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Treasures of the East:
Yoga for Good Health – II

By  Dr Satyajit Rohan Jayasinghe

The story was unbelievable and intriguing. It certainly defied any scientific or medical explanation. Max and Betty requested discharge from the hospital. But I opted to keep him in the ER under observation for at least six more hours. Meanwhile all his blood test results came back as being normal. The blood and urine drug screen was negative. After close monitoring for six hours I discharged Max from the hospital the next morning. However the impact of this incident remained with me for a long time to come.

The discussions I had with my senior, more experienced medical colleagues or the research I did into the relevant medical literature shed disappointingly little light into the phenomenon I witnessed. At this point I decided to seek more information about the ancient practices of the east and physical and medical effects of theirs by consulting experienced practitioners and reading authoritative literature. This also involved traveling to Asia and the Indian sub continent. It is a journey of discovery that has been very revealing and still continuing.

The traditional practices of the east such as yoga, meditation, ayurveda, tai chi etc. seem to hold some keys to healthy living and the control of body processes both physiological and biochemical. Though not scientifically studied in depth, increasingly more light is shed into the physiological effects and the health benefits of such practices. Yoga, meditation and tai- chi are increasingly put into scientific testing and interesting information has been uncovered.

Some such revelations have been published in reputed medical journals. In the following chapters I have endeavored to review some scientific information into the benefits of some traditional eastern practices in the realms of cardiac health and prevention of heart disease. While these research did not help me uncover the enigma surrounding my Byron bay experience it certainly exposed me to the treasure trove of Eastern practices beneficial for heart health and the treatment of heart disease.

Yoga in Cardiac Health

Tantric yoga is one branch of the vast eastern scientific tradition called “Yoga Shastra” or the discipline of yoga. Yoga is very popular. Many things have been said and written about yoga. There are many claims to its efficacy in bringing about stress relief and relaxation. In addition there is the occasional report on the general health benefits of yoga. Expert yoga teachers both eastern and western have exciting and interesting facts to share about yoga.

Such claims are often substantiated by complementary healers and allied health practitioners. But what does your doctor say about yoga? You may say…“not much” or “nothing at all!“. The fact is many doctors do not know much about the holistic or mind-body methods of medical therapy such as yoga, meditation, ayurveda etc. But the truth is yoga is in reality an effective health practice as claimed by those who teach and advocate it. Scientific research too seems to back these claims. To make your journey of discovery into good and healthy living complete and perfectly balanced, you too should know the scientific truths about the holistic practices such as yoga. Such essential knowledge may help integrate these practices into your lifestyle and reap their benefits to help you live a healthier and fuller life.

Modern Discovery of an Ancient Tradition

Yoga is an ancient and rich tradition of physical and mental exercise that is used to generate and propagate mental and physical well-being. It is also a therapeutic practice that brings about healing through the harmonization of the mental, physical and spiritual faculties of the human being. Its origins date back to prehistoric times. Though physical and mental practices similar to yoga have been identified with many ancient cultures and nations, it is in India that Yoga prevailed and flourished as a living tradition. The popular types of yoga mainly present as forms of physical exercise or meditation.

However the essential and real yoga is a complex philosophy with many diverse concepts and practices. Over thousands of years traditional medical practitioners of India and Asia used various elements of yoga to treat and prevent illness and uphold good health. Many traditional chronicles and historical accounts testify to the incredible good health and longevity enjoyed by dedicated yoga practitioners.

As yoga began to get popular in the west there were many anecdotal accounts that emerged to claim its health benefits. The benefits of conventional exercise to cardiovascular health and well-being have been scientifically proven. The life saving cardiovascular benefits of regular physical exercise was further proven by observational and clinical trials. In a similar manner scientists and researchers have also tested yoga. One early such study was published in the prestigious medical journal, Lancet, where the ability of a yoga practitioner to control heart rate voluntarily was discussed.

There were also reports about the ability of expert yoga practitioners from the Himalayas to control their body temperature and emit heat to the out side environment. In one such experiment scientists observed scantily clad yoga practitioners meditating in freezing temperatures while snow melted around them due to the heat emitted. As the physiological responses such as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature are regulated by the body’s autonomic nervous system we usually have no control over them.

Scientists who studied the yoga practitioners were amazed to discover how through meditation and the practice of yoga these individuals could bring autonomic neurological functions under their voluntary control. Scientists from the very early days of research into yoga speculated a mechanism of mind body integration associated with its practice whereby one could control autonomous body functions to prevent and treat diseases.

With the scientific validation of the health benefits of yoga, its value and relevance as a means of alternative or complementary therapy is becoming gradually recognized. However it has a very wide acceptance as a popular and established means of recreation and relaxation. I believe that yoga may have a far greater role to play in the contemporary health care scene. When established protocols in medicine are increasingly advocating the use of multiple forms of drugs and expensive interventions as the standard of therapy, one has to be mindful of the associated adverse effects, dangers as well as their sky rocketing costs. This is particularly so in the prevention and the treatment of heart disease. I strongly believe with reason that integration of practices such as yoga may well compliment the protocols of modern cardiovascular medicine in such a way that the combination would yield better health outcomes and drastically cut the costs.

Treasures of the East: Yoga for Good Health – I

… to be continued

About the Author:

Satyajit Rohan Jayasinghe, a sports physician, is an interventional and preventive cardiologist. He earned his MD from University of Sydney, did his Masters in Sports Medicine (MSpM) from University of New South Wales, and also PhD from University of New South Wales. He has written four books, namely Sports Medicine – A Textbook (2001), Mastering the Medical Long Case (2003), Elsevier, An Aid to the Medical Long Case (2002), and One heart One Life (2004), Reverelife – New York. The narrative above stems from his research and academic interest in yoga, particularly in cardiovascular prevention and therapeutics. Rohan has been recognized as a world authority on the subject of utilization of yogic methods in the area of cardiovascular health.

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