Yoga Changes Gene Expression
Yoga has a positive impact on the genetic level, claims study.
The researchers have written that the data suggests that previously reported effects of yoga practices have an integral physiological component at the molecular level, which is initiated immediately during practice, and may form the basis for the long-term stable effects, Discovery News reported.
In other words, the yoga glow that people feel after they roll up their mat may be the 111 genes that changed expression while they were deep in their practice.
The research team did the experiment with 10 participants who gathered at a yoga retreat for a week.
The study participants practiced yoga for the first two days, spending two hours moving through postures, breathing exercises and meditation; then shifted to spending time in nature walks and listening to music for the next two days.
When the scientists analyzed blood drawn from the participants before and after each session, they found that yoga changed the expression of almost triple the number of genes in immune cells that the nature walk did, 111 vs 38.
The study has been published in Pacific Standard.
Meditation Strengthens Brain: Study
Meditation strengthens the connections between brain cells, reveals UCLA study.
Eileen Luders, an assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, and colleagues, have found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification (“folding” of the cortex, which may allow the brain to process information faster) than people who do not meditate. Further, a direct correlation was found between the amount of gyrification and the number of meditation years, possibly providing further proof of the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt to environmental changes.
The article appears in the online edition of the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
The cerebral cortex is the outermost layer of neural tissue. Among other functions, it plays a key role in memory, attention, thought and consciousness. Gyrification or cortical folding is the process by which the surface of the brain undergoes changes to create narrow furrows and folds called sulci and gyri. Their formation may promote and enhance neural processing. Presumably then, the more folding that occurs, the better the brain is at processing information, making decisions, forming memories and so forth.
“Rather than just comparing meditators and non-meditators, we wanted to see if there is a link between the amount of meditation practice and the extent of brain alteration,” said Luders. “That is, correlating the number of years of meditation with the degree of folding.”
The researchers took MRI scans of 50 meditators, 28 men and 22 women, and compared them to 50 control subjects matched for age, handedness and sex. The scans for the controls were obtained from an existing MRI database, while the meditators were recruited from various meditation venues. The meditators had practiced their craft on average for 20 years using a variety of meditation types — Samatha, Vipassana, Zen and more. The researchers applied a well-established and automated whole-brain approach to measure cortical gyrification at thousands of points across the surface of the brain.
They found pronounced group differences (heightened levels of gyrification in active meditation practitioners) across a wide swatch of the cortex, including the left precentral gyrus, the left and right anterior dorsal insula, the right fusiform gyrus and the right cuneus.
Perhaps most interesting, though, was the positive correlation between the number of meditation years and the amount of insular gyrification.
“The insula has been suggested to function as a hub for autonomic, affective and cognitive integration,” said Luders. “Meditators are known to be masters in introspection and awareness as well as emotional control and self-regulation, so the findings make sense that the longer someone has meditated, the higher the degree of folding in the insula.”
While Luders cautions that genetic and other environmental factors could have contributed to the effects the researchers observed, still, “The positive correlation between gyrification and the number of practice years supports the idea that meditation enhances regional gyrification.”
Meditation reduces loneliness
UCLA STUDY ALSO FINDS THAT MINDFULNESS TECHNIQUE BENEFITS IMMUNE SYSTEM
Yoga boosts mind and body health
Practicing yoga is believed to be beneficial for individuals suffering from a broad variety of health problems such as back pain, chronic headaches, sleeplessness, obesity, neck aches, upset stomach, anxiety, depression and high blood pressure, said Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Other health benefits of yoga include better coping with pain, the improvement of immune functions that would help body to fight infectious and non-communicable diseases such as cancer.
