Health & Fitness

Dose of medicine, yoga good for you

A woman performing Yoga. FILE PHOTO | NMG
A woman performing Yoga. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

“I see a lot of hype about people healing purely through exercises such as yoga and not medication, is this accurate?”

In its apparent brevity and simplicity, your question has very broad and potentially complicated dimensions and if one tried to answer it quickly, or simplistically, one is bound to find themselves in deep trouble.

Let me first of all make it clear that I know very little about yoga, but can in the same breathe say that I have not come across a person who ever suffered harm from its use. Yoga as I understand it is a group of physical, mental and spiritual practices and disciplines, which enable the practitioner to get in touch with his deepest thoughts and feelings and which leads to a state of well being. It has its origins in ancient India but has found practice worldwide.

The above having been said, yoga received recognition by UNESCO on December 1, 2016 as “an intangible cultural heritage”. Though not explicit in your question, there is a hint that one must choose between yoga and medicine when they are unwell. I would like to suggest that one can have the benefits of both. The dualist dichotomy suggested in your question is, therefore, not correct or appropriate in my view.

A conversation very similar to what you now bring up is very common and current among mental health practitioners. Both the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the World Psychiatric Associations have very vibrant sections on the relationship between mental health and spirituality.

What is clear from the two professional organisations is that those who have a spiritual life, tend to get better more easily than those who do now have one. This, however, is too simple an explanation because on the surface, it seems to suggest that all Muslims and Christians should get better more quickly than non believers. This position of Reductio ad Absurdum is clearly not the finding in science. Perhaps a better way of saying it is that those who get good and proper treatment and are also believers are likely to have a better outcome than those who do not.

It gets even more complicated for the lay person. If two people get a heart attack at the same part of the heart, and the severity is the same, statistics indicate that the person who is not clinically depressed will get better even as the one with depression struggles on (at least statistically speaking)!

The other side of the coin is also true. If you have a depressive illness, chances of getting a heart attack are more than if you do not have depression. As though the foregoing is not complicated enough, one must factor in the reasons people go to church, mosque and for yoga. Humans are so complex!

A 50-year-old woman complained to her friend that she was not sleeping well, felt tired when she woke up in the morning, sad, hopeless and worthless. She had lost some weight and did not socialise as before. Her friend told her to go with her to her yoga class. She explained to her friend that she had exactly the same symptoms three years earlier and yoga helped her back to her feet.

Three months later, the lady was worse. She neglected herself, and sometimes did not take a bath for days. She stopped going to church. Her other friend told her that this was the work of the devil and she must go for special prayers in her church. Prayers went on for weeks and she continued to feel worse.

One day she was found in her house collapsed. She had taken a massive overdose and left a suicide note effectively saying that she felt hopeless because what worked for others did not work for her. It was best if she died.

A diagnosis of a major Depressive Disorder was made. On medication and therapy she improved over a period of a few weeks. She had enjoyed yoga and was encouraged to continue the practice. She was also a woman of deep Christian faith and was encouraged to continue with her prayers.

In her case, recovery was the result of medication, psychotherapy, yoga and prayers. Yes, you can have them all!