(Jointly contributed by Anil Prasain, Jyoti Khatri, Pranisha Shrestha, Samyukta Rupakheti and Swechha Ghimire, KUSOM, Fall 2005)
What if we declare – “AIDS, Cancer, and Diabetes can be permanently cured without any medication!” You would probably call us ‘insane.’ That we have lost the state of our mind. But this is what exactly Swami Ramdev affirmed in 2002. He guaranteed that by merely following pranayama yoga, one could achieve what has been the deadliest disease for humankind. Leave alone criticism, the announcement was so powerful that millions have followed his words (India and Nepal). Many of them had no such disease, but all wanted to look fit and fine. Some vied for mental relaxation while others wanted to get slim. Pranayama (a simple breathing exercise) was the solution to all these problems.
“Is it really possible?” If it is baseless, why are so many people changing their daily lifestyles? Why are they waking up early hours and doing some funny exercises watching TV? And if it is true, why is the government silent? Why aren’t the medical associations or the professionals campaigning for it whole-heartedly? To dig into the matter, our team decided to take the issue as our research work.
We have based our research on literature survey, questionnaire survey, personal interviews, focus group discussions and experts’ opinion. The sample is limited to the Kathmandu Valley.
To our surprise, 95% of the 120 respondents (pranayama practitioners) reported positive benefits. We further, observed that females (22-30 years) prefer pranayama as a beauty tool – i.e., to look slim and improve their hair. Housewives follow it to be physically fit. Middle-aged males do yoga for being mentally healthy and remaining stress free. The findings were even replicated with experts’ opinion. Doctors have a consensus on the benefits of pranayama to reduce health problems like acidity, respiratory diseases, and depression, among others.
However, when it comes to the statement cited in the beginning, the doctors simply reject it. “In medical science, there is no evidence of weight control, sugar control or cholesterol control after doing pranayama or any yoga for that matter,” says a Cardiologist of NORVIC. He reiterates that the claim made on HIV/AIDS and Cancer is simply his advertising gimmick.
5% of respondents, who reported negatively to the practice of pranayama, were worse off. For example, to few people, weight never reduced, to some, Blood Pressure increased disturbingly. One women even had to abort her child due to uterus disfunctioning.
The most alarming case revealed from the research was ‘blind faith’ on Yoga. Some practitioners, who gained positive benefits, had even stopped taking their prescribed allopathic medicines. Yoga instructors themselves disagree on this practice. Nevertheless, they defend Yoga institution and explain that these problems occurred due to miscommunications and the failure on part of practitioners to follow the instructions properly.
Yoga (or pranayama), which has been a part of our culture for centuries, has once again rejuvenated with the mass media push. Despite few shortcomings, it has always been considered superior to all other health activities. But, the source of this rejuvenation (Ramdev) has been mired into controversies time and again. Whether the claims are true is yet to be seen, but it definitely raises finger on those concerned authority whose silence and indifference has caused so much confusion among people.