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A recent review of studies involving yoga and various psychiatric and neurological disorders has found a great deal of evidence that yoga can help reduce the symptoms of several conditions.
In a study led by Hilary B. Meyer, BA, of the Department of Psychiatry at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center, researchers conducted a review of the current research literature on the therapeutic benefits of yoga for mental health and neurological conditions.
Meyer and her colleagues included only randomized, controlled trials in their review, except for one observational study involving yoga and bipolar disorder. Only studies that were designed to focus on yoga as an intervention were included in the review.
They found that six of the seven studies they reviewed involving yoga for the treatment of neurological disorders showed positive effects from the yoga.
Two of these studies involved multiple sclerosis. In one, the MS patients who did yoga experienced less fatigue, but in the other, no notable differences in symptoms existed between those who practiced yoga and those who didn't.
The two studies on migraines found significant reductions in the amount of pain participants experienced and how often they had migraines if they were in the groups which practiced yoga.
Similarly, three trials involving patients with epilepsy found significant improvement in symptoms and fewer seizures in the study groups that did yoga.
Meanwhile, 10 of the 13 studies they reviewed involving yoga and psychiatric disorders had noteworthy, positive effects on the outcomes of the patients.
Nine of the the total studies focused on yoga's effects on mood disorders, primarily depression and some anxiety. All of these studies found significant decreases in depression symptoms, though two also found similar decreases for those in the non-yoga groups.
Three of the four studies on yoga and schizophrenia found significant reductions in symptoms in the groups where participants practiced yoga. The fourth study also had reductions, but so did the other study group, which did aerobic exercise.
One study on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) found that yoga significantly helped the participants reduce their symptoms.
In the observational study related to bipolar disorder, yoga was used along with other alternative medicine to help control their symptoms.
The forms of yoga involved in the studies were those that are most commonly practiced in the US: Hatha, Iyengar, Sudarshan Kriya and certain meditative yoga types.
Hatha yoga is the most popular form in the US and focuses on breathing ("hatha" means breathing) while a person goes through a series of different postures called "asanas."
Iyengar yoga is the one which uses various items, such as blankets, blocks, belts and chairs, to help practitioners stretch with help into the different asanas.
One of the benefits of yoga mentioned by the authors is that it can be individualized for each person who uses it. Modifying certain postures or ways of doing them ensures that every person can gain some benefit from the yoga.
The authors noted, however, that this is a small number of studies overall and that more clinical trials assessing the benefits of yoga for neurological and psychiatric disorders should be done.
The study was published in the Spring 2012 issue of The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. The authors did not receive outside funding and reported no conflicts of interest.