The Effects of Yoga Are Real - Not Placebo !!

Although Yoga has been steadily gaining popularity in the west in recent years, it has yet to find the kind of validation and specificity that scientists and researchers give to say, drugs, walking, or jogging. It may be due to the ‘alternative therapy’/ ‘eastern mysticism’ tag that Yoga is associated with, or even the kind of benefits that its supporters claim it brings. It could also be the overall look and feel of the system – it appears too 'docile' to western sensibilities, you just don’t seem to be doing much to be getting the kind of benefits that Yogis claim they do – from greater overall fitness, to stress relief, to positive effects in serious diseases like diabetes or even cancer. But there is a growing group of researchers who have been studying yoga, and there have been many studies done with rigor and published in esteemed publications that prove that the effects of Yoga are not placebo - they are for real, and that Yoga is a scientifically validated system of mind-body intervention.

Professor Janice Kiecolt-Glaser from the Ohio State University College of Medicine who also holds the title of Distinguished University Professor, has done one of the largest and most comprehensive studies on the effects of Yoga. It was published in one of the most prestigious journals – The Journal of Oncology. The study done on 200 breast cancer survivors demonstrated the following –

  • Yoga had beneficial impact on the inflammation, fatigue and mood of survivors compared to a control group.
  • It was also found that the amount of yoga practice was correlated with the outcome variables and that more yoga practice led to greater benefits.
In another study conducted on women with breast cancer undergoing radiotherapy, lead by Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, Distinguished Clinical Professor, and Director of the Integrative Medicine Program at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, it was found that –

  • Yoga improved the quality of life and physiological changes associated with radiation therapy beyond the benefits of simple stretching exercises, and
  • These benefits appeared to have long-term durability.
Although done on breast cancer patients, the findings of these studies can be applied on a much wider scale, for example, where people are simply looking to improve their overall mental and physical health. Reduction of inflammation alone is a big deal as it has been associated with many diseases like type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis and coronary heart disease. On the other hand, Yoga’s effects in improving mood and reducing fatigue is something that anyone would require today, especially the harried business executive.

Another study done by Professor N. Gothe of Wayne State University, Detroit, when she was a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign examined the effects of an acute yoga exercise session on cognitive performance compared to a similar session of aerobic exercise. It was found that -

  • A 20-minute session of Hatha yoga significantly improved the participants’ speed and accuracy on tests of working memory and inhibitory control.
These are the two measures of brain function that are associated with the ability to maintain focus, and absorb, retain, and use new information. The participants performed significantly better immediately after a 20 minute session of yoga, compared to those who did a moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise session of the same duration.

The biggest service that studies like these are doing is debunking the thought that the benefits of yoga are placebo effects because that is pretty much what most people who discredit yoga say. The outcome variables measured in these studies - while some of them were self reports, a lot of were based on the measurement of blood samples and other biological measures. At the same time, comparison of control groups that did not do any form of exercise, those that did aerobics or stretching, with those that did yoga demonstrated that people who did yoga benefited more and the effects appeared to be more enduring. So not only does yoga help but it helps in a way that other exercises don’t.

  • The effects of yoga go beyond that of walking, jogging, or listening to music, or any other activity.
  • It offers something special, almost magical, to the mind and the body - research & experience both are getting clearer on this.
  • The benefits on our body, mind, behaviors and personal disposition are not due to placebo effect, they are real and have been demonstrated repeatedly in different studies.
Lastly, we have just mentioned a few studies and they don't tell you a whole lot about other great things that are being found in other studies. But we do have a lot more on the way, stay tuned!