Let Yoga transcend religion

Let Yoga transcend religion

The Ministry of Ayush is gearing up to host International Day of Yoga on a mission mode. Leaving behind the controversy surrounding the mention of...

The Ministry of Ayush is gearing up to host International Day of Yoga on a mission mode. Leaving behind the controversy surrounding the mention of 'Aum' as a compulsion while performing Yoga, the Ministry is now getting prepared to spread the message of health benefits of Yoga across the globe.

The Ministry has tied up with various institutions and Yoga centres of the world to compile the health benefits of yoga of late to expand the research into this ancient health system.

We in India may not be looking at Yoga as a holistic solution in case of several ailments, but the Western studies that are more focused now are tying up with various hospitals to look at the benefits of Yoga right from cardiovascular cases to stress decrease

There is a reason to this exercise. It is not just Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s interest in Yoga that has provoked it to embark on this programme, but the increasing attention that the world is giving to Yogic practices.

Universities across Europe and other Western and far eastern countries are opening up new departments to study Yoga scientifically, systematically and medically too.

One such research that has gone into the effects of Yoga on mental and physical health was undertaken at various scholars at Herdecke University, Charite-University Medical Centre, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Patnajali Research Foundation, Haridwar and Group Health Cooperative, Sattle, USA. Herdecke, Germany.

Scholars. Involved in compiling the report are Arndt Buessing, Andreas Michalsen, Sat Bir S Khalsa, Shirley Telles and Karen J Sherman of these universities and Centres and these are only too willing to share their knowledge with any interested individual. (Want to contact them? Well, write to

No doubt, some of the areas of research need more work to be done to conclusively establish the effects of Yoga on a human body in cases of depression but most studies describe the beneficial effects in favour of the Yoga interventions, particularly when compared with passive controls (i.e., examination anxiety), and also compared with active controls such as relaxation response or compared to standard drugs.

Research was also conducted in case of stress, post-traumatic stress disorders, physical fitness, sympathetic, parasympathetic activation and cardiovascular intervention. We in India may not be looking at Yoga as a holistic solution in case of several ailments, but the Western studies that are more focused now are tying up with various hospitals to look at the benefits of Yoga right from cardiovascular cases to stress decrease.

For example, a study was undertaken by the Centers for Behavioural and Preventive Medicine and Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University and the Miriam Hospital Providence, USA, to study Yoga as a complementary treatment for smoking cessation. The focus was more on the American women here.

The pilot efficacy study was designed to examine the rates of cessation among women randomised to either a novel, 8-week Yoga Plus Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) smoking cessation intervention versus a wellness programme plus the same CBT smoking cessation intervention.

Beth C Bock, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behaviour at Brown Alpert Medical with over 15 years experience with conducting and implementing randomised control trials for smoking cessation and exercise intervention among adults concluded that “the practice of yoga has been linked to improvements in effect, reductions in stress and anxiety, increases in self-efficacy and improvements in overall well-being in addition to producing improvements in cardiopulmonary functioning. Therefore, yoga may prove to be a more effective complementary treatment for smoking cessation than traditional aerobic exercise.”

Another interesting study was undertaken on the effect of yoga on musculoskeletal discomfort and motor functions in professional computer users by Shrley Telles, Manoj Dash and K V Naveen of the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Research Foundation (a Yoga university), Benguluru too. This interesting study was undertaken to study cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) which is faced by those working with computer terminals and keyboards and the work related disorders involving the back, neck and upper limbs.

The study became a necessity in the wake of the failures of various solutions offered otherwise includng modifying work stations, using alternative keyboards and pointing devices and adopting software solutions to minimize the key presses required to execute elaborate routines. The team recruited 290 software professional for the study who used computers for at least six hours a day for five days a week and who reported musculoskeletal discomfort.

Right from hand grip strength to tapping speed to low back and hamstring flexibility were focussed upon during the intervention study. The participants were divided into two groups – yoga group and wait-list group (non-Yoga group) and the results were stunning. Among the Yoga group, the discomfort levels dramatically fell down while the others continued to face the problems and if any, their discomfort only increased.

The conclusion is ”Yoga is a useful addition to the routine of professional computer user. Based on this employees of software companies would need to commit five hours a week for Yoga practice and their employers would need to facilitate this in terms of providing a place to practice yoga, time and arranging for informed instruction on Yoga.”

Dr Pallav Sengupta of the Department of Physiology, Vidyasagar College for Women University of Calcutta, Kolkata, says "why involve religion in this? People in the USA today claim to practice Yoga for its health benefits without consciously adopting Hindu religious perspectives. Elementary courses of Hatha Yoga focus on physical exercises consisting of various postures and breathing techniques".

The Department of Pharmaceutical Science, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health has also conducted its own study on the effects of yoga on anxiety and stress to conclude that "the data thus far are suggestive of beneficial outcomes from the use of yoga as a intervention for stress and anxiety, Yoga may be considered as a possible adjunctive therapy for those experiencing stress and anxiety.

Due to its good compliance and lack of drug interactions, Yoga appears to be safe and could be encouraged to improve quality of life and perhaps, the symptoms of stress and anxiety". It suggested more research into the areas before decreasing the pill burden.

Similarly, for Marshall Hagins, Rebecca States, Terry Selfe and Kim Innes of the Long Island University of Brooklyn, West Virginia University School of Public Health, concluded that Yoga significantly reduced blood pressure and the results were of significance and suggest that yoga may offer an effective intervention for reducing blood pressure.

That is how the world views it. Why tag religion to this asks the Ministry of Ayush now even as it gears up to face more criticism from some quarters. The Ministry has gone ahead and compiled these research works into books for public consumption and is attempting to spread knowledge of the same.

Opposition to the BJP ideology is understandable and if a section says there is a hidden agenda to such and such programme and policy, even this could be understood. Yoga is an ancient practice and at a higher level it could be linked to Hindu religious practices and beliefs. But, at the "asanaas' level and as far as breathing techniques are concerned, its practice need not be detested or condemned by any group, these researchers conclude.

A senior consultant cardiologist of Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi, Dr S C Manchanda adds "the world over, Yoga benefits are recognised and hence practised. Yoga appears to be especially beneficial for primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

The American Heart Association (AHA) reported that Transcendental Meditation techniques may be considered in clinical practices to lower BP. It also reported research that TM may reduce heart attacks, stroke and deaths in CVD patients". Shall we delink Yoga from religion and look at the benefits instead as all this research says?

By: W. Chandrakanth

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