In 2006 I was co-founder of the Intl. META-Medicine Association which trains health professionals in advanced mind-body-social diagnosis and therapy based on the organ-emotion-trigger-belief connection (amazing new healing paradigm, check it out at www.meta-healing.org). To research the link between emotions, traumas and cancer we started the Breast Cancer Foundation in 2007. At our kick-off event, the Heal Breast Cancer Awards and fundraiser in Beverly Hills, CA we invited Eckhart Tolle, Dr. Carl Simonton, Dr. Christine Northrup, Dr. Dean Ornish and many others to attend and support our cause. Still today, I am amazed by the knowledge, wisdom and inspiration from these amazing teachers and over 500 attendees felt the same way. What an amazing event it was!
We were so inspired and motivated that we planned a Yoga for Cure national campaign to bring attention to yoga and it potential to help people heal. But after some research into Breast Cancer Awareness month we noticed that there are almost no national awareness campaigns that are focusing on what we really want in life – which is HEALTH. Hence, National Yoga Month was born .. inspired by Eckhart Tolle, Christine Northrup, Dean Ornish, Carl Simonton. Thanks to Rachel Levine, who organized Yoga Week at the National Institute of Health in Washington DC at that time, we were approved the same year as a national observance as listed by healthfinder.gov.
From the start we felt it was necessary to build National Yoga Month as a grassroots, community-based awareness campaign with the mission to educate about the health benefits of yoga and to inspire a healthy lifestyle. To kick off Yoga Month we organized a 10 City Yoga Health Festival tour in September 2008 with events in major yoga cities like Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Vancouver, Denver, Chicago, Miami, San Diego and Boston. Since 2008 Yoga Month has grown into a powerful national campaign with over 2,200 yoga studios participating in the ONE WEEK FREE YOGA new student program and over 1,000 events listed and happening throughout US and worldwide.
Why Yoga Month – The Cost of Poor Health
Today, more than 70 million Americans suffer from one or more types of cardiovascular disease with an annual cost of nearly $400 billion. Arthritis is the nation’s leading cause of disability. 46 million Americans have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. Arthritis costs the economy $86 billion a year. According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure and its complications are expected to cost the U.S. $66.4 billion in 2007. Back pain costs Americans around $15 billion per year in medical care and disability payments.The annual direct health care cost of asthma is approximately $11.5 billion; indirect costs (e.g. lost productivity) add another $4.6 billion, for a total of $16.1 billion dollars.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), repetitive strain injuries, including carpal tunnel, are the nation’s most costly occupational health problems, with a price tag of more than $20 billion a year in workers compensation.
The Future of Health Care
“Over 35 million US adults use mind/body medicine for better health” says Dr. Herbert Benson, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Director Emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine
In June 2006, the National Cancer Institute granted $2.4 million to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center to fund a study of Tibetan yoga in breast cancer care.In 1999 Congress established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). Funding appropriated in 1999: $50 million. Funding in 2007: $121.4 million. Nike, HBO, Forbes, and Apple all offer on-site yoga classes for their employees. These and scores more Fortune 500 companies consider yoga important enough to offer classes as a regular employee benefit.
Hundreds of smaller companies including George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, Viking Corporation, Candle Corporation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Ritz-Carlton and Loews Hotels, and UCLA Medical School offer onsite yoga classes to their employees as well. The Complementary Health Care Benefits program at Blue Cross Blue Shield costs only $23 for a yearly membership and provides discount access to a national network of wellness practitioners such as Yoga, Chiropractic, Acupuncture, Massage/Bodywork, and Mind/Body and Relaxation Techniques.
Obesity rates in the United States have reached epidemic proportions: 58 Million Overweight; 40 Million Obese; Eight out of 10 adults over age 25 Overweight; 78% of American’s not meeting basic activity level recommendations; 25% completely Sedentary; 76% increase in Type II diabetes in adults 30-40 yrs old since 1990; In 2001 25% of all white children and 33% of African American and Hispanic children were overweight.