According to the new research, yoga can also be helpful in individuals receiving cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation by relieving their stress and improving their quality of life.”The best evidence really shows that yoga is good at reducing stress and helping people cope with the stress they have… It improves management of stress both psychologically and physiologically,” he noted. Body awareness caused by yoga helps overweight people to make a better self-image and subsequently fight obesity, the study suggested. The health benefits of yoga practice are reported to be due to its approach toward providing a balanced connection between mind and body, Khalsa added. Health experts suggest that focusing on one of the various aspects of yoga, including physical exercises, breathing techniques and meditation, may miss out the original intent of the practice on improving the mental, physical and spiritual balance and health. Despite the above-mentioned benefits, physicians warn about some exaggerated and scientifically not approved claims about the health benefits of yoga that may cause some practitioners abandon their medical treatments and practice yoga instead, a condition which may contribute to unfortunate results. Experts also caution individuals against malpractice of the yoga’s physical exercises that may cause injuries, suggesting that it would be better for individuals to practice under the supervision of an experienced teacher who combines the three main elements of yoga.”Everyone should get an instructor who is experienced and has the traditional yogic principles,” said Karen Sherman, an epidemiologist from the University of Washington. “You should be learning how to tune into your body. Yoga is about moving with awareness. That’s a skill many of us have to develop.”
Mindful multitasking: Meditation first can calm stress, aid concentration
Need to do some serious multitasking? Some training in meditation beforehand could make the work smoother and less stressful, new research from the University of Washington shows. Work by UW Information School professors David Levy and Jacob Wobbrock suggests that meditation training can help people working with information stay on tasks longer with fewer distractions and also improves memory and reduces stress. Their paper was published in the May edition of Proceedings of Graphics Interface. Levy, a computer scientist, and Wobbrock, a researcher in human-computer interaction, conducted the study together with Information School doctoral candidate Marilyn Ostergren and Alfred Kaszniak, a neuropsychologist at the University of Arizona. “To our knowledge, this is the first study to explore how meditation might affect multitasking in a realistic work setting,” Levy said. The researchers recruited three groups of 12-15 human resource managers for the study. One group received eight weeks of mindfulness-based meditation training; another received eight weeks of body relaxation training. Members of the third, a control group, received no training at first, then after eight weeks were given the same training as the first group. Before and after each eight-week period, the participants were given a stressful test of their multitasking abilities, requiring them to use email, calendars, instant-messaging, telephone and word-processing tools to perform common office tasks. Researchers measured the participants’ speed, accuracy and the extent to which they switched tasks. The participants’ self-reported levels of stress and memory while performing the tasks were also noted. The results were significant: The meditation group reported lower levels of stress during the multitasking test while those in the control group or who received only relaxation training did not. When the control group was given meditation training, however, its members reported lower stress during the test just as had the original meditation group. The meditation training seemed to help participants concentrate longer without their attention being diverted. Those who meditated beforehand spent more time on tasks and switched tasks less often, but took no longer to complete the overall job than the others, the researchers learned. No such change occurred with those who took body relaxation training only, or with the control group. After the control group’s members underwent meditation training, however, they too spent longer on their tasks with less task switching and no overall increase in job completion time. After training, both the meditators and those trained in relaxation techniques showed improved memory for the tasks they were performing. The control group did not, until it too underwent the meditation training. “Many research efforts at the human-technology boundary have attempted to create technologies that augment human abilities,” Wobbrock said. “This meditation work is unusual in that it attempts to augment human abilities not through technology but because of technology — because of the demands technology places on us and our need to cope with those demands.” Levy added: “We are encouraged by these first results. While there is increasing scientific evidence that certain forms of meditation increase concentration and reduce emotional volatility and stress, until now there has been little direct evidence that meditation may impart such benefits for those in stressful, information-intensive environments.” By Peter Kelley and Catherine O’Donnell Source:University of Washington.
Meditation Improves Emotional Behavior: Study
Yoga May Combat Fibromyalgia Symptoms
Yoga that includes gentle stretches and meditation may help alleviate the symptoms of fibromyalgia, a small study finds.Twenty-five women diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain syndrome, were enrolled in a two-hour yoga class that met once a week for eight weeks. Another group of 28 women diagnosed with the condition were put on a waiting list and told to continue their normal routine for dealing with fibromyalgia.After eight weeks, the yoga group reported improvements in both physical and psychological aspects of fibromyalgia, including decreased pain, fatigue, tenderness, anxiety and better sleep and mood.”The women were somewhat apprehensive when we started, but once they got into the rhythm of it they found it to be very helpful,” said lead study author James Carson, a clinical psychologist and pain specialist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. “They came back after the first week reporting less pain, better sleep and feeling encouraged for the first time in years. That type of change continued to build over the course of the program.”At the end of the study, about 4.5 percent in the yoga group reported being “very much better,” 9.1 percent said they were “much better,” 77 percent were “a little better” while 4.5 percent reported no change. In comparison, no one in the the control group reported that they were “very much better” or “much better,” 19.2 percent reported being “a little better,” and 38.5 percent reported “no change.”Average pain scores dropped from a 5 to a 4 on a 10-point scale, although there was no improvement in the overall “tender point” score.The study was limited by its small sample, absence of follow-up and over-reliance on self-reported data, the researchers noted.The study, published online Oct. 14, is in the November print issue of the journal Pain.No cure exists for fibromyalgia, which is characterized by multiple tender points, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and memory and concentration problems. Some 11 to 15 million Americans have the debilitating condition, about 80 to 90 percent of them women, according to background information in the article.Fibromyalgia can be very difficult to treat, with many patients reporting little relief from medications, said Dr. Bruce Solitar, a clinical associate professor of medicine in the division or rheumatology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.Yoga is probably worth trying, Solitar said. But he noted that patients in the study were in a yoga class specially tailored to their needs and said the class at a local yoga studio might be too intense.The yoga sessions evaluated in the study included 40 minutes of gentle stretching and poses, 25 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes of breathing techniques, a 20-minute lesson on applying yoga principals to daily life and coping with fibromyalgia and 25 minutes of group discussion. Participants were also encouraged to practice at home with a DVD on most days.Though it’s unknown how much of the positive effect shown in the study is the “placebo” effect of doing something that feels empowering vs. something special about the yoga and meditation itself, that may be beside the point if people feel better, Solitar said.”Many patients report that not much helps them, so anything that’s positive is a very good thing,” Solitar said.In the study, women practiced Yoga of Awareness, a type of yoga developed by Carson, a yoga and meditation instructor, and his wife, study co-author Kimberly Carson. Carson taught the class. (Carson reported no financial considerations that would cause a conflict of interest.)Yoga of Awareness draws from the Kripalu school of yoga, Carson said, which emphasizes the “inner dimensions” of yoga, such as accepting pain and being willing to learn from pain and stressful circumstances, being mentally “present in the moment” and learning to distinguish between actual events and the mind’s tendency to “catastrophize” pain — that is, thinking it’s the worst pain ever when really it’s manageable, he said.Previous research showed Yoga of Awareness improved pain, fatigue, sleep and mood in women with breast cancer, Carson said.It’s unknown what aspects of Yoga of Awareness are the most beneficial, but Carson said he believes the exercise, meditation and the social aspects all contribute.”It’s the combination that has a synergistic effect,” Carson said. “Our mind and body are very connected, but we are often not aware of that fact. Techniques like yoga really reinforce that connection and make us much more conscious of the fact that our thoughts and our feelings are affecting our body, and our body is affecting how we think and feel.”If you have fibromyalgia and are looking for a yoga class, Carson recommended seeking out a class advertised as “gentle” and making sure the instructor knows you have physical challenges so that poses can be modified.Since many yoga classes don’t incorporate much meditation, Carson also recommends seeking out a meditation class, which teaches breathing exercises to reduce stress and cope with pain.A study published in August in the New England Journal of Medicine found tai chi may also help give fibromyalgia sufferers some relief. Like yoga, tai chi is a mind-body exercise that emphasizes slow, gentle movements to build strength and flexibility, as well as deep breathing and relaxation, to move qi, or vital energy, throughout the body.
Yoga helps improve asthma symptoms
A new study has suggested that meditation and yoga can be ‘helpful’ in improving asthma in urban adolescents. A new study by researchers at the University ofCincinnati (UC) shows that urban adolescents with asthma may experience worse outcomes when not using spiritual coping and often use complementary and alternative medicine, or integrative medicine, like prayer or relaxation, to manage symptoms. These findings by researchers could help physicians and other providers gain insight into additional ways to help pediatric populations self-manage chronic illnesses.
