May 1, 2009

Yoga exercises: side effects

We have witnessed many a yoga practitioner complaining of one or the other health issues after they started doing yoga asanas, pranayamas and other yogic exercises. We list here some of such feedback.

The following examples are true-life stories narrated by people to us or others. We have given our comments after each example based on our study of those individual cases.

1. I started doing some pranayamas after seeing it on a popular news channel. Initially, it cured me of my age-old blocking of nostrils and frequent attacks of common cold. However, after some three months of exercising, I find that I get more severe attacks of cold and cough and my nostrils are blocked as before.
We found that she was doing kapal bhati and anulom vilom pranayamas, and was specially fascinated by kapal bhati. She followed the proper procedure for some days and after that she started doing it 'anytime, anywhere' because she wanted to practise it for a long time per day. She even increased the intensity of each exhalation. She also kept on doing kapal bhati when she got common cold, thus hurting the already infected linings. As for getting more frequent attacks of common cold / flu, we believe that she was not cleaning her hand before using the fingers to close the nostrils. Unclean fingers are likely to take flu/ cold germs straight to the nose.

2. I have tried all types of asanas but my backache has only aggravated instead of getting cured. I have been following yogasanas very meticulously.
He had been suffering from pain in the lower back after a severe slip disk some years back. He really did correct asanas and the correct way, but a bit more than his injured spine would bear. In such a case, he should have started with only one or two mild exercises and slowly increased their number and duration. We have advised him to start afresh with just two forward and backward bending asanas; hope his spine is healed over time.

3. I read on a popular website that doing sarvangasana results in better eyesight. But my eyesight seems to have worsened more quickly than it had been earlier. I have -5.0 myopia.
Sarvangasana is only for perfectly healthy people, and high myopia is also counterindicated. This university student has been doing sarvangasana [shoulder-stand] and keeping in this position for over 10 minutes. Even for people with no health issues at all, it is not advised to keep in upside down position for more than 5 minutes.

4. I have been doing yoga under guidance from a certified yoga teacher. He had promised that my tummy will be reduced significantly withing 3 months, but it has reduced only by 3 inches. I would achieve much more than that by any exercise.
Two comments here. One, doing asanas with one purpose, that too for removing a symptom is not advisable. Obesity or more-than-desirable weight are symptoms of body structure and metabolism gone wrong due to bad eating habits, lack of exercising or some endocrine or metabolic malfunctioning etc. To tackle them, we must attack the root cause.
Two, in our opinion it does yoga no good if its teachers guarantee instant benefits. Yoga is a way of life, rather than a set of exercises meant for treating specific ailments. Yoga's results - general or specific - take some time to become evident, and we have to have patience. This lady seems to have gone for yoga after trying other trimming exercises, and with the hope that it would reduce her tummy by 12 inches in a month. Now, if in frustration she leaves yoga midway and goes for something else, she might end up gainingand losing weight in turns. Ladies have also the tendency for hormone related weight gain when they reach puberty.

5. I have regular heaviness in my throat after I started doing bhramari pranayama. I have been doing it for the last 3 months and the problem developed in the last month only. I have stopped it for one week but the heaviness persists.
Bhramari pranayama can result in sore throat or heaviness only in such cases: when it is done with force; when vibrations / sound are produced from lower throat; when it is done for very long times in one stretch; when it is done during throat / nasal infections. In this particular case, the heaviness in throat could be unrelated to bhramari at all, as the problem has not gone away after a week of stopping bhramari. It is extremely unlikely that bhramari can hurt throat. We are yet studying this case as we personally know the gentleman.

There are numerous such stories that we come across. People tend to relate unrelated things and take individual experiences as rules. In the western world and non-Hindu, non-Indian societies, yoga is also thought of as a mystical / tantrik system. Such notions result in various problems getting associated with yoga. Let us humbly submit that there is nothing inherently wrong with yoga procedures. The reported problems, if at all they can be correctly associated with yoga, can occur due to following a wrong procedure, doing an exercise at a wrong time, over-doing some exercises, or doing exercises that do not suit a person's age, sex and health condition. That is why in this blog we have been stressing a lot more on don'ts than do's of yoga.