Shedding light on yoga
Senior teacher of Iyengar yoga Rajvi Mehta came to Israel to meet with medical practitioners.
Shedding light on yoga Photo: Courtesy
‘I’ll quote Prashant [B.K.S. Iyengar] and say, ‘Yoga helps to cure what
need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured,’” says Rajvi Mehta. This
ethos has served as a guiding light for Mehta throughout her years of research,
the results of which have put her at the forefront of the international yogic
community. An established researcher and senior teacher of the Iyengar yoga
method, developed by yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar, Mehta is the driving force
behind a clinical study that has quantitatively proven the benefits of yoga
therapy for patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease and other movement
Mehta arrived in Israel last week for a round of meetings with
Dr. Revital Kariv of the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, Dr. Dorit Gamus of
Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer and with officials from the Maccabi and
Clalit health services.
Mehta’s trip was the initiative of the Iyengar
Yoga Association of Israel. Her goal while here is to use the data compiled in
the Parkinson’s study to persuade local medical practitioners to add yoga to the
list of therapies offered to patients. Mehta’s research has already received
notice in major international health care communities and has inspired the
establishment of a conference in Mumbai entitled “Scientific Evidence of the
Therapeutic Efficacy of Iyengar Yoga.”
In recent years, the Iyengar
method has received an international boost. This is due partly to a broadening
awareness of yoga worldwide, as well as the publication of Iyengar’s many books,
such as Light on Yoga, Light on Pranayama and The Art of Yoga in nearly two
dozen languages. In 2004, Time magazine listed Iyengar as one of the 100 most
influential people in the world. At the age of 94, Iyengar continues to teach in
his center in Pune, India.
As a child in Mumbai, Mehta accompanied her
father to yoga classes given by the visiting Iyengar, or Guruji.
father used to practice, so he took me and my siblings along. We were too young
to object. And then something kept us going with yoga. There was never a need to
force us to attend those classes. My sister has been assisting Guruji since the
late 1970s. She’s teaching in California, my brother is an engineer who teaches
yoga on the side, and I have another sister who teaches specialneeds education,
using yoga as a part of her approach. It’s a part of our lives, it’s a part of us,” she
One day, in the midst of her graduate studies, a colleague from the
Iyengar Yogashraya in Mumbai informed Mehta that she would be teaching a class
that day. “I started teaching, and for all of these years I have never been able
to decide which is my profession and which is my hobby. For me, there has always
been science and yoga. Both are equally important,” says Mehta.
ago, when a local support group approached the Iyengar Yogashraya for
Parkinson’s patients, Mehta immediately recognized the opportunity to conduct a
“They wanted to add yoga therapy. So they came with 25 people, and
we began to write the study protocol. I asked them how they came to us, and they
said they had found a website from a group in Israel that was teaching yoga to
people with Parkinson’s,” she recounts.
Those practitioners are
responsible for the whirlwind trip Mehta experienced in Israel.
began by inviting participants of the study to train in yoga with experienced
teachers. The participants were then evaluated using the PDQ- 39 questionnaire,
which measures eight scales: mobility, activities of daily living, emotions,
stigma, social support, cognitions, communication and bodily discomfort. After
just 10 days of classes, large improvements were apparent.
“We saw a
change right away in their digestion, mobility and activity,” says
Mehta. For her, that data proved in black and white a truth that she and
Iyengar had intuitively known for years.
“Being trained in objective
science, I often feel there is a need for objective data to support the benefits
of yoga, that we need to ‘prove’ ourselves. The practitioners of yoga
have experienced it, and as a practitioner of yoga I don’t need to feel the need
to tell the world. If I feel good and I see the benefit in the people
around me and the people I teach, I don’t need to prove it to
anyone. But, on the other hand, the left brain tells me that it needs to
be proven because only then will the medical practitioners offer yoga to their
patients. How can I expect them to accept yoga if I can’t show them this data?
Yoga is a holistic science, it’s subjective and experiential. I always wanted to
do something that incorporated both yoga and science. And I only really started
to get into this kind of work with the Parkinson’s study,” Mehta
“It is very challenging to meet with these doctors,” she adds.
“I feel like I’m a messenger of this subject, and if I’m not able to articulate
the value of the subject, I have done an injustice to the subject and my guru.
This subject is a big part of our culture and our country. I don’t want to push
this subject, but why not give it to these people who are also working to
improve the quality of life?”
After meeting with several new prospective
collaborators, Mehta’s hopes for the future implementation of her research were
“I’ve been very fortunate that the doctors, for the most part,
have been very open to this work and very receptive. They are also very
critical of it, which is good because that’s what modern science is. We
can grow from this criticism. I hope that we can make this into a joint
collaboration in Israel. I feel that it should be a union of an ancient culture
and modern science,” she says.