Alternative to Viagra


By Michael Castleman  |  

Since the introduction of Viagra, erectile dysfunction (ED) has emerged from behind the bedroom door. Thanks to Bob Dole and ambitious advertising, it has become a common term, yet it’s still a condition disregarded by most men—even though approximately 30 percent of the male population has suffered from ED at one time and the risk increases dramatically as men age.

But Viagra, —the most popular form of treatment despite the risk of common side effects such as flushing, headaches, and stomach discomforts, —is not the only option. Other approaches have also been shown to be effective, including exercise, stress management, sex therapy, and even yoga. Considerable research suggests that the physical and emotional benefits of certain poses might help in the prevention and treatment of ED.

Erection involves both the nervous and cardiovascular systems. It begins with relaxation, according to Louanne Weston, Ph.D., a sex therapist in Fair Oaks, California. Relaxation allows blood to remain in the central body and available to the penis, instead of being directed to the arms and legs, which happens when men are stressed (the fight-or-flight reflex). As relaxation becomes sexual arousal, nerve impulses relax the smooth muscle tissue surrounding the arteries that carry blood into the penis. These arteries open and extra blood flows into the organ, causing erection. (Viagra works by spurring dilation of the penile arteries.)

Increased anxiety or stress may contribute to ED by interfering with the relaxation fundamental to erection, and practicing yoga can be a deeply relaxing experience. A study in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology (vol. 43, 1999), assessed anxiety levels in 50 medical students who subsequently began to practice yoga and found that their anxiety levels decreased significantly. “Stress contributes to many erection problems,” says Palo Alto, California sex therapist and publisher of the monthly electronic newsletter Sexual Intelligence Marty Klein, Ph.D., who recommends yoga to his clients. “Yoga reduces stress, so it can help prevent and treat ED.”

Anything that damages the arteries or interferes with penile blood flow— such as smoking, alcohol, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes—may also contribute to ED. And research has shown that the physical benefits of yoga are particularly helpful in reducing some ED risk factors. In a study published in the Journal of the Association of Physicians of India (vol. 48, 2000), researchers had 42 men with angina (heart disease that causes chest pain on exertion) eat a heart-healthy diet, participate in moderate aerobic exercise, and take up yoga. A year later, the yoga group had significantly fewer angina attacks, lower cholesterol, and had lost more weight compared with the control group. And studies in the Lancet and Diabetes Research in Clinical Practice have indicated that yoga can help treat high blood pressure and diabetes.

“I know of no studies showing that yoga directly helps prevent and treat ED,” says Hank Wuh, M.D., author of Sexual Fitness (Putnam, 2001), who also practices Ashtanga Yoga. “But it’s certainly conceivable. Yoga is deeply relaxing and it improves cardiovascular fitness, both of which clearly improve sexual health.”

What poses are best for ED? San Francisco yoga teacher Jason Crandell suggests asanas that enhance focus and energy and are believed to increase blood flow into the pelvic area, among them Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), and Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose). Also, Wuh suggests couples yoga. “In addition to being relaxing and improving sexual fitness, yoga strengthens a couple’s connection,” he says. “That contributes to intimacy and sexual enjoyment.”