Disease Research

More and more research is accumulating to prove yoga's efficiency in the management and treatment of diseases, especially chronic and psychosomatic disease. P.L. Lavgankar, Dr. B.S. Damle and Dr. R.V. Ranade of the Yoga Vidya Dham, Pune (India) have conducted trials on bronchial asthma, diabetes mellitus and digestive disorders at a series of three therapy camps held for two weeks each, from 15th April to 31st May 1974.*1 Their work is outlined and discussed here to highlight yoga's usefulness and the need for its general acceptance by the medical world.

Bronchial Asthma

Lavgankar et al. selected 22 patients for their study, 3 of whom were between 15 and 20 years, and 19 who were over 20 years. 4 patients had suffered less than 5 years, 9 between 5 and 10 years and 9 for more than 10 years. The disease covered the full spectrum from mild to severe. A full history, clinical examination and laboratory investigations were carried out.

After the 15 day course which included asanas (such as paschimottanasana, bhujangasana, mayurasana, vajrasana and shavasana), pranayama (such as bhramari, kapalbhati, ujjayi, anuloma villoma) and bandhas (such as uddiyana), the following results were obtained:

  1. Little improvement was seen in 3 patients. That is, the number and degree of attacks were the same as before and the same treatment had to be continued.
  2. Fair improvement occurred in 12 patients. That is, the number of attacks was reduced but the degree was variable and the same treatment had to be continued.
  3. Good improvement occurred in 7 patients. That is, the number and degree of attacks was reduced considerably and little or no drug treatment was required. This result in itself is good recommendation for yoga when we consider that a considerable improvement in a long term condition was experienced after only two weeks.

A follow up of 18 of the patients over a period of 12 months revealed that there was:

  1. Little improvement in 4
  2. Fair improvement in 10
  3. Good improvement in 4

The authors note that:

  1. A 17 year old patient who had suffered from asthma since the age of three remarked that the 15 day course was the first period in his life when drugs were not required to control his asthma.
  2. No patient experienced a severe attack of asthma during the 15 days which is good evidence to demonstrate that "no adverse effects of the yogic treatment were seen in any of the patients".*2
  3. Out of the 18 patients who attended the 12 month follow up 3 had no acute attack for the whole year and did not require drug injections even once during this period.

The authors felt that "this program definitely helped the patients to increase their self-confidence in their fight against asthma. Considering the psychological factors responsible for bringing about an attack, this seems to be a useful achievement. Reduction of frequency of attacks, bringing down the cost of drugs and saving valuable man-hours are other important factors in the success of the present treatment with yoga."*3

Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes is on the increase and a major concern to all health authorities. This is because of its progressively deteriorating history and because drugs are unable, as yet, to stop its damaging effects on many body organs. In India in 1973 there were an estimated 12,500,000 diabetics (out of a population of 548 millions), approximately 2.5% of the population.*4

Lavgankar, et al., selected 16 male patients, aged between 22 and 65. 2 were considered as juvenile onset diabetics (aged 22 and 30, with a duration of the disease ranging from 2 to 3 years). Of the remaining 15 (between 40 and 65 years), 9 had suffered for less than 10 years and 6 for more than 10 years. The following investigations were made: urine sugar and acetone twice a day, once while fasting and once after meals (postprandial), during the whole 15 day course; blood sugar (fasting and postprandial), urea, cholesterol and haemoglobin. All these tests were repeated at 6 and 12 monthly intervals.

Yogasanas, pranayama and hatha yoga shatkarmas (cleaning exercises) were performed and the following results were found (these are only a small selection of those reported, but they highlight the findings) in those most seriously affected by diabetes mellitus:

  1. Five patients who had experienced 1 to 2% of glucose in their urine at the beginning of the course were reduced in number to only 1 patient after the 12 monthly check. That is, 4 reduced the severity of their disease.
  2. Seven patients with postprandial urine sugars of 1 to 2% were reduced in number to only 1 patient.
  3. Six patients with blood sugars (postprandial) above 160 milligram % before the course were reduced in number to only 1 patient after 12 months.
  4. In terms of drug usage 3 patients were taking no drugs before the course and 4 were independent of drugs after 12 months. Of the 9 who had taken oral drugs before yoga, 3 stopped, 1 reduced, and 1 was the same as before. One of the 3 who were taking insulin injections when starting yoga, stopped.

