Yoga for Health and Wellbeing

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Although Americans of all ages practice yoga, there have beenfew rigorous studies of its effects on older practitioners. Anddespite the existence of more than 100 treatments for lower backpain, a common and hard-to-treat problem, most of them-includingyoga-have not been studied scientifically.

"Scientific Results: Yoga for Health and Wellbeing" a videoreleased today by the National Center for Complementary andAlternative Medicine (NCCAM), highlights new research by Dr. GeorgeSalem, associate professor in the USC Division of Biokinesiologyand Physical Therapy, on the physical demands of yoga practice byhealthy seniors. The video also reports on research by Dr. KarenSherman of Group Health Research Institute in Seattle on how yogamay benefit people with low back pain.

For the past 30 years, Dr. Salem has been using the science ofbiomechanics and specialized high-tech equipment, such as forceplatforms and high-speed cameras, to study how exercise targets themusculoskeletal system. The goal of his groundbreaking "YogaEmpowers Seniors" study is to develop and test an evidence-basedyoga program for seniors that is designed to increase fitness andreduce fall risk. Dr. Salem's research ultimately may enableclinicians and therapists to design individualized programs forpatients.

"We recreate their poses," Dr. Salem said of the seniors whoparticipated in the research project, "and show them what theirskeletal system would look like. They get to see their muscleslight up and do different things. It's very innovative andcreative, and that's what makes it fun."

Dr. Salem said that preliminary results led his team to discoverthat some of their initial hypotheses were incorrect and that someposes challenged muscles and created joint torques that wereunexpected. Dr. Salem plans to expand his yoga studies to othergroups of healthy individuals and those with disabilities.

The studies led by Dr. Sherman, senior scientific investigatorat Group Health Research Institute, have employed viniyoga, inwhich a program is personalized for each student. She wanted toknow how yoga compares to usual care and to conventional exercise.The effect of yoga versus conventional exercise was "statisticallysignificant, and intriguing," Dr. Sherman said.

In a subsequent study, Dr. Sherman wanted to discover how yogaworks-by strengthening and stretching only, or also by promotingrelaxation or other benefits. She said patients reported that theyoga interventions, which focused on postures and breathing, werehelpful. Additionally, three months after the end of each study,roughly two-thirds of the patients reported that they practicedyoga the previous week. Rather than a single "magic" pose, Dr.Sherman said that the key is to establish a sequence of posestailored to each person's particular needs.

The video, which features demonstrations by certified yogainstructors John Acton and Yasmine Kloth, was produced forinformational purposes only. Individuals who want to pursue yogafor lower-back or other conditions are advised to speak with theirhealth care provider first. People who have glaucoma, high bloodpressure or sciatica, or who are pregnant, should modify or omitsome poses. For more information or to view the video: NCCAM is oneof 27 institutes and centers of the National Institutes of Health,the national medical research agency, which is part of the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services.