Knowing the limits of yoga

The Boston Globe Stretching the boundaries of yoga points out that the use of yoga in mainstream medicine is slowly gaining acceptance, but it is rarely reaching some of the people who could use it most, working class people who don’t shop at Lululemon or drink coconut water, and probably don’t have health insurance.

Because many yoga postures stretch and strengthen the muscles affecting the back, at least 10 published studies have been done on yoga and chronic low-back pain, says Saper. But though the majority have shown yoga to be promising as a low-cost treatment, all have been done on predominantly white, educated, affluent populations, he (Dr. Robert B. Saper, director of integrative medicine at Boston Medical Center) says.

The article runs through a number of medical studies that support the value of yoga, but also cites how yoga has helped real people. I loved this quote.

Streeter (Chris Streeter, lead author of two research studies and an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine) says that yoga helps with balance and can reduce stress. “But you have to be careful not to over-promise. The effectiveness of yoga on mood may depend on the individual. For a person who hates yoga, it may not work.”

My one reservation about the “medicalization” of yoga is that the practice has a systemic or holistic application, and it cannot be isolated on single muscle or structure, and I am speaking as someone who came to yoga to seek relief from pain (suffering). You may take up yoga for back pain, but the whole myofascial system will get the benefits, plus better blood circulation, improved range of motion and deeper breathing. Yoga is not going to cure anything, as if it were an injection of antibiotics or a pill of Paxil. Its effects are not standardized.

Veterans use yoga, meditation to reconnect (Wisconsin TV, November 28, 2011)