Could Yoga Be the Game-Changer in the Global Mental Health Epidemic?

In a dimly lit room, the weight of the world seems to press down from all sides. The walls feel like they’re closing in, each inch of space suffocating, as if the air itself is thickening. Thoughts race uncontrollably, each one darker than the last, spiralling into an abyss of despair and anxiety. The bottle of pills on the nightstand beckons as a quick escape, while the phone buzzes with ignored calls and messages from concerned loved ones. It’s a struggle, a silent battle fought behind closed doors, where even the simplest tasks like getting out of bed become monumental challenges.

This is a glimpse into the life of someone grappling with mental health issues, a life that many might not see but is a harrowing reality for some.

The narrative above is not an isolated incident but a reflection of a global crisis that is reaching alarming proportions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 300 million cases of mental disorders are on a rising trend worldwide, with 1 in every 8 people living with a mental disorder. The situation is particularly dire in the United States, where more than one in five adults, or 57.8 million people, live with a mental illness. The prevalence is even higher among females, with 27.2% affected as compared to 18.1% of males.

Adding another layer to this complex issue is the prevalence of substance use disorders. In 2021, 19.7 million American adults battled a substance use disorder, representing 7.1% of the adult population. Almost 74% of these adults struggled with an alcohol use disorder, while about 38% battled an illicit drug use disorder. Disturbingly, one out of every eight adults struggled with both alcohol and drug use disorders simultaneously, and 8.5 million American adults suffered from both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder, known as co-occurring disorders.

Suicide, often the tragic culmination of untreated or poorly managed mental health issues, is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2021 alone, 48,183 lives were lost to suicide, translating to an age-adjusted rate of 14.04 per 100,000 people. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the situation, with a CDC study revealing a 10.5% increase in suicide rates between 2019 and 2020.

The tragedy of mental health issues is further underscored by the lives of celebrities we’ve lost, individuals who seemingly had it all—fame, success, and wealth. Robin Williams, the beloved comedian and actor, took his own life in 2014 after battling severe depression and anxiety. Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park, died by suicide in 2017, having openly discussed his struggles with depression and substance abuse. Avicii, the Swedish DJ and record producer, also died by suicide in 2018 after grappling with mental health issues and the pressures of fame. Anthony Bourdain, the celebrity chef and television host, took his own life in 2018, despite his outwardly adventurous and fulfilling life.

While mental health issues are a global and national crisis, they also hit close to home for the Indian-American community. According to recent statistics, 1 in 5 Indian Americans experience mental illness, aligning closely with the national average of 1 in 5 adults. The most common mental illnesses among Indian Americans are anxiety disorders (15.3%), mood disorders (13.6%), and substance use disorders (11.3%). However, what is particularly concerning is that only 38.4% of Indian Americans with mental illness received treatment in 2020, compared to 43.7% of white Americans. This disparity highlights the unique challenges faced by Indian Americans, including cultural stigmas and barriers to accessing mental health services.

Building on the unique challenges faced by the Indian-American community, it’s worth noting that solutions may lie in our own cultural heritage. Yoga, a practice deeply ingrained in Indian culture, has now gained a global imprint, including in America. However, while most of the focus in America on yoga is geared toward physical flexibility and fitness, many are unaware of its profound impact on mental well-being. Originating as a holistic approach to health, yoga is not just about physical postures but also includes practices like meditation that are designed to bring mental clarity and emotional balance.

This emphasis on a holistic approach is particularly relevant in light of a recent Time article that highlighted some concerning trends in mental health care. Despite increasing mental health awareness and therapy usage, mental health metrics in the U.S. continue to worsen. The article questions the efficacy of psychiatric diagnoses and treatments and suggests a need for a more holistic approach. This underscores the importance of exploring alternative methods like yoga and meditation, which offer a more rounded approach to mental health, addressing not just the symptoms but the root causes of mental and emotional distress.

