How Can Yoga Therapy Heal?
Yoga is an ancient healing tradition over 4000 years old. Originally the practices were developed as a spiritual path to develop connection between the self and the Higher Self, transcending the limitations of ego, and freeing oneself from suffering. However, the first textual evidence of yoga as therapy appears in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, circa 1350 CE which shows an awareness of the health effects of yogic tools on the body and mind. Yoga's ultimate goal can be said to restore harmony between body and mind and reunite the individual with their essential nature. Modern Yoga therapy offers a comprehensive and holistic approach to health that considers an individual's body, mind, spirit and environment. Because of its concentration on mind and body integration, yoga therapy is used to address many physical and mental health issues. There is a wealth of evidence now available thanks to modern medical research that shows yoga can be used effectively (in conjunction with modern medicine) to treat back pain, heart conditions, asthma, chronic fatigue, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, and side effects of chemotherapy. Potential benefits from yoga therapy include stress reduction, psychological well-being, improved diet, and efficient functioning of bodily systems, including elimination of waste, improving heart rate variability and facilitating balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. This last effect of yoga is probably one of the most important: Yoga helps us up-regulate our parasympathetic system so we can "rest and digest", while it helps to "down-regulate" our sympathetic nervous system that keeps us in a constant state of stress when it is functioning on overdrive. The tools of yoga - especially pranayama and yoga nidra or guided relaxation can help us get a good night's rest so our body can heal and our immune system can recharge. Yoga can also be an important tool in treating depression, anxiety and mental illness. Yogic breathing practices can help us to self-regulate our emotions and, as previously mentioned, up-regulate our parasypathetic system. We also know that levels of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) are statistically low in people who experience substance abuse, anxiety, and depression. Studies have shown that yoga boosts GABA levels. There is still much work to be done to show all the benefits that yoga offers to our western medical model, but there is conclusive evidence now available of yoga's efficacy as a complementary treatment for our society's growing incidence of chronic lifestyle diseases.