Yoga, as sleeping pill - Science looks for stress-buster clues in exercise

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By B.R. SRIKANTH in Bangalore
  • Published 9.07.05

Bangalore, July 9: Yoga therapy to beat stress need no longer be a matter of faith.

Cutting-edge science is trying to explain how the traditional Indian system of meditation and exercises calms the mind ? by mapping changes in the brain during sleep and while awake.

The study will begin soon at Swami Vivekananda Yoga Research Foundation, a deemed university near Bangalore, with support from the Indian Council of Medical Research. It is expected to help treat insomnia among the aged and infirm.

“We shall track the changes (neurophysiological changes in the brain) in a group of aged people and see how to improve the quality of sleep through yoga instead of sedatives,” said Dr Shirley Telles, the leader of the research team. The changes will be mapped through functional magnetic resonance imaging and polysomnography over the next 18 months.

Later, a comparative study of meditators and non-meditators who have asthma or diabetes will be carried out to analyse the impact of meditation on these diseases.

“We want to prove that yoga helps one to reach stage IV of sleep faster. This stage is more effective in terms of relaxation than the other three stages of sleep,” said Dr H.R. Nagendra, the director of the foundation.

Dr Telles and her colleagues had earlier studied how yoga lulls the aged into sound sleep. In an experiment on 69 inmates of a home for the aged in Bangalore, she and Dr N.K. Manjunath found that yogic exercises improve sleep and intensify the feeling of being refreshed on awakening.

The volunteers, all above 60, were divided into three equal groups ? one of which practised yoga for insomnia, another had ayurvedic treatment and the third went without any therapy.

“The overall sleep time increased (for the first group); the disturbances during sleep (caused by anxiety or pain) came down and all of them woke up more refreshed in the morning,” Dr Manjunath said.

A year later, the team found that more inmates had turned to yoga at the home.

“We got to know that those who practised yoga fell asleep in 10 minutes as against 40 minutes in the past and the duration of sleep increased by an hour. These results will be validated by our new study,” Dr Manjunath said.

As part of its research, the foundation has evolved modules to bust stress among people engaged in various professions, such as pilots, railway employees and software techies. The module for pilots is being evaluated at the Institute for Aerospace Medicine, ministry of defence, Bangalore.