Solution: Vigorous Power, Vinyasa, or Ashtanga yoga classes done for 90 minutes at least 3-5 times a week will produce weight loss. Yoga keeps people more in tune with their bodies making them aware of aware of bad habits, such as eating because of stress, boredom or depression. The first study investigating the effects of yoga on weight was recently conducted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, remains the most common reason for office visits to physicians for non-pregnant adults in the United States. About 72 million people in the United States age 20 and older have high blood pressure. Despite its prevalence and the complications associated with it, control of the disease is far from adequate. As a result, hypertension will likely remain the most common risk factor for stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease for years to come.
Solution: Research has just begun. In one study, small but significant reductions in blood pressure were shown in just three weeks of daily yoga, and in another study, one hour of daily yoga for 11 weeks revealed that both medication and yoga were effective in controlling hypertension. In one of the best quantitative studies, systolic blood pressure (the top number) decreased from 142 to 126mmHg and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) decreased from 86 to 75mmHg after 40 days of a yoga regimen.
Challenge: Heart Disease
According to the American Heart Association, heart disease has topped the list of killer diseases in America every year since 1918. Today, more than 70 million Americans suffer from one or more types of cardiovascular disease.
Solution: Several trials have found that yoga can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and resting heart rates, and help slow the progression of atherosclerosis—all risk factors for heart disease, says Erin Olivo, PhD, director of Columbia University’s Integrative Medicine Program.
While almost any exercise is good for the heart, experts speculate yoga’s meditative component may give it an extra boost by helping to stabilize the endothelium, the lining of the blood vessels that, when irritated, contributes to cardiovascular disease. Since the lining is reactive to stress, and meditation can lower stress hormones, yoga may be causing a cascade of events that could reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Challenge: Breast Cancer
Every three minutes a woman in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2006, an estimated 212,920 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed, along with 61,980 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. Breast cancer is the leading cancer among white and African American women. African American women are more likely to die from this disease. Breast cancer incidence in women has increased from one in 20 in 1960 to one in eight today.
Solution: Research is becoming clear on this: Women who do yoga during and after treatment experience less physical discomfort and stress. Earlier this year Duke University scientists reported results of a pilot study in which women with metastatic breast cancer attended eight weekly yoga sessions. The doctors found that the women had much less pain and felt more energetic and relaxed.
Hot flashes, irregular heart beat, mood swings, trouble sleeping, fatigue, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, disturbing memory lapses, incontinence, sore joints, muscles and tendons and a host of other conditions are symptoms of menopause.
Solution: A preliminary study at the University of California, San Francisco, found that menopausal women who took two months of a weekly restorative yoga class, which uses props to support the postures, reported a 30 percent decrease in hot flashes. A four-month study at the University of Illinois found that many women who took a 90-minute Iyengar class twice a week boosted both their energy and mood; plus they reported less physical and sexual discomfort, and reduced stress and anxiety.
Challenge: Chronic Back Pain
Mechanical low back pain is one of the most common complaints expressed to emergency physicians in the United States, and accounts for more than 6 million cases annually. As a health problem, back pain is the 3rd most expensive disorder, after heart disease and cancer.
Solution: When doctors at the HMO Group Health Cooperative in Seattle pitted 12 weekly sessions of yoga against therapeutic exercises and a handbook on self-care, they discovered the yoga group not only showed greater improvement but experienced benefits lasting 14 weeks longer. A note of caution: “While many poses are helpful, seated postures or extreme movement in one direction can make back pain worse,” says Gary Kraftsow, author of Yoga for Wellness, who designed the program for the study.
Asthma is the most common chronic disorder in childhood, currently affecting an estimated 6.2 million children under 18 years; of which 4 million suffered from an asthma attack or episode in 2004.
