Yoga and Chronic Illness



Yoga is no longer a fringe, odd specter in American society, but rather so much a part of mainstream culture today that major medical centers around the country, local healthcare centers, and neighborhood Yoga centers offer Yoga as a mind-body practice to support health and healing. Although Yoga has existed in various forms for around 2,500 years, the phenomenon of Yoga for health and healing is a modern characteristic of Yoga (Alter, 2005; De Michelis, 2008; Singleton, 2008 2010). While Yoga has always offered the promise of freedom from suffering (Miller, 1995; Feuerstein, 1998), only recently has Yoga literature addressed medically defined chronic illness. We see today a field of “yoga therapeutics” in which yogic practices are prescribed to “heal,” and sometimes “cure,” specific chronic disease conditions (Swami Satyananda, 1997; Iyengar, 1979, 2001. As a health practice, it is both reflective of and a catalyst for a growing body of scientific research on Yoga that suggests a valid evidence-base for the beneficial effects of Yoga on a wide range of chronic health problems (Khalsa, 2004), including cardiovascular disease (Raub, 2002), cancer (Bower et al., 2005), diabetes (Upadhyay et al., 2008), arthritis (Haaz & Bartlett, 2011), asthma (Vempati et al., 2009), depression (Pilkington et al., 2005), and anxiety (Kirkwood et al., 2005). But scientific research on its health effects occurs against the sociocultural backdrop of Yoga schools promoting Yoga as a healing pathway in which healing is conceived of as “a holistic tool that teaches [one] how to live a better life and cope with difficulties” (De Michelis, 2008, p. 25).


