Dr. Pam’s study of Ashtanga and the Visually Impaired Concludes

I met my friend, Dr. Pamela Jeter, back when she was working on her Ph.D. at the University of California, Irvine where I teach. But I didn’t meet Pam on the UCI campus; I met her at Pacific Ashtanga, Diana Christinson’s shala. She was looking for volunteers for brain MRIs! Turns out we were both going to Tim Miller’s First Series Teacher training, so we were roommates for the training and have been friends ever since. Pam’s gone on to do research with yoga and the brain. She’s recently wrapped up her years-long study at JHU, so we asked her to guest post about it. Here’s Pam:  –Bobbie

It’s not often that you hear about “yoga research,” much less yoga research related to the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga method. This is due in part to the few research studies using the Ashtanga style of yoga, to the amount of time it takes to conduct a clinical trial, and to the lengthy process it takes to get a study published for public consumption. But yoga research is alive and growing in medical research communities due to the emerging evidence that yoga has therapeutic benefits (duh!) for a variety of disorders and dis-ease.

A little over 3 years ago, my friends and fellow Ashtangis Bobbie and Steve posted about my research at Johns Hopkins University working with the benefits of yoga for a visually impaired population. Since then, I completed a small clinical trial and just recently published it in a peer-reviewed journal.

My most recent study is titled, “Ashtanga-Based Yoga Therapy Increases the Sensory Contribution to Postural Stability in Visually-Impaired Persons at Risk for Falls as Measured by the Wii Balance Board: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial.” Here’s a description of the study and its findings:

Loss of visual function due to common age-related diseases such as macular degeneration is associated with reduced independence and a decreased quality of life. Persons with visual impairment are at greater risk for falls because of irreparable damage to their vision, which decreases the sensory inputs that assists in balance. Yoga may improve balance by strengthening the remaining sensory systems besides vision, such as proprioception (awareness of the body in space).  This Ashtanga-based study used the components of drishti, ujjayi, vinyasa and bandhas as applied to the unique needs of the VI population. The study evaluated an Ashtanga-based Yoga Therapy (AYT) program’s ability to help subjects develop their remaining senses to compensate for what was lost. We measured the contributions of each sensory system using the Wii Balance Board in the AYT group before and after an eight-week yoga program. A control group was also measured at the same time points but did not participate in the yoga program. The average yoga participant experienced an increase in approximately 50% performance; but the control participants showed no change, suggesting that the yoga participants were able to significantly improve the use of other sensory information that contributes to balance, like the practice that stimulates the use of postural control strategies, such as the ankle and hip adjustments, can subsequently stimulate the remaining sensory systems that control balance.  These preliminary results suggest there is an increase in corrective postural strategies to maintain balance. With the aging population steadily increasing and the corresponding visual impairments increasing along with it, these findings can contribute to a greater quality of life and health. The link to the full study can be found here.

Because it takes a village to conduct a clinical trial on a shoe string budget, I’d like to specifically acknowledge those in the Ashtanga community that were part of getting this study off the ground by providing much needed resources. Much love goes out to Faith Scimecca at Woodley Park Yoga, Washington DC for donating the studio space,  Ed Redfern, Jr. for assistance in teaching. And a special thanks to Kino MacGregor at the Miami Life Center for donating yoga mats to the program.

Guest posted by Dr. Pam Jeter


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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

One thought on “Dr. Pam’s study of Ashtanga and the Visually Impaired Concludes”

  1. Not the most relevant control. Its well documented that practicing balance exercises can improve proprioceptive feedback, fine motor control, etc. in blind and otherwise impaired subjects. Really would be interesting to see, for example, if just practicing one or two balance poses could achieve the same effect. That would be far more accessible and dramatically increase compliance in a challenged population.

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