We as yogis often wonder how we can share this practice, which has impacted our lives so profoundly, with others. So, we become teachers, we talk about yoga to everyone, we share asanas and insights with such exuberance that we sometimes get sideways glances. But, for any dedicated practitioner, we know without a shadow of a doubt that the power of yoga is unparalleled. It heals, it strengthens, it cures, it releases, it supports, and it is a panacea for all that ails you. Now yogis from varied backgrounds are taking this knowledge into the laboratory and into the world, working to bring yoga to those who are struggling and proof to those who are skeptical. One large undertaking of this kind is spearheaded by a professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College, Patricia Gerbarg, who is working to bring yoga to the survivors of the 2004 Tsunami in Southeast Asia.
Gerbarg introduced yogic breathing techniques (primarily ujjayi and bhastrika pranayamas) to a 120 participants, with 1/2 receiving psychiatric counseling in addition. There was also a third group of 60 who served as the control group and did not participate in the techniques or counseling. With only four days of instruction, the two groups participating in the yogic breathing course showed a significant drop in scores for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. The results were so positive that they prompted Dr. Gerbarg to provide the same instruction to the control group and make plans to expand this outreach into a wider segment of this disaster stricken population.
Perhaps what intrigued me the most about this story is one tiny little statement, “Counseling provided no added benefits over the yoga training alone.” Evidence that yoga is a complete approach. When practiced diligently for a long time, yoga provides the benefits of gym memberships, preventative medicine, psychological counseling, of living a healthy lifestyle, and anti-anxiety and stress relieving supplementation. Yoga practice builds strength and flexibility, but not just in the body. It helps us to understand the workings of the mind, to clarify confusion, and to diffuse negative mental experiences.
In this day and age when words like holistic, organic, and integrative are becoming trite marketing vocabulary, yoga takes us back to their source. When we understand the potential for all situations in our lives, good and bad, to be unadulterated all encompassing opportunities for growth, then no matter whether we are on our mat, on the street, or in the midst of devastation and destruction, we too can come back to our source. Our journey in this life, even in the midst of the greatest grief and the greatest joy, is a journey into the Self, and yoga is the path, the map to bring us to this destination.
Even in the midst of extreme distress at the site of one of the world’s most devastating natural disasters, survivors are finding the ground beneath them once again. Through the introduction and practice of yogic techniques, and even without the support of traditional Western healing modalities, these victims are finding peace, and a way to continue on the journey of life once again