Yoga Conference VYASA 2002

Yoga Conference
HOUSTON, TEXAS, March 7, 2002:

Over 200 yoga practitioners, physicians and researchers from all cities of US, India, Germany, Japan and China shared a common platform at the International Conference and Workshop on Yoga for Positive Health held here from March 2 – 7. The event took place at the University Center on the Main Campus of the University of Houston. Erudite scholars and researchers from the Bangalore- headquartered Swami Vivekananda Yoga Research Foundation(sVYASA), biomedical research scientists from Houston’s M .D. Anderson Hospital and physicians from around the world shared valuable data culled from years of studying the positive and beneficial effects of yoga as additional treatment therapy in patients with diseases such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension and asthma.

The conference began with the traditional lighting of the lamp. Releasing the sVYASA Yoga Therapy CD, Consul General of India to Houston Rinzing Wangdi talked of the impact Eastern thought and yoga has had on the West ever since the visit of the great Indian yogi, Swami Vivekananda, to North America in the late19th century. Indeed, yoga was the bridge spanning the gap between the

Indo-American and American practitioners gathered to share knowledge on and learn more about the holistic applications of this ancient science which has its origins in the Vedas. The conference adopted a two-pronged approach with yoga therapy workshops on conditions such as heart disease. asthma, allergies, pain management and autism. The other track of yoga and consciousness dealt with the effect of yoga on the mind and was of specific appeal to those interested in personal spiritual development. Most mornings began with participants revelling in the breathing and stretching exercises led by top instructors from India.

In his presentation Consciousness, Yoga and Healing, Dr. H. R. Nagendra began with the timeless tale of Lewis Carrol’s ‘Alice In Wonderland’, illustrating the mind’s ability to plunge into a parallel universe of the sub-concious. He told the attendees that yoga is becoming more relevant in the US today because of certain stressful factors – student unrest, drug culture, addictions, terrorism, divorce and single parent families. Today more than 15 million in America are practicing yoga in some form.

“Stress is not just physical, it is mental restlessness. We need a multi-dimensional solution that heals through the mind. Consciousness is not mere matter, but that which has intelligence. Consciousness can create, act, be silent – and heal. Yoga must become a socially relevant science. It concretizes the wisdom of the Upanishads into our daily lives,” Dr. Nagendra said with the conviction of one who has witnessed the benefits of yoga.

A speaker who delighted gatherers with her simple, down-to-earth talk was Dr. R. Nagarathna, a world-authority on yogic healing and the Medical Director of the Yoga Therapy Center in Bangalore. She spoke on Yoga for Positive Health. Her extensive research working with two groups of very ill patients with organic functional disease, one group receiving yoga therapy, the other without, proved that “yoga could improve stamina, and the slowing of the breathing slows the mind – and the deep rest allows the body to repair itself.” But only after medicine, she added.

Dr. A. Malathi, CEO of the Manipal Hospital and Heart Foundation in Bangalore who spoke on Medical Applications of Yoga said that yoga is quite compulsory in government-run schools in India.

“It does wonders for a child’s memory. Math and science scores improve because the concentration improves,” Dr. Malathi told me. She added that yoga would also benefit athletes in preparing for their game. She said that Doppler studies showing blood flow as related to yoga are going on.

“In high risk pregnancies where blood flow to the placenta is low, our research shows that yoga improves blood flow.” Dr. Malathi felt that since people from all walks of life were attending the conference, there should have been a parallel track of yoga basics.

“Give people a choice. Not everyone wants to hear concentrated scientific research, some were yoga teachers and would perhaps have appreciated hearing of the benefits and mechanism of healing without so much technical detail.”

Dr. Cristophe Garner who runs a state-of-the-art clinic in Germany for severely disabled patients began his journey with yoga in 1994. At his clinic he employs 6 doctors, 42 nurses, 11 physiotherapists and 3 occupational therapists and has had his staff trained by yoga teachers from India.

“We introduced yoga in physiotherapy techniques and reduce spacity by relaxation and mind/sound resonance – with the humming of the mantra ‘Aum’.”

He regretted that as yet yoga is not as widespread in Germany as it is in the US because of cultural differences regarding religion and prayer. He hopes that yoga could be installed as an ongoing treatment therapy in all hospitals.

In his talk on Finding Well -being Despite Illness, Professor of Psychology at the Texas School of Public Health Dr. Blair Justice told of his personal battles with cancer and coping with the loss of his daughter to long term drug-abuse. He emphasized through poetry, song and experience, the magical healing power of touch.

“One has to realize that one is bigger than the disease. Focus on the positive through writing down feelings, music, yoga.”

