Source: Lindsay Goldwert,

Yoga may help ease your back pain but it can't cure your emotional woes.

The ancient practice may help relieve stress in that it's an effective way of reducing moderate lower back pain, according to a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine and funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

But there was no other evidence that it provided any other mental health benefits outside of physical ones produced by stretching.

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ANH Comment

Yet another subjective, two-dimensional article, highlighting how study data can be manipulated and even misinterpreted to demonstrate certain results. Ok so it contains some positive news in that it admits that yoga is beneficial to those who suffer from back pain, but to say that yoga has no benefits beyond the physical is beyond surprising given its long standing traditional use within Ayurveda. Anyone who practices any sort of relaxation or meditation technique will attest to the multitude of advantageous mental, emotional and spiritual benefits they experience.

This study seems to suggest that people who invest their time doing yoga will not then experience benefits in terms of their mental health. We feel this is misleading because it is well established that a very wide range of relaxation and physical exercise practices benefit the mind. Thousands of years of experience with yoga in the Indian sub-continent have shown that when you bring together mindfulness, physical and spiritual practices in the unique manner offered by yoga, it would seem nigh on impossible to not have mental/emotional benefits. Surely it’s the methodology that should be questioned not the practice of yoga?

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine and was lead by researchers at Seattle's Group Health Research Institute. It involved 3 groups of 228 adults with chronic low back pain, each group either taking 12 weekly classes of yoga (92 patients), conventional stretching exercises (91 patients), or using a self-care book (45 patients). We are confused as to how the conclusion has been arrived at that yoga has no mental benefits when the study clearly concentrates on whether it helped back pain more than conventional stretching, and whether people were more likely to benefit if they went to a class or used a self-care book? The background section of the actual study reads "This trial was designed to determine whether yoga is more effective than conventional stretching exercises or a self-care book for primary care patients with chronic low back pain." So where does the conclusion with regards to psychological benefits, or lack of, come from?

As one of the comments underneath the article points out, there was no comparison between yoga or any form of pharmaceutical relaxation aid so what are they basing their findings on? Yoga offers no form of mental benefit compared to what? There are plenty of studies that have been set up to investigate the positives of yoga and they have shown that yoga does have a beneficial effect. For example, a study in the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal states that 113 psychiatric participants "reported significant improvements on all five of the negative emotion factors on the Profile of Mood States (POMS), including tension-anxiety, depression-dejection, anger-hostility, fatigue-inertia, and confusion-bewilderment". Another study looked at the "Psychological adjustment and sleep quality in a randomized trial of the effects of a Tibetan yoga intervention in patients with lymphoma". The results indicated that yoga aided significantly better subjective sleep quality, faster sleep latency, longer sleep duration, and less use of sleep medications. If this was the result of the participants doing yoga, isn’t it fair to say that yoga contributes to improved mental wellbeing? Even if it’s just because someone managed to get a good nights sleep — not good for the sale of sleeping pills though!

And there’s yet more substantial evidence in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research  from a meta-analysis (a study of multiple studies), which looked at mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), including meditation, to alleviate suffering associated with physical, psychosomatic and psychiatric disorders. The results of both controlled and uncontrolled studies demonstrated the benefits of MBSR in helping a wide range of people to cope with their clinical and nonclinical problems.

Even if irrefutable evidence came to light that yoga doesn't benefit people mentally, does it really matter? Is it really news worthy when you consider some of the things happening around the world?  The pursuit of happiness or peace of mind is a strong driver for humanity. However, finding it is a completely individual process. Whilst yoga will work for some, it may not work for others.  So what? We’re all for freedom of choice here – not just in healthcare, but in your chosen form of relaxation too!

Having said that, the ANH team on both sides of the Atlantic have all benefitted from the multidimensional effects of yoga and they weren’t all physical either! We encourage those of you who practice yoga to continue doing so and even more, to encourage those that don’t, to try it. There are many different styles of yoga to suit a wide variety of physical abilities, so put this news story where it belongs, in the trash and get your yoga pants on…


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