Thursday, February 24, 2011

Yoga for Persistent Pain: New Findings and Directions for an Ancient Practice

Although the literature isn't nearly as large as that for mindfulness and meditation, there is a growing body of research on the use of yoga to address mental health concerns. In a recent issue of Pain, Wren and colleagues offer a brief summary of current research on the application of yoga to medical conditions.

One of the co-authors is Dr. James Carson, a former researcher at Duke who is now at the Oregon Health & Science University. Dr. Carson and his wife Kimberly developed an 8-week yoga program called Yoga of Awareness. You can download a bunch of Jim's research on mindfulness and yoga-based interventions on his Yoga of Awareness website.

The article examines 13 randomized controlled trials of yoga with pain and related medical conditions. The authors propose three potential pathways for the benefits of yoga: 1.) Physiological changes, such as decreased heart rate and improved strength, circulation, and flexibility; 2.) Behavioral changes such as increased social contact and regular physical activity; 3.) Psychological changes, such as increased awareness and mindful acceptance.

The growing literature is very encouraging. I expect we'll hear a lot more about yoga interventions in the future as the trend picks up steam. At moment, however, there's not a lot that unifies the studies other than yoga practice. They're based on a variety of yogic traditions--especially Inyengar and Hatha. What will likely be important to this literature in the future is the development of programmatic research around a specific yoga intervention (e.g., Yoga of Awareness) with more attention paid to the contributions of particular techniques and theorized mechanisms of change. It will be interesting to see if a particular yoga-based course eventually becomes as well known as specific mindfulness-based programs such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I'm curious to see the evidence base on the use of yoga continue to move forward in a more systematic way, as I think there's great potential.


Wren, A.A., Wright, M.A., Carson, J.W., & Keefe, F.J. (2011). Yoga for Persistent Pain: New Findings and Directions for an Ancient Practice. Pain, 152, 477-480.


  1. Hi Milo,

    Looks like they revamped their website. I went through the post and updated the links. Unfortunately, I didn't see a link to download the article anymore.



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.