International Yoga Day

Yoga: Benefits and limitations

Published On: June 21, 2018 11:50 AM NPT By: Dr Aruna Uprety

Yoga is a lifestyle, and people who want to do Yoga must also change their lifestyle

“I do yoga every day for 45 minutes, but I have not lost weight.” 

“I cannot do yoga because my knees are bad and I am asked not to sit-crossed.”  

“After doing yoga, I feel very hungry and eat a lot.”

“I do yoga like Shilpa Shetti, but my body does not look like hers.” 

These are some of the commentaries on Yoga, which I have heard from my friends.  This shows that we still do not fully understand Yoga. Yoga is more than doing just a few asanas in the morning.  Yoga is a life style, and people who want to do Yoga must also change their lifestyle and their relationship with food.  Eighteen years ago, a close friend of mine used to suffer from severe backache.  He also had uric acid and high blood pressure. He used to work 12 hours a day, which only made his conditions worse.  A doctor suggested that he underwent a surgery or else he would risk paralysis.  He was worried.  

He did not want to go for surgery, but he felt he had no other option.  Another orthopedic doctor advised that he waited for some time before surgery and gave medications for pain relief.   Around that time, he met a Yoga Guru, who taught him simple yogic exercises to lose weight.  He also changed his eating habits.  To his surprise, after about a month, he discovered that he did not need medication. He gradually began doing more complex asanas.   He lost weight and his back pain was gone.  “That was 18 years ago. Since then I have been doing Yoga regularly.  Now I can even do shirshasaan (upside down),” he says.  

Myths and realities 

Many people mistakenly assume that Yoga is a complicated exercise and rely on pills to cure their illnesses.  There is no doubt that modern medicine has saved our lives.  But we should not rely solely on pills.  In fact, too many medicines can also have negative effect on our health.  For example, consuming too many pain medications may negatively affect the kidneys.   

These days, many people regularly do Yoga, but do not change their lifestyle.  They eat highly processed foods and lead a very hectic, sleep-deprived life.  And they wonder: “I do Yoga, but why don’t I feel its benefits?” They forget that Yoga is a life style, not just exercises.   Many people, including myself, have found Yoga to be beneficial to health.  But simply doing Yoga is not enough.  We have to also minimize consumption of junk and processed foods.  As we age, we may not be able to completely eliminate age-related illnesses, but at least we can manage them well.  For example, someone who is genetically prone to diabetics must stop consumption of sugar, cold drinks, packet fruit juices etc and instead consume vegetables and seasonal foods.    

Yoga can help us to maintain good health, but it is not a cure-all miracle.   Some Yogis on television falsely claim that Yoga can cure HIV/AIDS, tumors and mental health.  Relying on such dangerous claims, sometimes patients stop taking necessary medications which can be deadly.  Senior cardiologist Dr Prakash Regmi says, “I encourage people to do Yoga, but for patients with serious medical conditions, medication is equally necessary.  I have seen cases where a patient with high blood pressure or heart diseases begins doing yoga and stops taking medications. That can be extremely risky.  In a few cases, patients have tragically lost their lives.  We later learn from family members that the patient had stopped taking regular medicine believing that doing yoga asana will reduce his high blood pressure or heart diseases without medication.” 

Another doctor, who is a psychiatrist and who also practices Yoga regularly, shared a case with me.  “A patient had severe depression.   It took me a long time to find the right medicine for him. The medicine worked, and the patient felt much better,” he said. “He got married and had children.  After two years, he was brought back by his family. His situation had deteriorated, and he had attempted suicide.  Ultimately, we were able to save him.  I spoke with his wife about what had happened.  I learned that the patient’s yoga guru had suggested that with yoga he could fully recover and that he did not need anti-depressants.  After the patient stopped taking anti-depressants, he gradually started showing symptoms of depression again and his family members brought him to me.  This patient was lucky that his family intervened timely.  In many situations, there is a high risk for the patient to commit suicide after stopping anti-depressants.  So I always tell my patients to do yoga. But they must continue to take their necessary medications regularly.”

Forget it not

Today is International Yoga Day and many articles will be written about yoga and its benefits. But after some time people will forget about this and start to have unhealthy life again. If we will make yoga part of our life we will be healthy both physically and mentally.

Even children will benefit from yoga and healthy life style. Yogasans will increase their flexibility and it will help them to coordinate better and they will be more aware about their body and learn to take care of it. Their concentration and sense of calmness and relaxation improves. If they learn from childhood, it will help them in the future. Parents should discuss about this with their children if they want them to grow healthy and happy but parents should follow themselves healthy life style. It is not difficult if one is determined.

The author, a medical doctor, writes on health and nutrition

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