Archive for the ‘Health’ Category
In a 2010 survey paper, researchers found that at least when it comes to VO2 max, Yoga asanas are inferior1 to physical exercises2. VO2 max, maximum oxygen consumption, is a standard measure for the physical fitness of an individual. But in most of the other health outcomes covered in the “meta-analysis”, yoga was just as good if not better than exercise.
Below is a comprehensive table from that 2010 survey paper3 comparing the Health Benefits of Yoga and Exercise (see here for pdf version of the table below):
Here is a brief description of the studies the researchers reviewed:
Table 2 provides a summary of the studies comparing yoga and exercise by outcomes measured. Nearly half of the studies have been conducted on healthy populations, and yoga interventions have yielded positive results in both healthy and diseased populations. Nearly every study utilized a yoga intervention that combined physical asanas (standing, seated, or inverted) and restorative or relaxation poses. Seven of the 12 studies also incorporated meditation and/or breath work. Three studies did not specify the type of yoga intervention used. The remaining studies utilized Hatha yoga (N=4), Iyengar yoga (N=3), and Integrated yoga (N=2). While five of the studies provided specific sequences of yoga poses used in the intervention, the remainder offered few details.
… Most of the studies involved some form of aerobic exercise: walking, running, dancing, or stationary bicycling, plus some form of stretching. Two studies compared yoga with gentle, nonaerobic exercises and stretching.
(1) The researchers found that “… yoga interventions appeared to be equal or superior to exercise in nearly every outcome measured except those involving physical fitness. The studies comparing the effects of yoga and exercise seem to indicate that, in both healthy and diseased populations, yoga may be as effective as or better than exercise at improving a variety of health-related outcome measures.”
(2) Granted, none of the subjects performed Rodney Yee’s extreme example of 108 sun salutations in a row!
(3) The health benefits of yoga and exercise: a review of comparison studies, pdf version here.
- Cognitive Bias Modification (therapist-free therapy):
… A typical course of a modern talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, consists of 12-16 hour-long sessions and is a reasonably efficient way of treating conditions like depression and anxiety (hysteria is no longer a recognised diagnosis). Medication, too, can bring rapid change. Nevertheless, treating disorders of the psyche is still a hit-and-miss affair, and not everyone wishes to bare his soul or take mind-altering drugs to deal with his problems. A new kind of treatment may, though, mean he does not have to. Cognitive-bias modification (CBM) appears to be effective after only a few 15-minute sessions, and involves neither drugs nor the discussion of feelings. It does not even need a therapist. All it requires is sitting in front of a computer and using a program that subtly alters harmful thought patterns.
… Similar biases may affect memory and the interpretation of events. For example, if an acquaintance walks past without saying hello, it might mean either that he has ignored you or that he has not seen you. The anxious, according to the theory behind CBM, have a bias towards assuming the former and reacting accordingly.
The goal of CBM is to alter such biases, and doing so has proved surprisingly easy. A common way of debiasing attention is to show someone two words or pictures—one neutral and the other threatening—on a computer screen. In the case of social anxiety these might be a neutral face and a disgusted face. Presented with this choice, an anxious person instinctively focuses on the disgusted visage. The program, however, prods him to complete tasks involving the neutral picture, such as identifying letters that appear in its place on the screen. Repeating the procedure around a thousand times, over a total of two hours, changes the user’s tendency to focus on the anxious face. That change is then carried into the wider world.
- A Joyful Noise with Krishna Das:
Adams: How would you describe kirtan to someone new to the practice?
Krishna Das: It depends who I’m talking to, because I don’t want to scare people away. If I say it’s “meditation with music,” some will be put off by that. In India they call it the “repetition of the sacred names of God,” but I don’t want to say that to someone who doesn’t believe in God. I don’t even know if I believe in God — not the one described in Western religious traditions anyway. In India people understand that God is within. There are Hindu images associated with God — deities like Krishna, Hanuman, and Kali — but when it comes down to it, these deities are symbols of the divine that lives inside each one of us. Indians are more creative about worship, whereas Christians are generally very tense: there’s only one right way to do it and only one God to worship. Of course, there is only one God in the Indian traditions, too, just many forms to symbolize it. It’s ok to worship anything in any way in India, because there it’s understood that nothing is outside of us. There’s only one God, and we’re all it.
… I’ve been to yoga-teacher trainings and heard people say, “If you don’t understand the deities, you’ll never be a good yoga teacher.” Bullshit. We’re Americans. We didn’t grow up with this. It’s not native to us. I’ve spent a fair portion of my life in India and still don’t have a clue. It doesn’t mean that much to me. There it is: I told the truth.
