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Yoga Woo

Yoga is an increasingly popular form of exercise in the US. According to Yoga Journal more than 20 million Americans use yoga as their form of exercise. As a form of exercise yoga is fairly straightforward, involving stretching and holding poses that strengthen muscles. It also carries the generic benefits of any exercise in terms of calorie-burning and cardiovascular health.

Yoga, however, is more than exercise – it also comes with a “spiritual” angle. The term itself refers to a number of practices originating in ancient India meant to strength mind, body, and spirit. For this reason it has become a popular target for marketing the latest health pseudoscience. You will be hard pressed, in fact, to find a yoga class that does not incorporate some degree of outright woo, the only question really is not if, but how much. This is unfortunate because yoga may be an effective alternative for low-impact exercise.

There is some evidence that yoga, for example, is effective in relieving low back pain, although it may not be more effective than usual care. There is a lack of quality studies comparing yoga to other forms of exercise, and so we may just be seeing the generic benefits of exercise. Still, if the classes are fun and they keep people motivated to continue their exercise regimen, that is useful.

Yoga, therefore, fits into a more general phenomenon of marketing a specific intervention as if it has specific benefits, when in fact it only has generic benefits. For example, there are many studies showing that transcendental meditation is effective for lowering blood pressure. However, studies generally compare TM to no intervention, not to other forms of relaxation. The parsimonious interpretation is that TM confers the generic benefits of relaxation, but there is no evidence to suggest it confers any specific benefits.

Therefore, before we conclude that any relaxation has specific benefits we need to demonstrate that it has benefits above and beyond those for the relaxation itself. The same is true of any form of exercise, any form of mental activity for cognition, and any form of massage for muscle relaxation. It is therefore misleading to say that “Yoga works for X, or has these benefits” when the evidence only shows that exercise has those benefit, and there is nothing special about yoga as a form of exercise.

In addition to marketing generic benefits as if they were specific to yoga, proponents often mix in a liberal dose of pure pseudoscience and mysticism. Most yoga practitioners I know expect at least a casual mention of “energy” or some similar reference from their yoga instructors and are content to just ignore it. Some instructors, however, go way beyond a little mystical window dressing. The following e-mail I received from one skeptical yoga practitioner is typical:

I have recently been trying to lose weight, in addition to dietary changes, I have been exercising more, along with a normal gym routine I have decided to try yoga. I did quick a PubMed search and there did seem to be some evidence that yoga is effective for losing weight. During the classes the teacher stands at the front and gives a bit of dialogue to accompany the instructions on how to do the poses. Some of the things they say in these dialogues picked my skeptical ears and are the reason for this email. Along with the obligatory ”shared energy” and ”shared spirit” type of comments, which I fully expected, they made some other claims which have a pseudo sciencey twinge and I was hoping you guys could clear them up for me. Here are some of the more memorable ones in no particular order; during one bent over pose they say you are squeezing the pancreas/liver this apparently pushes toxin out and they also say you can taste the toxins coming out in your mouth (taste described as chloriney), during reverse back bending pose they say if you look back as far as you can you can stretch your optic nerve, in one pose where you bend your arms awkwardly they say that you build up blood pressure and when this pressure is released the blood will move so intensely through you arteries it will blast away plaque build up, near the end they have a breathing exercise which they claim is pushing out all the toxins the stretching has apparently pushed into your lungs, throughout they talk about the increasing of bone density and of joint strength, finally that stretching your lower back calms you because personal stress building up in your lower back muscles/tissues. Are any of these thing possible or is it all pure pseudo science?

None of those specific claims is based in reality. I certainly hope that yoga practitioners are not squeezing their liver or pancreas, or that they are stretching their optic nerve. Nerves don’t like to be stretched – that causes damage. It also would not be safe to perform a maneuver that backs up your blood flow and then releases it in a powerful blast. This has a much greater chance of causing a brain hemorrhage than scouring plaque off your arteries. In other words, the yoga instructor better hope that everything they are claiming is a lie, or else they are likely to find themselves liable for very real medical harm.

This brings up a very important question about yoga – how safe is it? All interventions should be considered on a risk vs benefit basis. While it seems that yoga carries with it the generic benefits of exercise, how does it rate in terms of risk? Not very well, it turns out – but of course, it depends on exactly how it is practiced. There is risk of injury from yoga, as there is with any sport or significant exercise. But yoga often involves poses that push the practitioner to extremes. There are reports, for example, of vertebral artery dissection and subsequent stroke from excessive neck extension or rotation.

