Controversial Study Suggests Yoga’s Mindfulness Doesn’t Matter in Relieving Low Back Pain

Researchers at Seattle Washington’s Group Health Research Institute lead a study funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The results, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine are creating quite a buzz.

This study was conducted to determine whether yoga is a more effective method of relieving low back pain versus conventional stretching or the use of a self-care book for primary care patients with chronic low back pain.

Of the 228 adults that participated in this study, all had a type of low back pain that was not a result of a spinal disc problem or any other specific cause. In twelve weekly classes, 91 patients practiced stretching and 92 practiced yoga. The other 45 patients used the self-care book.

A back related functional status questionnaire and test of pain level was conducted before, during and after the study. The testing concluded that the outcomes in the yoga group were superior to those in the self-care group, however yoga was not superior to the conventional stretching method group in related back function and low back pain.

Based on these results, the mental and spiritual benefits of yoga as determined by other studies may not be the reason for low back pain relief, and that it is only the physical workings that make the difference. Because of these findings, current headlines suggest the article is casting doubt on the mental benefits of yoga.

It should be obvious to most that the physical aspects of stretching and/or yoga can help relieve low back pain, but why do we need to conclude that the mental aspects are not playing a roll? There is enough evidence out there that suggests yoga and the mindfulness it builds are far reaching and include pain relief.

In a study published by the Perspectives on Psychological Science, researchers defined mindfulness as the “nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.” They identified the four acting components of mindfulness as 1) regulation of attention 2) body awareness 3) self-awareness and 4) regulation of emotion.

Who is to say that stretching is not in itself a mindful activity? Of course it excludes the spiritual components of some yoga practices such as chanting or meditation, but in all seriousness, folks, according to the aforementioned definition, how much more mindful can you be when you are stretching and relaxing whether you are directing your attention to your spiritual self or to your tight hips?

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