The benefits of yoga and meditation are not just anecdotal or rooted in ancient wisdom; they are increasingly being validated by modern science. A review published in Psychiatry International synthesizes current research on the efficacy of yoga as an integrative therapy for various psychiatric conditions, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD. The review suggests that yoga can help reduce symptoms above and beyond the effects achieved by standard pharmacological treatments alone.

Similarly, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) has published a digest recommending meditation, yoga, and relaxation with imagery for routine use for common conditions like anxiety and mood disorders. Medical News Today also supports this, stating that yoga and meditation appear to have a positive effect on both the central nervous system and the immune system, improving an individual’s overall sense of well-being.

Yoga Journal has published an article emphasizing the endless benefits of meditation, particularly mantras for anxiety and deep relaxation techniques like yoga nidra. BJPsych Advances discusses the clinical usefulness of yoga for mental disorders, providing insights into the neurobiological mechanisms and the latest evidence base for the use of yoga in psychiatric practice.

The International Journal of Yoga also corroborates these findings, stating that yoga and meditation can help reduce symptoms of many psychiatric conditions, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms, above and beyond the effects achieved by standard pharmacological treatments alone.

The financial toll of mental health in the U.S. is staggering, amounting to $193 billion annually, which eclipses the combined costs of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Moreover, for every $2 spent on mental health treatment, the economy loses $1 in productivity. In this high-cost landscape, yoga, and meditation stand out as economically sensible choices. These practices require minimal investment—just a quiet space and a few minutes. Yet, their mental and physical benefits are scientifically proven.

In the dimly lit corners of our minds, where despair and anxiety often hold sway, there exists an untapped reservoir of peace and clarity. Yoga and meditation, ancient practices deeply woven into Indian culture, offer a bridge to these tranquil spaces within us. As we’ve seen, the scientific community is increasingly recognizing their efficacy, not as a replacement but as a valuable complement to existing treatments.

The mental health crisis is not just a collection of statistics; it’s a lived reality for many, often hidden but profoundly impactful. The financial burden it places on individuals and society is immense, yet here we have tools that are virtually cost-free and scientifically validated.

So, as the walls seem to close in and the weight of the world feels unbearable, remember that the key to relief might just be a few deep breaths away.

American Academy for Yoga in Medicine is conducting a webinar on Mental Health on 30th September, with expert physicians on how Yoga can be beneficial for people with mental health issues, or for anyone who wants to prevent the onset of such issues. It’s not just about bending your body; it’s about expanding your mind and enriching your soul. Are you ready to explore this transformative journey within?

(The author is a Cardiologist, Meditator, and Yogi based in Memphis, Tennessee, USA. He is the Founder and Chairman of the American Academy for Yoga in Medicine. He is the Editor in Chief; The Principle and Practice of Yoga in Cardiovascular Medicine.)

Revolutionising healthcare: The untapped potential of yoga

A silent killer lurks in the shadows as we stand on the precipice of a global health crisis. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the unseen enemy, claiming 70% of annual deaths worldwide. In India, the situation is similarly dire, with NCDs accounting for 66% of deaths. Each statistic, each percentage point, represents a life cut short, a family shattered, and a community in mourning. This grim reality is a wake-up call, a clarion call for a radical solution. And as we search for answers, we find that the solution might just be an ancient practice that has been with us all along – Yoga.

Yoga, often viewed through the lens of mysticism and spiritual practice, must be understood and utilized. While yoga’s spiritual aspects should not be discarded, as it is the basis of its efficacy as medicine for today’s ills. Commemorating the upcoming International Yoga Day, we shed light on the scientific, peer-reviewed facts that establish yoga as an effective tool in medicine.

In India, a staggering 77 million adults are grappling with diabetes, and nearly 25 million are on the precipice of the disease, classified as prediabetics. According to the revelations of Apollo’s Annual Health of the Nation reports, corroborating with the WHO, non-communicable diseases have stealthily climbed the ranks to become the leading cause of death and suffering, contributing to about 66% of deaths in India.