In a telling New York Times article, yoga teacher Glenn Black warns that yoga is not for most people, but rather should be reserved for people who are already in good physical condition. For the general public the risk of injury is high, and they should be given either very basic routines, or targeted exercises for their specific issues. This would be more in line with what a physical therapist would do for a client – assess their needs and vulnerabilities, then target exercises that will be safe and effective for them. Other risks include overstretching ligaments, herniated discs, and neck or back strain.

Yoga is also susceptible to evidence-free marketing fads. I recently learned about so-called “hot yoga,” which is essentially yoga in a hot and humid environment. Such an environment might be conducive to dehydration and becoming overheated, but there is no evidence that it enhances the exercise or has any health benefits.

Conclusion

Yoga, if practiced responsibly, seems to be a reasonably effective form of stretching and exercise. There is insufficient evidence, however, to conclude that it is any superior to any other form of exercise of the same duration and intensity. There are concerns about the safety of yoga, as it often involves extreme stretching or poses that the average person might find not only difficult but physically harmful. I would therefore recommend caution before starting a yoga routine. If you have any physical limitations or medical conditions, consult your physician and consider a physical therapy assessment first. Find an instructor who seems reasonable and evidence-based. And do not feel pressured to try poses that are painful or seem to push you beyond reasonable physical limits.

Further – all of the mystical and pseudoscientific woo that often accompanies yoga is counterproductive. It may be useful for marketing to the gullible, but it taints the entire practice with pseudoscience. I would also find it difficult to trust in the competence of an instructor who thinks a yoga pose will squeeze toxins out of my liver.

It would be nice, but perhaps too much to hope for, to have a science-based yoga movement – yoga-based exercises minus the woo, and evidence-based to maximize safety and effectiveness.

Posted in: Science and Medicine

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44 thoughts on “Yoga Woo

  1. allie says:

    I’m biased, as I really enjoy yoga, and have always found teachers who don’t incorporate lots of woo and ridiculous medical claims (stretching your optic nerve? really?).

    However, a good teacher should not be giving students difficult or dangerous poses as a beginner, and should instead be teaching them how to modify poses to prevent injury and build strength and flexibility.

  2. After years of high-impact exercise left me with plenty of strength but no flexibility, I started doing yoga two years ago. It has alleviated my back and hip pain probably caused/aggravated by tight muscles, and the meditation has helped bring my blood pressure down. Yoga as it is traditionally practiced encourages stretching in a manner that minimizes the possibility of injury. My personal hypothesis is that the people who originally developed yoga thousands (?) of years ago stumbled upon physiologically beneficial exercises, and conflated the benefits of these with spiritual enlightenment.

    Anecdotally speaking, my friends and I who practice yoga have talked about this, and we do it for the fitness and ignore the spiritual woo stuff. But there is a need for a comprehensive critical appraisal of all yoga practice. I fear, as you alluded to above, that there are some poses that may cause harm because they are based upon outmoded/mistaken notions of human physiology.

    Unless someone can prove there is a benefit, there’s no way in hell I’m standing on my head. Like I keep saying, if the blood in my feet is stale, then all my blood is stale.

  3. Alia says:

    My sister does yoga, she claims it helps her with back and neck pain. But she is a very down-to-earth person, so no spiritual woo for her – it’s just a form of exercise for her. And she has never claimed that yoga is better than any other type of exercise, she’s quite content that I’m doing fitness and zumba, anything, as long as it helps me keep in shape (as an older sister, she has this annoying habit of taking care of my health and giving advice).

  4. seaotter says:

    They really need woo in addition to yoga pants to get participants. I suspect a motive to get in the yoga pants.

  5. Chris says:

    I don’t think a science-based approach to yoga is too much to ask. (Isn’t that why this site exists?) The proliferation of “yoga woo” is likely just a case of marketing and groupthink combined in the worst way possible. Couple this with instructors who are essentially repeating what *their* instructors told them, on blind faith, and it’s easy to see how the whole “spiritualism” element gets out of hand quite easily.

    If you want to leverage the ideas of chakras, life force, or energy flow for purposes of motivation or meditation, then I say “fine”. It’s the same concept as focusing on the image of a candle while meditating, or going to your “happy place” in an attempt to deal with stress. Whatever gets you through the night; it’s all right…just as long as you don’t attribute changes in your well-being to anecdotal evidence resulting from “energy manipulation”.

