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Research Supporting Yoga Therapy for Health

After seeing how his heart bypass patients were not "cured" by surgery and continued to be at great risk for additional heart attacks due to the "chronic stress" of modern life and ineffectiveness of drugs as real prevention,  Dr. Dean Ornish, clinical professor of medicine at University of California at San Francisco, recognized that bypass surgery was "an incomplete approach, that [doctors] were literally bypassing the problem [and sic] not treating the underlying cause......It's like changing your oil filter without changing your oil.  It just clogs up again.  Or when people get put on cardiac drugs or cholesterol-lowering drugs or statins, things like that: what are they generally told when the patient says, How long do I have to take this?  Forever right?  Rather than keep 'mopping up the water' why don't we 'turn off the faucet'?"  
So beginning in the 1970s, Ornish devised a holistic, integrated program of medicine for his patients that included a YOGA THERAPIST for stress management, along with daily walking, psychosocial support, and a whole-foods, plant-based diet. He conducted clinical research trials from 1977, publishing the results in a landmark 1990 report evidencing signficant reversals of the heart disease initially present in the particpants .  
Levingston, Suzanne Allard, Health & Science, Dean Ornish talks about cheeseburgers and yoga, and what they mean for heart health, June 16 




A 2011 clinical study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine  
with 313 adult participants with recurrent low back pain divided into two groups concluded that 12 weeks of a yoga therapy program emphasizing physical yoga exercises with self-awareness, alignment and posture, and self-care with relaxation had far more positive results, and faster results, than 12 months of other methods.
Indeed, individuals  who did yoga had twice the improvement of people who did physical therapy exercises.  
Another study over 24 weeks conducted by West Virginia University and published in Spine Journal with twice a week yoga sessions correlated the prior study evidencing reductions in functional disability, pain intensity, and depression over 24 weeks and, six months after the study period, the participants were still experiencing relief from back pain.
Australian researchers at the University of Sydney Medical School analyzing 24 clinical trials involving thousands of sciatica patients, reported that typical treatments of corticosteroid spinal injections for sciatica, with known and serious side effects, provide little difference in relief to patients.  Indeed, a 2005 study from the Journal of Neurosurgery indicated 70 percent of sciatica cases can be directly related to muscle tension of the piriformis pressing on the sciatic nerve.   Yoga can release muscle tension and relieve sciatica.     
Further in a study published in Oct, 2013 by The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, patients who underwent spinal fusion (sometimes multiple times) suffered higher rates of permanent disability than others who approached their condition in alternative ways. Further, the study found that doctors owning such surgical equipment were more likely to be biased towards performing surgery over other methods and other doctors without this specialization.  
Finally, a comprehensive, systematic review and analysis of all back studies to 2012 on the use of yoga for back pain published by University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, conclusively recommended yoga over other methods for lower back pain based on all studies, which repeatedly evidenced no side effects and no adverse health events from participating in yoga, and strong evidence for short and long-term benefits. 
Dr. Michael Roizen, author of You: The Owner's Manual is convinced that 95% of back pain can be treated non-surgically, though it often isn't by doctors, and "even more can be prevented by doing exercises that center around the pelvis and abdomen" such as yoga to strengthen and stretch the muscles that support the back.   
A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Yoga for Low Back Pain, Cramer H., et. al., Department of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, University of Duisburg-Essen, Essen, Germany.  YogaU.  
Complementary Alternative Medicine, Yoga, Offers More Effective Therapy for Back Pain.  YogaU.  May 15, 2014 
Roizen, Michael, M.D., You: The Owner's Manual, Harper Resource 2005, 2008.
Following prior research that evidenced meditation has a positive effect on reducing stress and illness, researchers at the Benson-Henry Institue of Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital posed the question of on what levels meditation could actually change the body.  They conducted an 8 week study with non-meditators of the effects of 20 minute daily meditation sessions that included learning breathing meditation, word focus mantra meditation, and mind-clearing techniques to look for evidence of changes in the body on the cellular level where health and illness originate.  What they discovered was that meditation not only changed the bodies of the participants on a cellular level, but changed the DNA of gene expression in the volunteers.  Even a single session had small but positive, gene-altering results, and after 8 weeks, the meditation practice had caused obvious changes in gene patterns in the individuals from before the meditation. Genes were "turned on" that boost immune response, energy metabolism, and insulin secretion, and "turned down" in those associated with  inflammation in the body.  Further, a different group of volunteers with well-established meditation practices were screened in a follow-up study.  These people were found to have even higher levels of the positive gene expressions associated with low stress levels, anti-inflammatory properties, and health indicating that by meditating the particpants were actually lowering their risks for even genetic dispositions to be triggered.    


Yoga Journal.  Om Wellness.  June 2014  p22



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