Last updated: Feb 28, 2008


Researchers have learned recently that, besides relieving problem backs, yoga can provide help for people suffering from serious medical conditions—asthma and multiple sclerosis among them. If you have an acute injury such as a herniated disk, you still need to see a doctor, of course. But if you have a chronic condition, especially one thats not responding to conventional care, read on.



Soothing an Aching Back
In research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), School of Medicine, 21 people 60 or older started doing yoga twice weekly. The volunteers all had rounded upper backs, which can limit normal movement. A yoga regimen was sufficient to reduce their curvatures by 6 percent, increase their walking speeds by 8 percent, and improve their reaches by 18 percent. And many reported that yoga helped their balance. The UCLA study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, suggests that yoga produced an increase in overall strength and flexibility.

The most useful poses for students with back trouble are those that build strength and lengthen the back muscles as well as anchor the feet, such as standing mountain, triangle, and warrior I.

Relieving Wrist Pain
Approximately one in 10 Americans suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), a painful condition in which swollen tendons pressure nerves in the wrist. Conventional remedies include immobilizing joints with splints or even surgery. But according to a review published last summer in the Annals of Family Medicine, yoga may be among the safest first-line treatments for people with mild symptoms.

The study that first got the attention of physicians, though, appeared in 1998 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Researchers found that CTS sufferers who did Iyengar yoga (which stresses proper alignment) twice a week for 8 weeks boasted a fourfold improvement in grip strength and a twofold decrease in pain.


Helping You Breathe Easier
Traditional yogic practices, such as slow, steady breathing and relaxation, could prove a useful adjunct to standard treatment for asthmatics, according to research published in the British medical journal Thorax. In that 2002 study, some asthmatics took up meditation based on the Sahaja style of yoga, while control-group members were given relaxation and stress-management training. Findings suggest that practicing Sahaja yoga can yield small but discernible improvements in the “twitchiness” (hypersensitivity) of airways in asthmatics and may also reduce their anxiety.

Asthmatics should not use yoga as a substitute for conventional care, says Norman Edelman, MD, a spokesperson for the American Lung Association, but they can benefit from yogas relaxation techniques.

Fending Off MS Fatigue
A chronic, autoimmune disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) ravages the central nervous system. Yoga may be a key to easing one of its most frustrating symptoms: fatigue. Last June, the journal Neurology reported a study in which 6 months of weekly yoga classes significantly increased the stamina of people with MS.

Reducing Stress on the Heart
Yoga may help reduce your odds of heart disease. In a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers in Timarpur, India, had 15 Army soldiers adopt a twice-daily yoga routine. The control group did other exercises, including stretches and slow running. After 3 months, the yoga group showed a significant drop in blood pressure; the control group didnt.

These findings add to the work of pioneering researcher Dean Ornish, MD, who has demonstrated that yoga can help reduce stress-induced fight-or-flight hormones that contribute to high blood pressure and other heart disease risks.