A team of scientists at the Duke University conducted extensive review and research on the beneficial aspects of yoga in treatment of diseases, ailments and other disorders. They have published a paper in the highly respected journal, ‘Frontiers in Psychiatry’ on January 24, 2013. The researchers have asserted that yoga is as powerful as psychotherapy or antidepressants, tackling several mental health issues such as depression, stress and attention deficiency. They believe that even extreme conditions like schizophrenia could be controlled by yoga practices.
For majority of psychiatric disorders, medications are the standard prescriptions. However, the review by this team of scientists claim that yoga is highly useful in modulating levels of several key body chemicals such as serotonin as well as cortisol, a stress hormone.
Dr. Meera Balasubramaniam, the leader of the research team informed in a recent interview to Hindustan Times that yoga works very well as a separate standalone remedy for many illnesses, while it works as a very good adjunct to common medications in other diseases or disorders. She added that there is a definite positive group effect when yoga is practiced with a sizable group of afflicted people.
Approximately more than 200 million people practice yoga globally, with more than 100 million people in India alone, while around 16 million people are students of yoga in the United States. Even though medical science has recognized and appreciated the power of yoga in healing physical and mental ailments, there has been considerable skepticism in the potential of yoga in tacking several major illnesses on a specific basis.
The practice of yoga gained global popularity in the middle and later half of the twentieth century. The followers of yoga swelled in several countries after cultural and social icons like the Beatles and several Hollywood actors and stars started subscribing to the practice of yoga as beneficial. This sudden popularity of yoga resulted in strong negative fallout also, with several people proclaiming themselves as great yoga masters and gurus but duping and fraudulently cheating innocent and gullible people, accumulating huge amounts of money in that process. Such fraud gurus earned millions but the yoga methods and practices that they taught were mostly incorrect and even hazardous and counterproductive in many instances.
In India, the birthplace of yoga, a huge population have come to accept yoga as a healthy practice and adopt it as cure for several ailments. Even here, the medical fraternity of India were forced to counter and overcome several potentially misleading and even outlandish claims from a few yoga masters who have become quite popular. One of them, the Haridwar-based yoga guru, Baba Ramdev, claimed that he could cure even one of the most serious diseases that the society has been encountering for the past few decades, namely, HIV-AIDS. Unfortunately, he has not been able to substantiate his claim so far.
The research team of yoga mentioned in their paper on yoga in the journal, ‘Frontiers in Psychiatry’, “Yoga has become such a cultural phenomenon that it has become difficult for physicians and patients to differentiate legitimate claims from hype. Our goal was to examine whether the evidence matched the promise.” They have emphatically affirmed that the evidences match the promises in most cases.
The research review of the Duke University scientists further shows that yoga is quite helpful in controlling serotonin, acetylcholine, and gamma amino butyric acid (GABA), the major body chemicals that are the causes for many mental illnesses. Further, the research on performance of yoga showed that it enabled persons suffering from attention deficiency hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to handle many of the difficulties associated with ADHD such as impulsivity and inattention, which lakhs of students are suffering from in India.
Students practising yoga were able to put to better use the techniques of yoga that they learned during the practice in calming themselves whenever they became agitated. Dr. Meera added, “There was also some evidence of improved homework compliance.” According to her, certain evidences suggested that yoga benefited patients suffering from mild depressions even without any medication. However, she stated that cases of serious afflictions like severe depression and ADHD, as well as grave conditions like schizophrenia required combined therapy of prescribed drugs and yoga for maximum effect. She added, “More research to evaluate the benefits of yoga, including its mechanisms, is certainly warranted.”
These conclusions of the Duke University research team has come at a time when the entire global medical fraternity is grappling more and more with growing mental health disorder patients. This condition is even more exacerbated for low income families in many developing countries like India and other under-developed countries where access to correct medication is very poor and irregular. Statistics revealed by the World Health Organization (WHO) reveal that more than 350 million people are suffering from depression globally and it is the leading cause of many disabilities in people in the world at present.
Other recent studies have brought out the limitations in the effectiveness of drugs alone as solutions to several mental illnesses. WHO conducted a Primary Care Study and the study showed clearly that around 60% of the patients suffering from depression continued to be tormented by that condition even after being treated for a full year with anti-depressants.
Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a co-author of the Duke University research paper emphasised, “The search for improved treatments, including non-drug based, to meet the holistic needs of patients is of paramount importance and we call for more research into yoga as a priority.”
Dr. Meera concluded, “Yoga in addition to medication for mental health situations is also useful because the cure rates of medicines tend to be variable and yoga may provide a safe and acceptable adjunct.”