Yoga Helps People with Schizophrenia

Healthnotes Newswire (November 1, 2007)—People with schizophrenia often have difficulty functioning socially and at work, even when they receive medical treatment. A new study found that yoga, in conjunction with conventional medical treatment, may improve schizophrenia symptoms, social and occupational functioning, and quality of life.

Schizophrenia is a psychiatric illness marked by episodes of psychosis in which disordered thoughts, sometimes experienced as voices, become overwhelming. This chronic condition usually begins in young adulthood and interferes with relationships and makes daily functioning difficult.

Treatment options include antipsychotic medications, but these cause many side effects, including sedation, listlessness, and loss of a normal range of emotions. Muscle rigidity and repetitive gestures or tics are among the other problems caused by long-term use of some of the older antipsychotic medicines; newer drugs in this family can cause obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels.

In the new study, published in Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 45 people with schizophrenia were randomly assigned to either a yoga training group or a physical training group. The yoga training included breath work and traditional yoga poses and exercises, while the physical training included brisk walking and jogging, and sitting and standing exercises. Both groups underwent training sessions five times per week for one hour.

After four months, both groups scored better on measures of schizophrenia symptoms and social and occupational functioning than they did before the training, but those in the yoga group improved more than those in the physical training group, especially in social and occupational functioning. The yoga group also reported an improvement in overall quality of life, but the physical training group did not.

Originally from India, yoga is a group of ancient spiritual practices designed to integrate the body, mind, and spirit. Outside of India, the term yoga often refers to the practice of poses (asanas) and is thought of as an exercise program to increase strength, balance, and flexibility. Yoga has been shown to reduce stress and improve mental functioning in healthy people, and there is evidence that yoga can reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

“[Yoga] grounds you in the body. People with schizophrenia often have trouble distinguishing themselves from what’s outside of them,” commented Helen Dicke, MSW, who teaches yoga in Vermont. “The breath work in particular deepens and stabilizes the connection to the body. When a person with schizophrenia becomes more grounded, they become more aware of what is internal and what is external, and their social skills and ability to function are greatly enhanced. In fact, yoga has this benefit for everyone.”

(Acta Psychiatr Scand 2007;116:226–32)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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