NCCAM has supported a fair number of studies on the potential health benefits of yoga. Of particular interest has been exploring the role of yoga as a strategy for alleviating symptoms such as chronic pain or stress or for promoting healthier lifestyles. There is still a lot we don’t know, but there is a growing body of clinical research evidence that now suggests that yoga can enhance quality of life, reduce psychological stress, and improve some mental health outcomes. Recent research also suggests that the addition of yoga or mindfulness meditation practices may be associated with promoting weight loss and healthier eating habits.
Equally important as the exploration of its potential health benefits is research on the safety of yoga. Yoga is often promoted as a safe and effective exercise program, and although the risk of serious injury from yoga is thought to be quite low, that’s not always the case. Some poses may place too much strain on certain joints, particularly if they're not being done properly or modified appropriately for the individual. In rare cases, certain types of stroke as well as pain from nerve damage are also among the possible side effects of practicing yoga. But in fact, the physical demands and safety of yoga have not been well studied, particularly in older adults. So, that’s why it’s important that NCCAM-funded researchers are looking at the biomechanics of yoga.
A new NCCAM-funded study, by Salem and colleagues, uses biomechanical methods to quantify the musculoskeletal demands associated with commonly practiced yoga poses in older adults. Dr. Salem was our guest speaker at the January 14th NCCAM Integrative Medicine Research Lecture and spoke about the results of his Yoga Empowers Seniors Study, which was published this month in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Researchers in this study found that musculoskeletal demand varied significantly across the different poses. For example, the Warrior Leading and Trailing poses were the only two poses that produced appreciable hip adductor joint moments of force (JMOFs). These JMOFs were about 4 times greater than the average peak JMOF generated when the participants walked at a comfortable speed. This type of finding can be clinical relevant in helping seniors determine the most appropriate poses and modifications. You can read more about how the study was conducted in our research spotlight. The safety of yoga is an area of ongoing interest to NCCAM, and I would agree with the authors that this study, though small, provides data that could be used in future studies to test the clinical effectiveness of goal-specific yoga programs and provide more options for the design of safe yoga programs.