Padma Bhushan Dr. E.C.G. Sudarshan, Professor of Physics at U.T. Austin, spoke on how consciousness interacts with the mind and brain, yet is distinct from them. Other well-known scholars sharing their views were keynote speaker Executive Editor of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine Dr. Larry Dossey who talked about Healing Beyond the Body, Ayurveda guru Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Subhash Kak. The general consensus was that the research on yoga be presented at a medical conference so that it’s benefits could be better understood and implemented more diversely. Dr. Frawley, author of over twenty books on yogic sciences and Vedanta talked of yoga being a complete discipline. He stressed the need for a “yoga-friendly system of medicine, much like the traditional broader lifestyle treatment” and denounced modern medine as “a battlefield weak on chronic conditions”. Louisiana based Dr. Kak explored The Three Languages of the Brain – Neurophysiology and Yogic Tradition. He implored scientists “not to view the mind as static nor as a computer but on as something that could be viewed on different levels”.

sVYASA speakers emphasized the dimensions and goals of the organization, the conciousness-based approach and way of life, embracing a new global era of spirituality as science, and yoga as technology to solve the basic problems of the high-tech era.

With subjects as diverse as Tibetan Yoga – The Magic Wheel by Alejandro Chaoul-Reich, with a foreword on research by Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, to the Autonomic Nervous System and Yoga by Dr. Shirley Telles, Assistant Research Director at sVYASA, to Dr. K. Kimura’s intensively studied Benefit of Yoga on Serum Cortisol and Alpha Brain Activity, the attendees had all bases covered and a cross section of data to digest. How successful were they, the presenters, with their statistics and sophisticated medical data? Only attendees and aficionados of yoga could tell.

Dr. Lorenzo Cohen of the Department of Behavioral Science at University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center called yoga “a real intervention… to researchers to move out of the paper and pencil mode and into the physiology of yoga.”

Self-proclaimed Hindu Dr. Frank Morales led the audience in a prayerful chanting of Aum Narayana Ye during his presentation Unleashing the Power of Mantra, gleaning much comfort from the sound of the sacred words resonating in the hall. He was impressed by the conference, and found it very illuminating.

“Of course, I’d have liked to hear more about yoga in a historical sense. This was a little too science-oriented,” Morales added.

Dr. Sudha Rajan on the organizational committee of the conference was clearly elated and found the event “150% successful.” She was astounded by the wealth of research put forth by Japanese speakers Dr. Tsutomu Kamei and Dr. Yong Shu Yang.

“If an American doctor or researcher had that much of information, a whole conference would have been organized only around his findings!” Dr. Rajan enthused.

Suzy Shapiro, a B. K. S. Iyengar-certified teacher with the Yoga Association of Houston was enthusiastic about building a “yoga community” in Houston. She believes that both Anglo and Indian communities have much to learn from each other.

Nancy Sorenson, a hatha yoga tutor from the Greenway Plaza district of Houston found the event “exciting! I was unprepared for the medical research papers. I enjoyed and learnt a lot from this gathering.”

Conference associate Prakash Morolia has painful debilitating arthritus but managed to volunteer valiantly and cheerfully throughout the event.

“Yoga really does help me. I practice active exhaling and passive inhalation everyday for half an hour,” said Morolia with a smile. There were days when his gait seemed smoother…….

Dr. Veena Gandhi of New Jersey had previously attended a similar conference in Florida a year ago.

“In Florida, we had plenty of time to bond with other lovers of yoga and share our thoughts on the proceedings. This conference was too tightly scheduled. A little downtime to interact would have been nice,” she confided. A sentiment shared by some of the other attendees too.

Ines Saba from Mexico happened upon the conference quite by chance. Her son Eduardo (14 years old) is a leukaemia patient at M. D. Anderson Hospital.

“A nurse told me about this event… we have a huge center for yoga in Mexico and our teacher is from France,” she said. Would she try yoga therapy with her son?

“Certainly!” said Saba with no hesitation.

Visiting from India and holding a doctorate in neurophysiology of meditation, Dr. Naveen Vishveshwaraya is one of the first students who took a five year medical degree in Yoga and Natural Therapy. He was convinced that “what people take as a passion, is really our profession!”

Convenor Dr. Kalpalatha Guntupalli and co-convenors Dr. Ann DeBaldo and Dr. Ross Shegog were efficient at keeping the conference at an even keel. Despite the short time given, President of sVyasa Houston Ramesh Bhutada and his local team of volunteers coordinated the conference very well. Much effort went into providing attendeees with nutritious meals, and arranging transportation and accommodation for guest speakers from abroad. Sponsoring the conference were The University of Houston Wellness Center, Center for Positive Health and The University of Texas – Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health.

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