Yoga as Therapy: When Is It Helpful?

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Good evidence supports the use of specific types of yoga for low back pain, depression, and anxiety. Fair evidence is available for 4 other indications.




› Consider recommending Iyengar yoga or Viniyoga for the treatment of chronic low back pain in patients who express an interest in this modality. B
› Consider recommending yoga for the treatment of depression and anxiety symptoms in patients who are interested in exploring this approach. B

Strength of recommendation (SOR)

A Good-quality patient-oriented evidence
B Inconsistent or limited-quality patient-oriented evidence
C Consensus, usual practice, opinion, disease-oriented evidence, case series

Yoga is practiced by 15.8 million Americans,1 and is often recommended as therapy for a variety of medical conditions. However, the scientific literature on yoga is limited in scope and quality. This article presents good evidence for yoga as treatment for chronic back pain, depression, and anxiety, and fair evidence for treating asthma, symptoms of menopause, hypertension, and mobility issues in the elderly.

Yoga’s rising popularity as therapy

Yoga is a system of movement and breathing exercises meant to foster mind-body connection. Its roots are in ancient Indian practices codified by the writer Patanjali in the first or second century BCE.2

The practice of yoga was introduced to the Western world by a series of popular gurus from the 1930s to 1970s and consists primarily of asanas, or postures, and breathing exercises known as pranayama. Since then, yoga has been further subdivided into different schools and brands (TABLE1,2), some of which are extremely taxing and vigorous and should be performed only by fit and healthy individuals, while others are gentle and accessible to anyone. Yoga has steadily gained in popularity, and nearly half of those who practice it say they do so to improve their health.1

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