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Commission a scientific superbrain yoga study

Published: 
Monday, September 1, 2014

William J Broad, Pulitzer Prize winning science journalist and New York Times bestselling author, wrote the seminal book The Science of Yoga-The Risks and Rewards.” It was published by Simeon & Schuster in 2012.  On page 219 he notes “Another encouraging sign is that government authorities in the United States and elsewhere have started to fund the science of yoga, mainly as a means of evaluating the discipline’s potential for disease prevention and treatment. The goal is to document the true benefits.”

A few days ago, my daughter, a medical doctor, brought to my attention a simple yoga practice she found rather intriguing: superbrain yoga. So what is this superbrain yoga? A Google search results in millions of hits ranging from written instructions to video demonstrations. It has been endorsed, to date, by an MD, a Yale neurobiologist, educators and parents. Apparently, it works wonders for the brain by improving memory and focus. It thus presents potential benefits for hyperactivity, autism, ADHD and ADD; all without pharmaceutical drugs. One could not be faulted for thinking that long-term scientific studies should be funded.

There are sufficient encouraging results to support this move. Way back in 1990, Dr Dean Ornish, a California-based cardiologist, had authored a study that was published in the prestigious British medical journal the Lancet. It showed that a programme that combines hatha yoga with dietary changes, exercise and group therapy can actually reverse blockages in the main arteries of the heart. Up to that time, doctors were of the view that such was not possible. In 1998, the journal of the American Medical Association published a study led by Marian Garfinkel in which it was found that Iyengar yoga could effectively reduce symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, a widespread and common problem brought about by computer keyboard usage. (The yoga guru Bellur Krishnamachar Sundaraja Iyengar, founder of the style of yoga that bears his name, died recently at the age of 93 years. He was named one of the 100 most influential people of the world by Time magazine in 2004.) 

Many subsequent studies have been published that point unequivocally to the therapeutic value of yoga but the funding problem is still there. Why? There are a variety of reasons including cultural bias. But since the potential savings in public health costs are great and there is potential significant improvement in the quality of life, governments should be a bit more proactive in funding research and encouraging the practice of yoga as part of a healthy and holistic lifestyle. One such study should be carried out in the public school system as it is reported, in one informal study, that a significant improvement in academic performance was achieved through the practice of the superbrain yoga exercise over a semester. 

Large sums are being spent on education at all levels with less than satisfactory results, judging by the amount of remedial programmes being offered. The exercise procedure is quite simple and does not require any special equipment or trainers. Actually it is ideally suited for automated instructions through digital media. The time required is less than five minutes per day and can be done at the start of the school day. The roots of this practice can be found in the Indian and Chinese traditions of yoga and acupuncture. Both have been incorporated into modern medical practice. 
The exercise itself is fairly straight forward and is in essence squats synchronised with specific breathing. This column strongly recommends that a joint study be undertaken by the ministries of Health and Education. On our 52nd year of independence, it would represent a proactive approach to health, education and publicly-funded research.