Mind Body Sciences
What is Yoga Science?
Yoga science developed over thousands of years through observation, meditation and experimentation in the cave monasteries of the Himalayas . It was handed down directly from teacher to student, known only to a select few. Codified two thousand years ago in the "Yoga Sutras" by the Sage, Patanjali. Sutras (threads-related to the word suture) are very brief statements with deep meaning. These short aphorisms facilitated the oral transmission of this knowledge.. Many commentaries on the sutras have been written. This knowledge and practice has spread throughout the world in the last 100 years, with increasing popularity over time, through teachers and ancient and modern writings.
There a number of paths of yoga such as Bhakti- love, devotion, Jnana-knowledge, Karma-action, selfless service, Kundalini-primal force, Mantra-sound, Tantric-expanded consciousness and Raja- the royal path, or path of enlightenment. These paths are not mutually exclusive and a person may practice some combination at any one time. However, the choice of path is influenced by a person's tendencies and state of development.
Raja Yoga: the Eight Limbed Path, (Ashtanga), is a systematic practice to obtain enlightenment. It is also referred to as an eight runged ladder. These eight rungs are:
• Yamas - Restraints
• Niyamas - Observances
• Asanas - Postures and Cleansings
• Pranayama - Breathing exercises
• Pratyahara - Sense withdrawal
• Dharana - Concentration
• Dhyana - Meditation
• Samadhi - Absorption, Enlightenment
Medical intervention and research is focused mainly on Pranayama (breathing practices)
Asana (physical practice), and Dhyana (meditation)
What is Pranayama?
Pranayama comes from the Sanskrit Prana, which means breath or energy, and Yama, pause, regulation or expansion. It is often translated as breathing practices, but it more broadly refers to regulation of the breath or energy control or expansion. Breathing is unique in that it is completely voluntary or involuntary. It can be consciously controlled, but continues without conscious attention. It links the mind and body, and can be used to lead the mind and body into different states. The practice of pranayama balances vital principles and brings the mind under volitional control. There are many practices, with specific functions and effects.
To understand how this is possible, we can look at the structure and function of the nervous system. The nervous system has been categorized as composed of the Voluntary and Involuntary or Autonomic. However, yogic adepts can obtain a high degree of control over the "involuntary" nervous system. The autonomic system is further divided into Sympathetic and Parasympathetic, having complementary or opposing actions. The "Flight or Fight response" is associated with activation of the sympathetic nervous system. The psycho-neuro-adrenal-immune systems are in constant communication. Chronic stress leads to physico/chemical states within these systems which promote ro lead to illness. A condition of excessive sympathetic tone contributes to many of the chronic diseases that modern man suffers from. It has been noted that chronically cold hands can be indicative of this state, due to the decreased peripheral blood flow that is part of this response.
One of the simplest and most powerful pranayama practices is diaphragmatic breathing. This basic technique can help to balance the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic nervous systems, calm the mind, and promote efficient oxygenation of the blood. On the in breath, the diaphragm flattens, lower ribs expand, the upper abdomen comes out, while the lower abdomen remains stationary. On the exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and the lower ribs and upper abdomen fall inward. The upper chest remains fairly still throughout the process. Lengthening the total time of breath, smoothing it out, and getting rid of the pause between the breaths, is also beneficial. A 1:1 ratio, equal time and volume of inhale and exhale, is desirable as well. The equality should be attained by working with (generally lengthening) the exhale. Counting may be used to keep track, if necessary. A longer exhale may be used to calm acutely, or by more advanced practitioners, but 1:1 breath should be mastered before using 2:1 breath (exhale to inhale).
The yoga postures that are very good to practice and reinforce diaphragmatic breathing are Crocodile pose (Makarasana) and Corpse pose (Shavasana), with a small sandbag or book on the upper abdomen. There have been relatively few clinical studies of only breathing practices done to date. However, there is a long history of practice and belief in effectiveness. There is clinical trial evidence for effectiveness in asthma and depression, and changes in brain activity have been shown. Pranayama is often part of hatha yoga and meditative practices, which have shown efficacy in a variety of clinical medical and psychological conditions. More well designed research in pranayama practices is needed to fully characterize and take advantage of its considerable potential.
