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!

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