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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

"Surprised and gladdened" by the large changes TM effected in the study, Castillo-Richmond is already involved in two follow-up studies directed by her team leader, Robert H. Schneider, M.D., and funded by NCCAM and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. These studies attempt to replicate her earlier findings with African Americans suffering from more serious heart disease. She's excited about bringing TM to these at-risk subjects. "There is benefit for everyone with TM," she says. "You only need to be able to think to experience the benefit from it." She's especially pleased that one of the studies involves older African American women, whom she calls "a highly neglected minority group."

Soft-spoken and modest, Castillo-Richmond says, "I am the same person I was before I published the study results in Stroke, but I still wonder sometimes, 'How did I get to be the channel of all that is written here?' It makes me feel that I can do things that are good for me and good for everybody. I feel very honored and humbled. It is the work of many people, and I was happy to be part of it."

Balancing her enthusiasm for TM with her knowledge of traditional medicine, she says, "We need both modern and alternative therapies." And yet she points out that TM, in particular, can have far-ranging beneficial effects on the whole physiology and life of a person, as no drug or surgical intervention can. If patients and caregivers can begin to use TM as a tool in the treatment of cardiovascular disease—the country's number one killer—that will have a tremendous impact on the national health care system, she speculates. This simple technique, she says, has the potential to avoid risk and expense while saving lives. Changing the course of a disease with TM is possible, she says. "Now I want to make it probable."

Marian Garfinkel, Ed.D.
Rx: Yoga for Joint Trouble

In 1998, on returning from her annual study with B.K.S. Iyengar, senior Iyengar Yoga teacher Marian S. Garfinkel, Ed.D., found over 900 e-mail messages waiting. Everyone from CNN to nurses in Texas to individuals in Poland were trying to reach her. For, just as she departed for India, the November 11 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association had been released. In it was an article, with Garfinkel as the lead author, reporting on a study that set out to determine whether yoga postures based on the Iyengar method can relieve the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, that common ailment resulting from repetitive activities like typing. The study's conclusion: Yes, indeed, it can.

Trial subjects were recruited from a geriatric center and an industrial site; those who received yoga instruction twice a week from Garfinkel showed significant improvement in grip strength and suffered less pain than those who did not receive any yoga instruction. They also showed improvement on a nerve test used to measure the severity of carpal tunnel syndrome. Newspapers and television stations called Garfinkel to interview her about this surprising finding; health practitioners and individuals called to find out how they or their patients could relieve carpal tunnel symptoms with yoga.

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