New study: If nothing else, yoga’s got a great placebo effect

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control suggests that of popular alternative wellness activities, yoga beats natural supplements and chiropractic care.

Link to the study is here. Its distilled down here:

Not only are yoga enthusiasts much more likely to report that their downward dogs and tree poses improve their physical and mental health, they are also more likely to report that yoga motivated them to adopt healthier behaviors, such as eating more nutritiously and doing more aerobic exercise.

Indeed, the study found people who take up yoga are four times more likely to say the practice inspired them to eat healthier and three times more likely to say it encouraged them to run, walk or do some other kind of regular physical activity than those who take supplements or receive chiropractic treatments.


There is no good evidence-based research to support claims that any of these complementary practices boost the body’s immune system or improve memory or other thinking skills. Yet many of the people surveyed perceived that they did — a finding that likely reflects the placebo effect.

Indeed, 82 percent of the yoga practitioners, and about 67 percent of the users of supplements and spinal manipulation said their overall health had been improved because of the complementary practices.

Yet, when asked if these approaches had made it easier for them to cope with their health problems, less than 40 percent of the yoga practitioners and the spinal manipulation users and only 25 percent of the supplement users said yes.

That last paragraph sounds a weird note to me. Perhaps there’s something to the idea of “ease” that doesn’t translate. I suppose I wouldn’t say my yoga practice has made it easier — it perhaps has made me more effective at coping with things, but it isn’t easy to do so.

Of note: Across the board, yoga outscored taking supplements and chiropractic care in terms of people’s positive experiences and reactions.

Posted by Steve

Here’s your latest reason to drink coffee, and it involves your colon

Ashtanga practitioners, from my experience, can give just about any subset of people — emergency room doctors, workers in the morgue or new parents — a run for their money when it comes to a willingness, even pleasure, in discussing things that really ought not be talked about among polite society.

So putting the word “colon” in a headline here feels right.

It’s also appropriate, because colon health is our latest reason to knock back some coffee each day. (Getting up to attend Tim Miller’s 6 a.m. pranayama is another.)

Here’s from the New York Times, early last week (forgive me, I was busy surfing):

Colon cancer patients who were heavy coffee drinkers had a far lower risk of dying or having their cancer return than those who did not drink coffee, with significant benefits starting at two to three cups a day, a new study found. Patients who drank four cups of caffeinated coffee or more a day had half the rate of recurrence or death than noncoffee drinkers.

But, the researchers caution, cancer patients should not start ordering extra tall coffees. The study, the first to report such findings, does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between coffee drinking and a lower risk of colon cancer recurrence. As other experts note, there may be differences between heavy coffee drinkers and abstainers that the research was not able to account for.

Yes, so there’s a caveat. But the guy who led the research had this to say:

“No one has ever done this before in colon cancer patients. It does require confirmation,” he said. Patients should not start drinking coffee based on this study, but, “If you’re a coffee drinker and enjoy your coffee, stick with it,” he said. “If a patient says, ‘Well I hate coffee,’ I’d say there are other things you can do, like avoid obesity, exercise regularly and follow a balanced diet.”

I like coffee, so I’ll stick with it. You can read more about the study at the link, obviously enough.

Posted by Steve

Did you start practicing Ashtanga for one reason, and keep doing it for another?

I’ve admitted here before that a main reason I started Ashtanga — and probably, really, yoga (as in asana) more generally — was as a means to improve the quality of my surfing.

And then time passed.

Seven or so years later, I’m still doing Ashtanga (and, happily enough, still surfing — though more of the former, less of the latter).

And it’s not just to keep me in the water. The reasons I’ve still practicing must include:

  • The health benefits, which I’ve highlighted.
  • Some sort of spiritual fulfillment, or those trips to India were sort of silly.
  • To be honest (and she’s probably never heard me say it), it’s a shared experience for Bobbie and me.
  • Related to the health benefits, what I hope is a bit more of a even-keeled, able-to-handle-stress, calm and reflective state of mind.
  • The hope that one day I’ll actually touch my nose to my knee.

I suspect my experience of starting the practice for one reason and keeping going for another (or others) isn’t unusual. Anyone want to share what keeps them going, and what got them started. Did the practice have anything to do with the change? (I think the answer in my case is obvious.)

Posted by Steve

New study suggest yoga can be as good as cardio

You have to read through a lot of science to get to the bottom-line of this article, but once you do:

Compared to traditional aerobic exercise controls, there was no significant difference in how exercise or yoga changed risk factors, suggesting similar effectiveness of the two forms of physical activity and possibly similar underlying mechanisms. The mechanism behind the therapeutic effect of yoga for CVD is still unclear; studies have suggested that yoga may modulate autonomic function and beneficially alter markers of sympathetic and parasympathetic activity.1214 Through practicing yoga, the effects of stress can be reduced, leading to positive impacts on neuroendocrine status, metabolic and cardio-vagal function, and related inflammatory responses.1214 The similarity in effectiveness on risk factors between the two forms of exercise suggest that there could be comparable working mechanisms, with some possible physiological aerobic benefits occurring with yoga practice, and some stress-reducing, relaxation effect occurring with aerobic exercise.

