My initial take on the study released this week that determined yoga and stretching both relieved back pain at about the same levels was, I suppose, relatively pessimistic. I wrote:
What’s that mean? Well, according to this story in the Wall St. Journal, it means the study “didn’t find any evidence that yoga provided broader mental benefits.” Researchers had thought that some mental benefit — stress relief, relaxation — from yoga was part of what helped reduce back pain.
I do think there is something to that perspective, especially if researchers were expecting yoga to do more than just stretching.
But I don’t want to discount the positives from the study. Here’s a key quotation from a New York Times blog post about the study:
“This is good news for yoga,” said Karen J. Sherman, lead author of the study and senior scientific investigator at Group Health Research Institute in Seattle. “The smaller studies which hinted that yoga might be helpful all had problems one way or another. This is a much larger study, and the findings are robust.”
So, in that sense, this study suggests that the physical benefits of yoga are significant. And that’s nothing to sneeze at, right?
I also note this:
As an alternative to yoga, stretching may be a viable option. Dr. Sherman recommended taking an intensive stretching class, then establishing a routine at home. But she cautioned that her study looked specifically at deep stretching that is far more involved than the brief, light stretches most people do before or after a workout.
“It’s not like stretching each leg for 30 seconds,” she said. “It’s much more intensive. You might spend two minutes stretching each leg before moving on and stretching other parts of the body, so you’re really getting in there.”
That makes the stretching exercises sound a lot more like asana poses than a quick reach for the toes.
Of course, all of this reflects a pretty narrow view of yoga, right? Just Hatha, from the sounds of it. And, as a commentator on my earlier post notes:
In its crudest form, hatha yoga IS nothing but stretching, so just labeling some arbitrary class “yoga” means about the same as closing one’s eyes and chanting “one” while watching the breath and calling it “meditation.”
In beginning that comment, the writer asks the key question: “What does ‘yoga’ mean?” I suspect the answer in mind is something that is not quite so easily measurable, but is that feeling you get when everything does unite.
Posted by Steve