossed to signify enlightenment.
In stead of writing about other people’s impressions, I should go to the exhibit.
An alternative online publication, CounterPunch, gives a new spin to the momentum building around yoga in mainstream North American culture by pointing out that the greatest potential for growth and benefit lies in the age group above 50 years old because of yoga’s ability to address many of the health issues confronting that group.
CounterPunch - Are Seniors the Vanguard of American Yoga?
“Francina seems to take delight in defying conventional wisdom by insisting that older practitioners are often more flexible than students in their 20s and usually more patient and consistent in their practice of the poses. She insists, in fact, that seniors, not shy away from demanding and vigorous practice for fear of getting injured, and should embrace yoga’s “advanced” inversion poses — the headstand and shoulder stand, among them – because these poses, in addition to their spiritual majesty, have unique anti-aging benefits, including their ability to “detoxify” the internal organs and to improve blood circulation to the brain – a key challenge as gravity and age naturally take hold.”