Yoga is commonly seen as a practice beneficial to body and mind. Increasingly, yoga is being taken a step further and applied as a form of complementary and alternative medicine in treating psychiatric disorders. Can this ancient lifestyle practice for spiritual awareness stand up to testing standards required by modern science to prove that it is an effective treatment? Included in this report is a link to download the full text study.
An article in the Summer 2011 issue of the journalBiofeedback examines how yoga is being applied as a therapy in disorders such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, atherosclerosis, and neuropsychiatric disorders. Yoga as a treatment faces many challenges to being accepted by the general medical community, however.
Clinical trials that meet the standards for evidence-based practice are needed. Yoga has to be tested to see not only if it works, but if it works as effectively as other treatments. Patients and doctors need reliable evidence to support the use of yoga as a therapy.
Researchers recently completed a three-prong study comparing interventions as complementary treatment for outpatients with schizophrenia. The results for yoga therapy, exercise, and a control group on a waiting list for treatment were compared. This study confirmed the efficacy of yoga over both other options.
Applying testing standards to yoga can be difficult though. It raises questions such as: What is a satisfactory placebo? How can patients and researchers be blinded to the intervention? And what is an accurate biological correlate to the illness? Testing the neurobiological effects of certain yoga practices on healthy subjects can provide evidence of its benefits, but not the direct cause-and-effect of clinical benefits for patients with psychiatric disorders.
One study reported that OM chanting, a technique used in some yoga practices, produced deactivation in certain limbic areas of the brain. Patients with anxiety and depression have shown increased activation in these same areas. A direct link of deactivation in psychiatric patients has yet to be tested. However, another study showed positive biological results using the Sudarshan Kriya form of yoga as a sole form of treatment for depression. The amplitude of brain electrical potential elicited by neutral stimuli increased over three months and reached that of healthy control subjects. Plasma cortisol levels, which can indicate stress or illness, were lower in those receiving yoga therapy, paralleling a reduction in depressive symptoms.
Material adapted from Allen Press Publishing Services.
Download / Reference
B. N Gangadhar and Shivarama Varambally (2011). Yoga as Therapy in Psychiatric Disorders: Past, Present, and Future. Biofeedback: Summer 2011, Vol. 39, No. 2, pp. 60-63.