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09 Feb 2004

Ashtanga Yoga
Dear Fitness Doc - I would be interested in your comments on my reply to a question that was also put to you earlier this month?
Yoga "expert"

Posted by: Yoga
Dear P 'n P - I would strongly suggest that you are dealing with an ill informed fitness assessor - don't worry I have the same with the medical aids. I suggest you show him the following quote: "Ashtanga yoga is the most complete and balance routine of physical training for the development of stamina, strength, and flexibility."
Dr. R. Calvo, President of the Texas Center for Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Surgery, or, better yet, get him to do a class and then repeat the assertion!

More research: "Putting Yoga to the Test
In one of the first studies done in the United States that examines the relationship between yoga and fitness, researchers at the University of California at Davis recently tested the muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, cardio respiratory fitness, body composition, and lung function of 10 college students before and after eight weeks of yoga training. Each week, the students attended four sessions that included 10 minutes of pranayama, 15 minutes of warm-up exercises, 50 minutes of asanas and 10 minutes of meditation. After eight weeks the students’ muscular strength had increased by as much as 31 percent, muscular endurance by 57 percent, flexibility by as much as 188 percent and VO2 max by 7 percent – a very respectable increase, given the brevity of the experiment.

One study, conducted in Secunderabad, India, compared a group of athletes taught pranayama (breathing exercises) to another group who were not. After two years, those who practiced pranayama showed a larger reduction of blood lactate (an indicator of fatigue) in response to exercise; in addition they were more able than the control group to increase their exercise intensity as well as the efficiency of their oxygen consumption during exercise. Other smaller studies also done in India have found that yoga can increase exercise performance and raise anaerobic threshold. (Anaerobic threshold is the point at which your muscles cannot extract enough oxygen from your blood and therefore must switch from burning oxygen to burning sugar and creatine."

From: Yoga Journal
Answer 550 views

01 Jan 0001

HI Chris

I remember the question, and I hope I can help. I’ll deal with the sections one by one, starting with the research that you have quoted. It is always good to have research that supports exercise or a certain method, and it is very good to have them published in reputable journals. However, I have not heard of the Yoga Journal, so I won’t comment on how reputable this particular one is – it may be decent, it may not be, so I’ll try to limit myself to the actual data. Now, it’s really heard to make an objective summary on research when I don’t know the particulars about the study. I have come across too many research papers or articles that appear to be very good on the surface, but often have very deep rooted methodological problems that really affect the result. Therefore, the results that have been mentioned here – the 30% increases in strength etc. may be real findings, but it is very important to realize that they do not support the effectiveness of yoga all on their own. In otherwords, it will take a lot more research, and hopefully research published in other journals, to make a definitive conclusion. To illustrate the point, here are some of the questions that need to be addressed whenever a paper or research is evaluated: Firstly, who did the study – University of California is a very good institution, but I’m not as sure about the ‘Davis’ part – this would need further investigation. Secondly, who were the subjects – if they were really inactive and unfit to start with, then the results in the study are not all that impressive, and just about any activity would achieve the same. If they were highly active, then the results are very impressive. Another question is how are the variables measured – in other words, what does it mean to say that lung function and muscle strength were improved – you need to know how it was measured? A final question is who funded the study – it’s not unusual for results to be reported in favour of something when that something is the funder for the study. So, as you will see, the scientist in me has some doubts about this research. It does not support yoga all by itself – it introduces some very pertinent questions and sets up future research (that’s how science works), but it is not a definitive study.

Now, the second study that you have quoted from the journal has what I would consider a few more potential problems – for one thing, a two year study is so long that there are so many other things that could affect the result, that it’s really impossible to say that yoga did these things. The second thing is that these studies mention lactate and anaerobic threshold, and in my view, this immediately discredits them, because the ‘science’ of lactate is so full of myths and lack of understanding that I find it hard to believe that these are valid findings.

Now, dealing with the quote – this particular quote comes from a very reputable institution, and so it certainly carries some weight. However, and I hate to be the wet blanket – this is not reason enough to support yoga or to make any medical aid companies change their minds. It will take a bit more research to change their minds on this – it might be in the near future, but it will take more research.

As for my opinion, I stick with what I said previously – I believe that for stability, flexibility and possibly strength, yoga is very effective (the particular forms or types I’m not familiar with I’m afraid) – it’s no co-incidence that the study you mentioned found the biggest improvements in flexibility and endurance, and the smallest in VO2 max. However, for fitness, and the proven beneficial effects of exercise, cardiovascular exercise is still the better option, and so I believe that yoga should form part of a balanced exercise routine, but does not stand alone as a means to obtain fitness and health.


The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical examination, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.
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