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Health Benefits of Iyengar Yoga

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Updated January 29, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Iyengar yoga is a yoga style that emphasizes precision and physical alignment of the body. By working to achieve perfect alignment in each pose, Iyengar yoga students aim to create balance in the body and mind. In addition to helping students gain flexibility and strength, Iyengar yoga may be useful in the management of certain health conditions.

Practicing Iyengar Yoga

Like all forms of yoga, Iyengar yoga combines physical poses, deep breathing, and meditation. A unique feature of Iyengar yoga is the use of props (such as blocks, pillows, chairs, and bolsters), which help students attain perfect alignment in each pose. Iyengar yoga also involves performing poses in a specific sequence in order to maximize their beneficial effects.

Learn more about Iyengar yoga.

Health Benefits of Iyengar Yoga

Research suggests that practicing Iyengar yoga may yield specific health benefits. Here's a look at some key study findings:

1) Osteoarthritis

In a pilot study published in 2005, scientists found that Iyengar yoga may reduce pain among people with osteoarthritis of the knee. The study included 11 yoga beginners with osteoarthritis, all of whom were assigned to eight weeks of Iyengar yoga training (involving one 90-minute session each week). In addition to experiencing significant reductions in pain, the seven participants who completed the study showed a decrease in joint stiffness and improvement in function.

2) Low Back Pain

Iyengar yoga may ease pain, improve function, and lift depression among adults with chronic low back pain, according to a 2009 study. Study results showed that 43 patients assigned to six months of biweekly Iyengar yoga classes had significantly greater reductions in pain intensity, disability, and depression (compared to the 47 study members who received standard medical care). Members of the yoga group also appeared to reduce their use of pain medication during the course of the study.

3) Breast Cancer Recovery

Iyengar yoga may benefit survivors of breast cancer, a 2010 study shows. For 12 weeks, 24 breast cancer survivors took part in Iyengar yoga classes. Analyzing questionnaires completed by 17 study members, researchers found significant improvements in several quality-of-life factors (including pain and mental health).

Using Iyengar Yoga for Health Purposes

Although Iyengar yoga is generally regarded as safe, it's possible for damage to occur with any type of yoga if poses aren't executed properly. If you're considering the use of Iyengar yoga for a specific health problem, make sure to consult your physician before starting up your yoga practice.

Sources

American Cancer Society. "Yoga". Accessed: October 2010

Kolasinski SL, Garfinkel M, Tsai AG, Matz W, Van Dyke A, Schumacher HR. "Iyengar yoga for treating symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knees: a pilot study." J Altern Complement Med. 2005 Aug;11(4):689-93.

Speed-Andrews AE, Stevinson C, Belanger LJ, Mirus JJ, Courneya KS. "Pilot evaluation of an Iyengar yoga program for breast cancer survivors." Cancer Nurs. 2010 Sep-Oct;33(5):369-81.

Williams K, Abildso C, Steinberg L, Doyle E, Epstein B, Smith D, Hobbs G, Gross R, Kelley G, Cooper L. "Evaluation of the effectiveness and efficacy of Iyengar yoga therapy on chronic low back pain." Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2009 Sep 1;34(19):2066-76.

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