The therapeutic value of yoga in neurological disorders

The ancient mind and body healing methods of yoga recently sparked fervour in the scientific community as an alternative and complementary means of therapy.

Since the World Health Organization officially began promoting yoga in developing countries in 1978, yoga has been cited for its therapeutic potential and has been widely recognized in Western culture.

However, as an increasing number of people practice yoga for remedial purposes, researchers raise two important questions:

1) Is yoga a valid complementary management and rehabilitation treatment modality?

2) What conditions show promise of treatment with this intervention?


This review article uses comprehensive scientific, evidence-based studies to analyze the efficacy of various basic and applied aspects of yoga in disease prevention and health promotion. It specifically intends to expose the effects of yoga in neurological disorders, particularly epilepsy, stroke, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, peripheral nervous system disease, and fibromyalgia.


Information was gathered from various resources including PubMed, Ovid, MD-Consult, USC, and U.C.L.A. libraries. Studies were selected and reviewed on the basis of sample size, control, randomization, double-blinding, and statistical analysis of results.


The practice of yoga and meditation demonstrates statistically encouraging physiological and psychological improvements in the aforementioned neurological disorders. However, there were certain flaws and inadequacies in the study designs employed to evaluate the same. A critical analysis of these studies is presented.


With the aim to focus attention on this widespread yet largely unexamined treatment modality, this paper seeks to provide direction and support for further research necessary to validate yoga as an integrative, alternative, and complementary therapy.

Keywords: Neurology, physiology and treatments, yoga


Yoga started roughly 5,000 years ago in the Indian subcontinent as part of the Ayurvedic healing science. According to a report by report, 15.8 million Americans practice yoga. “yoga” derives from the Sanskrit word ‘yukti’ meaning “union,” aiming to unify spirit (consciousness) with super spirit (God). The ancient Yogis recognized that to accomplish this highest state of yoga, a healthy body is essential. Yoga is a spiritual practice that utilizes mind (meditation) and body (exercises) to balance our systems. It explores the mind's abilities to affect the senses and the body. The National Center for Complementary Alternative Medicine thus classifies yoga as mind-body medicine.


Yoga is one of the six systems of Indian Vedic philosophy (Darshan). Maharishi Patanjali, rightly known as the “Father of Yoga,” compiled and refined various aspects of yoga systematically in his “Yoga Sutras” (aphorisms), wherein he advocated the eight-fold path known as “Ashtanga Yoga” for an all-around development of human personality. These include –

· Yama [moral codes], · Niyama [self-purification and study], · Asana [posture], · Pranayama [breath control], · Pratyahara [sense control], · Dharana [concentration], · Dhyana [meditation], and · Samadhi [super contemplation].

These are formulated on the basis of multifarious psychological understanding of human personality.

Other aspects of yoga philosophies are broadly classified into four streams namely Work, Worship, Philosophy, and Psychic control. “Karma Yoga,” the path of work, promotes pleasure in labor without indulging in thoughts of success or failure. A free mind allows the task to be done in a skillful manner.

Bhakti Yoga,” the path of worship, is a systematic method of engaging the mind in the practice of divine love. This attitude of love softens our emotions and tranquilizes our mind. “Gyana Yoga,” the path of philosophy, is a systematic way of enlightening the mind about the realities of life by contemplation.

This will strip off the garb of Avidya (ignorance) from our mind as it goes to its natural state of rest. “Raja Yoga,” the path of psychic control, is a systematic process of culturing the mind. It is based on the eight-fold path set by Patanjali.


Our review of medical literature found that yoga has been widely used for health promotion and disease prevention and as a possible treatment modality for neurological disorders. Yoga has also been used as an adjunctive treatment modality for carpal tunnel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, post-stroke paresis, and neuropathy of type two diabetes. Ongoing research is underway for treatment of fibromyalgia, headache, migraine, Parkinson's disease, chronic back pain, and many other disorders. However, most of the studies reviewed had inadequacies in their study design, especially with regards to the sample sizes and the employment of controls, randomization, and double blinding. Efforts must be made by future investigators to cover these gaps in research to be able to draw more meaningful conclusions about the benefits of yoga. Efforts must also be made to translate and disseminate research findings in yoga so that the best therapy can be paired with its’ respective disorder. Additional research on the safety and efficacy of CAM therapies, including research on potential negative interactions between CAM therapies and conventional treatments such as medications, will bring forth the true value of yoga in neurological disorders and other disciplines of medicine.

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