top of page

Yoga - Where Tradition Meets Science

New York in January can be a harsh place. It can beautiful, as when a fresh layer of snow turns Central Park into a downright wonderland. But then there are days when the snow has crusted at the edges of the sidewalks and each trip on the subway feels like a barrage of grouchy, wind-chapped faces. These are the grey days.

Me? I’m from Northern California wine country. Winter there is more about wearing coats for their fashion than their utility and, even in January, you take the tickle of sun on your bare skin for granted. So perhaps it is just a vitamin D deficiency, but in New York winters, I find that keeping positive takes much more work.

This being a post on a yoga blog, you can probably tell when I’m going with this. The tagline is clear: “Stressed? Do yoga. Glum? Do yoga? Yoga will cure your winter blues.” But this isn’t just another article claiming the ancient Indian tradition as a panacea. I’m not here to sell you on some snake oil. Because while nothing can cure everything, even yoga, this is far from snake oil. This is science. I moved to New York to go to school at Columbia, pre-medicine. And as a longtime yogi, my schooling has furthered my fascination with the medical benefits of a steady practice. Fortunately, as preventative care and wellness become more and more a part of the national medical dialogue, there are an increasing number of clinical studies that look specifically at yoga.

A tumble through Columbia’s e-resource catalog immediately reveals some hidden wonders. We all can intuit, for instance, that fifteen minutes in savasana is probably better before bed than fifteen minutes on your laptop. But did you know that pediatricians are taking a look at yoga as a prescribed complement to various specific conditions? In their October 2015 article “Complementary, Holistic, and Integrative Medicine: Yoga” published in Pediatrics in Review, medical doctors Lawrence Rosen and Anu French and registered yoga teacher Grace Sullivan make just that point. Compiling recent studies, they cite several notable outcomes. In one such case, a South Bronx afterschool program, fourth and fifth grade students who participated in a tradition yoga practice with an inclusion of “physical postures (asanas), breathwork, meditation, and relaxation” showed “significant reductions in the use of negative behaviors in response to stressors.” In two more studies, these with high school students