Preliminary Findings on Yoga for Trauma Are Encouraging

MAY 12, 2016
MD Magazine Staff
The findings of a systematic meta-review of 13 literature reviews examining 185 distinct studies indicates that the evidence regarding yoga as an intervention for the effects of trauma and the mental health symptoms and illnesses that frequently accompany trauma is encouraging but preliminary. The study, from researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), found that results from the reviews only allow for the recommendation of yoga as an ancillary treatment in this setting.
With health and human service providers showing increasing interest in the benefits of yoga in helping patients cope with  the effects of trauma—including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—the study investigators sought to answer two questions:
  1. What is the evidence regarding yoga as a treatment for trauma effects, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD?
  2. What are the clinical and service recommendations for using yoga with trauma-exposed individuals?
“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 lead author Rebecca J. Macy, PhD, ACSW, LCSW, a researcher in the School of Social Work at UNC. “What does the evidence really say?”
Published in the journal Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, the study found substantial differences in the methods and limitations of the review articles in the meta-analysis. Thus, Macy and colleagues suggest that clinicians and yoga instructors consider recommending yoga as an intervention as an ancillary service to other “evidence-based and well-established treatments,” such as psychotherapy and medication.
“Even though I do think yoga is, in general, incredibly beneficial, I also think there needs to be a whole lot more education about how to use yoga specifically to treat survivors of trauma in order to be the most effective and helpful,” said co-author Leslie Roach, a certified yoga instructor and massage therapist at the UNC Health Care at Meadowmont Wellness Center. “So as a standalone treatment right now, it’s just not viable. However, I think with more education, more research, and more experienced instructors, it will be.”
Adding to her colleague’s thoughts, Macy said, “One of our recommendations was that researchers and yoga instructors partner together so that we use holistic methods in future research. We need to ask ourselves if we’re taking these Western research methods and trying too hard to fit a round peg in a square hole. As a researcher, I don’t want to undo the potential benefits of yoga by making the practice unnecessarily standard and systematic.”

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