Yoga’s Benefits Proved in a Lab


Patanjali Yogpeeth board members at M D Anderson Cancer Center, from left: Shekhar Agrawal, Dr. Durga Agrawal, Dr. John Mendelsohn, Dr. Shirley Telles, Dr. Sen Pathak

By Manu Shah


HOUSTON: Why do we conduct clinical investigations to prove the benefits of yoga? Are the effects seen in the laboratory similar to those described in the ancient scriptures? Are the results described by the sages still applicable today as the environment and the food we eat is radically different? These were some of the thought provoking questions Dr. Shelley Telles raised during her research based presentation to a packed audience at India House and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston last week.

Dr. Telles is the Director of Patanjali Research Institute at Haridwar and one of the most prominent researchers of yoga. She was invited as the Chief Guest speaker at the renowned Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. She holds an MBBS and PhD in Neurophysiology and has spent years conducting experiments to study the mental and physical effects of yoga, pranayama and meditation on the human body.

According to her, “people are skeptical” and if we are to popularize yoga there is a need for scientific evidence. Experiments are conducted as scientifically as any other clinical investigation – energy expenditure, autonomic variables, blood flow and brain waves of the subjects are measured using state of the art equipment. There is also a strong emphasis on qualitative analysis which is asking the subjects how they feel after a yoga or meditation session.

Dr. Telles described some randomized controlled trials she has supervised and stated that there is a correlation between the ancient texts and present studies. In a study on the effects of various meditative practices, she found that sensory perception and sleep patterns are enhanced after meditation. There are three kinds of sleep – light sleep, deep sleep and dream sleep. Deep sleep is restorative and promotes growth in children and repair in adults while dream sleep wipes out unnecessary daytime memories. However if one is prone to excessive dreams, the body’s restorative powers are reduced. Dr. Telles found meditation improves deep sleep and reduces dream sleep.

In a survey, 23% of software professionals were found to be taking anti- anxiety medications as well as experiencing muscular discomfort and dry eye or lowered tear formation. The findings of a two month study on 200 software professionals showed those who practiced yoga reduced their “techno stress” while the group which relaxed but did not practice yoga showed no improvement.

Yoga has been used by Dr. Telles in the rehabilitation of blind children who after only 3 weeks of practice showed reduced fear levels and an improved sense of hearing. Hostility levels reduced in girls in a remand home and in an interesting study on a group of 69 elders, she found 60 minutes of yoga and meditation a day improved memory, gait, balance, sleep and lung functions in them.

Fat cells in our bodies produce Leptin which is a natural appetite suppressant but most people override the body’s signal and overeat. Dr. Telles found that practicing yoga helped one heed the signal better and thus sustain weight.

In answer to a question about why yoga is better than going to the gym, Dr. Telles remarked that yoga “is a lifestyle which impacts a person’s emotional wellbeing, alleviates stress and helps one face stressors with greater resilience.”

After hearing the proven benefits of yoga, an enthusiastic crowd rolled out their yoga mats and followed Dr. Telles through 45 minutes of chanting cum yoga exercises.

During her visit to Houston, Dr. Telles also met with doctors and researchers at the MD Anderson Cancer Center to explore the possibility of using herbs manufactured by Patanjali Ayurved Ltd. to benefit people with cancer.

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