Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Checklist for Good Yoga Research

Yoga research is everywhere. How do we know what's solid information, and what's hype?

There's a ton of new research emerging about yoga and meditation, and the air is full of tweets about the health effects of mind-body practices:

~ Can yoga improve your mood?
~ Is meditation better than medication?
~ Will mindfulness make us happier?
~ How can yoga help prevent disease?

With all this information whizzing by, it can be difficult to catch up and sort through to figure out which studies have information worth sharing, and which ones don't measure up.

It's time to put our hemispheres together and review the basic requirements for good research. A reliable study, with findings you can count on, would meet these basic criteria:

Big & Diverse. A large and diverse group of participants will make it more likely that study findings can be generalized, meaning that they might apply to the general population and not just the people who participated in the study. (This means not restricting a study population to just one type of individual. For instance all earlier cardiac med trials were done only on men, and mostly white men, so those data do not generalize at all to women, and probably not to other racial groups of men.)

Controlled. An intervention group, which does the yoga, meditation, or other mind-body practice that is under research, is matched to a control group, which does something equivalent but that's not yoga. The results of the two groups can be compared, to make sure it's really the yoga that's having an effect.

Random. Study participants are randomly assigned to either the control group (not yoga) or intervention group (yoga!).

Blind. The researchers and participants do not know which group they are in (control or intervention). This is hard to do with something like yoga, because it's pretty obvious whether you are lying down in savasana or doing some other type of activity. But the people who are assessing the results of the intervention should be "blinded" to which group a participant was assigned, in order to limit possible bias in the results and/or interpretation of results.

Balanced & Careful. The study design anticipates and minimizes factors that could impact how the intervention is presented or received, or otherwise influence the results, such as: demographic composition of the groups, environmental effects or differences between the groups, participants' expectations (kind of like the placebo effect), or variations in how the yoga (or not yoga) is presented.

Okay, geeky yogi researchers, I know you're out there. What else would you add to this checklist?

(Thank you to Dr. Alka Kanaya for her assistance with this post.)

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