Its fans claim it helps the body fight aches and pains through a range of stretches. However, yoga may also be more effective than standard treatment in reducing chronic low back pain in minority populations, according to a new study.
It would seem that the ancient practice of yoga really does work -- and it could be even better than going to the doctor or physiotherapist.
Patients with a common form of lower back pain who did three months of classes in the therapeutic discipline were able to do daily chores they previously would have found impossible, say scientists.
And some claimed the effects continued for a year after they had finished the sessions.
There is growing evidence to suggest that yoga works to enhance stress-coping mechanisms and mind-body awareness.
Regularly practicing yoga exercises may lower a number of compounds in the blood and reduce the level of inflammation that normally rises because of both normal aging and stress.
A team from the University of York have looked at its effects on around 300 patients with chronic lower back pain, a common condition which affects one in five adults in any given year.
Half followed a 12-week course of yoga, with specific exercises focusing on their back. The remainder carried on visiting their GP and were given painkillers, exercises to follow and in some cases physiotherapy.
The findings, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, show that after three months patients who had been to the yoga classes were able to do 30 per cent more daily activities than those who had carried on seeing their family doctor.
Yoga enabled them to carry out more household chores, such as gardening.
Researchers claimed yoga helped patients feel more confident in carrying out chores despite their pain.
Chief investigator Professor David Torgerson said: ‘Back pain is an extremely common and costly condition. Exercise treatment, although widely used and recommended, has only a small effect on back pain.
‘We therefore set out to investigate an alternative approach using a specially-developed weekly yoga programme for back pain sufferers to see if this allowed them to manage their back pain more successfully.’
Professor Alan Silman, Medical Director of Arthritis Research UK, which funded the study said: ‘We’re delighted that our trial has shown that yoga provides such positive benefits for people with chronic low back pain.
‘This extremely common condition cannot be managed with painkillers alone and there is an urgent need to have non-drug therapies that sufferers can utilise in their own home.’
Around 80 percent of people will suffer chronic lower back pain at some point in their lives.
Painkillers are often ineffective and many patients try alternative forms of therapy such as acupuncture, exercise or massages to relieve symptoms.