All these so-called deities exist inside of us, but we don’t understand that. We don’t know who we are, so we can’t know who they are. Find out who you are, and you’ll know everything you need to know.
When I lived in India, I went to all the temples and holy places, and I read the history and the stories, but these days I don’t really think about all that, because to me the names simply represent the love inside of me, inside of you. Whether we’re chanting about Kali or Durga is irrelevant.
… The first place I chanted was Jivamukti Yoga School in New York. I called them up, and they said, “Sure, you can come down on Monday.” They had a program for yoga-teacher trainees, and I sang for about twenty minutes before it began. I started doing this every Monday. That went on for a month or two, and then I showed up on a Monday night as usual, and the teachers weren’t there. I was told they had gone to India and wouldn’t return for months. So I sat down and sang for two or three hours. I did it again the next week, and the next, and more and more people came. Monday night became my night.
- The power of vulnerability: Social work academic Brene Brown studies “… our ability to empathize, belong, love.”
- Sex and the Spiritual Teacher:
… The problem of spiritual teachers seducing or sexually abusing their students tarnishes every spiritual tradition, in seemingly every culture—and recorded cases go back many hundreds of years. These misdeeds damage the lives of women and men, children and adults, the rich and the poor, the foolish and the wise, the gullible and the discerning.
A list of spiritual teachers who have committed sexual transgressions during the past few decades reads almost like a Who’s Who of modern spiritual figures, and includes priests, ministers, rabbis, gurus, yogis, roshis, senseis, swamis, lamas, maggids, and imams. Sometimes their misconduct involves other transgressions as well (misappropriation of money, physical or emotional abuse, attempted brainwashing, etc.). This widespread misconduct has created scandal after scandal for these teachers, and much suffering for their students and spiritual communities.
With very few exceptions, each of these teachers is or was male; each offered something genuinely worthwhile to their students; each knew that sex with their students could have potentially damaging consequences for those students; and each—including those teachers raised in other cultures—understood that the prevailing social norms prohibited such sexual relationships. Many of these teachers were married, and thus had vows of fidelity to uphold, as well as (presumably) willing sexual partners. Some had taken vows of celibacy. So why did they act against the best interests of their students, their own spiritual communities, and, ultimately, themselves?
From Chapter 8 of “How God Changes Your Brain” (sorted from least to most beneficial):
8. Smile: Even if you don’t feel like it, the mere act of smiling repetitively helps interrupt mood disorders and strengthen the brain’s natural ability to maintain a positive outlook on life. … To my knowledge, the only religion to incorporate smiling into a spiritual practice is Buddhism. For example, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests we do “smiling meditation” whenever we have a spare moment during the day. … 7. Stay intellectually active: … When it comes to the dendrites and axons that connect one neuron to thousands of others, if you don’t use it, you will lose it. … Memory and mnemonic exercises, strategy-based games like chess or mahjong, and other forms of visual/spatial exercises or games can significantly improve cognitive functioning , especially in older adults. … Try to spend as many hours a day engaged in the most intellectually challenging activities you can dream up … Read books … Take a class, attend a lecture, go to a museum, … write in your diary. … However, doing math exercises and crosswords apparently doesn’t help, and performance pressure can even interfere with memory functioning. So be sure to make your intellectual pursuits enjoyable. 6. Consciously relax: … I’m talking about deliberately scanning each part of your body to reduce muscle tension and physical fatigue. … Simple repetitive activities that are pleasurable and meaningful can also take you into a deep state of relaxation. In one of my most recent studies, we found that the ritual practice of counting rosaries lowers tension, stress, and anxiety. Many other religious and spiritual practices calm the mind and allow the brain to rejuvenate, and even activities like knitting will have a similar relaxing effect. 5. Yawn: … Several recent brain-scan studies have shown that yawning evokes a unique neural activity in the areas of the brain that are directly involved in generating social awareness and creating feelings of empathy. One of those areas is the precuneus … The precuneus is also stimulated by yogic breathing, which helps explain why different forms of meditation contribute to an increased sense of self-awareness. … Our advice is simple. Yawn as many times a day as possible. … Conscious yawning take a little practice and discipline to get over the unconscious social inhibitions … All you have to do to trigger a deep yawn is to fake it six or seven times. …
12 essential reasons to yawn:
