Week 1

by Christina on November 13, 2009

My mentor is giving me the perfect combination of freedom to be creative with my research questions, structure of specific tasks and goals, encouragement of idealism, and reminders of practicality. This week has been busy and engaging and I love how my life and my “work” are beginning to blur.

Check out this article about the status of research on the health benefits of yoga about the following:
  • The article is about the growing body of research on yoga and how several major cancer centers are now offering yoga to patients. “A word of caution, though,” says the article, “the studies that have been done so far have yielded soft findings, with little hard data to back up the conclusions. That said, there is no denying that yoga is becoming a presence even in the ivory towers of academic medicine.”
  • The article explains that most of the research has proven the efficacy of yoga for emotional and social well-being such as improving stress, anxiety, sleep, quality of life, mood disturbance, and chronic pain. Despite this evidence, there is still little in the way of physician guidelines/recommendations to prescribe yoga.
  • Our current plan for the clinical trial is to look at biomarkers before and after an 8-week yoga program. I really want to look at telomerase activity but it seems to require a complicated assay process which I don’t think we’re capable of just yet.
  • The problem with the research on yoga thus far is that the interventions studied all fall under the umbrella of “yoga,” yet they are widely variable. Some are gentle restorative yoga classes, some are Iyengar classes focusing on alignment, some are simply vaguely described as “hatha” yoga. But this is important! The interventions have to be consistent and reproducible. This is why I like the idea of studying Ashtanga yoga as intervention because it is the same no matter where you are or who is teaching. I also like the idea of looking at Ashtanga because in addition to the yogic mind-body awareness practice, it is also a vigorous physical exercise.
  • Another question I’m thinking about is whether it is possible to study yoga with our gold-standard randomized controlled trial model. Randomization doesn’t really work here. In the study and in real life, people are going to have to want to do yoga and want to make the lifestyle change. Perhaps a better model is a non-randomized controlled trial, where we compare a more self-selecting yoga group and control group. This would introduce confounders and open us up to more criticism, but I also think it’s more realistic for this study and for real life.
  • As the article points out, in order for yoga to become more credible among physicians, there need to be more studies on its effectiveness. These studies need funding. And they need to be published in major medical journals so that physicians begin to see yoga less as an “alternative” medicine and more as a tool to improve health and well-being. As one of the doctor’s in the article said, “Research on yoga for therapeutic benefits really is in its infancy, and to look at how many studies are ongoing and being published the temptation is to think that’s a reflection of how good yoga is, and it may not be. We certainly need more research.”

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