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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

The Future is Yoga

Khalsa may have been ahead of his time, but it seems the world around him is finally starting to catch up. "I've noticed a shift even in the 10 years I've been at Stanford," says McGonigal. "Today, a lot of the younger researchers are interested in yoga and meditation, and they're doing their dissertations on it. That just wasn't the case when I started. "

This newfound interest in yoga from the science world will, Khalsa says, surely boost yoga's credibility as a therapy. "A lot of older, veteran scientists will resist the idea of yoga as a legitimate therapy until the day they die. It's just the nature of bias and belief." (For illustration, he offers the "cigarettes don't cause cancer" die-hards.) "Often it's the next generation that can finally enact a shift."

As more young researchers become interested in yoga, more proposals will be written and accepted; more studies will then appear in peer-reviewed journals. "Once you get hundreds replicating the same outcome in different populations, in different countries, using different styles, then confidence begins to gain. It takes a critical mass of research evidence to ultimately shift the bulk of scientific opinion toward acceptance."

As someone who has waited decades just to receive rejection letters from the NIH, Khalsa is prepared to persevere and bring yoga its due recognition. "My aim is to provide evidence that yoga has a place in regular, everyday life as well as in therapy. And I'll do that by compiling the evidence showing that it works," he says. As author and Kripalu Yoga teacher Stephen Cope explains it, when it comes to the potential of this practice in America, "Sat Bir is holding the 3,000-foot view." It just may take a while for the world to catch up with him.

Formerly the health editor of Yoga Journal and, most recently, executive editor of Body+Soul, Jennifer Barrett now writes from her home in West Hartford, Connecticut.

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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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