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Yoga Under the Microscope

Can claims of yoga's health benefits stand up to scientific scrutiny? These three researchers think so.

By Kathryn Black

Vedanthan's own yoga practice, 30 to 40 minutes daily, includes meditation and is "not as rigid" as it once was. He doesn't worry, he says, about bending to touch his toes or about doing all the inverted poses he did as a young man. Instead, he focuses more on stretching and breathing and slowing his mind, to work on the inner body.

Looking ahead, Vedanthan hopes to conduct larger studies, with 50 or 60 patients, and to develop a center for integrated medicine in Fort Collins, incorporating other practitioners and other fields of medicine to spread this combination of East and West to ailments besides asthma.

One important aspect of yoga's benefits that Vedanthan wants to bring to the forefront is its power to improve one's quality of life—something that was rarely addressed in the medical literature in the '80s when he began his research, but has since won more attention as an important component of overall health.

His studies so far seem to indicate that yoga helps to improve his patients' sense of well-being in greater measure than the changes it makes in their pulmonary conditions. The importance of this cannot be dismissed: Earlier research indicates that asthma is more likely to kill patients who have negative attitudes and poor self-image.

Vedanthan was pleased to see the patients in his published study become more upbeat and watched as the majority of the non-yoga group started yoga practice when the study ended—and he was even more pleased that some of those in the original study still practiced yoga five or six years later.

"They are motivated by their success," he says, "and they continue."

Ever the Western skeptic as well as the yoga devotee, Vedanthan tells his patients, "Add yoga to your medical regimen so your quality of life improves. You can't say yoga is the answer for everything, but it has a place. Do it, and it will help."

Freelancer Kathryn Black has written for a variety of magazines, including American Health, Family Circle, and Redbook. She is the author of the book In the Shadow of Polio: A Personal and Social History (Addison-Wesley, 1996). Black lives in Boulder, Colorado and has been practicing yoga since the 1970s.

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