Yoga is not a cure for breast cancer, nor is it a shield from its occurrence. I had breast cancer in 2000, perhaps linked to hormone treatment—mega doses of estrogen in my late teens and early twenties. No one can say for sure. And other yoga friends have been shocked by a diagnosis. It’s easy to be disbelieving, when we think we’re living an immune system-bolstering “sattvic” lifestyle, but yoga sisters have not been spared from this life-threatening, and in one yoga friend’s case, life-taking disease. But for those of us who have been treated for breast cancer, yoga has certainly helped. In the research section below, I’ve summarized three recent studies related to mood in breast cancer survivors who have received therapeutic yoga treatment.
Yoga research is advancing. We are no longer just showing that yoga works to lift mood, energy and decrease levels of anxiety, depression and fatigue, but researchers are beginning to compare different approaches to Yoga with each other. I’ve summarized two studies below that compare different yoga and meditation-based modalities with one and other to determine which modalities are most effective in balancing mood.
Other recent studies summarized below look at the effects of chanting “Om,” the effect of sudarshan kriya breathing on anxiety, and the effect of sensory-based yoga on combat related stress. I am quite heartened by the fMRI study regarding “Om chanting” which has a quieting affect on the limbic system and may make vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) obsolete! I’ve been calling yoga teachers, particularly those of us who use mantra chanting in asana practice, “Amygdala Whisperers.” It’s wonderful when scientific research corroborates yogic wisdom.
I write this newsletter on the day my publisher is sending my new book, Yoga Skills for Therapists to the printer. I’m excited and also feel like hiding under a rock. But I feel the manuscript gently held by the kind words of advanced readers like Dan Siegel, Tara Brach, Stephen Cope, Richard Hanson, Rama Jyoti Vernon, Lilias, James Gordon, Richard Brown, Patricia Gerbarg, Shirley Telles and so many others. You can read more about the new book and consider placing an advance order.
In This Issue:
- Research: Yoga Helps Breast Cancer Patients with Mood, Immune Response and Fatigue
- Research: Spiritually-oriented Yoga Better then Exercise-oriented Yoga for Overall Mental Health
- Research: Chanting Om Shown to Deactivate the Limbic System—a Known Treatment for Depression
- Research: Sudharshan Kriya Also Helps Anxiety
- Research: Sensory-Enhanced Yoga Helps Combat Stress in Iraq
- News: Trauma Recovery from a Yoga Perspective – YOGA HUB workshop
- News: Embodied Practices online course with Trauma specialist Deirdre Fay starts January 27
- Review: Spontaneous Happiness by Andrew Weil, MD
- Review: Ocean of the Heart: Shri Ram Jaya Ram and Tejase: The Essence of Illumination by Todd Norian
- Calendar Highlights
In two separate studies, Yoga has been shown to help Breast Cancer Patients. In one 3-month study done in Bangalore, India, 45 patients were randomized to a daily yoga intervention and 46 to standard supportive counseling. The subjects, with an average age of 50.5 years, were assessed at baseline and after the intervention. The yoga intervention was resoundingly effective in improving psychosocial states, reducing anxiety, depression, fatigue, cognitive function, and quality of life, as compared to the control group.
The yoga group also showed a significant decrease in early morning (6:00 am) cortisol levels, which is a measure of stress. After the intervention, there was also a significant increase in the percentage of natural killer cells in the yoga group, compared with the control group. Previous research has demonstrated that natural killer cells, which are naturally occurring cytotoxins, play a therapeutic role in the treatment of human cancers.
In the second study, after three months of twice-weekly yoga classes, a group of breast cancer survivors in California reported significantly diminished fatigue and increased “vigor.” A control group of women who took classes in post-cancer health issues, but didn’t do yoga, had no changes in their fatigue or depression levels.
Cancer. 2011 Dec 16. doi: 10.1002/cncr.26702.
A third recently published study published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research, discovered that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a form of meditation that also incorporates yoga can help breast-cancer survivors “improve their emotional and physical well-being.” The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri, concluded that “breast cancer survivors who learned Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction lowered their blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate, and their mood improved.”
Now that yoga has been shown in previous research to raise GABA levels and elevate mood, as compared to walking exercise, researchers have begun comparing and contrasting styles of yoga. In two recent studies, different approaches to the use of yoga were compared. In a study at the University of Southern Mississippi that compared yoga as exercise to a more integrated yoga practice that included an ethical/spiritual component, only the integrated yoga group experienced decreased anxiety-related symptoms and decreased salivary cortisol from the beginning to the end of the study. In the study, 81 mild to moderately depressed undergraduate students were divided into three groups: exercise-yoga, integrated yoga, and a control group. Over time, participants in both the integrated and exercise yoga groups experienced decreased depression and stress, an increased sense of hopefulness, and increased flexibility compared to the control group.