That’s from the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. What is means, more or less, is that yoga is about as good at combating things like high blood pressure and cholesterol as relatively strenuous cardio such as swimming or biking. (From my own experiences, I’m not sure anything really beats swimming.) CVD is short for cardiovascular disease.

And here’s from the conclusion:

Our review finds emerging evidence to support a role for yoga in improving common modifiable risk factors of CVD and metabolic syndrome. Whereas previous reviews have looked at a single or a few risk factors, our review updates the existing literature and encompasses numerous CVD and metabolic risk factors that can be used to calculate overall CVD risk. We believe that these findings have important implications for the acceptance of yoga as an effective therapeutic intervention. Given the growing popularity of yoga in the US and around the world, there is a need for larger randomized controlled studies that meet explicit, high quality methodological standards to ascertain the effects of yoga. This review demonstrates the potential of yoga to have an impact on concrete, physiological outcomes that represent some of the greatest health burdens today.

And of course that’s where yoga’s headed, right?

Posted by Steve

Another scientific study suggests benefits from part of Ashtanga practice

It’s true that it’s us who are tying some scientific findings to Ashtanga — the strains of working out six days a week proved popular, but we’ve also pondered if yoga just isn’t strenuous enough and highlighted the benefits of our semi-regimented diet — but we do so because there always seems an obvious link, but one that probably wouldn’t otherwise be made. (So, budding researcher, search around this blog a bit and find some Ashtanga-related studies you can do.)

Here’s the latest, and it suggests the early morning asana practice is good:

In a groundbreaking 2010 study, researchers in Belgium persuaded young, healthy men to stuff themselves for six weeks with a diet consisting of 30 percent more calories and 50 percent more fat than the men had been eating. Some of the volunteers remained sedentary while gorging. Others began a strenuous, midmorning exercise routine after they had had breakfast. The third group followed the same workout regimen, but before they had eaten anything.

At the end of the six weeks, the sedentary group predictably was supersized and unhealthy, having gained about six pounds each. They had also developed insulin resistance and larded their muscles with new fat cells. The men who exercised after breakfast had also packed on pounds, about three pounds each, and developed insulin problems. But the men who had exercised first thing in the morning, before eating anything, had gained almost no weight and retained healthy insulin levels. Their bodies were also burning more fat throughout the day than were the other men.

Of course, the early-morning exercise prevented weight gain, which is not the same thing as inducing weight loss. But the results are encouraging for those who hope to shave off a few pounds, said Peter Hespel, a professor in the Research Center for Exercise and Health at Catholic University Leuven in Belgium and the study author.

You can find out more at the link.

And of course we can counter with various reasons to practice later.

Posted by Steve

All your sitting is doing you lots of harm

We’ve already highlighted the dangers of sitting too long and too much. And now there’s even more. From the Los Angeles Times:

New research that distills the findings of 47 studies concludes that those of us who sit for long hours raise our average risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and early death.

Even for those of us who meet recommended daily levels of exercise, sitting for long periods of time boosts our likelihood of declining health.


But even those who punctuate a long day of sitting with a vigorous workout were estimated to be 16% more likely to die of any cause in a given time than were those who do not sit for long.

The studies that formed the basis for such aggregations defined prolonged sitting, as well as high levels of physical activity, quite differently. While one study included participants who spent as little as an hour a day seated, the rest defined prolonged sitting as those who watched television for at least five hours a day on up to those who had more than six and, in one study, more than 11 hours of “sitting time” a day.

And the thing is, is that an hour or so of exercise every day doesn’t seem to make up for this very much. It obviously is healthy and helpful, but the studies suggest that a whole lot of sitting — between a commute, work, watching TV — is a major factor in shortening life and upping the risk of contracting diseases.

Here’s a question to put into this: What about seated meditation? I wonder how that would factor in?

Easiest thing to do, according to researchers, is to get up for a minute to three every half an hour.

Posted by Steve

Study finds yoga may help your heart as much as aerobics

Combating studies that suggest yoga isn’t strenuous enough to provide significant health benefits, a new look at asana practice comes up a little more positively.

Here’s Reuters’ take:

Based on 37 clinical trials, researchers found that doing yoga lowered blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate and other cardiovascular risk factors in increments comparable to those seen with aerobic exercise.

“Taken together, these improvements could facilitate and complement a regimen toward better cardiovascular health,” said Paula Chu, a doctoral candidate in health policy at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led the study.

She and her co-authors caution in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, however, that larger studies are needed to understand how yoga improves health, how much of it is ideal and if there are differences in benefits from various types of yoga before the practice becomes a standard prescription for heart disease.


The study team analyzed 37 randomized, controlled trials involving 2,768 people through December 2013. The trials either looked at yoga compared to no exercise or to aerobic exercises. Participants’ average age was 50 and they were followed for anywhere from 12 weeks to one year.

Those who did yoga had significant improvements in a range of risk factors. Systolic blood pressure (the top number) dropped by an average of 5.21 mm Hg, and diastolic pressure (the bottom number) dropped 4.9 mm HG. LDL “bad” cholesterol fell by an average 12.14 mg/dl and HDL “good” cholesterol rose by an average 3.20 mg/dl. Average heart rate was lower by a little over 5 beats per minute and weight loss averaged a bit over 5 pounds.

I’ve definitely benefited from lowered blood pressure and cholesterol, as just one tiny randomized sample.

Posted by Steve