- By Darshan Goswami, M.S., P.E., Pittsburgh, PA, USA
In the near future, doctors may prescribe Yoga as alternative medicine for enhancing health, and preventing and curing diseases.
Originating thousands of years ago in India, yoga is a path for living life completely. The word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit term “Yuj” meaning "union" of mind, body, breath, spirit, and self to the divine. The practice of yoga includes meditation, deep relaxation, control of breath, various bodily postures (asanas), and a healthy diet. Regular practice of yoga establishes natural harmony and functional balance between various organ systems, leading to better health and overall well-being.
Yoga is a life style for a journey toward physical and spiritual wellness. Yoga has become an increasingly widespread therapy used to maintain wellness and alleviate a range of health problems and ailments. Yoga offers an effective method of managing and reducing stress, anxiety and depression and numerous studies demonstrate the efficacy of yoga on mood related disorders.
Yoga has been the subject of research for the treatment of epidemic diseases like depression, stress, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, coronary and serious pulmonary disease. As alternative medicine, hatha yoga focuses primarily on physical postures. In this form of yoga, physical postures and breathing exercises improve muscle strength, flexibility, blood circulation, oxygen uptake and hormone function. Yoga's breathing techniques teach relaxation. The relaxation induced by meditation helps to stabilize the autonomic nervous system with a tendency towards parasympathetic dominance. 
The state of the mind and the body are intimately related. If the mind is relaxed, the muscles in the body will also be relaxed. Yoga is now recognized as a form of physical and mental well-being and has been adapted for use in mind-body complementary and integrative medicine internationally. 
Scientific Studies on Yoga
While modern medicine has the ability in many cases to heal physical diseases and alleviate psychological disorders, it is argued that a purely medical approach is far less effective in healing the emotional, intellectual, and personality layers of the human entity. The discipline of yoga offers individuals a timeless and holistic model of health and a holistic path of healing. 
A survey conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine found that yoga is one of the most sought after and used forms of complementary medicine to heal a wide range of health-related conditions — particularly stress, mental health, and pain management. Significant benefits of yoga were reported in arthritis and other muscle disorders, as well as in cardiovascular endurance in healthy individuals. 
According to an article in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, the system of hatha yoga believes that prana, or healing "life energy" is absorbed into the body through the breath, and can treat a wide variety of illnesses and complaints.  The researchers have found significant evidence of the benefits of yoga, both as a treatment and as a preventative form of medicine. Studies have found therapeutic yoga practice can treat chronic health conditions; relieve stress; lower breathing and heart rate; reduce blood pressure; anxiety; obsessive-compulsive disorder; major depression; insomnia; and improve quality of life. Many integrative and holistically minded doctors are already including yoga therapy as part of their treatment plans.
Benefits of Yoga
The physical benefits of yoga are apparent to anyone who has attempted the discipline or observed someone else doing it. Yoga poses take a body through a range of motions, including sitting, standing forward and backward, inversions, and lying down. The stretching, bending and twisting in yoga increases flexibility, and massages internal organs and glands. It increases heart and lung capacity and improves the immune system. Yoga also provides calmness, clarity, stamina, and mental peace.
Research continues to reveal the health benefits of yoga, supporting the case for its use in health care. Yoga can help those suffering from chronic low back pain, general stress, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, joint stiffness and lack of self-esteem. It also produces counter-hormones, which keep insulin under check. Beyond these physical benefits, the greatest gifts yoga brings you are those of strength, awareness and self-love or self-acceptance. To realize these benefits, you must make a commitment and find the time to practice yoga regularly.
The best way to learn is with a teacher who can give you proper guidance, answer your questions, and help you with the correct postures. You may want to join a class to take yoga lessons. The single most important objective is to practice regularly. Regular yoga practice can help restore balance by increasing our awareness about how our body actually feels, with all its aches and pains. Once you start to incorporate yoga into your daily life, it will quickly become an enjoyable and natural habit, improving circulation and providing a rich supply of nutrients and oxygen to all the cells of the body.
The primary goal of yoga is “self-realization or union of self-consciousness with the supreme consciousness.” Ongoing research into yoga practices continues to reveal and uncover health benefits, supporting its use in health management. Results from numerous studies show that practicing yoga enhances muscular strength and body flexibility, promotes and improves respiratory and cardiovascular function, promotes recovery from and treatment of addiction, reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, improves sleep patterns, and encourages an optimistic outlook on life. Yoga can be effectively used as a preventive medicine to slow down the aging process by reducing the catabolic process of cell deterioration and defy aging. The ultimate message of yoga is that happiness comes through control of the mind. Scientific evidence collected thus far concludes that yoga can be beneficial in the prevention and cure of diseases.
However, Yoga is not a panacea, and it does have limitations. The practice of yoga is not as easy or as quick as taking medication, but mounting evidence suggests it is worth the effort and investment. Now more doctors are prescribing “Yoga as Medicine” for enhancing health, and preventing and curing diseases.
Disclaimer: This article is intended for the author's joy in the subject. Learning yoga needs the direct intervention of a teacher. Yoga can’t take the place of medical treatment, if you are already suffering from a disease. You must consult your physician and/or teacher before starting yoga as a treatment for any medical condition.
About the Author:
Darshan Goswami has more than 40 years of experience in the energy field. He worked as a Project Manager for Renewable Energy, Micro-grid and Smart Grid projects at the United States Department of Energy (DOE) in Pittsburgh. Mr. Goswami is a registered professional electrical engineer with a passion and commitment to promote, develop and deploy renewable energy resources and the hydrogen economy. In dedication to his life serving humanity and poor people, the author supports: India Foundation for Children Education and Care, Inc. (http://www.ifcare.org/).
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