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Healing Power of Yoga

Seeking a cure for what ails America, Harvard University neuroscientist Sat Bir Khalsa isn't studying pills or surgery, but the healing power of yoga

By Jennifer Barrett

Building a Case for Yoga

In Khalsa's vision of the future, yoga will be a routine offering in schools, hospitals, and the military. To ensure that his vision comes to fruition, he is focused on getting tangible results by conducting studies. "The Western health care model looks at evidence-based medicine," says Kelly McGonigal, a yoga teacher and health psychologist at the School of Medicine at Stanford University and editor 
in chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. "If you don't have peer-reviewed studies, people think that the modality must not work."

It is research, this argument contends, that will make yoga a credible and reimbursable part of our health care system. And that's what Khalsa has set out to provide: a sizable body of hard evidence that will enable yoga to become the preferred "medicine" of America—prescribed by doctors and paid for by health insurance. "We know this: Yoga makes people better on many 
different levels," he says. "So why not get it to more people?"

Khalsa compares yoga to a ubiquitous household wellness tool—a toothbrush for body and mind. "I think of this as hygiene. We have dental hygiene, which is a well-accepted part of American culture. Schools teach it, doctors recommend it, parents reinforce it. Imagine if people didn't routinely brush their teeth. That would be unheard of in this country! But what about mind-body hygiene? We have nothing for that."

If we'd use yoga as regularly as our toothbrushes, he says, if schools taught it, doctors recommended it, and parents reinforced it, people would be physically and emotionally healthier. In Khalsa's mind, a generation 
of people would have a tool that reduces their stress, or at the very least manages it, while building self-awareness.

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Reader Comments

Nathalie Hickson

Hi Leslie, I agree that yoga studies will hopefully be more widely recognised. Sat Bir talked on my yoga course and gave a lesson..I would love to research yoga. What studies have you done before to qualify for NIH funded research? Thanks would appreciate feedback & Good luck with it! I am in the UK so perhaps would need to be in the States.

Leslie Kazadi

I am currently involved in my second NIH-funded research study teaching yoga for seniors. As a yoga therapist, the constraints of a standardized practice are definitely a compromise, but it is possible to modify carefully selected poses so that it both honors the model of medical research and the safety and growth of each individual participant in the study. And although right now, yoga studies are limited in their length of time and depth of study, I imagine the day when yoga studies are years long and consider its effects on all the koshas. The progress in research is the same as the progress in yoga or anything with depth. As stated in Yoga Sutra 1.14, practice becomes firmly established when pursued with eagerness, sincerity and continuity for a long time.

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