London, UK. Actual article on File -- One of the leading newspapers of London recently published this article.
Meditation is gaining recognition among doctors as a remedy for breathing difficulties.
Adam Morgan was told he had severe asthma 25 years ago, at the age of eight. At first he had attacks only when he exercised. But by his late twenties his condition had become so serious that he had to take the maximum allowable dose of steroid inhalant just to lead a normal life.
Then, in the spring of 1996, a work colleague in the West Country suggested that he try a form of meditation that had worked for him. Morgan agreed to give it a go.
"It was quite surprising," says Morgan. "Within a year the asthma had just about disappeared and, although it has now returned in a much milder form, I have to take only a fraction of the medication that I was taking before. Some weeks I forget about it completely."
Morgan's story is confirmation of a growing body of evidence which links the ancient practice of yoga meditation with the treatment of modern illness.
Therapies that used to be confined to the ranks of "new age" practitioners are starting to attract the attention of the medical profession, both here and abroad.
"There is now more support for the idea that properly supervised meditation can play a valuable role in reducing the effects of stress," says Dr David Spiro, a West London GP. "The real question is whether these benefits can be extended to cover a wider group of illnesses."
The resurgence of interest in authentic yoga is being driven by an increased recognition of the role that modern day stress plays in disease, particularly the so-called psychosomatic disorders. In the US, for instance, the National Institutes of Health (based in Washington DC and the largest health organisation in the country) has implemented a programme of yoga meditation for outpatients.
And the Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company at one point introduced insurance cover to pay for meditation as part of a stress-relief course for heart attack patients.
Predictably much of the early medical research into the use of meditation as treatment has been undertaken in India.
Several clinical studies have been conducted there, the most notable being research undertaken by Professor U. C. Rai at the All India Medical Institute in Delhi. His investigation into the physiological and clinical benefits of yoga meditation found that daily use of the technique for approximately 20 minutes gave consistently positive results, with asthma and hypertension patients recording significantly better lung and blood pressure readings after starting the course.
Several recent studies in England and Australia appear to support these findings.
Dr Guy Marks, of the Institute of Respiratory Medicine in Australia, completed a four-month programme of weekly Sahaja yoga meditation for 50 randomly selected asthma sufferers.
The Sahaja form of meditation involves sitting quietly for up to 20 minutes to reach a state of "thoughtlessness" during which mental activity is reduced significantly.
The trial monitored physical lung function and symptom scores using comprehensive questionnaires, in direct comparison to a group that practised other relaxation methods such as basic mental exercises and group discussions.
The results, published in this month's issue of the Thorax Journal, showed that those in the yoga group had a greater reduction in airway hyper responsiveness than those in the comparison group. Airway hyper responsiveness is the tendency of the lungs to overreact to harmless substances such as pollen or dust, a key feature of asthma.
Those in the yoga group also reported a greater reduction in tension and tiredness compared with those in the relaxation only group. Similar results were obtained in separate studies conducted at the Department of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, again using yoga meditation as a supplement to conventional medication. Dr Ramesh Manocha, from the meditation research programme at the Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney, believes that these results should help to cast additional light on the more obscure aspects of asthma.
"The fact that meditation seems to alleviate the symptoms is a bit of a puzzle in strictly medical terms," he says. "It may be that the key lies in a direct link between stress and the onset of asthma."
For Adam Morgan, now a clinical psychologist, the proof of the pudding is in the breathing, and as far as he is concerned there is no question about the benefits.
"Literally from day one of the meditation course my physical problems started to clear up, I could hardly believe it," he says.
For many sufferers the new research may lead to a future where prescriptions read more than just "take twice daily and report back" although, as most experts stress, conventional medicine and treatment still has a vital role to play in our overall health and well being.
Simple tips before you start.
If you think that you could benefit from the practice of yoga, it may help to follow these simple tips:
If you suffer from a physical ailment, it is important that you consult your GP before undertaking any form of alternative treatment. More doctors are now taking an active interest in alternative practice and some may even recommend particular services where appropriate.
While there is no single yoga association covering the UK, a wealth of information is available from commercial and non-profit groups in different regions: www.yogauk.com lists most, if not all, of the major yoga centres, teachers and resources in the country; the British Wheel of Yoga is also a good source of information on 01529 306 851, www.bwy.org.uk
Do make sure that you pick the right yoga for your needs. The two main types are meditation and the exercise-oriented versions. The meditative forms such as Sahaja yoga ( www.sahajayoga.org.uk ) can help with tension, stress and emotional problems, while the more physical practice can help to improve energy levels and overall vitality.
Don't expect instant miracles. Most authentic yoga consists of gentle, introspective and patient practice over time.
by Nigel Powell