    I’ve heard about “squeezing the toxins from your organs” before, but blasting plaque from your arteries with a sudden release of blood pressure is a new one for me! Perhaps I should hold my breath for 5 minutes and then release it in a whoosh to clear the toxins from my lungs. What could possibly go wrong?

    1. Chris says:

      Well asking for some science is better than the VHS my sibling sent me over twenty years ago that claimed yoga was a form of demon worshiping. They also claimed Dungeons and Dragons was satanic.

      It is just a form of stretching exercise.

  6. windriven says:

    “This brings up a very important question about yoga – how safe is it? ”

    “There are concerns about the safety of yoga, as it often involves extreme stretching or poses that the average person might find not only difficult but physically harmful.”

    Personally, I don’t have the patience for yoga. That said, a few beginners yoga classes that I took some years ago stressed that you should only go as far as is comfortable, that technically correct positions will come as one’s flexibility improves. I’ve worked with strength coaches who pushed me to my limits and a bit beyond. Yoga instructors not so much.

    Any exercise that goes too far is what keeps sports medicine clinics in business. Compared to, say, rock climbing yoga seems pretty safe. Anyone who expects to achieve a perfect balasana (sp?) on their first day is likely to end up in a cast no matter what activity they choose.

  7. theLaplaceDemon says:

    I have done, and really enjoyed, yoga in the past. I am, however, young and relatively fit, and I’ve mostly hung out in lower level classes where there isn’t a lot of pressure to hold poses with extreme stretches.

    I never did manage to find a completely woo-free teacher (I’ve heard a lot of the “releasing toxins” and “massaging internal organs” BS) but the stuff said by the low-woo ones is pretty easy to ignore.

    Regarding the potential for harm – do you think it would make sense to have yoga teachers regulated/given standardized training in some way? I don’t know what the certification/licensing practices currently are, but it seems like training that includes a standardized, evidence-based “here’s how not to hurt people” might be helpful.

    1. Egstra says:

      If you’re looking for woo-less yoga, it might be worth checking out your local Y.

    2. Irene says:

      Thanks for bringing up the standardization issue. I have seen so many things passed off as “yoga” that it boggles the mind (observed in passing or waiting for a friend, etc.). I tried it once and really liked the part at the end where they play New Age-y music and put a warm cloth on your eyes to end the session. Otherwise, it felt quite unnatural, so I went back to the gym.

  8. gewsin says:

    Asking for evidence-based yoga exercise regimens is like asking for evidence-based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. CAM that works safely, without woo, is, well, “medicine.”
    Yoga exercises that are safe and effective, without woo, are, well, “exercises.”

  9. mcrislip says:

    A decade or more ago the residents presented a case at noon report of vertebral artery tear in the neck with a posterior circulation stroke in a young woman. It occurred during some very aggressive stretching during yoga. I can’t remember if there were other co-morbidities. I have a vague memory or Erlos-Danlos or some other collagen problem, but it was a long time ago and not an infectious disease.

  10. TwistBarbie says:

    I went to Bikram hot yoga for a few months before I decided it was the worst thing ever. Instructors often told us it was not possible to hurt yourself doing any of the poses. I desperately wanted to prove them wrong by bending too far back and falling on my head. Once while I was doing one of the stand-on-one-leg poses I think I blew a blood vessel in my knee (intense pain followed by immediate swelling and bruising) and while I lied on my mat in pain the instructor basically implied I was being lazy.
    If you enjoy it and have responsible instructors then I’m sure it’s great, but I am over it and then some.

  11. BugDoc says:

    You can indeed do yoga without having beliefs. A definition of yoga is “seeing the world as it is”. Yoga practice leads to seeing the world not as one wants it to be or as someone else hallucinates it to be, but as it actually exists.

    No spirits. No chakras. No energy channels coming out your nostrils individually or shooting out your forehead. There isn’t a test or belief system one has to accept in order to do the most advanced yoga. And the folks who are scripted to say those outlandish things in a yoga studio are just trying to be helpful. They aren’t evil, just not skeptical.

    But my dear friends who are yoga practitioners do form a community and do tend to echo the catch phrases of the new age. Toxins are common. Sweating out toxins is a cited benefit. Bunk of course. Anhydrosis leads to heat stroke, not dialysis.

    The discussion of releasing blood through an artery like a kinked water hose comes from Bikram yoga scripts. There are prone poses in which you compress your brachial arteries and then release them. Who knows if it has benefits or harm. The heat is something you get used to and actually begin to enjoy over time. It is an acquired taste.

