townhall.com article: Yoga and Your Tax Dollars

Here’s a perspective your average yoga teacher won’t get to see every day; a conservative writer (Terence Jeffrey) railing against the government spending NIH dollars to study the benefits of yoga.
Although I know I disagree with him on a lot of issues, he does have a point that is valid. Some of the studies he mentions sound incredibly ridiculous; e.g.:”Yoga as a treatment for insomnia,” or “Yoga for the treatment of persons with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).”
Why do I think this is silly? Just substitute the words “relaxation training” for “Yoga” in the studies. Do we really need government grants to find out if relaxation techniques can help with anxiety or sleeplessness? Duh.
The larger issue is that the federal government should simply not be in the business of healthcare research of any kind. The real motivation of the people behind Yoga studies like this is to provide enough evidence for the government and insurance bureaucrats to make modalities like Yoga part of “mainstream healthcare delivery.” Why do people want this? So it can be reimbursable by health insurance.
My bottom line: the more the government becomes involved in Yoga and Yoga Therapy, the less Yoga will be about an alternative practice that creates individual freedom.

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5 comments on “townhall.com article: Yoga and Your Tax Dollars

  1. As a computer programmer who manages to fit yoga in twice a week, I’ll attempt some comments:

    (1) First, the “incredibly ridiculous” studies such as yoga treating insomnia and generalized anxiety are quite sane. According to peer reviewed medical journals, yoga, in the guise of “mindfulness” has been successfully used in assisting with chronic pain, psoriasis, and anxiety. My information comes from the web site for Umass Medical school’s Center for Mindfulnesss. I’m equating the eight limbs of yoga (not just the asanas) to the Umass Mindfulnesss program which teaches awareness through breathing, asana, and “lecture”. I’m sure the over 12,000 people who have gone through the course are happy that studies legitimized the program–if not many severely ill people would not have been given the tools to get through the day.

    (2) I showed a friend of mine a borrowed copy the Anatomy of Hath Yoga, written by David Coulter, who has a Ph. D. in anatomy. The friend, in her final year of UCONN’s physical therapy program and an occasional asana practitioner, was amazed at how the poses corresponded so closely to the physics of the spine. She said the book would help in an ongoing discussion at an office where she is doing clinical practice–the main doctors there believe yoga is closer akin to aerobics and see it as dangerous as they keep getting people with injuries caused by headstands (bad teachers).

    Studies can be helpful, although we know yoga “works”, many others see it as fringe–which stops many from trying it. The conservative article you agree with insinuates yoga has a connection to “Haight Ashbury”, i.e., LSD, drugs, and society run amok. (My grandmother’s knowledge of yoga comes from a sensational news cast on Bikram centers and how people may be in “danger”) Studies may give a needed balance to the view of “yoga”.

    (3) If we get to the point where yoga is reimbursable by the government or health insurance, then hooray! We’re far, far from yoga legislation. It would mean many studies as well as attacks by those who profit the most from modern healthcare (pharma companies). But as a “preventative healthcare method”, I’m sure yoga is far, far down the list of government health priorities. Of course that could all change with positive studies–“17 tests covering 20,000 people over a ten year time period show that yoga decreases heart disease, reduces stress, leads to lower blood pressure . . . .” But who’s going to fund such big studies? Not the NIH. Nor Eli-Lilly.

    Cheers!

  2. At least for the moment, let us separate the complicated and charged issue of government supported research in health care and health insurance and leave the interpretation of that connection to another day.

    In my view, the emerging NIH financed research on Yoga and health problems is one of the most exciting and important issues for Yoga therapy today. In our society, these sorts of studies are key elements for the acceptance by the professional health care community of Yoga as a effective complementary and alternative therapy, regardless of whether or not the treatment is ultimately paid for by private or government insurance.

    In addition, it’s a good way for us to look critically and carefully at some things that many of us take for granted. Like Yoga for back care. I personally see people with chronic lower back pain almost every week. Its one of the most obvious and beneficial examples of Yoga for therapeutic applications I can think of. I “know” it works. And, in my anecdotal experience, it’s both extremely cost effectively and often a gateway to the broader practice of Yoga as well.

