Back and Neck Pain

Yoga and Stretching it Out, Part XI

Author| Barry Kerzin, MD

From the Dalai Lama's personal physician

In Sanskrit and Tibetan, the word yoga means to connect or unify, to be in union and balance the pure nature of our body and our mind. There are many traditions of yoga coming mainly from Hinduism in India over the last 4,000 years. In the mid-19th century with the publication of N.C. Paul’s Treatise on Yoga Philosophy, the western world was introduced to yoga. In the 1890’s Swami Vivekananda toured the U.S. and Europe making his famous speech to the Parliament of World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893 introducing the western world to Hinduism and yoga. He popularized the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which contain Ashtanga yoga. At the same time, he was deeply committed to interfaith understanding and tolerance. According to some sources over 20 million Americans practice yoga, although it may be even higher. Even our past President Obama embraced yoga saying, “Yoga has become a universal language of spiritual exercise in the United States, crossing many lines of religion and cultures.... Every day millions of people practice yoga to improve their health and overall well-being."

The American College of Sports Medicine supports the integration of yoga into exercise regimens.

A 2013 systematic review found strong evidence that yoga was effective for low back pain in the short-term, and moderate evidence that it was effective in the long-term [13]. Yoga is used for treatment of cancer patients to decrease depression, insomnia, pain, and fatigue and to reduce anxiety [14]. The prefrontal cortex (PFC - behind the forehead) is called the Executive Function center of the brain. It controls important high-level functioning such as planning, imagination, creativity, pro-social behavior, and compassion. A 2013 study showed enhanced cognitive performance related to the PFC after yoga [15]. Practicing yoga properly requires the guidance of a qualified teacher. We should not push too much too fast. Rather, take it slowly and gradually allow the body to adjust to new positions and stresses. There are many asanas, or postures. According to Ashtanga yoga, asana is to sit firm yet relaxed for a long period of time.

When one area of the body is in chronic pain, it affects many other areas. These other areas become tense and constricted.

Thus stretching and yoga becomes an essential component of the treatment plan. Of course, we do these to tolerance, and not overdo. A little pain is acceptable, but more pain is not. So if there is too much pain, you are doing too much. Back off from the intensity, or quit for the day. In December 2016 UNESCO recognized yoga as an intangible cultural heritage.

13. Cramer, Holger; Lauche, Romy; Haller, Heidemarie; Dobos, Gustav (May 2013). A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Yoga for Low Back Pain. The Clinical Journal of Pain. 29(5): 450–460.

14. DeStasio, Susan A. (2008) Integrating Yoga Into Cancer Care. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing. February 2008, Volume 12 Issue 1. p125–130.

15. Gothe, N.; Pontifex, M. B.; Hillman, C.; McAuley, E. (2013). The acute effects of yoga on executive function. Journal of physical activity & health. 10 (4): 488–495.

Continue to Part XII