  12. BugDoc says:

    My fascination over the years has been witnessing massively overweight and overdressed middle aged people go into a Bikram class (105oF with 1 and 1/2 hours of intense exercise) and NOT have a heart attack. I’ve hypothesized that the heat saves them. The heat leads to vasodilatation which is an afterload reducer. So although they have an increased cardiac demand, their hearts are pushing against low systemic resistance. If they performed the same task in the cold, they’d be dead (as anyone manning a cardiac ICU filled with snow shovelers will attest).

    The entire medical literature on yoga is worthless. Yoga is presented as a uniform intervention. It’s not. You have to be able to replicate the practice and even defined yoga sequences (Ashtanga or Bikram) have too many variables, from ambient temperature, humidity, speed of execution to be meaningful. Virtually all medical publications examining yoga, describe the intervention as “yoga”. That is like saying “we gave an antibiotic” or “we gave a pill”. So I don’t know what the medical benefits of yoga might be because I couldn’t begin to construct a valid trial to do so.

    And we have a saying “Yoga heals all injuries, except those caused by yoga”. My orthopedic surgeon got a laugh out of that while repairing my yoga torn meniscus.

  13. Thor says:

    For anyone interested in pursuing this topic further, Paul Ingraham, an associate editor at SBM, has a great site: http://www.saveyourself.ca, with numerous articles on yoga and related topics, including some relevant studies. (This not a plug, as I don’t know the man at all.) It is a refreshing, sober insider’s look at the issue, with a much needed lack of baggage and woo that usually accompany it. Particularly germane is an article on stretching itself, which actually debunks the concept as a whole.

  14. Thor says:

    Mea culpa: Paul Ingraham is an assistant editor at SBM, not an asscociate editor.

  15. Bobby Hannum says:

    I just want to throw something out there that I recall hearing but don’t have the desire to validate: yoga as we know it was essentially invented in the past 60 years. Which would essentially throw out all that “ancient” business.

    I could absolutely be wrong. This is distant and foggy memory for me.

    1. theLaplaceDemon says:

      The westernized version of yoga is pretty different than the classical religious/spiritual yoga, yeah. The postures that essentially define western yoga are part of classical yoga, but a very small part of it, and even then the way it’s practiced is still pretty different.

  16. harriet h says:

    They were doing a yoga class in the park and as I passed the instructor told them to roar like a lion in the jungle. Should I have interrupted and told them that lions live on the Savannah and tigers live in the jungle?

    1. Stephen H says:

      But… “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight”. Please don’t tell me it’s all a lie!

  17. Stephen H says:

    Do, or do not. There is not try.

    Wait, did you say Yoga? In that case, yeah – it’s a form of exercise that doesn’t need to set the wooniverse on fire.

  18. Jann Bellamy says:

    Some of the claims for health benefits of yoga made by this instructor are arguably the kind of advice for which one needs a license to practice a health care profession. Of course, the instructor would never be prosecuted for, say, the unlicensed practice of medicine because the medical board has board has more pressing matters. And prosecuting a yoga instructor would be a PR disaster for the board. My comments would not hold true for some of the states with “health freedom” laws, where pretty much anyone can give medical advice.
    BTW, many health clubs (and perhaps other locations) have plain old stretching classes. I imagine these are much more woo-free and do not include the bizarre poses.

  19. leeann says:

    I’ve been doing yoga for over 20 years. I have what is called a “home” practice…I will practice yoga, but the zen in me wants to TV to be on, so there you have it. I,too, have great difficulty with the “energy flow” “squeezing the liver and kidneys” kind of talk, and I don’t like the disciple type of atmosphere some classes seem to encourage. But my goal is to be able to bend over and tie my shoes for as long as possible (realistic goals, I always say), so I tune it out. On a serious note, though-if the first thing out of the instructor’s mouth before the class starts is not something like ‘does anyone have any health issues or discomfort I need to know about?”-get out of there and get another instructor.

    1. Ray Baxter says:

      Yoga teachers are not generally speaking licensed to deal with medical issues. What is the point of them making this inquiry?

      1. theLaplaceDemon says:

        It’s not so they can treat it, it’s so they can make sure, say, if you have bad knees they aren’t telling you to do anything strenuous to your knees.

