A few years ago I had to face multiple health crises that included a major surgery and some serious postoperative complications. I was at my wits' end and the future looked uncertain. Although the body healed slowly, the whole process left me exhausted. The emotional turmoil was almost unbearable. At the suggestion of a good friend, I started practicing yoga and meditation under the tutelage of a guru. During the next several months, the body became stronger and I regained my emotional stability, peace of mind and energy — all without using any antidepressants or mood elevators. Yoga was just the adjunct therapy I needed to strengthen my body and spirit.
Yoga has been in the news lately. With the declaration of a designated International Yoga Day on June 21 every year accepted by almost all countries, yoga's importance has skyrocketed. Yoga centers and studios have mushroomed all over the USA, and almost every gym now offers yoga. In many hospitals, yoga therapy has been added to the physical therapy program.
There are numerous scientific studies, including some from Harvard, that attest to the benefits of regular yoga practice. That's why it is called "yoga therapy," and why it has become a prescriptive medicine. "Daily practice of yoga therapy can be used for primary and secondary prevention and rehabilitation of chronic ailments when used as adjunct therapy," said Dr. Dilip Sarkar, a vascular surgeon and president of the Association of International Yoga Therapists, adding that "it will gradually improve one's underlying condition and the chronic use of drugs can be slowly withdrawn to reduce their negative side effects, resulting in improved, drug-free and healthy living." (Sarkar will lead a yoga therapy seminar today and Sunday in Tampa. See box for details.)
What is yoga therapy?
Most of you know a lot about yoga already. But there are many people who think that yoga is just another series of exercise routines or a New Age fad. Not so. It involves the union of the mind and body and consists of:
1. Asanas, or postures, that will strengthen and improve the stability and flexibility of your body and will help with the balancing skills needed to prevent falls that are all too common among the elderly.
2. Pranayama (breathing) exercises designed to improve the lung capacity and oxygenation of the tissues, essential for the vitality of your body.
3. Meditation, a way to train your mind so that you can control your wandering thoughts and focus on what you are doing. Relaxation, stress relief and positive thinking are the primary benefits that, in turn, will lower your blood pressure and heart rate, resulting in improved circulation.
4. Spirituality, which means connecting with a divine force present in the universe and in every one of us. Even if you are not a religious person, spirituality will help you with clearer thinking and stress reduction, leading to inner peace. For good mind control, it is essential to inculcate a certain degree of spirituality. As Deepak Chopra mentions, "Spiritual depth has been missing in the current day practice of yoga. What we need is to unify body, mind, heart and soul into an experiential reality."
That's exactly what we have to do to remain healthy and happy, age gracefully and extend our lives. Along with yoga practice, one should follow a healthy diet. The American Heart Association recommends a "plant-based diet," meaning more veggies and fruits and less meat, especially red meat. A vegetarian diet can be made quite flavorful, contrary to what many people think.
So let's start practicing yoga and discover the awesome potential of our own precious bodies.
Dr. M. P. Ravindra Nathan is a Hernando County cardiologist and author of "Stories From My Heart: A Cardiologist's Reflections on the Gift of Life."