Eddie Stern tells us more about the yoga-science connection

Earlier this week, we noted that Eddie Stern had designed the yoga practice part of a study on the efficacy of yoga and meditation on hypertension. More specifically, the study intends to test the following:

Volunteers are currently being recruited for “Effectiveness of Yoga on Ambulatory Blood Pressure in Patients With Pre- and Stage I Hypertension” study being conducted at Long Island University, Brooklyn, New York.

The study will compare an integrated yoga practice (postures/breath control/meditation) to a conventional exercise program in reducing hypertension to determine the effects of yoga on ambulatory blood pressure, psychosocial stress, and the autonomic system in individuals with pre- and Stage I hypertension. The information gained in this study will provide preliminary data to support a larger multi-ethnic randomized clinical trial on the effects of yoga on individuals with hypertension.

We’ve now written a few things about this link between the two, including how Ashtanga seems the perfect vehicle, yoga-wise, for such work. Well, instead of ruminating more, we decided to email Eddie and ask him what the yoga sequence was that he designed and his thoughts on the yoga-science relationship.

Via exoticindiaart.com

We timed it to a Moon Day, hoping he’d have more time to get back to us. (We kid, Eddie has been very kind with his time via email and otherwise with us even though we are on opposite ends of the country.) Here’s what he told us:

The sequence is up till janu sirshasana without utthita hasta or ardha baddha padmottana – but we start off slow, with just sun salutations and then increase. There is some guided meditation and progressive relaxation included. The results of the first round were positive.

In regards to yoga and science, I agree with the idea that yoga cannot be measured by Western metrics. However, I agree more with the idea that we do not have anything in place in our education system or healthcare system that teaches us about body/mind hygiene, and how simple tools like yoga and meditation can help us reduce stress, tension, prepare us to face difficult challenges, deal with sorrow, pain and loss, and most importantly help reveal to us our sense of purpose and a daily sense of ‘who am I’ and ‘what am I doing here’.

In order to begin introducing these modalities, or techniques, into our culture in a way that will truly serve us holistically, we need to be able to show that yoga and meditation delivers what it promises. The only way to do that is through wide scale, longitudinal studies, and for that, you need money. There are plenty of people out there ready to do the work…

In a follow-up email, he added that they leave out “tiriang too,” except if people can do it safely. To which I thought to myself: Would he let me not do it and the others? I might be willing to move to New York if so…

I’m very intrigued that he did follow the basic Ashtanga method, since I’m biased into thinking it might be more well-tested than some other sequences or a generic and interchanging vinyasa series.

Not to sound too sycophantic (just some), I agree with Eddie on the yoga and science connection — I think my comments on early stories bear that out. The goal of this work and this direction of yoga practice is to bring its benefits to a wider audience, one I bet we’d all agree could use it. And that means demonstrating, on that audience’s terms, that yoga and meditation are helpful.

And “that audience’s terms” means science, with studies using control groups and over a long enough time to see credible results.

Eddie’s work on this front, and the big donation by the Tudor Joneses to the University of Virginia, are meaningful steps in that direction, I believe and hope. And I believe that as someone who likely defaults to this perspective of Guruji: “Let God take care of the universe, you take care of your anus.” My yoga helps me, in other words, first of all.

But we all are connected or related, so … your anus is my anus? That doesn’t sound quite right, does it? Perhaps a better way to say it is: We should do what we can to spread the gospel of yoga.

Posted by Steve


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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

11 thoughts on “Eddie Stern tells us more about the yoga-science connection”

  1. I wonder what the effects of proper nutrition and other lifestyle habits as smoking and alcohol intake play in this connection. Although my premise is unscientific, seems all the yoga with a sodium filled fat based diet washed down with a jack 7 with a cigarette desert and you go into a negative category health-wise.

    Did I miss the what you put into the body physically aspect included or excluded from the study. Maybe a good follow-up question for Eddie. I would ask him but don’t practice at his Shala.

    What do you think?

    1. I did just ask Eddie specifically what the yoga sequence was. I’ve been in touch with the lead of the study and plan to ask some additional questions. I think this is interesting, and so I’ll see what other controls (for food, or lifestyle, etc.) there are. Thanks for bringing it up! I was hoping people would have more questions… and they do!


  2. Hi Nick, lifestyle and diet are of course important. However, you have to start somewhere, and it is better to get people to add something positive into their routine, rather than try to get them to remove something negative that they might not be ready to give up, thereby preventing them from doing something positive at all. So in this regard, I still follow Guruji’s method – he didn’t try to change us, he just taught us to practice, and since the practice can be so efficacious, automatically other lifestyle changes can follow. Best, Eddie

  3. This is an area very close to my heart! As a student of science and an Ashtanga practitioner, I am becoming more and more aware of how the two link and how one can effect the other. I agree with Eddie, that the practice ‘takes care’ of your body and will give you everything you need. From then on a person will learn and feel the necessary actions that they wish to make on their own lifestyle, and at a point when it suits them. It is really lovely to hear that more and more people are becoming aware of the wonderful effects that yoga can do to help the body, not just physically but mentally and emotionally, and this is definitely an area I am really keen to explore more!

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