In an extensive survey of urban Indian elderly residents, 71% of the participants were battling at least one NCD, while 40% shouldering the burden of more than two NCDs. This paints a grim picture of the health landscape for our elderly population. This demographic should be enjoying the golden years of their lives, not spending them in constant battle with the disease. The scenario for the country’s youth is even more alarming. The Indian Council of Medical Research provides a somber perspective by stating that the probability of mortality between the ages of 30 and 70 from the four primary non-communicable diseases stands at 26%.

Let us look at what the latest clinical research & medical science says about the efficacy of yoga on the diseases highlighted in the statistics mentioned above. Cardiovascular health is literally and figuratively at the heart of the matter. A study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology has shown that yoga can be a potent ally in our fight against heart disease. It reduces risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, the silent saboteurs of our heart health. The Mayo Clinic also acknowledges that yoga as part of lifestyle changes can help manage chronic conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure alone or in conjunction with conventional medical treatment.

 A systematic review in the Journal of Diabetes Research found that yoga may aid glycemic control and improve other metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Harvard Medical School supports the benefits of yoga for managing specific conditions related to NCDs, including heart disease and chronic lower back pain, often associated with obesity, another NCD. These studies underscore the potential of yoga as a therapeutic approach to managing NCDs and enhancing overall health.

For the elderly, who often bear the brunt of NCDs, yoga offers a beacon of hope. With its gentle postures and mindful breathing, this ancient practice can help manage chronic conditions, improve mobility, and enhance overall well-being. It’s not just about adding years to life, but infusing those years with vitality and health, making the golden years truly golden.

Yet, despite these promising findings, yoga still needs to be utilized in our healthcare systems. It’s often dismissed as merely a form of physical exercise or an ‘alternative’ practice. But the evidence supporting yoga’s health benefits is robust and undeniable. The barriers that prevent yoga’s integration into mainstream healthcare are considerable but manageable. It’s time we overcome these obstacles and recognize yoga’s potential in healthcare. This involves integrating yoga into our healthcare systems, educating the public about its benefits, and training healthcare professionals in its application.

Integrating yoga into mainstream healthcare is not just a matter of health but also of social justice. It’s a cost-effective, accessible, and sustainable solution that can benefit individuals and communities alike. It’s a revolution in healthcare that’s been waiting in the wings, ready to take center stage. It empowers individuals to take charge of their health, fostering a sense of self-reliance and promoting a proactive approach to wellness.

As we grapple with the escalating crisis of non-communicable diseases, we must recognize this ancient tool that has the potential to transform our approach to health and wellness. With its holistic focus on mind-body wellness, yoga offers a unique approach to disease prevention and more effective treatment that complements traditional medical treatments. Moreover, we must continue to invest in research to understand yoga’s benefits further and validate its effectiveness in preventing and managing non-communicable diseases. This is not just about embracing an ancient practice but advancing modern healthcare and making it more holistic, patient-centered, and effective.

The transformation of yoga into holistic medicine is inevitable and must cross three barriers. First, yoga must be understood to be a conglomeration of breathing, mindfulness, meditation, and physical postures, not the last alone. Thus, restricting oneself to the last component will ultimately provide, as expected, a tiny portion of the benefit. The second spiritual component and philosophy of yoga are essential to harness the stipulated benefits, particularly as that helps transform our brain and effectively helps us adhere to a discipline. Spirituality is not being religious; thus, any perceived misinterpretation of it as a religious practice is entirely unfounded. Third public education of yoga, both as a philosophy and a therapeutic technique, must be the potential dialogue rather than blind belief, superstition, and genuflexion to rituals and unproved godfathers! 

Standing on the shoulders of giants like Gautama Buddha, Adi Sankara, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Sri Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and Maharshi Aurobindo, we do not need more godfathers but dedicated practice. My Venerable Guru Hariharananda Giri, a saint in the powerful Kriya Yoga lineage of Mahavatar Babaji, often said, “An ounce of practice is equivalent to a ton of theory.”

