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M. P. Ravindra Nathan
The healing power of yoga
By M. P. Ravindra Nathan, MD, FACC

It must have happened right in the middle of a cobra pose.

The guru says, "Relax into the pose and hold it for 30 seconds." And I, the wimp, mumble, my spine is already stretched to the limit and my back spasms are flaring up. I am counting my seconds, man. Suddenly, something happens to the back, muscles are not tense anymore and I feel the pain easing.

During a recent visit to Ann Arbor, Michigan, my friend drove me around to show the beautiful city and the surroundings of the famous University of Michigan.

"Ah, there is a yoga studio in every corner here," I commented.

"Yes, of course, and most of them are frequented by Americans. They certainly have discovered the value of our ancient techniques," the wise professor replied.

"Well, finally, the Indians here are also rediscovering the accomplishments and contributions of our culture," I said. In fact, there are three yoga centers in our small Hernando County now.

In spite of reading rave reviews in journals and newspapers, I didn't realize its practical value till I talked with a number of yoga students and experienced it firsthand.

"Yes, it has truly helped my back pain and sciatica," a middle-aged patient of mine told me one day. "Oh, my neck spasms and shoulder pains are so much better with these yoga sessions. I can get through the daily grind without much difficulty now and yoga has toned my body," said a busy family physician from New Port Richey.



Yoga has become quite popular all over the United States for two good reasons: its unique benefits to the mind and body and simplicity in its application. Celebrities such as Jane Fonda have enthusiastically endorsed yoga and Madonna even appeared on 'W' magazine in a yoga pose inside a fish net!

Since life has become a lot more stressful these days (I am not kidding! The relentless, fast- paced rat race drives all of us crazy, right?), practice of yoga can certainly enhance your physical, mental and spiritual well-being through the discipline of "asanas" (postures), "pranayama" (breathing exercises) and "dhyana" (meditation).

By combining special exercises and proper breathing techniques (which, in turn, will respectively increase the circulation and enhance oxygenation), yoga may well be the ultimate form of self-realization and biofeedback. More than 12 million people are practicing yoga in the U.S. That includes pro athletes too. Apparently, the famous John McEnroe used to do 100 "surya namaskar" every day before he steps on to the tennis court for practice.

The therapeutic benefits of yoga are numerous. Several studies have shown that yoga reduces the symptoms of asthma, improves the control of diabetes, and reduces blood pressure and even symptoms of arthritis. It is one of the best stress-busters and perhaps a great tool for anger management. A specially designed "cardiac yoga" series is aimed at the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases, a common problem among Indians.

In our body there are constant interactions between the sympathetic system with its stimulatory influences and the parasympathetic system with its calming effects. Yoga can promote the beneficial parasympathetic activity and improve your emotional stability and physical well-being and even your memory.

Practice makes everything perfect, right? Same with yoga too. The more effort you put into it, the more you gain. Once I started practicing it regularly, I was pleasantly surprised how simple the whole discipline is. My stiff back and creaky joints seem to welcome the gentle stretching and flexing. And all you need is a body, a mind, some floor space, a little bit of time and some motivation. Oh, yes, a good instructor too. A yoga mat is welcome but not a must, so are the belts, blocks, balls and the designer yoga outfits!

Cardiologist Dr. M. P. Ravindra Nathan lives in Brooksville.

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