Chronic Illness Integrative Medicine Yogic Practice Physical Ailment Yoga Practitioner 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alter, J. (2004). Yoga in modern India: The body between science and philosophy. Princeton: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Alter, J. (2005). Modern medical yoga: Struggling with a history of magic, alchemy and sex. Asian Medicine, 1(1), 119–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alter, J. (2008). Yoga Shivir: Performativity and the study of modern yoga. In M. Singleton and J. Byrne (eds.), Yoga, in the modern world: Contemporary perspectives. London: Routledge Hindu Series.Google Scholar
  4. Alter, J. (2010). A therapy to live by: Public health, the self, and nationalism in the practice of a North Indian yoga society. Medical Anthropology: Cross-Cultural Studies in Health and Illness, 17, 309–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Antonovsky, A. (1979). Health, stress, and coping. San Francisco: Jossey_bass Publishers.Google Scholar
  6. Berliner, H. S. & Salmon, J. W. (1980). The holistic alternative to scientific medicine: History and analysis. International Journal of Health Services, 10, 133–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bower, J. E., Woolery, A., Sternlieb, B. & Garet, D. (2005). Yoga for cancer patients and survivors. Cancer Control, 12, 165–171.Google Scholar
  8. De Michelis, E. (2004). A history of modern yoga: Patanjali and Esoterism. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  9. De Michelis, E. (2008). Modern yoga: History and forms. In M. Singleton and J. Byrne (eds.), Yoga in the modern world, contemporary perspectives. London: Routledge Hindu Studies Series.Google Scholar
  10. Desikachar, T. K. V. (1998). Health, healing and beyond: Yoga and the living tradition of Krishnamacharya. New York: Aperture.Google Scholar
  11. Devi, N. J. (2000). The healing path of yoga. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.Google Scholar
  12. Dr. Swami Karmananda. (1983). Yogic management of common diseases. Bihar, India: Yoga Publications Trust.Google Scholar
  13. Dr. Swami Shankardevananda. (1977/2002). Yogic management of asthma and diabetes. Bihar, India: Yoga Publications Trust.Google Scholar
  14. Farhi, D. (2000). Yoga mind, body, & spirit. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, LCC.Google Scholar
  15. Feuerstein, G. (1998). The yoga tradition: Its history, literature, philosophy and practice. Prescott, AZ: Hohm Press.Google Scholar
  16. Fields, G. P. (2001). Religious therapeutics: Body and health in yoga, Ayurveda, and Tantra. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  17. Goldberg, E. (2005). Cognitive science and Hathayoga. Zygon, 40(3), 613–629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Harrington, A. (2008). The cure within: A history of mind-body medicine. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  19. Haaz, S. & Bartlett, S. J. (2011). Yoga for arthritis: A scoping review. Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America, 37(1), 33–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Helman, C. G. (2000). Culture, health and illness. 4th ed. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann.Google Scholar
  21. Iyengar, B. K. S. (1966/1979). Light on yoga. New York, NY: Schocken Books.Google Scholar
  22. Iyengar, B. K. S. (2001). Yoga: The path to holistic health. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited.Google Scholar
  23. Kendall-Tackett, K. (2010). Depression, hostility, posttraumatic stress disorder, and inflammation: The corrosive health effects of negative mental states. In K. Kendall-Tackett (ed.), The psychoneuroimmunology of chronic disease: Exploring the links between inflammation, stress, and illness. Washington, D.C: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kessler, R. C., Davis, R. B., Foster, D. F., Rompay, M., Walters, E. E., Wilkey, S. A., Kaptchuk, T. J. & Eisenberg, D. M. (2001). Long-term trends in the use of complementary and alternative medical therapies in the United States. Annals of Internal Medicine, 135, 262–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Khalsa, S. B. (2004). Yoga as a therapeutic intervention: A bibliometric analysis of published research studies. Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 48, 269–285.Google Scholar
  26. Kirkwood, G., Rampes, H., Tuffrey, V., Richardson, J., Pilkington, K. & Ramaratnam, S. (2005). Yoga for anxiety: A systematic review of the research evidence. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39, 884–891.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to western thought. New York, NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  28. Lamb, T. (2004). Yoga statistics and demographics. Report published by the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Prescott, AZ.Google Scholar
  29. Larson, G. J. (1979). Classical Samkhya: An interpretation of its history and meaning. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.Google Scholar
  30. Lazarus, R. S. (1999). Stress and emotion: A new synthesis. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  31. Lazarus, R. S. & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  32. Manahan, B. (2011). The whole systems medicine of tomorrow: A half-century perspective. EXPLORE: The journal of science and healing, 7(4), 212–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Malarkey, W. B. & Mills, P. J. (2007). Invited review, named series: Twenty years of brain behavior & immunity—endocrinology: The active partner in PNI research. Brain, Behavior & Immunity, 21, 161–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. McCall, T. (2007) Yoga as medicine: The yogic prescription for health and healing. New York, NY: Bantam Books.Google Scholar
  35. Miller, B. S. (1995). Yoga: Discipline and freedom: The yoga Sutra attributed to Patanjali. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  36. Mishra, R. S. (1963). The textbook of yoga psychology: A new translation and interpretation of Patanjali’s yoga sutras for meaningful application in all modern psychological disciplines. New York, NY: The Julian Press, Inc. Publishers.Google Scholar
  37. Newcombe, S. (2005). Spirituality and ‘mystical religion’ in contemporary society: A case study of British practitioners of the Iyengar method of yoga. Journal of Contemporary Religion, 20(3), 305–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ornish D. (1998b). Avoiding revascularization with lifestyle changes: The multicenter lifestyle demonstration project. American Journal of Cardiology, 82(10B): 72T–76T.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ornish, D., Brown, S. F., Scherwitz, L. W., Billings, J. H., Armstrong, W. T., Ports, T. A., McLanahan, S. M., Kirkeeide, R. L., Brand, R. & Gould, K., L. (1990). Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? The lifestyle heart trial. The Lancet, 336(8708), 129–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ornish, D., Scherwitz, L. W., Billings, J. H., Gould, K. L., Merritt, T. A., Sparler, S., Armstrong, W. T., Ports, T. A., Kirkeeide, R. L., Hogeboom, C. & Brand, R. J. (1998a). Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. JAMA, 280(23), 2001–2007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Perrson, A. (2010). Embodied worlds: A semiotic phenomenology of Satyananda Yoga. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 16(4), 797–815.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pilkington, K., Kirkwood, G., Rampes, H. & Richardson, J. (2005). Yoga for depression: The research evidence. Journal of Affective Disorders, 89, 13–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Raub, J. A. (2002). Psychophysiologic effects of Hatha yoga on musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary function: A literature review. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 8,797–812.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Selye, H. (1982). History and present status of the stress concept. In L. Goldberg and S. Breznitz (eds.), Handbook of stress: Theoretical and clinical applications. New York, NY: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  45. Singleton, M. (2008). The classical reveries of modern yoga: Patanjali and constructive orientalism. In M. Singleton and J. Byrne (eds.), Yoga in the modern world, contemporary perspectives. London: Routledge Hindu Studies Series.Google Scholar
  46. Singleton, M. (2010). Yoga body: The origins of modern postural practice. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Singleton, M. & Byrne, J. (eds.). (2008). Yoga in the modern world, contemporary perspectives. London: Routledge Hindu Studies Series.Google Scholar
  48. Stern, E. (2006). The yoga of Krishnamacharya. Namarupa, 5, 85–93.Google Scholar
  49. Strauss, S. (2005). Positioning yoga: Balancing acts across cultures. Oxford: Berg.Google Scholar
  50. Swami, S. S. (1966/1997). Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha. Bihar, India: Bihar Yoga Bharati.Google Scholar
  51. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. (1977). Mayavati memorial edition. Vol 1. Calcutta, India: Advaita Ashram.Google Scholar
  52. Upadhyay, A. K., Balkrishna, A. & Upadhyay, R. T. (2008). Effect of Pranayama (voluntary regulated yoga breathing) and Yogasana (yoga postures) in Diabetes Mellitus (DM): A scientific review. Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, 5, 3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Varela, F., Thompson, E. & Rosch, E. (1991). The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  54. Vempati, R., Bijlani, R. L. & Deepak, K. K. (2009). The efficacy of a comprehensive lifestyle modification programme based on yoga in the management of bronchial asthma: A randomized controlled trial. BMC Pulmonary Medicine, 9(37). doi:10.1186/1471–2466-9–37.Google Scholar
  55. Whicher, I. (1998). The integrity of the yoga Tiarsana. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  56. Wilson, M. (2002). Six views of embodied cognition. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 9(4), 625–636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wu, S. Y. & Green, A. (2000). Projection of chronic illness prevalence and cost inflation. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Health.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Michael J. Stoltzfus, Rebecca Green, and Darla Schumm 2013

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations