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Are You a Candidate for Yoga ?

By Kalpana Rajdev, MD Email By Kalpana Rajdev, MD
April 2013
Are You a Candidate for Yoga ?

In today’s world, most people lead hectic daily lives. With a struggling economy comes increased pressure for productivity and efficiency in work and business. Whether you are fighting traffic, striving to meet impossible deadlines, or balancing family needs with job responsibilities, you probably feel you have more work to do than is possible. Like many others, you may be neglecting proper rest, exercise, and diet. You feel exhausted and irritable, and you ask yourself, “What’s happened to me?”

Anxiety, fatigue, headache, insomnia, and indigestion are common symptoms reported to physicians that are caused by increased stress. Nearly three quarters of Americans report stress-related symptoms in a given month. Stress is our body’s response to physical or mental threat to our well-being. The body’s sympathetic system activates secretions of hormones which cause heightened awareness, increased heart rate and muscle tone, preparing the body for “fight or flight.” Chronic stress leads to more serious conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, and irritable bowel. Chronic stress with increased cortisol is also known to lead to weakened immune system, delayed wound healing, and impairment of memory.

The cycle of stress and its impact on the body and mind can be reversed by practicing yoga and meditation. Yoga and meditation are a technology, an ancient science of well-being for the whole system including body, mind, emotion, and energy. Yoga triggers many tiny but cumulatively significant biochemical responses. There is a decrease in catecholamines, the hormones produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Hormone neurotransmitters—dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine—can also be lowered, creating a feeling of calm. Some research suggests that the hormone oxytocin can be increased, increasing feelings of relaxation and connection to others.

In practical terms, yoga produces deep relaxation for the body and mind, increases energy levels, and eliminates feelings of fatigue and burn-out. The mind is better able to focus and the individual feels calm and naturally happy rather than anxious or agitated. Health is improved and stress-related disorders prevented.

In one study, participants had up to 35% improvement in flexibility after only eight weeks of yoga. Even less vigorous styles provide strength and endurance benefits. With these come better posture and balance. This is vital for prevention of falls, a serious risk for the elderly. Better posture improves breathing, which helps in sports performance and in the relaxation response, the opposite of stress.

The effects of yoga on heart disease are well studied. Yoga lowers blood pressure and slows the heart rate. We all know about antioxidants, cholesterol, triglycerides, and the immune system—and yoga is good for them all.

For older individuals, chronic ailments such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease are common. Many older adults take multiple medications and therefore suffer undesirable side effects for the body as well as the mind. Often, yoga and meditation practitioners can reduce the need for medications, thereby reducing side effects and avoiding the high cost of prescription drugs.

Research is being done on yoga and learning, memory, the aging process, even self-acceptance. Many practitioners agree with the ancients that it increases spiritual awareness. In America, 38% of adults are using complementary and alternative therapies for their well-being. Physicians have begun to incorporate these modalities for management of their patients’ conditions. There is growing evidence that mind-body interventions such as meditation have a profound impact on the psycho-neuro-hormonal-immunological axis of the body, thus impacting the stress response of the body.

It would be best to try it out. You may discover for yourself what has been known for ages.

[This month’s guest columnist, Kalpana Rajdev, MD, is a Family Medicine & Geriatrics practitioner, and Director of Isha Care Free Clinic in McMinnville, TN. Dr. Rajdev is a Volunteer for Isha Foundation, an international nonprofit dedicated to cultivating human potential through the ancient science of yoga. See www.ishausa.org.]

[Gulshan Harjee, M.D., is a board certified internist in private practice with an emphasis on prevention. Please email your health and medical questions for consideration in this column to: gharjee@comcast.net. The material in this column is of a general nature, and must not be construed as specific medical advice. This column rotates monthly along with the Fitness Lifestyle column by Aarti Patel.]

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