The Wall Street Journal came out with an article this week about a study on yoga, stretching, and lower back pain. Basically, the study concludes that because the group that did yoga and the group that did stretching (without the mental techniques of yoga) both reported improvement in their lower back pain, the relaxation and deep breathing must not have had much to do with it and you might as well stretch as do yoga if you want to feel better. Same same.
Now, I’m not here to convince anyone with this post that the study doesn’t have it right. I don’t agree with the conclusion that stretching and yoga are of equal benefit because I have seen the difference that the “mental practices” of yoga have made in my life. Yoga has made enough of a difference in my life that I plan to continue on this journey for a long time and it’s not just because I don’t have lower back pain.
First things first: I do think that the first work of yoga is to reduce or eliminate the pain. It is very hard to concentrate, breathe, or relax when the body just doesn’t feel good so stretching and strengthening is a great place to start. Once the pain is gone and the muscles of the core, along the spine and in the arms and legs are strong and flexible, then the pains in the body aren’t yelling out during a practice demanding attention. Without pain, there really is the space to begin to turn inward and observe how the body, breath and mind work. You can hear and feel what is going on in there because the pain is quiet. For me, amazing things have happened because of this quiet. The practice has helped me to learn to nurture courage and patience along with an openness that I seemed to circumvent in the old days. Yoga has helped me to do things that I’ve been a little scared of in the past. I think I’m nicer. I’m more excited about livin’. Pretty good, right?
So you have two opinions here: Seattle’s Group Health Research Institute vs. Amanda Green. The thing is, neither opinion really matters because you get to test it out for yourself. Do the “mental components” matter to you? Do they help you to be able to live your life in a way that is meaningful? Yoga doesn’t ask you to hold your nose and swallow the pill. It is good to ask questions and get curious and then come up with your own conclusion about how the practice affects the body and mind that you are living in. In other words, see for yourself.