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Yoga class at a gym
This article is part of the branches of CAM series.
CAM Classifications
NCCAM: Mind-Body Intervention
Modality: Usually Group, but sometimes Self-care
Culture: Eastern
See Yoga and Yoga postures for the family of spiritual practices that originated in India.

Yoga is a healing system of theory and practice. It is a combination of breathing exercises, physical postures, and meditation that has been practiced for more than 5,000 years. [1][2]

While yoga evolved as a spiritual practice in Hinduism, in the Western world, a part of yoga, known as Asana, has grown increasingly popular as a form of purely physical exercise. Some Western forms have little or nothing to do with Hinduism or spirituality, but are simply a way of keeping fit and healthy. The common and popular movement of exercise yoga is Surya Namaskara.

Yoga was introduced to American society in the late 19th century by Swami Vivekananda, the founder of the Vedanta Society.[citation needed] He believed that India has an abundance of spiritual wealth and that yoga is a method that could help those who were bound by the materialism of capitalist societies to achieve spiritual well-being.

A survey released in May 2004 by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine focused on who used complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), what was used, and why it was used in the United States by adults age 18 years and over during 2002.[3] According to this survey, Yoga was the 5th most commonly used CAM therapy excluding prayer (5.1%) in the United States during 2002. [4] Yoga is considered a mind-body intervention that is used to reduce the health effects of generalized stress.



A western style Hatha Yoga class. Some 16.5 million people in the U.S. alone practice this form of yoga.

Yoga dates back to over 5,000 years, and is a form of a spiritual practice in India. In the West, Yoga as an alternative medicine has evolved from its founding philosophy into a form known as Yoga Therapy. In the UK this has taken the form of a National Occupational Standard, (NOS) for the delivery of Yoga Therapy to clients with impaired health or compromised well being, and to those who are vulnerable[5].

Today, yoga is a lucrative and growing business. A February 2005 poll by Harris Interactive and Yoga Journal magazine revealed that about 16.5 million Americans spend nearly $3 billion annually on yoga classes and products.[6]

An argument against the globalization of yoga is that it is co-opting an ancient spiritual philosophy.[citation needed] Because yoga invokes ideals of harmony, health and balance, it “fits” well in the environment of modernity. On one hand, the acculturation of Yoga in America and Europe can be viewed as a welcome celebration of multiculturalism, promoting more open and tolerant cultural dispositions. On the other hand, the processes of commercialization may have debased the sacred practice.[7]

Yoga as exercise has evolved into numerous subdivisions and variations. Naked yoga, Chair Yoga, Acroyoga and Hip-Hop Yoga are some of the few variations emerging. There is debate as to whether or not the term Hatha Yoga properly describes yoga as exercise, since the traditional Hatha Yoga system originated as, and still is, a spiritual path in its own right.[8]

Overview as alternative medicine

Yoga is believed to calm the nervous system and balance the body, mind, and spirit. It is thought by its practitioners to prevent specific diseases and maladies by keeping the energy meridians open and life energy (Prana) flowing.[9][10] Yoga is usually practiced in classes that range from 60 to 90 minutes in length. Yoga has been used to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and improve coordination, flexibility, concentration, sleep, and digestion.[citation needed]

It has also been used as supplementary therapy for such diverse conditions as cancer, diabetes, asthma, AIDS[11] and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.[12]

Restorative Yoga

Restorative yoga is often associated with healing from diseases. Restorative yoga is yoga practiced in a very relaxed state by using supports instead of muscular tension to maintain the pose alignments. Restorative poses help relieve the effects of chronic stress in several ways. First, the use of props provide a completely supportive environment for total relaxation. Second, each restorative sequence is designed to move the spine in all directions. Third, a well-sequenced restorative practice also includes an inverted pose, which reverses the effects of gravity. Because we stand or sit most of the day, blood and lymph fluid accumulate in the lower extremities. By changing the relationship of the legs to gravity, fluids are returned to the upper body and heart function is enhanced. Fourth, restorative yoga alternately stimulates and soothes the organs. With this movement of blood comes the enhanced exchange of oxygen and waste products across the cell membrane. Finally, yoga teaches that the body is permeated with energy. Prana, the masculine energy, resides above the diaphragm, moves upward, and controls respiration and heart rate. Apana, the feminine energy, resides below the diaphragm, moves downward, and controls the function of the abdominal organs. Restorative yoga balances these two aspects of energy so that the practitioner is neither overstimulated nor depleted.[13]

Yoga as exercise for treating diseases

Students in Utthita Ashwa Sanchalanasana (High lunge)

