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Yoga for improving health and well-being

Yoga originated thousands of years ago in India as an integrated physical, mental, and spiritual practice based on ancient Vedic philosophy, and is connected to Ayurveda, the system of traditional Indian medicine. During the 20th century, yoga became increasingly recognised outside India, and over the past decades it has continued to grow in popularity worldwide as system for promoting health and well-being. While modern yoga often focuses on physical poses and is sometimes thought of as a type of exercise, the practice usually incorporates one or more of the mental or spiritual elements that are traditionally part of yoga, such as relaxation, concentration, or meditation. For this reason, yoga is considered a mind-body exercise.

There are currently many different types or schools of yoga, each with a different emphasis on and approach to practice. It is widely thought that some of these yoga practices may help treat or prevent physical or mental illnesses, and improve overall quality of life. There is therefore a need for information on the potential health benefits and harms of yoga.

This Cochrane Library Special Collection of systematic reviews on yoga focuses on reviews evaluating the effectiveness of yoga for improving physical or mental symptoms and quality of life in a range of health conditions. It has been developed to bring the best available evidence on the health-related effects of yoga to the attention of the general public, patients, health professionals, and other decision makers, and to inform choices on the use of yoga to improve health and well-being.

This Special Collection has been collated by of the Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field.

Musculoskeletal conditions

Free Access

Yoga treatment for chronic non‐specific low back pain

Non-specific low back pain is a common, potentially disabling condition usually treated with self-care and non-prescription medication. Current guidelines state that exercise therapy may be beneficial. This review assesses the effects of yoga for treating chronic non-specific low back pain, compared to no specific treatment, a minimal intervention (e.g. education), or another active treatment, with a focus on pain, function, and adverse events.

Health of older people and improving balance

Free Access

Exercise for reducing fear of falling in older people living in the community

Fear of falling is common in older people and associated with serious physical and psychosocial consequences. Exercise (planned, structured, repetitive and purposive physical activity aimed at improving physical fitness) may reduce fear of falling by improving strength, gait, balance and mood, and reducing the occurrence of falls. This review considers yoga together with Tai Chi and the Feldenkrais Method as a type of exercise intervention, and assesses the effects of these and other exercise interventions for reducing fear of falling in older people living in the community.

Pulmonary conditions

Free Access

Yoga for asthma

Asthma is a common chronic inflammatory disorder affecting about 300 million people worldwide. The breathing exercises, physical postures, and mental or spiritual practices of yoga are sometimes used by people with asthma. This review assesses the effects of yoga in relieving both the physical and psychological distress of people with asthma.

Breathing exercises for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Breathing exercises, including those associated with yoga, aim to alter respiratory muscle recruitment, improve respiratory muscle performance and reduce (shortness of breath) in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This review assesses whether exercises are beneficial in people with COPD, when compared with no breathing exercises, while also assessing any adverse effects.


Yoga in addition to standard care for patients with haematological malignancies

Haematological malignancies are cancers of the myeloid or lymphatic cell lines, and include leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. To help manage physical and psychological aspects of the disease and its treatment, complementary therapies like yoga are coming increasingly into focus. This review aims to assess the effects of yoga practice in addition to standard cancer treatment for people with haematological malignancies.

Free Access

Yoga for improving health‐related quality of life, mental health and cancer‐related symptoms in women diagnosed with breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women worldwide. The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer is often associated with long-term psychological distress, chronic pain, fatigue and impaired quality of life. This review assesses effects of yoga on health-related quality of life, mental health, and cancer-related symptoms among women with a diagnosis of breast cancer who are receiving active treatment or have completed treatment.

Cardiovascular disease

Yoga for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular diseases affect the heart and blood vessels, and they are the number one cause of death and disability worldwide. A sedentary lifestyle and stress are major risk factors for development of cardiovascular disease. Since yoga involves exercise and is thought to help in stress reduction it may be an effective strategy for preventing cardiovascular disease. This review aims to determine the effect of any type of yoga on the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Yoga for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease

Coronary heart disease is a type of cardiovascular disease and is the major cause of early morbidity and mortality in most developed countries. Secondary prevention aims to prevent repeat cardiac events and death in people with established coronary heart disease. Since yoga involves exercise and is thought to reduce stress it may help prevent repeat cardiac events. This review aims to determine the effectiveness of yoga for the secondary prevention of mortality and morbidity in, and on the health-related quality of life in individuals with coronary heart disease.

Mental health

Meditation therapies for attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common developmental disorders experienced in childhood, and it can persist into adulthood. It can impair academic performance, vocational success, and social-emotional development. Meditation is increasingly used for psychological conditions and could be used as a tool for attentional training in people with ADHD. This review assesses the effectiveness of meditation therapies, including yoga, as a treatment for ADHD.

Yoga versus standard care for schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and often disabling mental disorder that is relatively common. Many people with schizophrenia are interested in using yoga either instead of or in addition to standard treatment. This review examines the effects of yoga versus standard care for people with schizophrenia.

Yoga versus non‐standard care for schizophrenia

Yoga is one of many therapies that can be used instead of or in addition to standard care for people with schizophrenia. Other therapies include psychological therapy, expressive therapy, or other types of exercise. This review examines the effects of yoga versus these non-standard therapies for improving psychological symptoms, social functioning, and quality of life in people with schizophrenia.

Yoga as part of a package of care versus standard care for schizophrenia

When yoga is used to help treat people with schizophrenia, it is sometimes combined with other non-standard therapies, including psychological therapies, expressive therapies, or other types of exercise, into a 'package of care'. This review examines the effects of yoga as part of a package of care versus standard care for people with schizophrenia.

Neurological conditions

Yoga for epilepsy

Epilepsy is a disorder in which recurrent seizures are caused by abnormal electrical discharges in the brain. Most seizures can be controlled by antiepileptic drugs, but sometimes seizures develop which are resistant to those drugs. Yoga may induce relaxation and stress reduction, which may influence the electroencephalogram and the autonomic nervous system, thereby controlling seizures. This review assesses the effectiveness of yoga in reducing seizures and improving quality of life for people with epilepsy.

Child health

Psychosocial interventions for recurrent abdominal pain in childhood

Between 4% and 25% of school-aged children have recurrent abdominal pain severe enough to interfere with their daily activities. For most such children no organic cause for the pain can be found. A large range of psychosocial interventions involving cognitive and behavioural components have been recommended for managing this condition. This review assesses the effectiveness of psychosocial interventions, including yoga, for reducing pain in school-aged children with recurrent abdominal pain.

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