Clinical studies of Yoga for various medical conditions funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), have been conducted for the past several years. These are important studies for the understanding and acceptance of Yoga therapy by the biomedical community and health care financing institutions. They also raise many fundamental and fascinating questions about how science studies Yoga.
The results of major academic studies on Yoga are generally first reported in mainstream medical journals. The International Journal of Yoga Therapy, however, attempts to carry complementary articles describing in much more detail the methodology and other aspects of the studies of special interest to our readers. In the present case, an unusual opportunity arose to explore methodological issues in depth, including the collaboration between the researcher and the Yoga teacher. Karen Sherman, Ph.D., M.P.H., the principal investigator, has extensive experience in studying complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies for back care and is quite conversant with the methodological challenges of Yoga and other CAM research from a variety of perspectives. She also is a longtime Raja-Yoga practitioner. Robin Rothenberg, the Yoga teacher employed for the study, is an experienced Yoga teacher and therapist certified in both the Viniyoga and Iyengar methodologies and a member of IAYT's Advisory Council. Readers may recognize her from her article in the 2004 issue of the journal, "Therapeutic Yoga 101: A Course in Self- Acceptance."
The brief description of the low back pain study that appears on the NCCAM website (www.clinicaltrials. gov/ show/NCT00056212) follows:
Back problems are among the most prevalent conditions affecting adults and are a leading reason for using complementary or alternative medical (CAM) therapies. Despite the common use of CAM therapies for back pain, little is known about how they compare with conventional treatments. This study will lay the groundwork for a full-scale trial that compares yoga with conventional exercise and usual care for chronic low back pain.
This study will randomize 30 people with chronic low back pain to each of the following groups: yoga, a conventional therapeutic exercise program, and usual care. There will be 12 weeks of weekly treatment and follow-up assessments via phone at 6, 12, and 26 weeks to measure each treatment's impact on symptoms, function, quality of life, and utilization and costs of back pain related care.
IAYT is most pleased to have this opportunity to explore the story behind the study. We hope this discussion helps our members better understand the science as well as the great amount of work and creativity a study such as this entails. We also hope this discussion helps Yoga therapists and medical researchers better understand each other and encourages further collaboration.