Altern Ther Health Med. 2011 May-Jun;17(3):22-9.
In a second comparative study in London, researchers compared Iyengar Yoga (posture base with less emphasis on breathing) to Mindfulness Meditation and also to a style of yoga-like meditative exercises called “brain wave vibration training (BWV)” that incorporates a self-patting massage, specific breathing in postures, and rhythmic movements of the head and neck to music. The authors report: 35 healthy adults completed 10 75-minute classes of BWV, Iyengar, or Mindfulness over five weeks.
Participants were assessed at pre- and postintervention for mood, sleep, mindfulness, absorption, health, memory, and salivary cortisol. Better overall mood and vitality followed both BWV and Iyengar training, while the BWV group alone had improved depression and sleep latency. Mindfulness produced a comparatively greater increase in absorption. All interventions improved stress and mindfulness, while no changes occurred in health, memory, or salivary cortisol. In conclusion, increased well-being followed training in all three practices, increased absorption was specific to Mindfulness, while BWV was unique in its benefits to depression and sleep latency, warranting further research.
In a study conducted at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience in India, chanting Om was found to have a similar effect as the implantation of a vagus nerve stimulator (VNS). The VNS, which requires invasive surgery and affects the vocal chords, has been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of both epilepsy and depression. But the same areas of the brain are affected with the chanting of “Om.” Both implantation of the VNS and ‘OM’ chanting produce limbic deactivation, the opposite of what happens when we are depressed or fearful or traumatized.
The researchers compared 15 seconds of “OM” (5 – O; 10 – m) to 15 seconds of the sound “Ssssss…” and to 15 seconds of rest. Using fMRI, as well as other measuring methods, the researchers found significant deactivation in the amygdala, anterior cingulate gyrus, hippocampus, insula, orbitofrontal cortex, parahippocampal gyrus and thalamus during ‘OM’ chanting. The “ssss” task did not produce any significant activation/deactivation in any of these brain regions. It is theorized that like the VNS, ‘Om’ chanting creates a vibration sensation around the ears that is transmitted through the auricular branch of the vagus nerve. This transmission would then deactivate the limbic system.
Bangalore G Kalyani, Ganesan Venkatasubramanian, Rashmi Arasappa, Naren P Rao, Sunil V Kalmady, Rishikesh V Behere, Hariprasad Rao, Mandapati K Vasudev, and Bangalore N Gangadhar “Neurohemodynamic correlates of ‘OM’ chanting: A pilot functional magnetic resonance imaging study” International Journal of Yoga. 2011 Jan-Jun; 4(1): 3–6.
Previous research has shown that Sudarshan Kriya (SKY), developed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and taught by the Art of Living Foundation, decreases the symptoms of depression. The current study, published this month by the International Journal of Yoga, demonstrates its effectiveness for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The study, which took place in Canada and involved researchers in both Canada and the US, looked at SKY, a multicomponent yoga-based, breath intervention program as an adjunctive treatment in patients suffering from generalized anxiety disorder. Of the 31 study completers, 73% had a positive response and 41% had a complete remission of symptoms. The study participants were outpatients at a treatment center who not only met the criteria for GAD, but who had failed to achieve remission despite previous treatments with CBT and/or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MSBR). During the study, the patients continued to take stable doses of psychotropic medications.
Martin A Katzman1, Monica Vermani2, Patricia L Gerbarg3, Richard P Brown4, Christina Iorio5, Michele Davis6, Catherine Cameron2, Dina Tsirgielis2(2012). “A multicomponent yoga-based, breath intervention program as an adjunctive treatment in patients suffering from generalized anxiety disorder with or without comorbidities has been published by the International Journal of Yoga.” International Journal of Yoga, 5,1: 57-65
In a soon to be published article in American Journal of Occupational Therapy, researchers in the US and Iraq, of whom several have been directly involved in developing yoga programs for soldiers and their families (Warriors at Ease and Yoga Warriors International), conducted a randomized controlled trial using sensory-enhanced yoga. In this style of yoga, cues are provided to stay present to body sensations, particularly in hands and feet. In the study that involved 70 military personnel deployed in Iraq, treatment participants showed significantly greater improvement than control participants on 16 of 18 mental health and quality-of-life factors. There was a decrease in sensory seeking, which could indicate a further reduction in hyper-arousal. To download the full article, please follow this link: AJOT Article on PTSD and Yoga-1.
Stoller, C. C., Greuel, J. H., Cimini, L. S., Fowler, M. S., & Koomar, J. A. (2012). Effects of sensory-enhanced yoga on symptoms of combat stress in deployed military personnel. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 66, 59–68.