The study, led by Sian Cotton, assistant professor in the department of family and community medicine, looked at urban adolescents dealing with asthma and uncovered the ways that they were both coping with their illness as well as ways coping methods affected their mental and physical health outcomes. In the spiritual struggles analyses, outcome variables included anxiety and depressive symptoms as well as quality of life. Researchers then determined the association between spiritual struggles and health outcomes after accounting for age, gender, ethnicity and asthma severity. “As hypothesized, religious or spiritual coping and secular coping predicted similar amounts of variance in these outcomes, similar to previous findings in adult populations, suggesting that spiritual coping is an important element to consider when caring for adolescents with asthma,” said Cotton. In the second analysis, the same group of adolescents completed a survey looking at 10 forms of complementary and alternative medicine methods used for symptom management, including prayer, guided imagery, relaxation, meditation, yoga, massage, herbs, vitamins and rubs as well as dietary changes. These findings show that this group of chronically ill adolescents is using complementary methods and finding them helpful,” said Cotton. “Providers should consider discussing the use of complementary or alternative medicine with their patients with asthma to help improve outcomes.” “These analyses point to findings that will help physicians care not only for patients with asthma but also for those with other chronic illnesses to ensure the best outcomes physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, producing a better quality of life,” added Cotton. The findings were presented at the National Conference in Pediatric Psychology in San Antonio.
Yoga Improves Quality of Life for Caregivers
Yoga can improve cognitive function and lower depression levels for caregivers, suggests UCLA study.
Dr. Helen Lavretsky, professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and colleagues report a further benefit as well: a reduction in stress-induced cellular aging.
The report appears in the current online edition of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
As the U.S. population continues to age over the next two decades, the prevalence of dementia and the number of family caregivers who provide support to these loved ones will increase dramatically. Currently, at least five million Americans provide care for someone with dementia. The detrimental burden on them, in terms of their own lives, can be severe.
For example, says Lavretsky, who also directs UCLA’s Late-Life Depression, Stress and Wellness Research Program, “We know that chronic stress places caregivers at a higher risk for developing depression. On average, the incidence and prevalence of clinical depression in family dementia caregivers approaches 50 percent. Caregivers are also twice as likely to report high levels of emotional distress.” What’s more, many caregivers tend to be older themselves, leading to what Lavretsky calls an “impaired resilience” to stress and an increased rate of cardiovascular disease and mortality.
While medication can improve depression, many caregivers may be opposed to the use of medication because of the associated cost and drug side-effects. That consideration motivated Lavretsky and her colleagues to test a brief mind-body intervention for stress reduction.
The researchers recruited 49 family caregivers who were taking care of their relatives with dementia. Their ages ranged from 45 to 91 years old and included 36 adult children and 13 spouses. The participants were randomized into two groups. The meditation group was taught a brief, 12-minute yogic practice that included an ancient chanting meditation, Kirtan Kriya, which was performed every day at the same time for eight weeks. The other group was asked to relax in a quiet place with their eyes closed while listening to instrumental music on a relaxation CD, also for 12 minutes every day at the same time for eight weeks.
At the end of the eight weeks the researchers found that the meditation group showed significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms and greater improvement in mental health and cognitive functioning, compared with the relaxation group. In the meditation group, 65 percent showed a 50 percent improvement on a depression rating scale, and 52 percent of the group showed a 50 percent improvement on a mental health score. This compared to a 31 percent depression improvement and a 19 percent mental health improvement for the relaxation group.
The researchers also found that meditation increased telomerase activity and thus slowed cellular aging. Telomerase is an enzyme that maintains the DNA at the ends of our chromosomes, known as telomeres. Telomeres are associated with a host of health risks and diseases, which may be regulated in part by psychological stress. In the absence of telomerase activity, every time our cells divide, our telomeres get shorter and shorter, until eventually, they become so short the cells die. If high telomerase can be maintained or promoted, though, it will likely promote improvement in telomere maintenance and immune cell longevity.
In the study, the meditation group showed a 43 percent improvement in telomerase activity compared with 3.7 percent in the relaxation group.
“Although the relation between mental and physical health has been previously documented, the mechanistic links are beginning to be understood at the cellular level,” said Lavretsky.
“To a varying degree, many psychosocial interventions like this have been shown to enhance mental health for caregivers,” she said. “Yet given the magnitude of the caregiver burden, it is surprising that very few interventions translate into clinical practice. The cost of instruction and offering classes may be one factor. Our study suggests a simple, low-cost yoga program can enhance coping and quality of life for the caregivers.”
