Exploring the Science and Practice of Yoga
2008 NIH Yoga Week: Exploring the Science and Practice of Yoga
by Dilip K. Sarkar, MD, FACS
On May 19-23, 2008, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) premiered its first annual Yoga Week, highlighting the science, research and practice of yoga. This event was presented in partnership with the NIH Recreation and Welfare Association; the Office of Research Services (ORS); the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI); the National Cancer Institute (NCI); and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). NIH Yoga Week had several private partners as well, including Weight Watchers International; Thrive Yoga, Rockville; the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT); Burt’s Bees; Inner Reaches Yoga in Gaithersburg; the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation; Whole Foods; and EMindful.com.
According to the NIH, 1300 people attended the event. Most of the people who attended were familiar with yoga, except a few NIH employees who were new to the practice. Having the yoga conference at the NIH definitely raised awareness among health-care providers. Hopefully they will request research to obtain more therapeutic data.
I spent the whole week at the NIH with all of the authorities of Yoga Therapy. Yoga has arrived in western medicine. The first day of NIH Yoga Week took place on the main campus of NIH in Bethesda, MD. The main auditorium had a good crowd. The event began with a warm welcome from NIH staffers and a yoga demonstration featuring NIH staff and yoga teachers. Alan Finger (ISHTA Yoga, New York), the keynote speaker for the day, presented the “Science of Hatha Yoga, Tantra and Ayurveda.” It was one of the most articulate lectures I have heard on this subject. After Alan spoke, NIH staffer Rachel Permuth-Levine shared office yoga with the audience. Rachel had us standing, sitting, breathing, bending, and reaching through a series of poses that help office folks. The day ended with an outside yoga practice with Susan Bowen of Thrive Yoga.
The second day’s session was on Yoga and Cancer. It took place at NIH’s Rockville campus at 6130 Executive Boulevard. Dr. Jeffrey White, Director of OCCAM (Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine), talked on the subject of “NCI (National Cancer Institute) Research Portfolio on Yoga Research.” It was a superb presentation. The main speaker was Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., who is the director of Integrative Medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center. His talk was on “Past and Ongoing Research on Tibetan Yoga, Hatha Yoga and Qigong in Cancer.” He started learning yoga at an early age from his grandmother, the famous yogini Vanda Scaravelli (author of Awakening the Spine). His patients for yoga therapy are coming from the radiation oncology department. His presentation was from a randomized trial of yoga in breast cancer patients receiving radiation treatment in collaboration with Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhan Samsthana of Bangalore, India. The other speaker of the day was John Schumacher, who is trained in Iyengar yoga and is founder and director of Unity Woods Yoga. He gave an excellent presentation on the “Secret Treasure of Yogic Alignment.”
On the third day the presentation was back to the NIH main campus at Bethesda, at the Masur Auditorium of the Clinical Center building. The auditorium was full and the speaker was Dr. Timothy McCall (medical editor of “Yoga Journal” and author of the book Yoga as Medicine), who talked about the “Science of Yoga.” The lecture was followed by a yoga session at the fitness center of NIH by Judith Lyon, founder of the NIH yoga program and a yoga instructor at NIH. The fitness center was full and a lot of attendees who came a little later could not even get in for the session. An evening dinner, arranged by the NIH, was a wonderful opportunity for social networking. I sat at the same table with Sat Bir Khalsa and Timothy McCall and exchanged ideas about how to do yoga research.
The venue on Thursday, May 22nd was NIH’s Rockville campus at 6701 Rockledge Drive (Rockledge Two building). The first speaker was Kimberly Williams, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor, Department of Community Medicine, West Virginia University. She is a certified Iyengar instructor and talked about the “Therapeutic Application of Iyengar Yoga for Low Back Pain.” She shared her personal experiences of Yoga Therapy for her back pain at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in India. The next presenter was Sat Bir Khalsa, Director of Research, Kundalini Research Institute and Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School. His presentation was on “Yoga Research Past, Present and Future.” The presentation was outstanding and informative with names of all the centers doing active Yoga Therapy research both here and in India. Sat Bir mentioned IAYT a few times during his presentation. Burt’s Bees’ Denise Clark gave a lecture on “Safe and Healthy Facial Care.” The day concluded with a yoga session by Rachel Permuth-Levine. An evening workshop on “Yoga and Meditation in the Management of Stress” by Sat Bir Khalsa took place at Thrive Yoga of Rockville.
On the last day the venue was the Neuroscience Center at 6001 Executive Boulevard, Rockville. The main presentation was “Yoga as a Corporate Stress Management Tool” by Terri Kennedy, Chair of the Board, Yoga Alliance. It was appropriate for what we are facing everyday. There was a demonstration of natural skin care products by Denise Clark and a session on “Yoga Nidra: Guided Meditation for Stress Management and Relaxation” by Neva Ingalls, Certified Yoga Therapist and Director of Inner Domain Yoga Alliance Registered School.
This was a productive week. I am looking forward to the next year’s program.
Dilip K. Sarkar, MD, FACS
Associate Professor of Clinical Surgery (Retired)
Eastern Virginia Medical School
Norfolk, Virginia 23507
Member IAYT (International Association of Yoga Therapy)