When it comes to your health and the U.S. government, a lot of research gets done, funded by our tax dollars, by the National Institutes for Health (NIH). And within the NIH, which does a lot of research on more conventional health and medical issues, a smaller division called the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) researches modalities such as meditation, acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, and yes, you guessed it, yoga!
Over the years, NCCAM has done studies testing yoga's therapeutic effectiveness on myriad conditions, such as arthritis, low-back pain, insomnia, fatigue in cancer patients, and stress levels in women. It is currently recruiting people for at least five more yoga studies.
Two completed studies were discussed in a webinar I attended this week led by NCCAM director Josie Briggs, MD, and researcher Karen Sherman, PhD. The first looks at the mechanics of the musculoskeletal system and what muscles are activated in older people while performing specific yoga poses. Interestingly, the study found that what we had previously assumed about what muscles are working in, for example Warrior II, is incorrect! This information will be very valuable to yoga instructors and physical therapists who work with seniors, and I suspect it will change how yoga teacher trainees are taught about anatomy and kinesiology. I know I'll be looking at this research and revising my teaching of yoga and experiential anatomy!
The second study is important because it deals with one of the most common health issues we face in the U.S.: low-back pain. Yoga is again found to be quite beneficial in addressing this serious concern for millions of Americans.
Interviews with both study authors are included in a video about the therapeutic benefits of yoga that NCCAM just released as part of its video series "The Science of Mind and Body Therapies."
I feel NCCAM did a good job sharing what health conditions, from its research point of view, yoga can help with. And the doctors added some reasonable cautions for other conditions without completely ruling out the use of yoga in some modified ways.
And of their recommendations to consumers, which for the most part I found useful, there was the almost perfunctory disclaimer to consult with your healthcare provider as you think about adding yoga to your mix. This is prudent and reasonable to a point. My .02: Ask your doctor or nurse practitioner what their personal experience with yoga has been before following any advice they may have on if it is right for you. And if they have never taken a yoga class, invite them to join you! On some level, it may be up to us, the yoga-loving public, to get as many healthcare providers into classes as possible, so they can start to get a realistic idea of the depth and breadth of what yoga is today. Uncle Sam, can you make my 6pm class tonight? Your first class is on me!
Watch NCCAM's just-released video about these two new yoga studies here.