It is time to get the mat and practice meditation in a lotus or equivalent posture. Yogic breathing and asanas (physical postures) regularly provide cardiovascular health and do away with stress – the harbinger of disease and death!

Indian Americans: A Journey of Acceptance in American Society

From Silicon Valley startups to leading medical institutions, Indian immigrants began to leave their mark, their contributions reflecting their ambition and drive.

In an ever-evolving global landscape, the recent state visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United States stands as a significant milestone, marking the strengthening bonds between two of the world’s largest democracies. This visit, hailed as a turning point in India-US relations, has not only fortified the strategic partnership between the two nations but also highlighted the substantial contributions of the Indian diaspora to American society. Prime Minister Modi, during his visit, praised the Indian diaspora as India’s “strength,” emphasizing their crucial role in the US economy and society. This acknowledgment from one of the world’s most influential leaders is a testament to the remarkable journey of Indian Americans.

Picture : Rediff

The narrative of Indian Americans is a saga that began over a century ago, a story of dreams, aspirations, and the quest for a better life. The first wave of Indian immigrants arrived on American shores in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, primarily as agricultural workers in California’s fertile farmlands. These pioneers embarked on a journey spanning thousands of miles, leaving behind the familiarity of their homeland for the promise of the American dream.

However, this journey was far from smooth. The early immigrants faced numerous challenges, from the harsh realities of manual labor to the sting of racial discrimination. Yet, they persevered, their resilience echoing in the fields they tilled and the communities they built.

Picture : ASPI Strategist

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 marked a significant turning point in the history of Indian immigration. The Act, which abolished the national origins quota, paved the way for a new wave of Indian immigrants, primarily highly skilled professionals, including doctors, engineers, and scientists. This influx of talent from India played a pivotal role in shaping the American technological and medical landscape. From Silicon Valley startups to leading medical institutions, Indian immigrants began to leave their mark, their contributions reflecting their ambition and drive.

Indian Americans, now numbering an estimated 4.4 million, have emerged as the second-largest Asian American group in the country. The majority of Indian Americans are Hindu (72%), followed by Muslim and Christian populations. But it’s not just their numbers that command attention; it’s the remarkable strides they’ve made in education, income, and professional fields that truly set them apart.

Education is a cornerstone of the Indian American community, with an impressive 73% holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. This figure stands in stark contrast to the national average of 33%, underscoring the community’s deep-rooted emphasis on academic excellence. This pursuit of knowledge extends into their professional lives, with one in four Indian Americans making their mark in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. Achieving remarkable accomplishments, they have risen to leadership positions in some of the world’s most eminent companies. Their ingenuity, innovation, and steadfast work ethic have propelled them to the forefront of their industries, making them highly respected and influential figures.

Indian Americans are not just employees or professionals; they are business owners, innovators, and job creators. With an estimated 1.2 million businesses under their belt, Indian Americans are making a significant impact on the U.S. economy. These businesses, spanning across various sectors, generate an estimated $1 trillion in annual revenue.

A striking example of this entrepreneurial success can be seen in the hospitality industry. According to a report by the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), Indian Americans own more than 40% of all hotels and motels in the United States. This includes approximately 20,000 properties, a testament to their significant presence in this industry. The rise of Indian Americans in the US motel industry has been so remarkable that it has given birth to a playful moniker, the “Patel Motel Cartel.”

Indian Americans have made substantial strides in the political arena. Several notable figures have achieved unprecedented success, inspiring millions within the Indian American community. This rise is a testament to the assimilation of Indian Americans into American society, without losing their unique identity or heritage. It’s a testament to the American public’s growing acceptance of the role Indian Americans play in the progress of America.

The rise of Indian Americans in the US political landscape is powerfully exemplified by Vivek Ramaswamy. An entrepreneur and author, Ramaswamy has made a significant leap into politics as a Republican candidate for the 2024 US presidential elections. Despite facing challenges, including an attack on his Hindu faith, Ramaswamy has garnered cross-party support, underlining the growing acceptance of Indian Americans in politics.

