When I tell people about yoga postures and how they can help heal disease they seem surprised. Not just a particular disease, but every type of disease. Is yoga a panacea? In many ways yoga is a panacea. That is a bold statement, I know. The word panacea conjures up something miraculous. Yoga is not miraculous. Its effects can be scientifically quantified. The reason yoga works is because it is a practice and a discipline that helps re-fashion our lives around optimal patterns of energy distribution. Why it works is because of how the human body is constructed.

Our amazing bodies are full of pathways similar to electrical circuits and plumbing. In Sanskrit, the language of yoga, the word that describes these circuits is “nadi.” A nadi is a tube in its simplest terms. The human body is essentially a network of tubes inside a framework of bone and skin. The largest tube is the alimentary canal. It starts at the mouth and ends at the anus. Blood vessels, nerve fibers, the spinal column, ducts between organs and glands and the lymph system are all examples of the tubes or nadis in our bodies that facilitate energy flow.

Each yoga posture is a distinct energy template or design. Energy, or as it is called in yoga, prana comes in three basic forms: air, food and water. Our bodies’ job is to assimilate and distribute these energy forms throughout its network of nadis.

The architecture of these unique designs or patterns causes energy to flow and concentrate itself into specific joints, organs, muscles and glands. It doesn’t take an expensive study to prove this. You can test my statement by comparing the sensations of your body in different positions and relationships to gravity.

Take a simple seated forward folding posture as an example. As you extend upward from your seat to lengthen and bend forward you are compressing your abdominal organs as you elongate and stretch your calves, hamstrings, buttocks, back, kidneys and adrenal glands. This energy template distributes weight and pressure throughout the body in a singular way. Now breathe deeply into your belly and chest. Feel how the breath massages these specific parts. The combined leverage, weight and pressure exerted by the pose and modulated by the breath cleanses, nourishes and delivers healing energy throughout the tissue.

The shape or architecture of the pose also harnesses the force of gravity. Postures where the head is below the heart illustrate this very well. Gravity pulls the bodies’ fluids downward toward the earth. As we move between upright and inverted poses these fluids wash back and forth through the body pulled by gravity.

What happens is akin to alchemy; we are practicing a physical formula that produces the elixir of life, or the ability of the human body to reach an optimum state of balance and health. The formula consists of breath, posture and gravity. The intentional use of this trinity of forces transforms the gross energies of air, water and food into a thriving, conscious being capable of attunement with the limitless creative energy of the Universe. This is what yoga is all about!

So the next time someone refers to yoga poses as “just stretching”, you’ll know what to tell them.