There is growing interest in using yoga as a treatment option to address mental health problems, and this has prompted a group of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to assess the activity and determine if it is indeed beneficial.

Publishing their work in the journal Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, the researchers found that, while yoga has promising benefits, there is not enough evidence to support its use as a standalone treatment for boosting mental health and general well-being.

"I really wanted to know if yoga is something we should be suggesting to people who have post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression, or anxiety or various traumas," said Rebecca Macy, the study's leader. Macy works with survivors of trauma and violence at the UNC's School of Social Work.

For the study, Macy and colleagues carried out a meta-review involving 13 reviews of literature covering 185 articles published from 2000 to 2013.

Generally, they found that yoga has potential for alleviating PTSD, anxiety, depression and/or the psychological consequences arising from trauma in the short-term, at least. However, the researchers moved toward suggesting instead that doctors and health care service providers recommend yoga as more of a complementary treatment to be used alongside well-established and evidence-based therapies like medication and psychotherapy.

Even certified yoga instructor Leslie Roach, who was part of the study, agreed that considering yoga as a standalone treatment right now is not yet viable. Yoga does have its benefits, but she thinks that more studies have to be carried out to determine how the practice can be specifically used to address the needs of trauma survivors, making it more effective.

For future studies, the researchers are considering one that would assess the effectiveness of yoga in a domestic violence shelter or rape crisis center. However, because the practice follows a holistic approach, they have to be careful not to undermine the exact same process that makes yoga beneficial. One way of possibly addressing this concern is having the researchers work more closely with yoga instructors in the future.

In addition to Macy and Roach, Elizabeth Jones and Laurie Graham also contributed to the study.

Photo: Dave Rosenblum | Flickr

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