    Now there is a recently completed NIH financed study on Yoga for chronic lower back pain. It’s a pilot clinical trial using control groups, and lead by an independent investigator well experienced in studying alternative methods of back care. Can you believe it, after all these years there is finally a controlled clinical trial on Yoga for chronic lower back pain? I am delighted!

    IAYT is pleased as well. So pleased that in the forth coming issue of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy (Oct 2005), we are carrying an in-depth interview with the principal investigator and the Yoga teacher involved providing a behind-the-scenes view of the project. In my view, this provides not only a fascinating account of the skill and ingenuity behinds the research, it also provides a good example of some of the best practices for Yoga for back care for the mainstream population that I have seen.

    If you are interested in the issues raised by Leslie, read the article and see for yourself where the money goes. The budgets for these kinds of projects are minuscule relative to other medical research efforts. The budget for complementary and alternative medicine as a whole is

  3. Substitute “relaxation therapy” for “yoga”? Yoga is much more than relaxation therapy. I think it’s about time more scientific research is done to convince the skeptics of the benefits of yoga. I’m also tired of the argument that anything that involves the government will lead to government regulation of yoga. Personally, I think there should be regulation of yoga therapy and it’s apparent that the yoga community is not making any effort to do so. When someone without any medical training and minimal yoga training calls him/herself a yoga therapist I have genuine concerns.

    And I’d rather see my tax dollars support NIH research into yoga treatments than all the money that is going into Iraq.

    Atmarupa

  4. As a yoga teacher, therapist and psychiatry researcher at Emory University School of Medicine, I was very surprised to see Leslie’s comments on the issue of federal funding for yoga research, especially in mental health (my field). Leslie, I do want to say that 95% of the time I agree with you. I’d like to share some things: my practice of yoga, and the amazing transformation of my emotional and mental state from my practice, is what led me to pursue a master’s in counseling, get licensed as a counselor, and to now pursue a career in mental health research. My goal is to help show the public, indeed the world, the amazing benefits of yoga. Why? This could assist in changing healthcare (on many levels) to ONLY push medications but embrace a holistic mindset. (Mind-body-spirit) The medical field is so set on proven research these days – longitudinal studies and the like – so in my opinion for us to have numbers and statistics and *science* on the benefits of yoga could not only help the field of medicine, but the health of this ailing country. Anxiety, depression, and stress-related illness are horrible problems in this country. Why not allow federal funding to investigate what is truly effective? We have a Mind-Body program here at Emory which is currently doing a study investigating Buddhist meditation as one treatment for breast cancer patients going through chemotherapy – I absolutely would rather have my tax dollars pay for that than the damn war – that’s for sure. Leslie, you bring up some great points – but I am one person who is very excited about the possibilities of NIMH funded research in yoga. And there’s a big reason – that’s my career! I love it, it’s so satisfying and it’s something I am passionate about. I am actually in the process myself of writing a research plan for mindfulness and meditation for depressed pregnant and postpartum women. Who knows if it might be funded by the NIMH one day? (P.S. Leslie, Be kind 🙂 I’m already anticipating your counterpoints!)

  5. I am sorry, I am the slow responder but I eventually get to it. I am surprised at the tip of the iceberg talk here.

    None of us who are “mindful” have a problem accepting yoga. Yes, it would be good to have scientific proof. That, my fellow yoga believers is the tip of the iceberg. How is that we are not talking about human behaviour.

    We live in a world today, that is at a different pace than our bodies and minds can tackle. Inspite of knowing it is the deep breath that will take care of my headache at 7am, I choose coffee to get me going for the day. Inspite of knowing I need 4 smaller meals, my schedule will never permit it. Inspite of knowing the hot, humid climate bothers my health, I cannot move out of here.
    Human behavior. You can get me all the evidence. The doctor can write me a prescription, low sodium diet, exercise and plenty of yoga. The doctor can give me published articles about the proof for the above for the non-believer. Incorporating it into my life has only a little to do with proof. I will have to wait for my first mild MI before I can slow down and watch my breath.
    This is the evolution of a society. To change that NIH grants are the wrong place to look. Just because my yoga classes will be covered by insurance in the future, does not mean I will suddenly become disciplined and develop a holistic connection with my spirit, while tylenol #3 is always available by prescription.

    love Padma

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