Yoga in Everyday Life: Physical Fitness, Workplace, Health Care and Medical Research

Article ID: JAY001-2 | By: Elliot Miller

Yoga In Sports and Physical Fitness

Yoga has become one of America’s most popular exercise regimens for staying fit. Seventy-five percent of health clubs in the United States offer yoga classes.27 Athletes are also increasingly using yoga to limber up for other sports, such as golf.

Furthermore, yoga asana competitions, which have long been held in India, are becoming increasingly popular in America. Bikram Choudhury has established regional and international Bishnu Charan Ghosh Cup championships and he is also leading a campaign to have competitive yoga included in the Olympics.

Yoga In the Workplace

It is becoming increasingly common for major corporations to provide yoga for their employees as a means of reducing stress and promoting general health. Entrepreneurial yoga teachers have formed businesses to service this market. One such company, Yoga at Work, states on its Web site, “Join a rapidly growing list of major companies like Nike, HBO, Apple, Forbes, General Electric, PepsiCo and Chase Manhattan that rely on yoga to keep their employees healthy, happy, focused, fully engaged in their work.”28

According to a blog entry titled “Mandatory Yoga at Work” by law professor Paul Secunda, the National Law Journal reports that “employers are increasingly mandating that employees have healthy lifestyles, or face repercussions. Mandatory wellness programs are popping up everywhere, lawyers say, requiring everything from cholesterol screening to weight-loss plans and yoga classes. Several employers are starting to reward employees with extra cash for meeting certain company health goals. Others are fining those who refuse to take part in programs.”29

Yoga In Health Care and Medical Research

A 1990 study showed that yoga combined with other healthy practices was effective in treating arterial blockage. In recent years further research of yoga has yielded some tentatively positive results for relieving carpal tunnel syndrome, asthma and other pulmonary conditions, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, insomnia, multiple sclerosis, lower back pain, and obesity. Further claims have been made for yoga’s beneficial effects in preventing or managing numerous additional afflictions. It is becoming increasingly common for mainstream physicians and psychiatrists to prescribe or recommend yoga as therapy, and for hospitals and physical therapists to incorporate it in their treatment regimens.30

There are some proven health benefits to yoga practice, but most of those claims have only anecdotal support; thus, they should not be magnified out of proportion. Further, the press has noted a “surge of muscle and ligament sprains, disk injuries, and cartilage tears,” “mild to moderate sprains of the knees, shoulder, neck, or back,” and “soft-tissue and joint injuries” associated with yoga, with some of the injuries sustained being quite serious.31

A New York Times article raises the question whether yoga’s negative effects may at times outweigh its positive ones: “‘The extreme range of motion yoga develops does not necessarily have an advantage, and it may be counterproductive,’ said Dr. Shirley Sahrmann, a professor of physical therapy at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Like dancers, practitioners of yoga cultivate overly flexible spines, which often cause problems in resting posture. ‘In my business,’ Dr. Sahrmann said, ‘I have more problems with people who have excessive mobility than limited mobility.'”32

Yoga’s effect on behavior is not always positive, either. At Ringerike Prison in Oslo, Norway, a trial yoga program was stopped after some prisoners became more aggressive and agitated, while others developed sleeping problems. “[The warden] said that deep breathing exercises could make the inmates more dangerous, by unblocking their psychological barriers.”33