The authors note that 1 student in particular showed a remarkable improvement despite having severe diabetes. He had not been taking any drug treatment. "His fasting and postprandial blood sugar levels at the beginning and at the end of the course were 259 and 262 milligrams % and 150 and 215 milligrams % respectively."*5

Even if only a few individuals benefit from yoga then it deserves a place in the armament against so dreadful a disease as diabetes.

Gastrointestinal Disorders

As one of the most common causes of chronic psychosomatic illness and the cause of an immense loss of working man-hours, this group of conditions requires detailed and thorough investigation in order to uproot it from our society. The following report by Lavgankar et al. is a timely study which should stir more interest and research.

The researchers cite the following aggravating factors of a basically psychosomatic disease caused primarily by:

  1. Modern stresses and strains.
  2. Bad quality food.
  3. Irregularity in eating habits, time of consumption, quantity, and so on.
  4. Imbalance in elements such as vitamins and minerals.
  5. Infections and infestations (particularly common in India).

Examples of the disorders being considered are: mucus colitis, anorexia nervosa, peptic ulcer, ulcerative colitis, nervous vomiting and so on. The authors state:

"Some individuals express their deep feelings, such as anxiety, depression, guilt, greed for power, or their response to the stresses of life by somatic fixation on one of the visceral organs. This, in many cases, is the gastrointestinal tract... changes in such persons are due to both the emotions as well as the habits and patterns of life... We feel that in this group of disorders... Yoga can help most." *6

15 males, 9 aged between 25 and 40 and 6 aged between 41 and 60, took part in the experiment. A detailed history, clinical examination and laboratory studies were made. 7 had suffered less than 10 years and 8 had suffered more than 10 years. 12 of the 15 reported that they suffered from mental tensions and all were occupied in sedentary work. Drugs were supplied when there were signs of infection or infestation. 7 of the patients were suffering from chronic dysentery, 4 had piles or anal fissures and 1 of them had hyperacidity.

The results of asanas, pranayama and hatha yoga shatkarmas were a distinct decrease in the number of symptoms experienced, for example:

  1. Eleven patients with pain in the abdomen were reduced to 6 after 12 months.
  2. Nine with loose stools were reduced to 6 after 12 months.
  3. Five with burning sensations in the upper abdomen were reduced to 3.
  4. Seven with psychological disturbance were reduced to 3.
  5. Three constipated individuals were reduced to 1.
  6. There was a decrease in the clinical signs, such as abdominal tenderness, palpable liver, and so on.

No decrease in the number of people with lowered appetite or tenesmus (pain on defecation) was found.

When the overall degree of improvement was assessed:

  1. Little improvement was seen in 0 patients at the end of the course and in 4 patients after 12 months.
  2. Good improvement was seen in 10 patients at the end of the course and in 7 at the end of 12 months.
  3. Excellent improvement was seen in 5 patients at the end of the course and in 1 at the end of 12 months.

The authors note that: "The subjective improvement was marked in the majority of patients even though there was less change on actual clinical examination. There was a definite improvement in psychological disturbances in the majority of patients after the attack of the disorder and subsequently their self-confidence increased greatly."*7

One of the patients had been unable to follow his routine work before taking up yoga. Later, he had undergone psychiatric therapy which included electroconvulsive shock therapy and tranquillisers. At the end of the 15 day course he no longer needed shock therapy and by the end of the 12 months he was totally free from drug therapy.

Concluding remarks

From the above data we have the beginnings of an impressive list of evidence that should stir interest and further study. Few doctors or healing professionals want to try 'new' techniques (though yoga is actually thousands of years old). They must first have adequate evidence to give them confidence. In this respect, yoga has two points in its favour:

  1. There is no evidence that the yogic techniques have any harmful effects despite their millennial history.
  2. There is a growing body of proofs to show that yogic practices are definitely advantageous when performed correctly under guidance.

In certain cases yoga may even surpass the status of an 'adjunct to therapy' given to it by many researchers, and seems sure to rise to its own independent level in both the therapeutic and preventive fields.

References

*1. P.L. Lavgankar, et al., 'Yoga Vidya Dham Pune - Report of Yogopchar Shibif, 1974.
*2, *3. Ibid.
*4. R.V. Sathe, Journal of Indian Medical Assoc, 61, 12: 1973.
*5, *6, *7. Lavgankar, 'op. cit.'