More and more I find myself referring to yoga as medicine. As science.
Of course, I say in class, yoga has elements of a spiritual path. It has elements of fitness and diet. But it is not a religion and it is not a fitness program.
Yoga is a science. Yoga is strong, strong medicine.
In a world of many illnesses, a country of unprecedented stress, anxiety, mental illness, obesity and cardio vascular diseases, you would think this would be embraced.
It is not. Western Medicine itself will only refer to yoga as a useful tool for ‘stress reduction’, in spite of a growing body of evidence that it can reverse heart disease, treat ‘treatment resistant depression’, and ease carpal tunnel syndrome, to pick out of a grab bag. Even within the world of ‘alternative medicine’, mention of yoga is dismissive and scant – perhaps because nothing is ingested or inserted or removed from our bodies and we can’t fathom medicine, otherwise.
And even in the world of yoga, it’s teachers, authors, and serious practitioners, yoga is called a ‘discipline’, a ‘practice’, or a personal path. I don’t mean to suggest it isn’t those things. But I believe it is more. I believe it is science and ought to be treated as such.
We know it builds strength and confidence, if not character. We know it improves flexibility and stability, that it fosters serenity and poise. Beyond its attributes as preventative medicine, we know that it heals – not cures, necessarily, but heals in quantifiable ways – low back strain, chronic pain, MS.
One of the difficulties is financial: studies cost. More deeply, it is that cultural assumption that healing involves ingesting something, inserting something, or removing something from the body. The cultural assumption focuses on disease rather than health and has no real way to discuss, let alone understand, yogic well being.
This raises a question. Call it philosophical if you like. Wonder about your own, or your best friend’s, particular body if you want to be more poignant.
When you have an intervention which appears safe and effective, when it has no negative side effects, when it in fact has positive side effects, should one wait for proof before trying it?
I say no. I say yoga will help in ways you wouldn’t think possible. I say it will change your ideas about health and wellness. I say it will heal you, though the healing may not be what you expected.
I am not a doctor. I will never encourage someone to go against a doctor’s advice. I will and frequently do insist a student talk with a doctor before beginning, changing, or returning to a yoga practice. But I do believe a yoga practice can compliment traditional medicine, and make us more well.
And I believe yoga’s potency, what makes it strong medicine, is largely it’s ability to return you to control and autonomy: it will immediately teach you things you can do to relieve symptoms and influence your health, whereas so many of us feel we have no choice, no influence, no way to navigate the body mind other than to ‘suffer’ it or ‘deal with it’. How powerful it is for the fibromylagia patient, who has been told there are no cures and that she must learn to live with her pain, to realize there are, actually, things she can do for herself.
This is fierce medicine, indeed.