1. Stimulates alertness and concentration.
2. Optimizes brain activity and metabolism.
3. Improves cognitive function.
4. Increases memory recall.
5. Enhances consciousness and introspection.
6. Lowers stress.
7. Relaxes every part of your body.
8. Improves voluntary muscle control.
9. Enhances athletic skills.
10. Fine-tunes your sense of time.
11. Increases empathy and social awareness.
12. Enhances pleasure and sensuality.
4. Meditate: … Even ten to fifteen minutes of meditation appears to have significantly positive effects on cognition, relaxation, and psychological health, and it has been shown to reduce smoking and binge-drinking behavior. … 3. Aerobic exercise: … In general, the more intense the better. For example, running is better than walking, and walking is better than stretching, but it is important to find the “right” amount of exercise that feels best for you. … Vigorous stretching, such as yoga, also does wonders for both your body and your brain. Yoga has similar cognitive benefits to other forms of contemplative meditation, and in a recent meta-analysis of 813 meditation studies, the researchers stated that yoga was as beneficial as exercise. It can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, help control the symptoms of diabetes, lessen the severity of menopausal symptoms, reduce chronic back pain, and prevent the onslaught of migraine headaches. … 2. Dialogue with others: … if we don’t exercise our language skills, large portions of the brain will not effectively interconnect with other neural structures. Dialogue requires social interaction, and the more social ties we have, the less our cognitive abilities will decline. In fact, any form of social isolation will damage improtant mechanisms in the brain leading to aggression, depression, and various neuropsychiatric disorders. … 1. Faith: … Faith is equivalent with hope, optimism, and the belief that a positive future awaits us. … Recently, a team of National Institutes of Health researchers concluded that “a moderate optimistic illusion” appears neurologically essential for maintaining motivation and good mental health. They also found that highly optimistic people had greater activation in the same parts of the anterior cingulate that are stimulated by meditation. …
- LA Times profile of Sharon Salzberg:
Sharon Salzberg, 58, a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, has spent more than three decades helping Westerners access a daily spiritual practice that originated in Buddhism but is not confined to that faith.
… The Buddhist principles of vipassana, or mindfulness, and metta, lovingkindness, afforded Salzberg what she calls a “spacious” form of awareness in which people know they have a choice. Instead of being dominated by her fears, Salzberg said, she began to communicate what she learned, ultimately publishing seven books.
- Yoga isn’t as old as you think: Responding to the the “Take Back Yoga” marketing campaign, the author cites a couple of authors (Sjoman and Singleton) that I’ve previously highlighted. One additional academic source worth mentioning is David Gordon White’s upcoming book on the Yoga Sutras.
… Both Sjoman and Mark Singleton, a US-based scholar who has interviewed many of those associated with the Mysore Palace during its heyday in the 1930s, believe that the seeds of modern yoga lie in the innovative style of Sritattvanidhi. Krishnamacharya, who was familiar with this text and cited it in his own books, carried on the innovation by adding a variety of Western gymnastics and drills to the routines he learnt from Sritattvanidhi, which had already cross-bred hatha yoga with traditional Indian wrestling and acrobatic routines.
In addition, it is well established that Krishnamacharya had full access to a Western-style gymnastics hall in the Mysore Palace, with all the usual wall ropes and other props that he began to include in his yoga routines.
Sjoman has excerpted the gymnastics manual that was available to Krishnamacharya. He claims that many of the gymnastic techniques from that manual—for example, the cross-legged jumpback and walking the hands down a wall into a back arch—found their way into Krishnamacharya’s teachings, which he passed on to Iyengar and Jois. In addition, in the early years of the 20th century, an apparatus-free Swedish drill and gymnastic routine, developed by a Dane by the name of Niels Bukh (1880–1950), was introduced to India by the British and popularised by the YMCA. Singleton argues that “at least 28 of the exercises in the first edition of Bukh’s manual are strikingly similar (often identical) to yoga postures occurring in Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga sequence or in Iyengar’s Light on Yoga.” The link again is Krishnamacharya, who Singleton calls a “major player in the modern merging of gymnastic-style asana practice and the Patanjali tradition.”
- Europe’s New Politics: I try to stay away from politics on this blog, but I thought this recent BBC podcast on the rise of populist, anti-immigrant parties in Denmark & Sweden was worth highlighting. The Danish cartoon controversy aside, it is disturbing to witness the rise of intolerance in Western Europe. Immigrants are stereotyped as being ill-suited because of culture (Islam) and economics (over dependence on the welfare state). To be fair, in both Denmark and Sweden, we are talking about minority parties. But in both cases they have real influence on parliamentary proceedings.
- How effective is yoga?:
The aim of this overview was to evaluate critically all systematic reviews of yoga for the symptomatic treatment of any condition. Twelve electronic databases were searched and 21 systematic reviews relating to a wide range of conditions were located. Nine systematic reviews arrived at positive conclusions, but many systematic reviews were associated with a high risk of bias. Unanimously positive evidence emerged for depression and cardiovascular risk reduction. Despite an impressive number of systematic reviews, evidence of effectiveness is positive only for two indications.