      2. Leeann says:

        If someone is having back pain, then they are given other poses to do – same with knee or other pain. If someone has a headache (and came to class anyway?!), no inversions. Of course, I’m not sure why menstruating women aren’t “supposed” to do inversions – but that’s not my problem

      3. loulou4 says:

        I know a yoga teacher who claims she can treat cancer and heart disease. She is trying to make her own father allow her to dictate a change in dosages on heart medications and go off of some meds on her advice not his doctor’s. She is also running a “support group” and advertises herself as the “counselor/facilitator” of that. She has a degree in English literature and took a 200 hour yoga teacher training course and recently completed a 12 hour yoga course to teach her about “treating” cancer and heart disease. There are yoga instructors making dangerous medical claims and attempting to practice medicine and psychology with no real knowledge.

        1. gewsin says:

          If you are in the US, please report that person to your state’s Attorney General and to the state Medical Board.

          1. loulou4 says:

            It is an in-law. The whole thing is dicey for me to be involved in and when I looked into it, there is no guarantee of anonymity. Plus, unless she advertises or keeps records as such, they won’t look into it. She also employs someone practicing acupuncture without a license and someone doing manicures/pedicures without a license. However, without written proof, no state board will investigate. The oversight of these things is really sketchy in most states.

    2. Irene says:

      Any type of stretching will help reach your goal. I do some each morning before I get out of bed and some more in the hot bath, I can easily tie my shoes at 63. I can also put my muddy feet (one at a time) into the bathroom sink to rinse off the mud. This impressed a friend who does yoga and can’t begin to do this.

      P.S. I am weight appropriate and the friend is not.

  20. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @leeann

    Most of my exercise is geared towards not breaking a hip when I’m taking a poop at 95 years of age. And being able to sit down on my toilet without a robot. Though I still want to have a robot, just ’cause. Ideally some sort of powered mecha suit that sits for me, but at that point I’d want it to have a built-in toilet too.

    I run on my treadmill while watching TV shows and movies. Right now I’m almost finished True Grit and am enjoying it far more than any other Coen brothers movie. Running outside never appealed to me, there’s no TV to watch unless my wife drives very slowly next to me with a DVD playing in the back seat of the van. And she is unreasonably resistant to this idea.

    I know you’re lurking honey-bunches-of-oats, why can’t we try it just once? You could listen to the radio. Don’t you love me?

    Yep, I’m going to wake up tonight with a tiny fist buried in one of my kidneys.

    End tangent and emotional blackmail.

    1. Leeann says:

      Was this for me? I’m not sure what emotion you’re trying to blackmail!

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        I never try to emotionally blackmail strangers, this is all aimed at my wife, who irrationally refuses to drive slightly in front of me while I jog outdoors.

        1. Leeann says:

          Interesting communication method-hope its working

  21. mousethatroared says:

    WLU – So your wife hasn’t figured out that she should give in to your demands, but then speed up to a grueling pass just as you reach the best part of the program?

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      STOP GIVING HER IDEAS!!!!

      Though it doesn’t really matter, the poor dear. I can’t usefully distinguish between positive and negative attention, so even a punch in the kidney for me is like applause for a magician. Truly does she suffer, I should launch a kickstarter to hire her a good lawyer.

  22. mousethatroared says:

    Oh shoot, I didn’t use the fancy “reply” link to WLU.

    One reason that I prefer yoga over standard stretching is that it seems less BORING. To be done properly, the poses usually require enough coordination, balance and attention to detail to make them mentally engaging. That is something I look for in exercise, since boredom is one of the main things that I hate about exercising.

    It’s mostly personal, I guess. One Preston’s boring is another’s relaxing.

    1. Egstra says:

      “One reason that I prefer yoga over standard stretching is that it seems less BORING. ”

      I agree… I can combine balance, stretching, and flexibility in an interesting series of moves that just happen to be yoga.

  23. Foamy64 says:

    I love yoga. It has enabled me to attain a good amount of bendyness (splits, backbends and other good party tricks) and core strength. Most of the yoga teachers i have met over the last 20+ year have not included pseudoscience. Unfortunately, my current one does especially the one about “this seated twist will wring out your liver and help flush out toxins” eek! I letthese comments slide, but perhaps they should be challenged as she will see many people over the course of a week who will hear this comment and believe it.

    1. gewsin says:

      I might offer to buy the instructor a chai tea “so I can ask you more about wringing out toxins from my liver.” Over that tea, I might point out that A)the liver does not “store” toxins, but detoxifies them, so wringing them out into the blood stream would defeat the purpose, B) the liver has two types of circulation, so it is perfectly well “rinsed” and doesn’t need any wringing out, and C) if one twisted the liver enough to wring out anything, it would undoubtedly be a BAD thing. However, the exercise and flexibility gained in a normal yoga class is a GOOD thing and we are all grateful for that.
      Then I might end with, “No More Woo for You!” while doing a split.

