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Can yoga be used for physical therapy?

Lounge speaks to yoga teachers and experts about how yoga can be used to address lifestyle-related ailments

People are increasingly using yoga to combat lifestyle related ailments.
People are increasingly using yoga to combat lifestyle related ailments. (Istockphoto)

Yoga is fast becoming the go-to remedy for treating and managing the lifestyle, physical and stress-related ailments that debilitate us. Plenty of people show up at yoga teachers’ doors with requests for fixing and/or managing slip disc, hypertension, blood pressure, cervical spondylitis, arthritis and thyroid, says Bengaluru-based yoga instructor Karthik HC. “Yoga has several benefits over and above making you fit. It can be used to fix or manage chronic problems like back ache, sleep disorders and even psychosomatic problems,” says Abhishek Sharma, a Mumbai-based personal trainer and yoga teacher.

Most of the physical problems such as disc bulges and back issues are due to excessive weight, poor posture or sedentary lifestyle, says Karthik, who has a Ph.D. in yoga from Mangalore University. These problems can be fixed with simple yoga training in which the teachers help the “patient” learn how to sit properly and even carry out postural correction for them.

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“For postural correction, we focus on the head, spine and neck using a technique called the Samamkayashirogriva, which translates to ‘stable spine, head and neck.’ If the issue is with discs and spine, we use asanas that stretch the spine and also include spinal twists to enhance the mobility of the vertebrae. Using props such as yoga bricks, wall support and yoga straps is common because people with such complaints usually lack mobility and flexibility,” says Karthik. With the fixing of posture a lot of the back and disc complaints usually disappear. Back strengthening exercises, including setubandh asana (bridge) and Shalabh asana (locust pose) are also very useful in addressing cases of slip disc, says another yoga instructor, Manish Pole of Bengaluru.

Sharma, the author of Fitness On The Go, has also successfully helped his clients manage thyroid issues which lead to excess weight gain. While a combination of some very basic yogic postures and movements such as surya namaskaras, naukasana, utkat asana and santolan can help tackle the weight gain to a large extent, anulom vilom pranayama, a breathing technique using alternate nostrils, and other kriyas that focus on the hormonal locks known as bandhas can address the hormonal issues causing the thyroid problems, says Sharma. “By contracting and relaxing the muscles around the hormonal glands the bandhas are affected leading to balancing estrogen, testosterone, adrenaline and thyroxin levels,” adds Sharma.

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Bhujanga asana (cobra pose), dhanur asana (bow pose) and setubandh asana (bridge) are also good for managing thyroid issues but they also affect other parts of our bodies, says Rinku Suri, yoga instructor and founder of Yoga 101 in Mumbai. “When you focus your attention on a certain part in the body while holding a posture, the impact on that part is 20 times greater,” she adds.

Hypertension and diabetes are called the twin lifestyle diseases in the world of health and fitness because very often one accompanies the other and the main factor behind both is usually stress, say yoga instructors. The good news is that both can easily be managed and kept within reasonable levels with yoga along with a healthy diet because food intake has a direct impact on diabetes.

Also Read: Can yoga help you lose weight?

A research paper titled Effectiveness Of Yoga For Hypertension: Systematic Review And Meta-analysis published in 2013 found that “overall, yoga was associated with a modest but significant reduction in blood pressure… with larger, more clinically significant reductions in blood pressure for interventions incorporating 3 basic elements of yoga practice (postures, meditation, and breathing).” The paper found that “yoga may offer an effective intervention for reducing blood pressure among people with pre-hypertension or hypertension.”

The main reason for hypertension is stress and we are living in very uncertain times right now. Inverted postures such as sarvangasana and shavasana as well as pranayama are helpful in tackling stress, says Pole. To address hypertension yoga teachers also deploy relaxation practices such as yoga nidra, says Karthik. “Yoga nidra is a technique in which one relaxes the body by progression from toes to head. The person doing the practice is completely focused and mindful of just one thought—the instructor who helps them focus on part of the body at a time and consciously relax it. By focusing on just one part of the body at a time, we are reducing the speed at which the mind works. This reduction of speed of mind helps us handle stress better and thereby manage blood pressure, diabetes and hypertension,” Karthik adds.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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