The popularization in the West of the medical aspect of Yoga is largely attributed to Dr.Swami Sivananda Saraswati's Bihar School of Yoga.[citation needed] Most yoga classes consist of a combination of physical exercises, breathing exercises, and meditation. These characteristics make yoga a particularly beneficial kind of exercise for people with certain health conditions, including heart disease/hypertension, asthma, and back problems.[citation needed]

For people with heart problems, studies have shown yoga to help people young and old. Specifically, yoga seems to promote heart health in several ways, including regulating high blood pressure and improving resistance to psychological stress.[14] Yoga also has the potential to buffer against the harmful effects of bodily self-objectification as well as to promote embodiment and well-being.[15]


Research on yoga and psychological and emotional health

A growing number of clinical trials are being published investigating to what extent yoga is of benefit for psychological and emotional health. A PubMed search for "yoga and depression" yields 25 clinical trials published in 2007, 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 relating to yoga and emotional and psychological health. In addition, three review articles and three systematic reviews published during this period investigated the effects of various combinations of yoga, meditation and yogic breathing on mental health.

However, in recent years, there have been increasing reports of yoga-related injuries. [16] These include carotid artery tears, bulging intervertebral discs, rotator cuff injuries, ganglion cysts, compression of the spine (vertebral column) and hyperextension of the neck. According to Gary Kraftsow, author of “Yoga for Transformation”, many yoga positions aren't relevant to everybody. Orthopedic surgeon Jeffrey Halbrecht, M.D., medical director for the Institute for Arthroscopy and Sports Medicine in San Francisco, and a specialist in knee and hip problems, warns that both experienced and rookie yoga practitioners are getting hurt. “Yoga is marketed as such an innocuous thing,” says Loren Fishman, M.D., assistant clinical professor of rehabilitation medicine at Columbia University in New York City. “But without care, injuries can absolutely happen.”

Breast cancer studies

In 2006, scientists at the University Of Texas conducted an experiment on 61 breast cancer patients. Thirty of the patients participated in yoga around the time of their radiation treatments. The yoga was customized for the cancer patients; it focused on breathing and relaxation, and excluded difficult exercises, given possible limitations on range of motion. The study found increased physical function, slightly better levels of social functioning, and lower levels of sleep dysfunction and fatigue. There was no difference in rates of anxiety or depression.[17]

Hatha yoga

In the West, hatha yoga has become popular as a purely physical exercise regimen divorced of its original purpose.[18] Currently, it is estimated that about 30 million Americans and about 5 million Europeans practice a form of hatha yoga. But it is still followed in a manner consistent with tradition throughout the Indian subcontinent. The traditional guru-student relationship that exists without sanction from organized institutions, and which gave rise to all the great yogis who made way into international consciousness in the 20th century, has been maintained in Indian, Nepalese and some Tibetan circles.

See also


  1. ^ The Bhagavad-Gita and Jivana Yoga By Ramnarayan Vyas
  2. ^ Hatha Yoga: Its Context, Theory and Practice By Mikel Burley (page 16)
  3. ^ National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Survey 2004
  4. ^ Barnes P, Powell-Griner E, McFann K, Nahin R. "CDC Advance Data Report #343. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults: United States, 2002". May 27, 2004. Online (PDF) table 1 on page 8.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Tomlinson, John. Globalization and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
  8. ^ Strauss, Sarah. "Positioning Yoga: Balancing Acts Across Cultures". New York: Berg, 2005
  9. ^ Textbook of Yoga - Page 545 by Yogeswar
  10. ^ Nature Cure at Home - Page 167 by Dr Rajeshwari
  11. ^ Barnes P, Powell-Griner E, McFann K, Nahin R. "CDC Advance Data Report #343. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults: United States, 2002". May 27, 2004. Online (PDF) see page 19. (On page 20 this report states: "All material appearing in this report is in the public domain and may be reproduced or copied without permission; citation as to source, however, is appreciated.")
  12. ^ Van Vorous, Heather. "First Year: IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)", ISBN 1-56924-547-9. Yoga chapter excerpted with author's permission at Help For Irritable Bowel Syndrome (see Yoga for IBS section).
  13. ^ "Relax and Renew", by Judith Lasater, Ph.D., P.T
  14. ^ December 2002. Yoga: What is yoga good for? Univ. of Maryland Medical website. Retrieved 11/30/06.
  15. ^ Minding the Body: Yoga, Embodiment, and Well-Being Sexuality Research and Social Policy: Journal of NSRC. Retrieved 03/07/07.
  16. ^ July 2008. Bad karma: When yoga harms instead of heals MSNBC website. Retrieved 17/07/08.
  17. ^ "Participating in Yoga During Treatment for Breast Cancer Improves Quality of Life". University of Texas. 2006-06-04. Retrieved 2007-10-01. 
  18. ^ Hatha Yoga: Its Context, Theory and Practice By Mikel Burley

External links


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