The pilot results were “striking,” she said, given the improvements that were shown in mental health, cognition, and telomerase activity over a short eight weeks at a mere 12 minutes a day. “We found that the effects on cognitive and mental functioning and telomerase activity were specific to the Kirtan Kriya. Because Kirtan Kriya had several elements of using chanting, mudras (finger poses) and visualization, there was a ‘brain fitness’ effect in addition to stress-reduction that contributed to the overall effect of the meditation.” Lavretsky plans a follow-up study to provide further confirmation of this potential mechanism in a neuroimaging study of Kirtan Kriya.
Recently, UCLA launched its new Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program, which provides comprehensive, coordinated care as well as resources and support to patients and their caregivers. Lavretsky has incorporated yoga practice into the caregiver program.
‘Yoga, pranayam can do wonders to a singer’s voice quality’
After a degree in engineering, he pursued his B.Com before doing his graduation and post-graduation in music. “I was a late convert only interested in disco music in my youth,” he says. But that began changing when he started singing Marathi natya sangeet at various events. “At this time I realized that I had to go the whole way,” he says.
Once he took up classical music in right earnest he began understanding the various difficulties and the negatives of this genre. “The reasons why audiences find classical concerts so dreary dawned upon me. I began my research in voice culture and worked on tonal qualities of a singer and methods by which he or she would not have to contort facial muscles,” he says.
His work in this field has yielded results. “I have mastered the areas of how to prepare a voice for classical singing. I know how a singer can work his abdomen for base and how when breathing through the abdomen is cut the voice gets a tonal quality,” he says.
Famous for his speed taans, complicated blandish, imaginative approach to his music and the aesthetics of his presentations, Kaivalya Kumar says that he has the technique for making classical music interesting and understandable. “Yoga, pranayam and meditation works wonders for a classical singer. Today I can guarantee that by practising these techniques a classical singer can be ready to take the stage in less than five years,” he says.
Dismissing the belief that artists who render compact version of a raag tamper with its purity, he says, “Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, the founder of Kirana gharana could deliver a raag in less than two minutes. I have rare records dating back to 1902 to prove this. What is required is the right approach.”
Saluting the maestros like Pt Bhimsen Joshi and Kumar Gandharv, Gurav said that these artists would first understand the vibrations of the venue where they were to perform and type of the audience before deciding upon what to sing. “Today singers come prepared and give a recital without understanding the requirements of the audience,” he says.
US research suggests “yoga might improve mood”
Research suggests that yoga might improve mood and sense of well-being, according to United States National Institutes of Health (NIH).As per an NIH backgrounder, research also suggests that yoga might counteract stress; reduce heart rate and blood pressure; increase lung capacity; improve muscle relaxation and body composition; help with conditions such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia; improve overall physical fitness, strength, and flexibility; positively affect levels of certain brain or blood chemicals. There is growing evidence to suggest that yoga works to enhance stress-coping mechanisms and mind-body awareness.Studies supported by NIH have been investigating yoga’s effects on blood pressure, chronic low-back pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, diabetes risk, HIV, immune function, inflammatory arthritis and knee osteoarthritis, insomnia, multiple sclerosis, smoking cessation. According to NIH website, currently 43 studies on yoga are open under its Clinical Trials program, which include effects of laugh-yoga, yoga-based cancer rehabilitation program, etc. “Yoga in its full form combines physical postures, breathing exercises, meditation, and a distinct philosophy”, NIH backgrounder points out.Lauding NIH efforts in this direction, Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, urged NIH to provide more funding and support for yoga research, as although introduced and nourished by Hinduism, yoga was a world heritage to be utilized and benefitted by all.Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, has also asked Government of India to launch a mega project to research, preserve, and promote yoga and open a world-class institute to support the yoga research and studies around the globe. Rajan Zed further said that yoga, referred as “a living fossil” whose traces went back to around 2,000 BCE to Indus Valley civilization, was a mental and physical discipline handed down from one guru to next, for everybody to share and benefit from. According to Patanjali who codified it inYoga Sutra, yoga was a methodical effort to attain perfection, through the control of the different elements of human nature, physical and psychical.Swami Vivekananda reportedly brought yoga to USA in 1893. According to an estimate, about 16 million Americans now do yoga. National Institutes of Health, the largest source of funding for medical research in the world, is medical research agency of United States Department of Health and Human Services and traces its roots to 1887. Headquartered in Bethesda (Maryland), it invests over $31 billion annually in medical research, making important medical discoveries that improve health and save lives. “Thanks in large part to NIH-funded medical research, Americans today are living longer and healthier. Life expectancy in the United States has jumped from 47 years in 1900 to 77 years today”, it claims. More than 130 Nobel Prize winners have received support from NIH, whose tagline is “Turning Discovery Into Health”, while Director is Francis S. Collins.
