closeness with the divine spirit. The Sadhana Pada offers commandments to be followed in order to live a truly yogic life and attain genuine closeness with one’s spiritual self.
Vibhuti Pada “On supernatural abilities and gifts.” This section details the progression of one attaining closeness with one’s spiritual self and subsequently revealing the inherent spiritual talents that were previously clouded and hidden by worldliness. The only way to reveal these strengths is through genuine, dedicated and thorough practice of the guidelines set in the two previous Padas.
Kaivalya Pada “On absolute freedom.” This final section discusses the “mechanism of salvation,” referring to “the ideally simple working of cosmic law which brings the spiritual man to birth, growth and fullness of power, and prepares him for the splendid, toilsome further stages of his great journey home.”
Mindfulness has been a fundamental aspect of yoga since its early documentation in the Yoga Sutra. Mindfulness is defined as “attending to relevant aspects of experience in a nonjudgmental manner”. Mindfulness is attained through the practice of yoga in that one is able to maintain awareness of the present, releasing control and attachment of beliefs, thoughts and emotions. By letting go of one’s thoughts and mind, allowing the mind to be calm and at peace, one is able to attain a greater sense of emotional well-being and balance. Researchers have recently begun to take interest in the healing benefits of mindfulness through yoga. Research has indicated that there are health benefits of applying mindfulness-based approaches to pain management, physical functioning, and ability to cope with stresses in everyday life.
Physical Aspects of Yoga
Yoga has been highly Westernized in recent years, and a majority of the result of this westernization and modernization is the heightened profile of the physical aspect yoga has to offer. This physically-exerting practice is typically hatha yoga, which combines asanas that exert the participant's physical self. The therapeutic healing benefits of yoga were recently discussed by Van der Kolk, who posited that regulation of physical movement is a fundamental priority of the nervous system. For this reason, focusing on and developing an awareness of physical movement allows for the mind and body to connect and be in sync. This is beneficial for humans, especially those suffering from psychological conditions such as depression and PTDD (the focus of Van der Kolk’s work) because the connectedness of mind and body allow for feelings of control and understanding of their “inner sensations” and state of being.
The physical benefits of yoga are linked to the release of β-endorphins and the shift caused in neurotransmitter levels linked to emotions such as dopamine and serotonin. These benefits are most likely in high-intensity practices of yoga. Lower-intensity yoga practices, which includes a majority of yoga, typically spark the “relaxation response” as defined by Dr. Herbert Benson. This response is typified by a “physiological de-activation” of tenseness and control over one’s body. Benson related this release of control to the implicit dominance of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
Yoga exercise research
A 2010 literature review of the research on the use of yoga for treating depression said that preliminary research suggests that yoga may be effective in the management of depression. Both the exercise and the mindfulness meditation components may be
helpful. However the review cautioned that "Although results from these trials are encouraging, they should be viewed as very preliminary because the trials, as a group, suffered from substantial methodological limitations." At the same time, a 2009 individual study found that the regular practice of yoga helps to decrease levels of depression significantly. For individuals who practiced yoga twice weekly for a period of two months, depression levels decreased as well as levels of state and trait anxiety..People also found evidence of improved mood and increased energy after an hour-long class.
Evidence also indicates that yoga has a significant effect on lowering levels of anxiety and stress. A study on the effects of Hatha yoga showed that the emphasis on breath awareness, internal centering, relaxation, and meditation enabled participants learn to avoid ‘mental and emotional blockages. These strategies helped participants experience significantly lower stress and anxiety levels in addition to higher quality of life scores.
While the healing properties of yoga help individuals with clinically diagnosed anxiety and depression problems, they also help people learn to navigate and cope with daily sources of stress. A study conducted with a group of medical school students revealed lowered stress overall in addition to less stress on the mornings of exams. Significantly less students in the experimental group (those who received the yoga treatment) failed their exams than in the control group. Students in the experimental group said that they had a better sense of well-being, improved concentration, self-confidence, and lower levels of irritability. These findings have significant implications, as most people encounter stress on a daily basis. This study indicates that the positive psychological effects of yoga can be extended to a non-clinical population.
More recent studies have looked into how yoga can help participants cope with symptoms from more physical conditions, such as cancer. Learning breathing and relaxation techniques help patients manage pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue. The patients reported that their overall quality of life significantly improved in addition to mood, distress, sleep quality, and severity of cancer symptoms. A yoga intervention program designed for overweight women showed significantly lower instances of binge-eating and higher instances of additional physical activity both during and after the intervention. Women lost weight and most became self-motivated to participate in other forms of exercise outside of the intervention.
Yoga Exercise Benefits
Yoga exercise for anxiety & depression
The effect of yoga on symptoms of anxiety and depression is one of the most-well studied aspects of yoga's effect on the body and mind. Although researchers are optimistic about the effectiveness of yoga in alleviating depression, a 2010 review of research says that studies to date, while suggestive, are not yet conclusive. However, some research says that regular yoga practice (at least once weekly) helps to decrease levels of depression significantly. Twice weekly yoga practice for two months showed a significant decrease in levels of depression as well as levels of both state and trait anxiety. Some studies also indicate that Hatha yoga has a significant effect on lowering levels of anxiety and accompanying stress. Hatha yoga encourages an increased awareness of breath, internal centering, relaxation, and meditation. These strategies helped participants experience significantly lower stress and anxiety levels in addition to higher quality of life scores.