Ramaswamy’s campaign is gaining traction, with him currently ranking third in the national primary field according to the FiveThirtyEight polling aggregate. His active campaigning and media presence have made him a prominent figure in the Republican presidential primary, reflecting the increasing influence of Indian Americans in American politics.

As we look to the future, the Indian American community continues to grow, evolve, and make their mark. Their journey is a testament to the fact that America’s strength lies in its diversity, and its acceptance of Indian-Americans enriches the nation. The story of Indian Americans is not just their story; it’s an integral part of the American narrative.

Pranayama: The Ancient Yogic Practice of Breath Control for Modern Well-Being

By Dr. Indranill BasuRay

The author is a Cardiologist, Meditator, and Yogi based in Memphis, Tennessee, USA. He is the Founder and Chairman of the American Academy for Yoga in Medicine. He is the Editor in Chief; The Principle and Practice of Yoga in Cardiovascular Medicine. [email protected]

Pranayama, derived from the ancient Sanskrit language, controls and regulates the breath. It’s a vital part of yoga, helping individuals deepen their connection with their breath and tap into a profound sense of inner peace, calm, and relaxation.

This practice has been passed down for thousands of years as a spiritual discipline, and it’s believed to be one of the most potent tools for cultivating physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. In the yogic tradition, the breath is seen as the bridge between the body and the mind. By regulating our breath, we can directly influence our physical and mental state, promoting relaxation and reducing stress.

Swami Vivekananda, a revered spiritual figure, emphasized that pranayama is the control of the vital force in the body and mind. He believed it could enhance overall health, increase energy levels, improve sleep quality, and reduce stress. Pranayama is a powerful tool for self-transformation, helping individuals control their thoughts, emotions, and actions.

Another prominent yogi, Swami Rama, stressed the importance of pranayama in promoting overall health and well-being. He said breath is the key to good health, vitality, and inner peace. When we control our breath, we control our mind and emotions, tapping into a deep well of inner strength and power.

Recent scientific research has shown that pranayama can help regulate the autonomic nervous system, leading to better heart and lung health. A randomized controlled trial published in Frontiers in Psychiatry in 2020 found significant reductions in anxiety, and a literature review published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity found positive effects on inflammatory markers and hormones related to various health conditions.

One way pranayama achieves these benefits is by increasing the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is associated with the body’s relaxation response. By breathing through the left nostril, we can activate this system and promote relaxation, reducing stress and anxiety.

Pranayama has also been found to increase nitric oxide production, a molecule crucial in promoting cardiovascular health and preventing heart attacks and strokes. Research has shown that pranayama can increase the production of nitric oxide in the body, leading to improved vascular health and reduced risk of heart disease. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found that practicing pranayama was associated with increased levels of nitric oxide in the blood, while a 2015 study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine found that pranayama practice was effective in reducing blood pressure and improving heart function.

Incorporating techniques like left nasal breathing and other pranayama exercises into our daily lives can be a powerful tool for improving heart health, reducing stress and anxiety, and promoting overall physical and mental well-being.

As we deepen our practice of pranayama, we may begin to experience a greater sense of connection with our inner selves and the world around us. Our breath becomes a tool for self-exploration and transformation, allowing us to tap into the infinite power and wisdom that surrounds us.

It’s important to approach our practice with an open mind and a willingness to explore our inner selves, allowing us to connect with our spiritual nature and tap into the infinite potential that lies within us.

Pranayama is a powerful practice that has been passed down for thousands of years as a spiritual discipline. By regulating our breath, we can directly influence our physical and mental states, promoting relaxation and reducing stress. Additionally, pranayama has been found to increase the relaxation response and nitric oxide production, leading to improved heart health and reduced risk of heart disease.

By incorporating pranayama into our daily lives, we can experience the numerous physical and mental health benefits of this ancient yogic practice. As Swami Vivekananda said, “Pranayama is the control of the vital force in the body. It is the one thing that will give you perfect control over the body and mind.”

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