Yoga Can Help Stroke Survivors Regain Their Balance
Yoga May Help Breast Cancer Survivors
Standard breast cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation can have severe side effects. During and after cancer treatments patients often experience persistent fatigue and sleep problems that affect quality of life. Many women may also suffer from depression, anxiety and weight loss. There are few treatments available to truly relieve these problems. Traditional care usually includes antidepressants and sleep meds that can have adverse side effects. Studies show that supportive therapies such as stress reduction and exercise classes can benefit cancer patients. Current research reports that yoga practice can improve quality of life in women undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Yoga may also help promote sleep, boost energy and improve mental health. Yoga Improves Sleep and Fatigue A 2010 randomized controlled study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found yoga improved sleep problems and fatigue. About 75 percent of the patients were breast cancer survivors. All of the cancer patients suffered from sleep disruption for 2 to 24 months. Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center administered either a yoga program (yoga group) or standard care (control group) to 410 cancer survivors for four weeks. Sleep quality, fatigue and quality of life were assessed before and after the study. The yoga group participated in 75-minute yoga sessions two times per week. The yoga program, called YOCAS (Yoga for Cancer Survivors), included gentle hatha yoga and restorative yoga poses, breathing and meditation. Certified yoga teachers trained in the YOCAS program conducted the classes. The researchers found that the yoga participants had significantly reduced fatigue and improved sleep quality compared to the control group. Furthermore, the yoga group used less sleep medication while the control group increased sleep meds. “This is great news for cancer survivors who deal with persistent and debilitating side effects from their cancer and its treatments long after their primary therapy ends,” said lead investigator Karen Mustian, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor at the university of Rochester Medical Center, in a news release. “There are few treatments for the sleep problems and fatigue survivors experience that work for very long, if at all.” Yoga Benefits Quality of Life A 2011 study presented at the 47th annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology reports yoga improved quality of life and lowered stress in breast cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment. This is the first study to compare yoga benefits to simple stretching exercises in cancer patients. Researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center administered yoga, simple stretching or no yoga or stretching instruction to 163 women with breast cancer undergoing radiation therapy. Quality of life assessments including fatigue, daily functioning, depression and spirituality were obtained from the participants. Saliva samples and electrocardiogram tests were obtained before and after treatment. The yoga and stretching groups participated in one-hour sessions three times per week during their six-week radiation treatment. The yoga program was conducted in collaboration with the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana research institute in India. The yoga classes included yoga postures, breathing, meditation and relaxation. The researchers found that both yoga and stretching reduced fatigue. Furthermore, the yoga group had greater benefits to quality of life and lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels than either the stretching or non-exercise group. “The combination of mind and body practices that are part of yoga clearly have tremendous potential to help patients manage the psychosocial and physical distress associated with treatment and life after cancer, beyond the benefits of simple stretching,” says lead researcher Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., professor and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at MD Anderson.
Yoga a new tool against infertility?