- Empathy, emotion, and socio-economic class: Researchers at Berkeley’s Science of a Meaningful Life, recently published a study that indicates that members of the upper-class are worse than their peers at identifying the emotions of others. Below is an hour-long interview explaining those results, and other studies on the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being.
- Art of Faith: I”m currently watching this documentary and have enjoyed the parts I’ve seen so far. I think it was brilliant that the producers used local residents to present details about each of the structures.
- Generosity and Greed: A Tricycle feature that includes Gelek Rinpoche, Gil Fronsdal, Kobo Daishi, Bernie Glassman, and Noah Levine.
- Healing Yoga comes to America: I just stumbled upon this Oct/2007 Yoga International profile of Kate Holcombe, founder of the Healing Yoga Foundation. Reading A.G. Mohan’s book on Krishnamcharya has gotten me inspired to re-read Desikachar’s Heart of Yoga
… This is how Holcombe teaches yoga—meeting the student where he is. It’s how she learned from legendary teacher T.K.V. Desikachar and why for many years she balked at being called a yoga teacher. The yoga she discovered in India 16 years ago bore little resemblance to the fitness phenomenon labeled yoga in the United States. “I used to call it the ‘y’ word,” she says. “It took me a long time to be comfortable saying that what I was doing was yoga because what I was studying and learning and seeing and doing in India felt so completely different from what I saw people calling yoga here.”
What Holcombe saw in India was yoga as practiced at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM), the school Desikachar founded in 1976 to honor his father, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya, who died in 1989 at the age of 100, is the reason a discipline of sages in caves is today practiced by celebrities in spandex. His famous stunts (stopping his heartbeat) and students (B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi among them) turned the masses on to yoga, even as Krishnamacharya stressed that yoga’s healing powers reside in the one-on-one relationship between teacher and student.
Desikachar’s school is in Chennai, a muggy, conservative city formerly known as Madras. The Mandiram functions less like a yoga studio than a health clinic. There’s a waiting area lined with chairs. There’s a blue file on each student. The 50 teachers see students one at a time in small rooms with walls of braided palm fronds. An exception is made for couples having trouble conceiving.
Many of the students have no prior yoga experience. They learn movements, breathing techniques, chants, meditative practices, and habits to ease their pains and strengthen their psyches. Everybody gets a unique practice. A depressed student might be asked to snap photos of beautiful things. Another might be encouraged to eat papaya.
The Desikachars emphasize that yoga is a complement to medical care, not a replacement. About half of the Mandiram’s students are referred by a doctor or other health professional. The head of neurophysiology at Chennai’s largest hospital sends his son to the Mandiram for a neurophysiological problem. When Holcombe began teaching a decade ago, she worked in the office of a family practitioner who’d been a longtime Desikachar pupil. She has since taught at physicians’ retreats and conferences, and word of mouth has brought her so many students that until this year, she’d never printed a business card.
… Yoga as the Desikachars see it is a toolbox for conscious change. Ancient yoga texts proffer myriad tools—from cleansing rituals to candle gazing to arm balances that evoke Cirque du Soleil. Many yoga therapists, Kausthub says, reach into the toolbox and pull out hammer and nails: asana and pranayama. The rest of the tools go largely unused.
“Most yoga therapy in the West addresses yoga therapy through the body—asanas. Sometimes they include some breathing techniques, but nothing else,” he says. “Here, we are including every tool in yoga practice, whether it is asana or pranayama or meditation or chants and visualizations.
“Yoga has been presented in the classical teachings as a holistic discipline. Yoga has not been presented for the body, through the body, by the body.”
One of the best things I attended last year was a breathe workshop conducted by Max Strom. Max has such a gentle way about him, notwithstanding the fact that many regard him one of the finest yoga teachers in the US. These tips are from his recent book, A Life Worth Breathing (see pages 55-56).
1. Listen or read the news once a week — no more. … Does this mean we should go into denial and ignore the problems? Absolutely not. … If anything momentous happens you will hear about it; everyone will be talking about it …
2. Read inspiring, life-affirming books before going to sleep at night … Whether it is the Bible, the Upanishads, the Torah, the Koran, great philosophers, or inspiring poetry — to go to sleep with hope and inspiration will improve the quality of your sleep and dreams.
3. Watch no violent or disturbing images on TV or at the movies. No explanation is necessary.
4. Get to sleep by 10 PM. According to traditional Chinese medicine (those who practice acupuncture), the period between 10 PM and 3 AM is the most vital for the body to replenish and repair itself.
5. Give up caffeine gradually. Sorry but this is important. … What will amaze you is that you will find you have more energy, not less.