A rigorous randomized control trial on yoga in literature compared kundalini yoga with the relaxation response and mindfulness meditation in obsessive compulsive disorder patients found a significant treatment difference in favor of kundalini yoga. Moreover, a 2005 systematic review of the research on Yoga and anxiety presented encouraging results, particularly with anxiety-related disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Similarly, a present study assessed state anxiety, depressive mood, and subjective well-being and analyses of variance for repeated measures revealed mood improvement following yoga sessions. Other studies have shown that yoga practices reduce anxiety and depression, all the while improving well-being.
In terms of its effects on individuals in educational institutions, recent research has found that yoga benefits to students, not only in reducing basal anxiety levels, but also in attenuating further increases in anxiety as they experience stressful situations like exams. Additionally, differences in mood before and after class of college students taking different courses (swimming, body conditioning, hatha yoga, fencing exercise, and lecture) were analyzed and results suggest that courses which meet four requirements involving aerobics, non competitiveness, predictability, and repetitiveness may reduce stress. These alternative methods of healing offer applications for positive psychology, broadening the scope of the field as yoga garners more support as a viable method of healing.
Yoga exercise for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
A 2010 Cochrane Review concludes that there is insufficient evidence to assess the effectiveness of meditative practices such as yoga in the management or improvement of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Other research shows that there is little support for yoga as treatment for ADHD alone, but it is has merit as a complimentary treatment to medication.
Yoga exercise for back pain
There is fair evidence that yoga may be effective in the management of chronic, but not acute, low back pain. A pilot study using a modified hatha yoga treatment showed that this was an effective treatment for chronic lower back pain, but further examination is needed specifically through studies with larger sample sizes.
Yoga exercise for cancer
Practice of yoga may improve quality-of-life measures in cancer patients. It is unclear what aspect(s) may be beneficial or what populations should be targeted.
Other studies show improvements in how participants cope with symptoms from more physical conditions, like cancer. Learning breathing and relaxation techniques help patients manage pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue. The patients reported that their overall quality of life significantly improved in addition to mood, distress, sleep quality, and severity of cancer symptoms. The positive effects of yoga can be soothing to survivors as well and help them to deal with post-cancer distress.
Yoga exercise for dementia
A 2008 Cochrane Review concludes that the evidence was insufficient to determine whether adding mild physical activity, such as yoga, to usual care is effective in managing or improving health outcomes in patients with dementia.
Yoga exercise for epilepsy
A Cochrane Review found no evidence to support the use of yoga in treatment of epilepsy as of 2009. Another study found a greater than 50% seizure reduction in 6 out of 20 subjects.
Yoga exercise for menopause
Yoga has not been shown to have any specific effect for the treatment or management of symptoms of menopause.
Yoga exercise for pediatrics
A 2009 systematic review concludes that there is insufficient evidence to support the use of yoga for any indication in the pediatric population. No adverse events were reported, and most trials were positive but of low methodological quality.
Yoga exercise for stress
While the healing properties of yoga help individuals with clinically diagnosed anxiety and depression problems, they also help people learn to navigate and cope with daily sources of stress. A study conducted with a group of medical school students revealed lowered stress overall in addition to less stress on the mornings of exams. Significantly less students in the experimental group (those who received the yoga treatment) failed their exams than in the control group. Students in the experimental group said that they had a better sense of well-being, improved concentration, self-confidence, and lower levels of irritability.
In regard to the practice of yoga itself, especially hatha (physically active) yoga, there are controversies over the legitimacy of “prescribing” yoga for individuals afflicted with particular conditions due to the risk of injury associated with the practice. There have been reports of yoga-related injuries and this is one reason why the practice of yoga as alternative therapy is questioned. These include carotid artery tears, bulging intervertebral discs, rotator cuff injuries, ganglion cysts, compression of the spine (vertebral column), vertebral artery dissection, and hyperextension of the neck.
According to Gary Kraftsow, author of Yoga for Transformation, many yoga positions aren't suitable for everyone. Orthopedic surgeon Jeffrey Halbrecht, medical director for the Institute for Arthroscopy and Sports Medicine in San Francisco, warns that both experienced and novice yoga practitioners can experience injuries. “Yoga is marketed as such an innocuous thing,” says Loren Fishman, assistant clinical professor of rehabilitation medicine at Columbia University in New York City. “But without care, injuries can absolutely happen.” 'Strenuous' yoga has been connected to a form of stroke in young women. Practice of yoga has also been linked to causing hyperextension or rotation of the neck, which may be a precipitating factor in cervical artery dissection.
While much of the medical community views the results of yoga research to be significant, others argue that there were many flaws that undermine results. Psychologists such as Max Weber have pointed to the “irrationality” of yoga as a reason to discount its affects. Much of the research on yoga has been in the form of preliminary studies or clinical trials of low methodological quality, including small sample sizes, inadequate blinding, lack of randomization, and high risk of bias. As of 2011, evidence suggests that yoga may be at least as effective at improving health outcomes as other forms of mild physical exercise when added to standard care. What is found most concerning regarding the legitimacy of yoga as a method of healing is the current lack of specificity and standardization regarding the practice of yoga. One recent study examined the difficulties of implementing yoga-based therapies and methods of healing without any detailed, standardized and vetted descriptions of the postures promoted as being beneficial for healing. This research calls for the creation of supported intervention practices that could be distributed and applied for use in clinical practice for patients.