Women are turning to yoga to increase their chances of conceiving — and some swear by the effects of the recent trend, saying the ancient art of yoga mixed with modern science helped them start their families. On “The Early Show,” CBS News Correspondent Michelle Miller reported on one woman’s journey that led to yoga — and children — when it seemed all paths had ended.More than four million babies are born every year in the U.S. But, Miller said, it’s not always easy to conceive.Among American women, 7.3 million suffer from infertility. And though many options exist that can help couples conceive, their long paths to parenthood can be painful.Holly Dougherty, of Bronxville, N.Y., struggled for eight years, enduring dozens of unsuccessful fertility treatments. The daily regimen of pills and painful injections caused her severe weight gain and embarrassing mood swings.”Every time that you get the phone call that it was unsuccessful, a little part of you dies,” she said. “When we got married, we thought we’d have three or four children and obviously it wasn’t working out and I was crushed.”She told CBS News, “It so hard to not let your mind go to bad places, when you’ve been so unsuccessful for so long, but to try to keep you mind and body open to the fact that you will have a family. It’s emotionally and physically draining.”Dougherty was about to give up, until one day at the NYU Fertility Center, she heard about a fertility yoga class that would change everything.”If anyone had said support group to me, I would have said, ‘no way.’ I kept my pain very private,” Dougherty said. “But fertility yoga, you went and it was a lot of like-minded people and you eventually end up sharing your stories off the mat. And it became a real support network.”For millennia, Miller noted the ancient practice of yoga has helped people worldwide balance mind and body. Today, for an hour every week, hopeful moms-to-be just like Dougherty use age-old focus to reduce modern stress.Yoga instructor Tracy Toon Spencer at Fertile Life, Inc. in New York, said, “This yoga practice provides a community, a place where women can gather and take inspiration from one another. … They feel much less isolated so they feel better and they’re more relaxed.”That relaxation may be just what the doctor ordered. NYU fertility specialist, Dr. Frederick Licciardi, said he believes that adding yoga’s timeworn wisdom to the modern medicine he prescribes is valuable for patients.Licciardi said, “Being in a yoga class with other women who are undergoing the same stressful things that you’re undergoing, the time in the office, the drugs, the cost, really can help a person be grounded and relieve a lot of her stress.”Relieving stress is yoga’s key, making a difficult physical process, easier on the soul, Miller said. Mind-body programs designed to reduce stress have reported fertility increases up to 35 percent, regardless of the patients’ histories.But nothing can prepare you for that phone call.Dougherty said, “(The nurse) said, ‘congratulations.’ And I just started hysterically crying and my husband ran up the stairs and he was crying and it was just the best moment of my life. … I hung up the phone on the nurse and I had to call her back the next day and say, ‘What, what do I do next, like what am I supposed to do.'”For Dougherty, after eight years and now two pregnancies, the proof is in the playroom.Dougherty said, “Honestly, I don’t think I’d have my family, if I hadn’t met Tracy at NYU.”On “The Early Show,” CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, herself an OB/GYN, said the mind-body connection yoga may offer is powerful. She said, “I recommend absolutely anything that the patient can do to be more pro-active in her care, as long as there are no risks, no downsides, especially when you’re talking about adding to the more conventional treatments. And again, risk (versus) benefits, potentially high benefit, low risk. There’s no reason not to recommend it.The impact on a woman’s stress level, Ashton explained, can affect a woman’s ability to conceive.”We know that stress in your brain releases a chemical neurotransmitter called dopamine, and dopamine can absolutely have impacts on your fertility,” she said. “Stress, in general, can trigger a whole inflammation pathway in our bodies. So anything you can do to minimize stress is always going to be good.”Yoga and other complementary therapies, Ashton said, have been shown to have a variety of medical and physical effects, such as reducing pain, lowering blood pressure and improving sleep.”The list just seems to be growing and growing, the more we study these forms of treatment,” Ashton said. “The more people engage in them, the more we’re finding that it does absolutely more good than harm.”Meditation, as well as yoga can be beneficial, Ashton said.”We’re talking about anything that will strengthen that mind-body connection,” she explained. “So it might be deep breathing. It might be guided imagery. It might be any type of those activities — even something like acupuncture, which obviously you can’t do yourself, but focuses in on that mind-body connection, and in terms of how it works, we’re really just starting to chip away at the understanding of that.”Ashton continued, “Research is ongoing. But they have done studies where they use a special type of MRI to look at brain activity, in patients who are undergoing meditation. And they have actually shown that multiple areas in the brain — not just one area — but multiple areas in the brain that are involved in how we process or perceive pain are activated when people undergo meditation. And in some cases, that can have a better effect than the drug morphine on pain perception. So, again, if that’s what we’re seeing with meditation and the brain — the other effects, and mechanisms there, are really just pretty significant.”Though there really doesn’t seem to be any downside, Ashton still recommends considering the risks versus the benefits and talking with your doctor before starting any kind of health program.”If you are undergoing aggressive medical therapy for something like cancer or chronic illness, you obviously always want to talk to your health care provider about adding complementary therapies like yoga or meditation,” she said. “You never want to discontinue the standard medical therapies in lieu of something like meditation. But to add it to your regimen, absolutely, it can be so important, and again, we’re going to be hearing a lot more about this in the future.”