I’ll be discussing what happens in the brain when trauma occurs, how it affects our biochemistry after the event, and how yoga can help bring our inner pharmacy back into balance. I’ll lead a centering practice for trauma that creates a safe and sacred container, which, in addition to fostering the therapeutic bond, allows the trauma releasing work to proceed, often without a story attached. We will discuss and practice yoga techniques that lay the groundwork for trauma recovery and then gradually begin to restore equilibrium in the traumatized individual. We’ll discuss how safe yoga practices that include pranayama, mantra, mudra, bhavana (visual imagery) and movement can empower the student or client to be the agent of his or her own healing.
I’m one of 35 speakers during the Virtual World Yoga & Meditation Conference: February 7th through 11th, 2012. You can attend live by phone or computer or download and listen later. To register please click here.
Feel free to share this code with family and friends who may be interested in wellness.
I am always inspired by psychotherapist Deirdre Fay’s work. She weaves her knowledge of yoga and meditation as well as Internal Family Systems into her embodied work with clients. This new 6-part online series is accompanied by a beautiful manual that includes over 170 pages of good information and exercises. If you want to release those nagging inner patterns that seem to weave their way psychologically and emotionally through the cells of our bodies, I highly recommend this audio course. It is a structured, supported way to practice entering the body safely every day.
Here’s a sample on You Tube.
by Andrew Weil, MD
With his 13th book, Andrew Weil, the pioneer in integrative medicine (IM) has bushwhacked the inevitable trail from body mind medicine into the vast terrain of mental health. For most of us who’ve been on this trail, following the ancient yogis and Buddhists and Taoists, the information in Spontaneous Happiness is welcome validation. Referencing the work of Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, Weil tells us that, “science confirms the advice of saints and sages over eons: emotional wellbeing must come from within, because reaching external goals often disappoints.”
Weil calls himself a “lifelong medical multiculturalist,” who went public with his advocacy of integrating traditional methods of healing into contemporary evidence-based medicine long before it was popular. As the author of books selling approximately ten million copies and a popular website that is the go-to health resource for millions of people around the world, he is ideally suited to bring mind body medicine into both the arena of traditional mental health treatment and into popular consciousness.
Despite the title, Spontaneous Happiness is not really about achieving happiness. “The notion that a human being should be constantly happy is a uniquely modern, uniquely American, uniquely destructive idea. Rather, Andrew Weil does an excellent, modern-day job, backed by current scientific evidence, of teaching readers what those saints and sages taught—how to sustain an emotional equilibrium, a homeostasis that is healthy enough to withstand the challenges of life in a human body-mind.
Having set the stage with an overview of depression and a discussion of the limitations of the biomedical model for treating it, Weil presents evidence-based strategies from Eastern and Western traditions and a discussion of how to integrate them into mental health care. What follows is a comprehensive exploration of the body-based treatments and effective how-to’s.
We come to know Weil, not simply as the expert, but as the guy who gets stuck sometimes in negative mood states, just like the rest of us. He shares anecdotes from his own life, never claiming that he has achieved spontaneous happiness (defined as a state that can only come from within) or even emotional wellbeing all the time. But from the work-in-progress that is his life of success and failure, joy and grief, weakness and strength (not so different from you and me), he has had enough experience of “what emotional health feels like” to be a guide to sustaining an “emotional sea level”—a place of basic comfort “both when things are going well and when they aren’t.” Weil defines this as “emotional resilience.” In this state, “you don’t have to resist feeling appropriate sadness; you learn that your moods are dynamic and flexible and that they soon return to the neutral balance point, the zone of contentment, comfort and serenity.”
Weil devotes a chapter to analyzing the sources of what has become the common and well-documented view that depression has become epidemic. Aside from the marketing of depression by big pharma worldwide, resulting in an increase of the diagnosis of depression and an exponential increase in antidepressant prescriptions, Weil cites the work of Richard Louv, who coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder.” We no longer live and work outdoors and we no longer work with our hands to sustain our lives. For ten thousand years, agriculture was our common occupation. In 1801, Weil tells us, 95 percent of Americans lived on farms.
By 2000, less than 2 percent of us were farmers. Technology makes life easier and more sedentary. The foods we eat are processed and less wholesome. And prosperity is isolating us from each other. We’re plugged in and tuned out from face to face interactions with others. In the yogic view, this disconnection and the isolation that our sedentary hand-held devices provide is the source of our suffering. Although Weil doesn’t discuss this directly, the physical labor in which our ancestors engaged meant they were breathing more deeply, too. Again, from a yogic perspective, the lack of prana (accessed when we take deep, full breaths) is another reason why we can become lethargic and depressed.
Weil does battle with the reigning biomedical model predominate in psychiatry since the revision of the 1980 revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-III). He says that psychiatrists, “still referred to as witch doctors and shrinks,” suffered from a “collective inferiority complex with regard to their place in the medical hierarchy” and therefore embraced psychopharmacology in a misguided attempt to be seen as “biologically correct.”
