Researchers explore healing power of yoga at Canada-India health conference
When Naseem Gulamhusein was diagnosed with an inflammatory digestive disease roughly 20 years ago, she was told that with no known cure, medication was the only option.
Exposed to yoga at an early age, she turned to the practice to get at the root of her illness, refusing to accept living with a lifetime of chronic pain.
“At 42, I’m healthier than I’ve ever felt in my entire life,” she told StarMetro. “I’ve managed my own disease through yoga, along with taking medicine.”
Gulamhusein was a presenter at the third Canada India Networking Initiative (CINI) conference in Surrey, co-hosted by Fraser Health and Simon Fraser University. The event, from Friday to Sunday, brought together local and international health experts to bridge gaps in care — for both Canada and India — through technology and innovation, such as using alternative health practices.
A growing field of research highlights the benefits of yoga — from helping cancer treatment to panic attacks. Medicine and yoga are complementary, she explained: Where the former looks at symptoms, the latter supports well-being.
Gulamhusein designed the yoga teacher training program at Langara College, one of the first academic programs in the country. She hopes to roll out an integrated yoga therapist program by next year.
But the two are not the same, she noted. Therapy requires a stricter accreditation process, and often one-on-one treatment is involved to deal with chronic health conditions.
Gulamhusein’s goal is to raise the standards for yoga as therapy, recognizing it’s a tradition from India with an approach to holistic health.
“For so long, I’ve seen yoga get lost in a sea of appropriation,” she said. “It’s become this universal understanding. We also need to recognize where yoga has come from and where it is going.”
The conference didn’t focus on yoga alone.
With more than 40 years in clinical medicine, CINI chair Dr. Arun Garg told StarMetro that while Canada has built a sophisticated system for dealing with acute illnesses, changes in demography — such as aging populations and increased cultural diversity — are leading to spikes in chronic diseases.
“These (chronic illnesses) are with you 24/7 and 365 days a year, whereas acute care is episodic,” he explained, noting this year’s conference focused on diabetes, palliative care and mental health. “Addressing these is becoming the biggest requirement for healthy societies.”
Despite the attention on the South Asian community, Garg insisted the issues are also applicable to the general population, since problems such as hypertension, dementia and obesity are present everywhere, including in other ethnic populations.
The conference opened with remarks from B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Dr. Victoria Lee, chief medical health officer at Fraser Health.
There were presentations on a wide range of social innovation and alternative health topics. SFU health sciences professor John O’Neil detailed a pilot project developed with the First Nations Health Authority, Tzu Chi Foundation and the Snuneymuxw First Nation to explore providing traditional Chinese medicine services to First Nations in British Columbia.
On Sunday, SFU senior lecturer Paola Ardiles spoke about the Health Change Lab, which brings together 20 undergraduate students from multi-disciplines — such as business, interactive arts and health sciences — to use technology to solve social and health issues.
For two years, the lab — in collaboration with the City of Surrey, Fraser Health and non-profit organizations — has examined solutions targeting social issues identified by partners, such as food security, youth engagement, substance abuse and socially isolated seniors.
“Often there is a social cause at the root of complex health problems,” Ardiles said. “Complex issues require more than one perspective.”