Stacy D. Hunter, PhD
Hatha yoga is the physical practice of yoga characterized by the combination of postures (asanas), pranayama (controlled breathing exercises) and sometimes dhyana (meditation). Yoga has become increasingly widespread and accepted which has likely contributed to the 3-fold increase in the number of research publications on the topic over the last decade. Now, thousands of published studies have unveiled numerous health benefits of the practice.
Of the physical health benefits enumerated, improvements in flexibility and strength, cholesterols, fasting glucose, insulin and blood pressure levels and vascular function, all of which contribute to an overall reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease with regular practice among healthy adults. Additional health benefits have been shown in various patient populations including those with diabetes, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and cancer, the results from some of which will be presented at Pure Action’s First Annual Yoga Research Conference here in Austin next month.
Few studies have investigated the effects of yoga incorporation into substance abuse treatment programs. A review of 8 clinical trials on yoga for addiction treatment showed that most of the interventions of this nature yielded positive results. A study incorporating a Kundalini lifestyle yoga program into a 90-day recovery program in India showed improvements in quality of recovery and symptoms. Another study showed that hatha yoga was just as effective as group psychotherapy in reducing drug use in a methadone maintenance program.
Yoga has also benefited individuals with eating disorders. Carei et al. demonstrated a greater efficacy of an 8-week standard care program when yoga was incorporated twice weekly with significant reductions in food preoccupation and Eating Disorder Examination (EDE) scores.
Initial evidence supports a positive role of yoga incorporation into addiction treatment and additional studies are needed to further document the benefits of yoga in recovery programs across a broad spectrum.
Dr. Stacy D. Hunter is the research director for Pure Action, Inc., a nonprofit organization devoted to bringing the ancient benefits of yoga to mainstream medicine through research, education and community outreach. She received her Ph.D. in Clinical Exercise Physiology from the University of Texas at Austin where she studied the effects of yoga on vascular function in the Cardiovascular Aging Research Laboratory. A Bikram yoga practitioner since 2008, she has now published several studies on the impact of yoga on cardiovascular health and glucose tolerance and has presented her findings in the U.S. and abroad. She is also currently an affiliate of the University of Texas at Austin, where she continues her work performing studies on the effects of yoga on vascular health and cardiovascular disease risk in middle-aged and older adults at elevated risk.