  24. Prajna says:

    Thanks for bringing up some important points. I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, and wanted to add that while I feel that the traditional philosophy of yoga is often confused with New Age spirituality, it does indeed come from a spiritual culture and tradition that should be respected and preserved. There’s nothing wrong with leaving that part out in a public yoga class, but there’s nothing wrong with teaching it either. Where I get frustrated is when yoga teachers don’t distinguish between traditional yoga philosophy, which advocates deep inquiry, discernment, and interest in reality, and New Age spirituality, which often involves fantasizing. I wrote something of a response to this on my blog. http://prajnavieira.blogspot.com/2013/08/why-cant-this-be-enough.html?showComment=1376844243501#c4004487289118963609

  25. Charles says:

    Dr. Novella, I too am a physician, and also a practitioner of yoga and have been reviewing the literature. Many studies up until recently have been poor in design or inconclusive, but that is changing. I will cite several examples that show yoga is more effective than exercise and has effects beyond anything one would expect of exercise. These are quality studies from peer reviewed journals, reputable academic centers which are well designed.

    1) Cognitive performance after 20 minutes of yoga (asanas, pranayama & meditation) was significantly superior (i.e. shorter reaction times, increased accuracy) as compared with the 20 minute aerobic exercise and baseline conditions for both inhibition and working memory tasks. J Phys Act Health. 2013 May;10(4):488-95. Epub 2012 Jul 9. Dept of Kinesiology and Community Health, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL, USA.
    2) In patients with paroxysmal AF, twice-weekly 60-min yoga training for 3 months improves symptoms, arrhythmia burden, heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety and depression scores, and several domains of quality of life. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2013 Mar 19;61(11):1177-82. Epub 2013 Jan 30. Division of Cardiovascular Diseases, Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of Kansas Hospital & Medical Center, Kansas City, Kansas.
    3) A workplace stress reduction study showed that compared with a control group (who received discounted fitness programs, employee assistance programs,
    behavioral health services for depression, chair massage sessions, and wellness coaching opportunities), the mindfulness-based and therapeutic yoga programs showed significantly greater improvements on perceived stress, sleep quality, and the heart rhythm coherence ratio of heart rate variability (autonomic balance) in employees. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology © 2012, Vol. 17, No. 2, 246–258. Duke University School of Medicine, University of Indianapolis, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.
    4) A 12-week yoga intervention was associated with greater improvements in mood and anxiety than a metabolically matched walking exercise. This is the first study to demonstrate that increased thalamic GABA levels (by fMRI) are associated with improved mood and decreased anxiety. It is also the first time that a behavioral
    intervention (i.e., yoga postures) has been associated with a positive correlation between acute increases in thalamic GABA levels and improvements in mood and anxiety scales. The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, Volume 16, Number 11, 2010, pp. 1145–1152. Boston University School of Medicine, Harvard University.

    In conclusion, I agree there is a great deal of “woo” out there, but lets not throw the baby out with the bath water. Let us be truly scientific and look at the evidence as it presents itself. After all yoga research is in its infancy.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      1) No surprises there, comparing yoga and aerobic exercise are rather different. If nothing else, yoga stands little chance of bottoming-out your blood sugar in the same way, and wouldn’t fatigue either neurons or muscle cells in anything approaching a similar fashion.

      2) Was there a control group?

      3) That does look better, it’d be nice if they used that sort of control in all studies of yoga. Did they track uptake on any of these measures? Because yoga could be considered a form of “mandatory” all of the above, combining as it does physical and mental activity (if you consider “relaxation” activity).

      4) Also not bad, but what about the mental component.

      Yoga is kinda like acupuncture – you have lots of components that go into it. There’s stretching, which has implications for strengthening and joint pain. There’s the meditative and active relaxation component. There’s focusing on balance and stretch, which activates (and deactivates) different neurons in relatively specific ways. You would need to carefully test and match each aspect of this before you could come to tentative conclusions on each. I wonder how it compares to tai chi?

      But realistically, isn’t it basically just a form of relaxing exercise? Are we supposed to believe there’s something unique to the individual poses? Not that I’m against it at all, just a reflexive skeptical questioning of the more magical aspects of it. The world would be a better place if more people did yoga (though I would be inclined to think it would be mostly a more physically healthy place).

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