Weil points out that despite the fact that since 1998 we’ve had hard evidence that the most commonly prescribed antidepressants work no better than placebos, prescriptions for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have multiplied around the globe. What he proposes is a model of integrated treatment that may include medication, but not, in most cases, as a first line treatment. That model was manifest at the first national conference on integrative mental health in 2012 that he and Dr. Victoria Maizes convened, where nutrition, sleep, and Eastern modalities, including yoga (I was fortunate to present the yoga and mental health component) were considered indispensable for an integrative approach to sustaining optimal mental health and treating depression and other mood disorders.
Citing Richard Davidson’s well-known research at the University of Wisconsin on the potential of meditation to alter brain function and structure, Weil documents the now-proven concept that “neuroplasticity is a fundamental characteristic of our brains.” What this means is that with training, “emotions such as happiness and compassion can be cultivated in much the same way that a person can learn … to play golf or basketball or master a musical instrument, and that such practice changes the activity and physical aspects of specific brain areas.”
Part 2 of Spontaneous Happiness, which takes up more than half of the book is called “Practice” and in it, Weil shares from the wealth of his forty years as a medical multiculturalist, the many mind-body approaches he has explored and found useful in the treatment of depression and mood disorders.
Part 3 provides an easy to follow 8-week program for readers to try on their own that builds week-by-week to include attention to diet and sleep, exercise, breathing practices and self-inquiry.
The appendix is a compendium of useful reference material both regular readers and health professionals.
Spontaneous Happiness, along with Unstuck by Dr. James Gordon and How to Use Herbs, Nutrients and Yoga for Mental Health Care by Drs. Richard Brown, Patricia Gerbarg and Philip Muskin, constitutes one of the classic references in the field of integrative mental health treatment for both lay and professional readers.
From one of America’s most heart-centered yogis and musicians comes two new CDs for yoga and relaxation. Ocean of the Heart is a soothing evocation of the great mantra Shri Ram Jaya Ram. Practitioners and teachers alike will appreciate the slow, serene flow of mantra and music on the 22 minute track and the 4 variations, each approximately ten minutes, designed to support a deep relaxation at the end of yoga asana practice.
On Tejase, Todd Norian sets an ancient prayer currently chanted at the beginning of Anusara Yoga classes. His original music illuminates the prayer and the practitioner in the light of the “true teacher within and without.” In Norian’s rendition, the prayer inspires heart-centered movement and devotion. As in Ocean of the Heart, there are 4 shorter tracks designed for relaxation after yoga asana practice. Listen for the sound behind the sound, the light behind the light, the tejase, which “is a Sanskrit word that means the vital essence of illumination.”
Feb 3 — Feb 5, Stockbridge, MA
Manage Your Mood with LifeForce Yoga – I am Bliss and So Are You!
Kripalu Center, 800-741-7353
Feb 7 — Feb 11, Your Home
World Yoga and Meditation Conference
Amy will be presenting “Grief in the Tissues: Trauma Recovery from a Yoga Perspective” 888-YOGA HUB (888-964-2482)
Feb 10 — Feb 12, Asheville, NC
LifeForce Yoga to Manage Your Mood
Asheville Yoga Center, 828-254-0380
Mar 10 — Mar 11, Tucson, AZ
Tucson Festival of Books
University of Arizona Campus, Amy will be presenting with Michele Herbert, author of The Tenth Door on Sunday, March 11 at 4pm at the U of A Bookstore. Festival is Free.
Mar 21 — Mar 25, Washington, DC
Psychotherapy Networker Symposium
Omni Shoreham Hotel, Amy will be leading morning yoga, afternoon meditations, a full Creativity Day workshop entitled “Yoga and Self-Inquiry,” along with a clinical presentation “Yoga for Self-Regulation.”
Mar 25, Silver Spring, MD
LifeForce Yoga to Manage Your Mood
1:30 — 5:30pm, Willow Street Yoga Center, 301-270-8038
Mar 30 — Apr 1, Atlanta, GA
LifeForce Yoga to Manage Your Mood
Kashi Atlanta, 404.687.3353
Apr 3 — Apr 5, Paradise Island, Bahamas
Easter and Passover Symposium and Celebration – Yoga and Sacred Healing
Amy will be presenting at this Symposium. Please note: the Symposium dates are April 1 – 10.
Sivananda Ashram, Bahamas, 866-446-5934.
Apr 6 — Apr 12, Paradise Island, Bahamas
LifeForce Yoga Practitioner Training for Depression & Anxiety – Level 1
Sivananda Ashram, Bahamas, 866-446-5934. This is a certification training for yoga teachers and health professionals. Joining Amy as faculty are Dr. Shirley Telles, as well as LifeForce Yoga Practitioners -Level 2, who are highly trained yoga and/or mental health professionals. Information on the LifeForce Yoga Practitioner Training can be found here: yogafordepression.com/training/