Yoga and Herbs

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A combination of yoga and herbs helps to decrease stress in your life.

Learn how a combination of yoga and herbs helps decrease stress and heals illness.

Yoga and Herbs

Both yoga and herbal medicine are spreading in
popularity across the United States, attracting more and more
adherents. And just as Ayurvedic physicians (Indian medical
doctors) have prescribed both and have known for centuries that
they complement one another, many in the United States are finding
that combining yoga and herbs is effective for ameliorating stress
and for healing or managing more serious illnesses. What form and
shape does the intersection of these practices take?

Herbal medicine is the main focus of Mead’s practice, but she
says, “I see [herbs] as a way to get somebody over the hump while
they’re making lifestyle changes. If your body’s having to work
really hard just to rid itself of toxins and a stressful life, then
what you do on an herbal level won’t be as effective. If you
address other issues as well, they won’t have as great a need for
the herbs, and the herbs will be able to work better if they are
making good lifestyle choices.”

Like an Ayurvedic practitioner, Mead evaluates the needs of each
individual who consults her and recommends a holistic approach to
treatment. When treating a woman in a nursing home who was
aggravated and anxious, she focused on teaching the woman deep
breathing exercises and giving her herbs for anxiety. If it had
been possible, Mead says, she would have recommended some dietary
changes. For people suffering from fibromyalgia, she recommends
yoga. “The last thing fibromyalgia patients want to do is move
their bodies, but that’s what they need to do more than anything,
because movement actually helps to break down the acids trapped in
their muscles and tendons that creates some of the pain and

Most fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue symptoms are connected to
lifestyle and excess stress, notes Mead, and yoga is a critical
tool in healing these illnesses. People suffering from them learn
to move gently and to explore how far they can go without feeling
pain. They also benefit from drinking two to three quarts of water
a day, taking herbal formulas, making dietary changes, and using
meditation and relaxation techniques, she says.

This comprehensive approach to healing has long been emphasized
in Ayurveda, and it remains important among American practitioners
of this ancient medicine. “When we look at it from a traditional
perspective,” says Sarasvati Buhrman, an Ayurvedic practitioner and
academic director of the Rocky Mountain Institute of Yoga and
Ayurveda in Boulder, Colorado, “the things we want to know about
are, are the doshas [operating principles] in balance, and is the
digestion working properly? Are all the channels of the body open?
How is the consciousness? Is the mind in peace?” Ayurvedic
practitioners want to know patients’ emotional and physical states,
problems they have, and how long they have had them, she notes.

Treatment then addresses all of these dimensions and affects the
patient in multiple ways. “The body chemistry and movement are
intimately related . . . we can give herbs and diet for high blood
pressure and that will be effective. And we can give yoga
treatments and they can be equally effective, and if they’re
combined, that’s the best of all.”

For a disease such as osteoporosis, yoga is often more effective
than Ayurveda, and for multiple sclerosis, Ayurvedic herbs are more
effective than yoga, says Buhrman. “It’s disease by disease. Some
are more amenable to one kind of treatment than the other.”
Treatment is also dependent on the person and the situation, she
says. “Depending on the person and their background and their needs
and their lifestyle and what they are actually willing and able to
do in their lives, we try to put together a therapeutic program
that will work for them.”

This multifaceted approach to healing, which stems from India’s
wisdom traditions, has come to the west in “chunks and pieces,”
says Buhrman. “Really the only difference between India and here is
that we’re still assimilating the knowledge.”

Susan Mead is a Western-trained medical herbalist and yoga
teacher who lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. Although her herbal
practice and yoga classes don’t always directly intersect, she says
that there is crossover. When clients approach her for herbal
remedies, she also recommends other lifestyle changes, which may
include starting a yoga practice. If a yoga student brings up a
particular health issue, Mead may offer recommendations for herbs
or diet.

Read more about soybean foods and your health: Natural Healing Using Soybean Foods.

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