Yoga with the help of pop culture has long been touted as a way to get healthy. This should come as no surprise as the work of Dean Ornish and others has shown that diet and lifestyle can prevent disease.
Does doing yoga actually prevent disease?
When more and more evidence is accumulating that stress is the number one cause of disease, is it possible that a stress fighting remedy like yoga can be the cure?
These are very important questions that will guide consumer dollars in the short term.
For my part I would like to bring up my clinical experience as an Ayurvedic practitioner in a yoga studio. Because of the placement of my business, I regularly work with yoga students and teachers. This is an incredible blessing and I am grateful for the opportunity to work with such a high caliber people who are willing to take responsibility for their actions and make lasting evolutionary change in their lives. This experience has led me to recognize some common patterns of imbalance that arise within this ecosystem.
Yin and Yang
Although yin and yang are not Ayurvedic concepts, that accurately depict a common tendency that I see in my clinical practice that I would like to allude to. The first is the type A personality yoga studio owner who is constantly on her phone making important things happen. Then she goes into her power class or her hot yoga class because it fuels her intensity. She thrives on this intensity. This activity and assertiveness could be considered yang.
Yang is most often associated with masculine characteristics. While in the beginning of a yoga practice the self confidence that it provides is empowering, I often see many woman becoming more aggressive and assertive as they continue to practice highly yang forms of yoga and then they come to me because of inflammatory conditions like tendonitis or bursitis.
The opposite of this pattern is how men are affected within the yoga community. I have also seen it affect women, but that is less common. Just as the woman become more aggressive, the men can tend to become sensitive in a way that could be described as feminine. They become more yin in nature and lose the capacity to be self-directed and make clear decisions. This level of sensitivity is remarkably valuable, but sometimes it can be too much of a good thing and can create yoga connoisseurs who are unable to guide their lives with direction and clarity.
Yoga can be an amazing tool for self-empowerment, but like anything the dosage of strong medicine must be appropriate, otherwise it can cause an imbalance. Remember that sometimes the best yoga is not a workout but a way of calming the mind and body and restoring equilibrium to the emotions and soul.
The Yoga Diet
Many yogis eat healthily, which means they are vegetarian, gluten free, low fat. This often translates into salads and quick convenience foods that can be eaten on the run. While it is very important to be conscious of the foods that you are eating and to choose foods that build the body and promote awareness and clarity, many of the foods chosen by the yoga elite are overly light and rough in nature which can cause spaciness, overwhelm, and even anxiety.
This situation is even more pronounced in yoga advocates who are big fans of cleanses or detoxification. I believe in the power of detoxification, but many times there is not an adequate assessment of the strength of the client in these situations, and a detox program can do more harm than good. As 80% of our neurotransmitters are created in the digestive system, it is no wonder that our diet can strongly affect the function of our mind and brain. Eating too many salads and quick foods can promote an overly sensitive state of the nervous system that can be mediated by following simple dietary principles associated with Ayurvedic medicine.
By in large, yoga is a remarkably positive practice and affects people in a myriad of powerful ways that provide exceptional benefits to them and all those around them. These patterns are merely generalizations of clinical data that I have amassed over the last 7 years and it is good to be aware of these tendencies if you are a yoga practitioner.