Sample from the Summer 2004 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

Excerpt from the article by Dr. Timothy McCall

Timothy McCall, M.D. is the medical editor for Yoga Journal. Last year he reported on his 2-month trip to South India where he explored the state of research on Yoga in India. During the 2003 Integral Yoga Teachers Conference, Dr. McCall shared the results of his exploration in a presentation which we excerpt here.

…Most Western research measures only the results of one main intervention. For example, there are two groups of patients. One gets a cholesterol drug and the other a placebo. Any difference between the groups then can be attributed to the cholesterol drug. The type of research that Dean Ornish did, on the other hand, is known as “outcomes studies.” His study was a comprehensive lifestyle study. The subjects were put on a program including a low-fat vegetarian diet, no smoking, group therapy, walking, and Yoga.

Of course, Western scientists tend to not really like those studies because they say, “Well, we can’t tell what did it. What had the effect?” What they fail to consider is that you get additive and multiplying effects, synergy, that happens with multiple interventions. This is one thing we should think about more in our research: not feeling like we have to say which element of what we are doing is having the effect.

After that, I attended a two-week Yoga therapy conference at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM) with T. K. Desikachar and his son, Kasthub. They have a different definition of research. They qualitative research. They study patients one at a time, come up with individualized programs for these patients and then try to see what’s working. They build a database.

From a Western standpoint that’s not considered acceptable. This kind of research has to do with a whole different way of knowing. In the Yogic way of knowing, the deeper you go in your own practice, the more you are able to see what other people need. This is where you see the real “art” of Yoga therapy. The KYM is a wonderful paradigm for Yoga therapy. They see people in one-on-one sessions. After asking questions and finding out the nature of the problem, they start to give them very gentle breathing practices and very gentle asanas. Depending on the person’s background, they may be given chanting and other things. The person does the practice with the teacher in the very first appointment–they might only do 2 or 3 asanas. Then they go home with homework.

At KYM, they focus on breath awareness in their asanas. Every pose is coordinated with the breath. You start the inhalation just before you initiate the movement and you continue the inhalation until just after you finished the movement. Then, you start the exhalation and you begin the movement back. Almost nobody gets hurt with this style because you are not holding anything. If you can’t do some part of the practice with smooth breathing, that is not going to be part of your homework. Similarly, they are not shy about including pranayama with retention to beginning students because they are always carefully monitoring them. There is continual adjustment over time. I think this is a powerful model for therapy–a model we should seriously look to in this country…

Read the rest of this article in the Summer 2004 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.