What are Asanas?
Asanas are postures performed with a state of mental awareness. It is this awareness that distinguishes yoga from simple exercise. Breath awareness, linked to the movements, should be practiced also. Asanas were originally developed to prepare the body and mind for meditation. Hatha yoga is the physical yoga that we are most familiar with in the US today. The word hatha, in its grossest form means force. It is a gentle forcing, for breaking habits. It also is composed of Ha, for Sun (active), and tha, for moon (passive). The practice integrates and balances the opposite forces within us.
Many styles of Hatha yoga are practiced in the US today. These include, but are not limited to: Ashtanga (power), Jivamukti, Bikram (hot), and some Vinyasa practices. These practices are oriented toward fitness, are quite challenging, and are not recommended for beginners or the ill. Iyengar yoga is a strong and popular tradition that emphasizes perfection of postures, and the use of props. It can be good for the medical patient, but may be too rigid or focused on perfection. It would be important to know the teacher or studio before recommending this as a therapeutic option. Other schools include Anahata, Ananda, Himalayan, Integral, Kripalu, Phoenix Rising, Svaroopa, Sivananda, Vinyasakrama, and Viniyoga. These all have an emphasis on healing and enlightenment. They are gentle and utilize an integrated approach (mind, body, spirit). They are mainly individualized and appropriate for patients. Integrative Yoga Therapy is specifically designed for medical and mainstream wellness settings.
Research studies on Hatha yoga have shown positive effects on: Cardiovascular Disease, risks, MI, hypertension, angiography, stress hormones, mortality, Type 2 Diabetes, autonomic function. Pain, migraine, carpal tunnel syndrome,Pregnancy, delivery, birth weight, Immune system, Cancer, ID, respiration (asthma), Addiction, Anxiety, Insomnia, perceived stress, depression, ADHD, and Seizure disorders. Physical benefits of hatha practice may include increased Strength, Flexibility, Energy, Improved Posture, Poise, Gracefulness, as well as Proper functioning of the digestive (including elimination), immune, and neuro-endocrine systems.
What is Dhyana or Meditation?
What is Dhyana?
Dhyana or Meditation is specific techniques for resting the mind and attaining a different state of consciousness from waking, dreaming, and sleeping. This fourth state is known as turiya. It is alert, clear, relaxed, inwardly focused. Meditation is NOT thinking hard, contemplating, daydreaming, or fantasizing. The practice of meditation leads to increased joyfulness, clarity and present moment awareness. There are a large number of studies/clinical trials on meditation which have been completed or are in progress. Early on in the US research, Herbert Benson, MD coined the term "Relaxation Response". He and coworkers described a variety of changes that occurred in meditation including; Decreased metabolic rate, temperature, Slower Heart rate, Lower Blood pressure, Lower oxygen consumption, Stress hormone reduction, and Brain wave changes.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as a program based on Buddhist meditation practices. Systematic programs are currently used in many medical settings and have been and are the intervention in numerous clinical studies. This system was originally developed for patients with chronic pain. Richard Davidson, MD has been focusing on brain function and physiological studies with Buddhist Monks with years of meditation practice. Robert Schneider, MD, continues to utilize Transcendental Meditation in clinical research, especially in cardiovascular diseases. Many other groups and individuals have been and are continuing to push this exciting area of research forward throughout the world, especially in India . We are interested at ICAM in fostering clinical research in yoga and meditation as well. Positive effects of meditation on Cardiovascular Disease risks, MI, hypertension, stress hormones, mortality, Addiction, migraine, pain, pregnancy, delivery, Immune system, Cancer, Infectious Disease, Anxiety, Insomnia, stress, depression, ADHD, and Seizure disorders have been demonstrated.
Yoga and Asthma
A Powerpoint presentation given by Dr. Susan Gould Fogerite, ICAM's Director of Research. Please click on the presentation to commence slideshow.
Instructions for Yoga Practice
Pranayama (Breathing Practices) Diaphragmatic Breathing - pdf
Progressive Relaxation - pdf
Dhyana (Basic Mantra Meditation) - pdf
Triangle pose - pdf