Chief Population Health Officer Co-Authors Chapter on Yoga and Communities of Color
By Mike Emery
For centuries, yoga has yielded numerous health advantages for its practitioners. The age-old technique that emphasizes stretching, breathing, posture, and mental clarity continues to inspire practitioners of all ages. Still, this popular activity often eludes communities of color, who may benefit from its impact on overall well-being, including cardiovascular health.
University of Houston Chief Population Health Officer Bettina Beech explores this topic in a chapter within the new book “The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Cardiovascular Health” (Springer). Alongside co-author Keith C. Norris, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Beech delves into previous studies conducted among Black and Latinx populations.
In the chapter titled “Yoga and Cardiovascular Disease Prevention in African Americans and Hispanics,” Beech and Norris note that these communities are at risk from cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure, often caused by the stress of racial discrimination among other factors.
Both authors also cite trials that demonstrate modest improvement in hypertension and slight reductions in stress levels among participants across the age spectrum.
Ultimately, data on yoga’s potential impact on cardiovascular disease and other health factors within communities of color is too sparse to draw specific conclusions, Beech said. This observation reflects yet another challenge for Black and Latinx U.S. communities—lack of accessibility to fitness and wellness resources such as yoga training.
The authors recognize that yoga is on the rise among urban communities of color, but it still lags compared to white populations participating in the daily practice of yoga.
“One of the takeaways in this chapter is that communities of color might consider increasing the uptake of therapeutic physical activities such as yoga,” Beech said.
The lack of trials and data do not fully tell the whole story when it comes to yoga’s impact on cardiovascular disease, but both Beech and Norris recognize its potential as both a primary and secondary prevention mechanism for Latinx and Black communities.
“While the underlying cellular mechanisms that explain these emerging clinical benefits are not well known, they appear to enhance gene expression in key inflammatory response and stress-related pathways as well as energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion, and telomere maintenance pathways,” they write.
So, why isn’t yoga more popular within communities of color?
Multiple factors can contribute to differences in the popularity of activities like yoga. Celebrities and professional athletes extol the benefits of yoga, and the location of high-end studios can inadvertently suggest that it is exclusively for the rich and famous. Beech notes that the perceived exclusivity is unfortunate because yoga is an activity that can be performed anytime, anywhere and within any budget. Free apps and online videos, as well as modestly priced equipment such as mats are easily available for the general public.
Perceptions will change as awareness about the benefits and accessibility of yoga increases. Communities of color often are cautious when it comes to traditional health care and yoga may prove to be a viable alternative to traditional therapies, Beech said.
“Given the persistent distrust by minorities of the U.S. health care system, it seems there might be an even higher level of use of a well-established, non-Western Allopathic approach to health such as yoga,” she and Norris write.
Beech and Norris are among the 75 authors from four continents contributing their expertise to this book.
Edited by Indranill Basu-Ray and Darshan Mehta, “The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Cardiovascular Health” is lauded as the first book focused on yoga’s role in treating cardiovascular diseases. Other chapters within the text include Yoga in the Management of Cardiovascular Disease: A Brief Introduction by Gregory Fricchione; Mind and Cardiovascular Disease: Mechanism of Interrelationship by Sanjay S. Phadke and Leena S. Phadke; and Yoga and Obesity by Ravi Kant and Nisha Batra.
“This is an important book in spotlighting yoga as a natural, accessible, and healthy solution to preventing and even treating cardiovascular diseases,” Beech said. “My hope is that it will inspire further trials and studies on yoga’s healing powers, particularly for communities of color.”