Yoga Therapy: Useful But Not A Risk Free Form
Updated: May 20
Yoga therapy is the gentle form of exercise and relaxation applied specifically for improving health. This form of yoga is widely practised in classes, and may involve asanas (postures used for stretching), pranayama (breathing exercises), relaxation in savasana (lying down) and music. The practice of asanas has been claimed to improve flexibility, strength, and balance; to alleviate stress and anxiety, and to reduce the symptoms of lower back pain, without necessarily demonstrating the precise mechanisms involved.
At least three types of health claim have been made for yoga including the power of healing, benefits to organ systems from the practice of asanas and more or less well supported claims of specific medical and psychological benefits from studies of differing sizes using a wide variety of methodologies. Medieval authors asserted that Hatha yoga brought physical (as well as spiritual) benefits, and provided magical powers including of healing.
Although relatively safe, yoga is not a risk-free form of exercise. Sensible precautions can usefully be taken, for example the avoidance of advanced moves by beginners, not combining practice with psychoactive drug use, and avoiding competitiveness. A small percentage of yoga practitioners each year suffer physical injuries analogous to sports injuries. The practice of yoga has been cited as a cause of hyperextension or rotation of the neck, which may be a precipitating factor in cervical artery dissection.
Back pain is one reason people take up yoga, and since at least the 1960s some practitioners have claimed that it relieved their symptoms. A 2012 survey of yoga in Australia notes that there is "good evidence" that yoga and its associated healthy lifestyle—often vegetarian, usually non-smoking, preferring organic food, drinking less or no alcohol–are beneficial for cardiovascular health, but that there was "little apparent uptake of yoga to address [existing] cardiovascular conditions and risk factors".
A 2013 systematic review on the use of yoga for depression found moderate evidence of short-term benefit over "usual care" and limited evidence compared to relaxation and aerobic exercise. A 2015 systematic review on the effect of yoga on mood and the brain concluded that "yoga is associated with better regulation of the sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system, as well as a decrease in depressive and anxious symptoms in a range of populations."
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