Solution: At the Northern Colorado Allergy Asthma Clinic in Fort Collins, a controlled clinical study of university students (19 to 52 years old) with asthma concluded that yoga techniques seem beneficial as an adjunct to the medical management of asthma, according to the 1998 published abstract. Using a set of asanas, pranayama, and meditation, the yoga group practiced three times a week for 16 weeks. Though pulmonary functions did not show a significant variance between yoga and control groups, “analysis of the data showed that the subjects in the yoga group reported a significant degree of relaxation, positive attitude, and better yoga exercise tolerance. There was also a tendency toward lesser usage of beta adrenergic inhalers.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, In any given 1-year period, 9.5 percent of the population, or about 20.9 million American adults, suffer from a depressive illness. Pre-schoolers are the fastest-growing market for antidepressants. At least four percent of preschoolers — over a million — are clinically depressed. The rate of increase of depression among children is an astounding 23%. 30% of women are depressed. Depression will be the second largest killer after heart disease by 2020 — and studies show depression is a contributory factor to fatal coronary disease. Low brain levels of the neurotransmitter GABA are often found in people with depression.
Solution: Yoga, it seems, can boost GABA. Preliminary research out of the Boston University School of Medicine and Harvard’s McLean Hospital found that healthy subjects who practiced yoga for one hour had a 27 percent increase in levels of GABA compared with a control group that simply sat and read for an hour. This supports a growing body of research that’s proving yoga can significantly improve mood and reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“The development of an inexpensive, widely available intervention such as yoga that has no side effects but is effective in alleviating the symptoms of disorders associated with low GABA levels has clear public health advantage,” stated Perry Renshaw, MD, PhD, Director of the Brain Imaging Center, McLean Hospital.
Challenge: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Currently, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome affects over 8 million Americans. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the #1 reported medical problem, accounting for about 50% of all work-related injuries. Approximately 260,000 carpal tunnel release operations are performed each year. Only 23% of all Carpal Tunnel Syndrome patients were able to return to their previous professions following surgery. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome results in the highest number of days lost among all work related injuries. Almost half of the carpal tunnel cases result in 31 days or more of work loss. The U.S. Department of Labor has concluded that Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the “chief occupational hazard”-disabling workers in epidemic proportions. Women are twice as likely to develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome as opposed to their male counterparts.
Solution: A randomized, single-blind, controlled clinical trial at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia concluded, “In this preliminary study, a yoga-based regimen was more effective than wrist splinting or no treatment in relieving some symptoms and signs of carpal tunnel syndrome.” The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998, also noted that “Subjects in the yoga groups had significant improvement in grip strength and pain reduction, but changes in grip strength and pain were not significant for control subjects.”
An estimated 46 million adults in the United States reported being told by a doctor that they have some form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, or fibromyalgia. By 2030, an estimated 67 million of Americans aged 18 years or older are projected to have doctor-diagnosed arthritis.
Solution: At the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, a yoga-treated group with osteoarthritis of the hands improved significantly more than the control group in “pain during activity, tenderness, and finger range of motion.” The randomized controlled clinical trial, published in the Journal of Rheumatology in 1994, concluded, “This yoga-derived program was effective in providing relief in hand osteoarthritis. Further studies are needed to compare this with other treatments and to examine long-term effects.”
Although more funding is being allocated for CAM research, it is clearly not enough to offset the staggering costs of our nation’s poor health. It’s time for each of us to take control of our own health and well-being. Yoga has been proven to relieve or solve a variety of health challenges. With a little basic knowledge, people of all socio-economic backgrounds can improve their health. The key is INSPIRATION.
Our grassroots events are created to meet people where they are, surrounding them with the things they already know and love. Local venues, local celebrities, local musicians – each Yoga Month event is designed to get ordinary people to participate in the most accessible system for health and well-being. Our website is interactive, providing incentives for both individuals and organizations to get involved.
Yoga Month will motivate and educate. We’ll focus on solutions, providing the tools and techniques necessary to begin and sustain a healthy lifestyle. We hope you’ll join us and support Yoga Month.
Courtesy of Yoga Health Foundation.